May 27, 2005

On Prayer--Lectio Divina

A few days ago Tom posted on the practice of prayer with reference to cultivating silence and stillness. In the course of it, he suggested the practice of Lectio Divina and as it was an off-hand reference didn't go much further than to suggest that frequent reading and mulling over scripture was a good thing.

But lectio divina is an acquired process, a kind of training in meditation. Tom's point was not to spell out how to do it, but he suggested, and I think rightly, that even spending a little time with Scripture was likely to be a help in cultivating interior silence so necessary to a productive prayer life.

But I thought that perhaps his brief description might have been inadequate for people who really wanted to extend their prayer time and needed a "method." And lectio divina itself isn't really so much a method as it is a context. Sometimes it is called "praying" the Bible. I like to think of it as training in listening. In reading the Bible we take as our cue and perhaps as a preliminary prayer Samuel's words to God in the night--"Speak Lord, your servant is listening." (Not, as Fr. O'Holohan was fond of pointing out, and we all too commonly are fond of practicing, "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.")

In Lectio Divina we train ourselves to listen to scripture interiorly. We fill that noisy, echoing interior space with the Word of God so that what echoes within us is divine and the divine helps to silence the clatter of ourselves.

How might one go about doing this? First off, Lectio Divina is NOT bible study. It does not employ the same techniques and it is not meant to achieve the same ends. Bible study can make a very satisfactory prelude to Lectio but they are two different uses employed to two different ends (which, properly conducted should lead to the same End). In Bible study we come to understand the literal meaning of the text and the text as it would have been received by the people of the time. This base-level literal meaning of the text is important in Lectio, but it isn't the end toward which Lectio tends. If we have a less-than-complete understanding of the literal meanings of text, we can still, through the power of the Holy Spirit, pray the text and come to some greater familiarity with God and His ways.

Lectio divina is a form of meditation and prayer. Properly practiced, along with all the other requirements of maintaining a life in a state of grace, it can become a form of acquired contemplation. (If one follows the older forms of "classifying" prayer, acquired contemplation is the highest form of prayer in which our active striving can help to engage us. We must remember that all prayer is a gift of the Holy Spirit, strengthened by grace.)

How does one go about it? First one takes a little time to let some of the nonsense of the day pass away. Some say to light candles, to sit in darkness, to find a regular time and place. All good practices for a start. As you continue your prayer, you will be brought to the practice that best aids it. But to start choose a time and a place and make proximate preparations to the event. That is, unplug or mute the phone, sit still for a few minutes, let your mind race, but always gently bring it back to a place of calm or focus. After a few minutes of calming time, pray simply to the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer and teach you what God would have you know.

Read and interact with the text you have chosen. This is not bible speed-reading. You don't need to get through a chapter in a night. When I was doing the Ignatian retreat I often had only one verse on which to meditate for an entire hour. (An Ignatian retreat is a excellent remote preparation for this entire exercise of prayer.) Often it is suggested that you use the text for Sunday Mass or daily Mass. Moreover, you might use the same text for the entire week. Familiarity might allow you to uncover subtle nuances that you might miss upon a preliminary reading. In addition, it operates to help train you in quiet. When we encounter something that is familiar, we are more inclined to interior noisiness than when we are exploring the unfamiliar. Our minds are lazy and we kind of stroll among the words and find our minds whirling off in all directions. If we have a familiar text to focus on, when can bring ourselves back to what is present. It operates as a kind of anchor.

After you read through the passage to get context, it is good to go back and read carefully. Upon ending your first reading pause and think about what you read and consider a word of a phrase that struck you. When you return to reading, return with this metacognition--acknowledge the word and read the passage in the context of that word. Hear what is said now from this new angle. Listen carefully aslant. What is it that God has prepared for you at this time in this passage?

Spend some time with the passage. If you have chosen a reading from the Gospels, spend time with Jesus, wherever he might be. If you read the story of the woman cured of an issue of blood, where are you in the story. Are you the woman, are you a bystander, are you Jesus Himself? What do you learn from being there in that capacity? This is the use of the imagination. Jesus is present to us in many forms, He is especially present to us in meditation upon the Word. But sometimes we must work to see Him. With time and practice this work becomes easier.

After you spend an appropriate amount of time with the scripture (a minimum of 15 minutes, and in most cases longer is better) come out of the reflection with a prayer. Ask God what he intends for you to take away from this passage. Ask Him what meaning it has for you.

Now, this is where some of the more timid balk. They will say, "But that's private interpretation." No, it's not. Interpretation means that you plan to take what you heard in the passage and spread it far and wide as the definitive understanding of the passage. When you interpret something you are providing an understanding for others. What you are doing in lectio is application to your present place in life. Application amounts to listening to the word in the context of the teaching of the Catholic Church and acting upon it in some way.

When you have completed the prayer time or as you approach its end, review it. What went well? What went poorly? What might you need to change next time to enhance the experience? This is another metacognitive exercise, the purpose of which is to enhance the discipline to more clearly place yourself in the heart of the Spirit. We are always seeking with the help of the Holy Spirit to find our way into the Heart of God. Thus we are always seeking to improve our prayer life.

This is only the sketchiest of introductions. I'd like to return to this topic and discuss in a great deal more detail means by which one can "engage" scripture. One is the meditative exercise I have suggested here, but there are other ways to encounter scripture and to deal with scripture in prayer.

As you can see Lectio Divina is not so much a "method" of prayer as it is a mode of praying. The difference may seem subtle, but a mode of praying is an entire school, where as a method is a single very structured class.

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And Now, For the Daily Bingo Report

What can I say? TSO in form rare even for him hits all of the notes exactly right. Amusing, intriguing, entertaining. Go and see for youself.

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May 26, 2005

A Brief Summary of the Synod So Far

I must be among the very most blessed of all the Catholics in the world.

I went to a synod in which the major issues put before the bishop this evening were:

The need for a new Catholic High School,

The need for NFP and a request that it be made a mandatory part of pre-cana

A request for the return of tabernacles to the sanctuary

A request for much greater education, cathechesis, and moral training for Catholic young people and adults.


I found out this evening that our Bishop has granted one parish the indult to serve the traditional Latin Mass.

Only one person spoke up at all in any way of controversy and her one plea was for greater acceptance and love for our homosexual brothers and sisters (she was the mother of a homosexual person).

Not bad at all for an evening that I had honestly (even before other reports) expected to be filled with rancor and strife. I suspect it is one of the advantages of our Hispano-Phillipino mix--God bless diversity in culture!

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On What You Don't See

I was composing some notes on Lectio Divina inspired by Tom's post of the other day and suddenly it dawned on me--who am I to be composing notes on anything--it isn't as though I have any great insights that haven't been noted a million times before by people far better practiced and versed in this form of prayer.

It made me wonder, how often do I do this sort of thing? For the sake of my sanity and the stability of the blog I'm not even going to try to find the answer to that question.

You see, if it isn't some external crisis, I can conjure enough profound internal crises to plunge me into my semi-annual funk. I don't think I'll do that this year--it's tiresome and tedious and not conducive to my own mental health. So this is just to let you know what you've been spared.

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Diocesan Synod

Starting this evening and over the next month or so we will be having four "listening sessions" as part of a Diocesan Synod convened by our Bishop. Thomas Wenski is relatively new to Orlando. He was one of the few Florida Bishops who had the courage to speak out unequivocally regarding the judicial murder of Terri Schiavo--although I must say it came rather late in the day. Nevertheless, I regard this as a good sign. I don't know what the agenda is or what exactly Bishop Wenski is asking of us. He wants to have a vision for the Direction of the Church in the Diocese of Orlando over the next several years.

I suppose I'm posting this because I had never heard of a diocesan synod, much less involvement of lay people in any large capacity at all. I know there were lay advisors at Vatican II, but this seems to be a synod called to listen to the people of the Church. Anyway, as tonight is the "listening session" closest to me, I plan to try to attend. I have no idea whether it will be mobbed or empty. I rather hope (and dread) the former, but I honestly expect the latter.

Anyone have any experiences of this kind in your own diocese?

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May 25, 2005

Two Medieval English Dictionary Sources

An Old one

and a new one.

The Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, which includes the world-famous Ayenbite of inwit.

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From Happy Catholic--Alphabet Meme

A is for Age - further the deponent sayeth not--I try not to think about it-but old enough to remember the later sixties.
B is for Booze - Don't drink--nada, nicht--tried wine for its rumored medicinal properties, yuck--worse than most medicine! Never acquired the taste, takes all my courage to take the cup when offered under both species.
C is for Career - Editing
D is for Dad’s name - James
E is for Essential items to bring to a party - anything with coconut
F is for Favorite song at the moment - Long Black Train Josh Turner or maybe Redneck Woman Gretchen Wilson--really tough to decide--but following on earlier post today--I'd rather look at Gretchen.
H is for Hometown - Pensacola, Florida (birth), Fairfax, Virginia (by adoption)
I is for Instrument you play - Clarinet--E-flat, B-flat, bass
J is for Jam or Jelly you like - Key Lime
K is for Kids - One
L is for Living arrangement - one story, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, a billion books and the complete fauna of florida
M is for Mom’s name - Mary
N is for Names of best friends - Gary, Jane, Franklin, Katherine, Christine, Gordon
O is for overnight hospital stays - none
P is for Phobias - arachnophobia (those critters are from mars).
Q is for Quote you like - "Not poppy nor mandragora nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall ever med'cine thee to that sweet sleep which thou ow'dst yesterday." Iago in Othello (Or Prospero's speech at the end of the Tempest.)
R is for Relationship that lasted longest - Other than siblings, my good friend Tom and my wife Linda (about the same vintage)
S is for Siblings - two brothers
U is for Unique trait - The ability to make anything I'm dressed in look like it came from goodwill without ever seeing an iron.
V if for Vegetable you love - okra
W is for Worst trait -I don't much give a flip about what anyone thinks about me (outside of a very small circle about whom I care greatly). Peer pressure gets my rebellious streak going full force. Not a lemming.
X - is for XRays you’ve had - teeth,
Y is for Yummy food you make - key lime pie
Z is for Zodiac sign--Sagittarius--But I prefer year of the Dog

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Offered to a Co Worker

A coworker said to me this morning, "We've got so much to do, I'm panicking." Actually it sounded more as we say thinks as "We've got so much to do I'm pannikin."

So I told her, "Young Panicking Skywalker, use the force wisely lest you become Darth Editor."

The movie may or may not be worth much, but at least it gave me that line.

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metablogging thought

In case it hasn't already occurred to someone, it is my constant abiding goal to keep my right hand column longer than my left. However, with the influx and population surge in St. Blogs this is becoming progressively more difficult. But, despite the odds and the difficulties, I will do my best always to bring you the most and the longest, if not necessarily the best. My commitment is and will remain, a right-hand column to remember! (For length is nothing else.)

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Bible Study Non-Revelations

I don't think that it is one of the century's best-kept secrets that many, if not most, men in America struggle with lust on a fairly continuous basis. Our culture is saturated with it. There are constant encouragements of it, and outside of our Christian friends, there is almost an expectation of it.

So imagine my surprise when while conducting a Bible study and talking about those things that most threaten us, I gently suggested that the major difficulty in the world today was the plethora of beautiful women. Some women have merely physical beauty--but almost every woman I see is beautiful in some substantial way. That's just the way God made me and I'm not ashamed of it.

Now, I'll readily admit that despite the huge number of beautiful women, I have little chance or real-life temptation. (This is by the grace of God--I'm not one of the more attractive men around--nothing particularly hideous, just nothing prepossessing.) Nevertheless, the number of women in the world is like a constant low-level intoxicant. And the number of physically gorgeous women who are forced upon our senses by the media is truly astounding.

Anyway, I think I've amply explained one man's view of the world. Well, you can't begin to imagine my chagrin when the women in the group said, "That isn't how men think. That doesn't describe all men. What about gay men?"

Well, I can't really speak for gay men. Nor can I speak for all men. But let me say in my limited circle of acquaintance (admittedly not high-powered CEOs etc.) one of the things I hear quite often is that lust is a top (if not the top) temptation they face day by day. Most of them, like me, having no real opportunity, thus no real temptation, acknowledge nonetheless that it is a constant problem. Some indulge in pornography, others in other means of addressing the problem (read here sublimation, if you buy Freudian theory--which I don't). But the heterosexual men of my acquaintance all admit to facing this problem and trying to deal with it. Now my observation of homosexual men and their world suggests to me that this may be even a greater problem amongst them. (Although homosexual promiscuity may be a by-product of no way to recognize and affirm a committed relationship--about this I cannot speculate, nor can anyone else at this time. And, we must also keep in mind that the heterosexual world only ever gets a glimpse of the true excesses of the homosexual world. It's entirely possible that there are a vast majority of non-promiscuous homosexual men. However, living inside a man's body, I can tell you that this seems unlikely to me.)

Anyway, I spent the better part of the session saying that for men the presence and presumed "availability" of some portion of the female population represented every bit the temptation that most of the women there were telling me food presented for them. Now, I suspect that food is not so pervasive a temptation in the female world as lust is in the male world--but here again I enter upon sheer speculation--in fact my thin ice has become for all intents and purposes nonexistent. I don't know that a majority of men are assailed by lust on a regular (if not daily basis), no more can I know for what percentage of women food represents some sense of comfort and security. And I refuse to speculate as it is none of my business. All I can report are the anecdotal evidence and numbers supported by the very small bible study.

Now, let me say, I don't think lust as a temptation comes as much of a revelation. It drives the reason for a great many things--becoming successful, powerful, wealthy; buying the cars men of a certain age buy; certain, shall we say, "mating plumage" behaviors usually involving minoxidil/rogaine or hair transplants; and the extraordinary success of the drug Viagra (which if one is to trust one's spam e-mail must be the product of choice for half of the men in the world.)

I don't know what part lust plays in a woman's world. I suspect that for most women it is neither the predominant nor the most difficult vice to overcome. But again--what can I say? I live in the wrong body to give any speculation as to that. I do know that our society (driven in large part by men's concerns) does try to foist off on women what men would like them to be and to think. Thus we cultivate the image of the "unchained" woman giving free vent to her caprices. I have to wonder whether that is true or an image superimposed on the world by men who would like it to be true.

Let us end by saying, that I don't think it should come as any surprise to women if men admit to being tempted by lust. It should also not come as any surprise that relatively few of those I know act upon the temptation. I know the numbers are larger in the world at large--but some of us have wonderful wives and families which always serve, by the grace of God and the sacrament of matrimony, as the counterbalance to our wildly swinging urges. Nevertheless, it shouldn't surprise any woman to find that "her man" is appreciating the bounty served up every day by a merciful, loving, and extremely generous God. My only defense is that God made women beautiful--it's not my fault if I find them endlessly fascinating, endlessly appealing. But the rule, as in a shop of expensive translucent china, is look but never ever ever touch (if'n it don't "belong" to you.)

Anway, it surprised me to hear that women did not believe that men very often are distracted by women. I get the feeling that women don't have any idea just how much power they wield by simple existence. The feminist movement bought into the male fantasy and did their best in some ways to remove this power base. Smart women still know they have it and wise women seldom condescend to use it.

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May 24, 2005

Via Summa Minutiae

Another quiz--reasonably accurate, though I'd rate the influence of progressive somewhat higher--but they didn't give me a choice of Gentle Giant, Gryphon or Renaissance.

Your Taste in Music:

80's Alternative: Highest Influence
80's Pop: High Influence
Country: High Influence
Progressive Rock: High Influence
80's Rock: Low Influence
Classic Rock: Low Influence
Punk: Low Influence

How's Your Taste in Music?

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What surprised me
is that you were
surprised at all.
I thought you knew
what men thought. And
then when it (you'll
pardon the pun)
arose in our
discussion and
you said, "It can't
be that way with
all men." It was
my turn to be
suprised and say,
"I thought you knew."
You shook your head
and said, "I don't,
I won't believe it."
What was left for
me to do but
shrug and reply,
"As you wish. . . but
it is better
for you to know
the way things are."
And smiling you
said, "Not if that's
not the way they
are." And you laughed
in certainty.
But watching you
then, demure smile,
shoulders faintly
moving, I'd say,
nay testify
to its iron clad
certainty. If
not all men then
at least me, at
least now. And now
it is my turn
to be surprised.
This time by me.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

The poem probably could do with a little background. As with fiction, it isn't really about the poet, but it was spawned from an experience in a Bible Study class that I hope to relate in more detail in another post. The lines are a strict four-syllable count to attempt to capture the breathlessness with which certain sudden knowledge sometimes leaves us. The nature of that knowledge should be clear enough in the context of the poem, but if not, then perhaps that is for the better--leaving it to the reader to construct the pretext.

Anyway, poems like this are fun to write and can be very effective in limited doses. I think of Jacques Prévert.

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.

My poor translation:


He put the coffee
in the cup
He put milk
in the cup of coffee
He put sugar
in the cafe au lait
With a small spoon
he stirred
He drank the cafe au lait
and he replaced the cup
without speaking to me
He lit
a cigarette
He made rings
with the smoke
He put the ashes
into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
his hat on his head
He put on
his raincoat
because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I put
my head in my hands
and I cried.

There's an effectiveness in these short lines, than longer more descriptive lines would undermine. But it's a trick one shouldn't pull too often.

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May 23, 2005

Via Lofted Nest

Another interesting Orson Scott Card Essay. Don't know the exact contours of my agreement, but the flow tends to make sense.

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Long Black Train and others

I have not been, until recent date, a country music fan. I probably still am not by the standards of the dyed-in-the-wool fan. I probably won't be populating my collection with the greatest hits of Merle Haggard, Travis Tritt, or Tanya Tucker (although given the sea-change in my attitude of recent date, who knows?). However, I have acquired a taste for certain new country music. For example, almost anything by almost any of the women of country music--Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Gretchen Wilson, Julie Roberts, Katrina Elam, Terri Clark, Martina McBride. . .

So far the men still leave me mostly cold--they tend to have high tenor voices that grate on my nerves. But I've found a few that I really like. Tim McGraw (on and off), George Canyon, and most recently Josh Turner. What I like about Josh Turner is the deep, smoky, Johnny-Cash-Like voice, particularly demonstrated on the title track of this album.

"Long Black Train" is called a country-gospel song. Can't say that I really understand what all that means; however, it is compelling and interesting listening. Most particularly the chorus:

'Cause there's victory in the Lord, I say.
Victory in the Lord.
Cling to the Father and his Holy name,
And don't go ridin' on that long black train.

(By the way, if you need lyrics this is the place to go. Be warned, it has an unfortunate propensity for pop-ups, which Firefox puts in their place.)

There is something is this chorus that is just catchy. I can't remember much of the rest of the song, but I find myself humming along with the chorus and even singing it to myself. It's good to have the reminder that "there's victory in Lord." And it's nice for it to have a hook that sticks with you.

On a side note, yesterday I was listening to some Johnny Cash (yes, I know he's classified as country, but I've never really thought of him that way), an album called My Mother's Hymnbook. A song came on that had Samuel suddenly joining in from the back seat. I had never heard it before, but it was another one of those punchy Baptist Hymns that get inside your head and won't fall out. This one was called "Do Lord."

Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me,
Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me,
Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me,
Way beyond the blue.

(If you haven't heard it before you can listen to a rather polka-ized over-droned midi here.)

Well, this was one obvious evidence of where he's been to school. However, it was amazing to hear him say--"Play it again. Play it again." He loved hearing something he knew--and it's a peppy little song with a bright chorus, and because of its simplicity a real hook that gets inside and won't come out. Given today's music, I don't mind so much a few reminders of the Lord getting in there and rattling around in my head. Sure as shootin' few of those OCP hymnal things that stick around five seconds after you've sung it.

And finally, yesterday at Mass (we went to the youth Mass) we sand yet another song that Sam knew by heart.

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, pow'r and love
Our God is an awesome God

Not your traditional Latin Mass, but it sent me out of Church on fire and alive. Don't ask me why, but the music lifted me up and brought me into His presence in a way few things have done in a long time. I'll be among those who praise the glories of the diversity available in the Mass. So long as you don't mess with the prayers, I can take in a wide variety of Masses. I've been to a Calypso Mass, a Creole Mass, a Mariachi Mass, an African Drum Mass, and several Asian varieties of the Mass, and each was beautiful in its own right. Now, I'm not sure I'd want a steady diet of any of these--but the Youth Mass at our Church is just fine with me. Late enough in the day that I can actually sing, and giving praise to God at my "peak time" is surely worth the time and energy.

Okay, so enough of my peculiarities in the realm of music. If you haven't heard it, I'd recommend hitting up the local public library or a friend and listening to Josh Turner's wonderful album Long Black Train. I really enjoyed every song on it. And it's nice to hear a country music song mention Florida, even if it is only in terms of a place you want to get away from.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:42 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 22, 2005

Two Poems

Florida Easter Song

I live in the land of the lizard king,
brown anole, and green tree frog.
Orchids here catch the sun
on back porches
and light
the night
as bright torches
with the scent of honey.
On the lake, what looks like a log
moves by itself--gator ripples that ring
out into the moonlight. That shriek--frogs sing
to find mates. Soon the night is done,
And Our Lord's victory is won
as all things rise on daylight's gaudy wings.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

This is a sonnet with a progressively decreasing syllable count and a rhyme scheme of abcdeedcbaacca. I'm not completely satisfied with it because it seems to me the end is too rushed--probably too big a topic to fit into this compressed version of the sonnet. Nevertheless, I am particularly pleased with the sound-pun in the last line where "gaudy" suggests "Godly." I provide these insights because I am often interested in how others think about their writing and what they are doing. It may give you perspective on intent, it may not. Hope you enjoy the poem. And now for something completely different.

Song of Creation

You have heard, but have you listened? The tale
of the stork clatters out against the dark
purple of the evening, and this noise marks
the start of the tale. You listen but fail
to make sense of the story. The pond and
the wood are too distant, too alien--
the words cannot make sense. You see God's hand
in the lowering night, and wonder when
the Word He sends can be heard and heeded
by you, by those around you. You don't know
why the heron and wren know what's needed,
and men are so reluctant and so slow
to understand--the evening and the night
the stars, the moon-- all God's created things
Rejoice with a great glad noise, without shame,
Man alone pines, mourns, walks as though he's lame,
Til one Man returns to teach him to sing.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

A poem is too short to allow anything to go to waste, even the title. I'm of the opinion that poems are better for titles, but the title should not give away anything already present in the poem. It should, if possible, provide a light to see the poem somewhat differently than one might without the title. All of that seems perhaps a little pretentious and it is mere poetic theory, but as poetry is compressed speech, I think it best to make the most of the least.

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