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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

I’ve been reading Julian of Norwich lately, and although she’s a slow read she’s worth every minute. In honor of Good Friday I’ve included part of her description of the dying of Christ on the cross.

Lady Julian, or Dame Julian (not quite Saint Julian), wrote her Showings (orJulian of Norwich cat & hazelnut “Shewynges”) in the late 14th century England. She was an anchoress (not quite a nun) at the church of St. Julian in Norwich. Not much is known about her outside of her writings, not even her name. She is called Julian after her church.

At age 30, probably in 1373, she became deathly ill and began to receive visions, revelations, or “showings” that she believed came from God. She wrote them down immediately and developed them years later into a longer text, which became a volume of 86 chapters. It’s humbly written, simple and powerful, and uncannily orthodox as far as I’ve read. Her perspective on matters such as creation, the Trinity, Christ’s death and God’s love appears to come from a different angle—and I suppose it would, if it comes from God. Her level of education is not known and was likely not very high; nevertheless she is known as the first woman published in the English language.

She wrote in a dialect of Middle English that resembles our language more than does Chaucer’s Middle English of the same period. But then, Chaucer wrote poetry and liked to show off.

I’ve taken this excerpt from Julian’s revelation VIII, last paragraph in chapter 16 and the first in chapter 17. I have modernized the spelling, even though the editor of my copy had already cleaned it up a bit. Not only does Julian’s spelling differ greatly from ours, it differs from her own. She couldn’t seem to spell a word the same way twice. To see what you’re missing, here are the first two lines in the selection, unchanged:

“Thus I saw the swete flessch dry in my syght, parte after perte dryeing with mervelous payne. And as long as any spryte had lyffe in Cristes flessch, so longe sufferede he.”

A few observations on Julian’s writings; and owing to her style I’ll list them in threes:

—The First, that this stuff is way better as a Christian devotional than just about any of the crud written for the mass market today.

—The Second, that Julian’s showings offer at least one good reason not to swallow a belief in the cessation of the apostolic gifts. And no, I’m not Pentecostal.

—The Third, that Julian’s style vaguely reminds me of Hemingway, and I don’t suppose I can help that. But sadly, Hemingway never wrote anything about creation likened to a hazelnut.

Here’s the Good Friday excerpt, and remember that we have to get through this to make any sense out of Easter:

Thus I saw the sweet flesh dry in my sight, part after part drying with marvelous pain. And as long as any spirit had life in Christ’s flesh, so long suffered he. This long pain seemed to me as if he had been sevennight dead, dying, at the point of out passing, always suffering the great pain. And there I say it seemed as he had been sevennight dead, it specifieth that the sweet body was so discoloured , so dry, so clinging, so deadly, and so piteous as he had been sevennight dead, continually dying. And me thought the drying of Christ’s flesh was the most pain and the last of his passion.

And in this drying was brought to my mind this word that Christ said, “I thirst.” For I saw in Christ a double thirst, one bodily and another ghostly. This word was showed for the bodily thirst, and for the ghostly thirst was showed as I shall say after. And I understood by the bodily thirst that the body had feeling of moisture, for the blessed flesh and bones was left all alone without blood and moisture. The blessed body dried all a lone long time with wringing of the nails and weight of the body. For I understood that for tenderness of the sweet hands and the sweet feet by the great hardness and grievous of the nails the wounds waxed wide and the body saddled for weight, by long time hanging and piercing and raising of the head and binding of the crown all baking with dry blood, with the sweet hair clinging the dry flesh to the thorns and the thorns to the flesh drying.

Reference:
Denise N. Baker, ed., The Showings of Julian of Norwich. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. pp. 27-28

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In this video, Nancy Duarte demonstrates in visual form the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after calling it “possibly the best piece of oration ever written.”

Dr. King delivered his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on the 28th of August, 1963.  Text appears below.

I Have a Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five scoreMartin Luther King Jr - I have a dream years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

                My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

                Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

                From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

                Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

                Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

                Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

                Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

                Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

                Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

                Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

________________________________

¹  Amos 5:24 
2   Isaiah 40:4-5

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Super Bowl XLVI

Ernest Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Some of you will be cheering for the Giants this evening, others the Patriots (around here it’s Patriots or nothing, except when it’s Red Sox or Bruins).  You may find yourselves cheering opposite teams in front of the same flat-screen TV (from opposite sides of the living room) because New York and New England overlap and you can’t do anything about the geography.

William Faulkner: “Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

As far as I’m concerned you can have the Super Bowl and whichever team you like.  Me, I choose up sides between Hemingway and Faulkner (as if one needed to choose) and it’s Hemingway all the way. 

I’ve just been informed that Daughter Number Three has succumbed to the William Faulkner bug as her mother did years ago, and has enrolled in a seminar toward her thesis as an English major (you know—you try to raise up your child in the best way you can, you pray for them, you pay for them, you send them to a good school—and you never know which direction they’ll go).  What went wrong? 

Her studying Faulkner could be like somebody around these parts cheering the Giants this evening.  In her parents’ living room.  On their TV.   

A person shouldn’t have to choose sides between great authors, you say; why not enjoy them both?  But that seems to be how it shakes down between Hemingway and Faulkner.  Either you like one and not the other or you just haven’t read them both.  Sort of like me with football.  I had to do an internet search even to find out who was playing, so why all the fuss?    

Part of the contest among literary fans may stem from the alleged feud between the authors themselves.  If they couldn’t get along, can we expect ourselves to?  Of course not; no more than you football fans can.  So enjoy the fight and be satisfied that the Patriots are the best.  Unless you’re from New York, God help you.

To help you choose up sides in this clash of titans, read these opening lines from a selection of each.  I’ll start with William Faulkner, from the last chapter of The Sound and the Fury (entitled “Dilsey” in my wife’s Portable Faulkner): 

The day dawned bleak and chill, a moving wall of gray light out of the northeast which, instead of dissolving into moisture, seemed to disintegrate into minute and venomous particles like dust that, when Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally into her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil.  She wore a stiff black straw hat perched upon her turban, and a maroon velvet cape with a border of mangy and anonymous fur above a dress of purple silk, and she stood in the door for a while with her myriad and sunken face lifted to the weather, and one gaunt hand flac-soled as the belly of a fish, then she moved the cape aside and examined the bosom of her gown.”

And Ernest Hemingway, the opening lines of his short story Cat in the Rain:

There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden.  In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea.  Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the café a waiter stood looking out at the empty square. 

The American wife stood at the window looking out.  Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on. 

‘I’m going down and get that kitty,’ the American wife said.”

You’ll either get this or you won’t.  Never mind.  Enjoy the game.

.

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Physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made great contributions to our understanding of science and has been a great example of courage in overcoming a handicap.  But, like Carl Sagan, he sometimes violates principles of good science and makes unverifiable claims. 

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Dr. Hawking has claimed the non-existence of Heaven:  “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”  

He is welcome to his belief, and he knows full well that there is no easy way to prove non-existence scientifically; and so his statement comes under the realm of faith, the same as for those of us who do believe in Heaven.  We can’t prove it either, but then we’re not trying to justify it on scientific grounds.  It’s faith in what’s unseen, as the Book of Hebrews says.

Let me steer you to something written by a former professor of mine, Thomas Howard.  Here are the opening paragraphs in his book Chance or the Dance?  A Critique of Modern Secularism:

After that, ’nuff said.

There were some ages in Western history that have occasionally been called Dark. They were dark, it is said, because in them learning declined, and progress paused, and men labored under the pall of belief. A cause-effect relationship is frequently felt to exist between the pause and the belief. Men believed in things like the Last Judgment and fiery torment. They believed that demented people had devils in them, and that disease was a plague from heaven. They believed that they had souls, and that what they did in this life had some bearing on the way in which they would finally experience reality. They believed in portents and charms and talismans. And they believed that God was in heaven and Beelzebub in hell and that the Holy Ghost had impregnated the Virgin Mary and that the earth and sky were full of angelic and demonic conflict. Altogether, life was very weighty, and there was no telling what might lie behind things. The ages were, as I say, dark.

“Then the light came. It was the light that has lighted us men into a new age. Charms, angels, devils, plagues, and parthenogenesis have fled from the glare into the crannies of memory. In their place have come coal mining and E = mc2 and plastic and group dynamics and napalm and urban renewal and rapid transit. Men were freed from the fear of the Last Judgment; it was felt to be more bracing to face Nothing than to face the Tribunal. They were freed from worry about getting their souls into God’s heaven by the discovery that they had no souls and that God had no heaven. They were freed from the terror of devils and plagues by the knowledge that the thing that was making them scream and foam was not an imp but only their own inability to cope, and that the thing that was clawing out their entrails was not divine wrath but only cancer. Altogether, life became much more livable since it was clear that in fact nothing lay behind things. The age was called enlightened.

“The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything.”

     .

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It’s been one year today.  One hundred thirty-one posts,  no death threats (but no job offers either), not too much spam, an encouraging number of hits (6300, with the daily average climbing) and just enough positive feedback to fool me into thinking I’m not wasting my time.  So far so good.

My first blogpost, Dylan Thomas’s poem And Death Shall Have No Dominion, came about because three people I knew had just died of cancer, all of them in their forties or fifties.  Two of them were friends from nearby Bar Harbor and the third, Michael Spencer, had authored a blog called InternetMonk.com that I had become hooked on.  Shortly before his death some good friends took over the helm and later helped to publish his nearly-completed book Mere Churchianity

The iMonk blog, taglined “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness”, continues with a dedicated online community, lots of challenging topics for various kinds of Christians and non-believers too, and the new authors have continued remarkably well in Michael Spencer’s tradition.    

So Dylan Thomas was right:  death shall have no dominion.  I like to think that Thomas echoed the apostle Paul in First Corinthians 15:55:  “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

As the birth of my own blog had its genesis in death—and in a poem about death—I’m prepared to post a couple more:  Dylan Thomas’s “other” death poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and (in my opinion) its counter-weight Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson—a classic written in 1889 and recited at countless funerals since. 

Where Tennyson says, “May there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea,” Thomas says, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day.” 

Where Tennyson says, “May there be no sadness of farewell when I embark,” Thomas says, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Who is right?  Beethoven or Bach?  Picasso or Rockwell?  Thomas or Tennyson?  Let’s keep asking the questions in order to arrive at the answers.  It’s all art.

Here’s to the next year.

L’Chaim!

To life.

.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,   

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Crossing the Bar

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,

      And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

      When I put out to sea,

 

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

      Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

      Turns again home.

 

   Twilight and evening bell,

      And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

      When I embark;

 

   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

      The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

      When I have crost the bar.

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But seriously… support your local library and tell Cindy how much you appreciate her.

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She loved to fish.  She loved to fish with Nick.”

Ernest Hemingway wrote that line as the epitaph to a love affair.  The story hinges on it.  And the following line nearly became the epitaph to this blog post:

“Dad!  You’ve got to blog about something besides Hemingway!”

Daughter Number One caught me doing an internet search on Hemingway last August and thought she’d put a stop to the madness.  I had dedicated my first Hemingway post to her earlier in the summer while she was in Africa and under the shadow of snow-capped Kilimanjaro.   Then I got inspired and posted on In Another Country, and then Hills Like White Elephants.  But the fourth installment got derailed by a daughter’s indignation.  I felt shamed into putting it down.

However!  As it turns out, blogs like WordPress have a “schedule” function!  One can write something and then set it to post at any month, day and hour.  I should have continued, and scheduled it to post safely after she had gone back to school. 

Hills Like White Elephants, the previous and my favorite of all Hemingway’s stories (and I think the most economical story ever written) shows a relationship headed toward a cliff.  The man and the woman both have seen the wreckage coming, yet are trapped—in a co-dependent affair, a surprise pregnancy, and somewhere along a railroad line in Spain.  The story ends (or does not end) with a bitter taste—as if they hate each other—while proclaiming their love.  The reader isn’t fooled.

I said at the end of the post on Hills that it would lead into another strained relationship, one that would break up before the end of the story.  The characters in these two stories are very different; their settings very different, and in the case of this one (aptly called The End of Something) the ending surprises the reader as it does Marjorie, the woman jilted. 

Nick is a jerk.  Let’s get that out first.  He shows up in many stories, collectively known (naturally) as “The Nick Adams Stories”.  Unlike other male characters in Hemingway’s stories, Nick has no dynamic personality.  He seems more generic, a flat character, indifferent to his Michigan surroundings and, also unlike other Hemingway stories, Nick reveals nothing of the mind and personality of the author, evident when Hemingway writes about Africa, or Cuba, or Central Europe, or Spain (with exception of Hills).  Not Nick.  Other than the way he treats his women, Nick is no offspring of Hemingway. 

Nick ditches Marjorie, a good woman who loves him, for no reason that he can think of but boredom.  There doesn’t even appear to be another woman!  Some stories have no ending, and Hemingway proves this in Hills Like White Elephants as well as The End of Something.

Note the similarities between the two stories:  the dialogue, the tension, the descriptions of their gazing at the hills.  Although the characters are very different, these may have been sketches for a larger idea of the author’s.

Why do I bother with Hemingway?  (My wife always wants to know.)

It’s because no matter how ugly the story, no matter how much I dislike the character, Hemingway tells it so well.  There.  That’s all there is to it.  The story is in the telling.  

An excerpt— the end of The End of Something

They ate without talking, and watched the two rods and the firelight in the water.

“There’s going to be a moon tonight,” said Nick. He looked across the bay to the hills that were beginning to sharpen against the sky. Beyond the hills he knew the moon was coming up.

“I know it,” Marjorie said happily.

“You know everything,” Nick said.

“Oh, Nick, please cut it out! Please, please don’t be that way!”

“I can’t help it,” Nick said. “You do. You know everything. That’s the trouble. You know you do.”

Marjorie did not say anything.

“I’ve taught you everything. You know you do. What don’t you know, anyway?”

“Oh, shut up,” Marjorie said. “There comes the moon.”

They sat on the blanket without touching each other and watched the moon rise.

“You don’t have to talk silly,” Marjorie said; “what’s really the matter?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you know.”

“No I don’t.”

“Go on and say it.”

Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.

“It isn’t fun any more.”

He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”

She didn’t say anything. He went on. “I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don’t know, Marge. I don’t know what to say.”

He looked on at her back.

“Isn’t love any fun?” Marjorie said.

“No,” Nick said. Marjorie stood up. Nick sat there, his head in his hands.

“I’m going to take the boat,” Marjorie called to him. “You can walk back around the point.”

“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll push the boat off for you.”

“You don’t need to,” she said. She was afloat in the boat on the water with the moonlight on it. Nick went back and lay down with his face in the blanket by the fire. He could hear Marjorie rowing on the water.

He lay there for a long time. He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing, walking around through the woods. He felt Bill coming up to the fire. Bill didn’t touch him, either.

“Did she go all right?” Bill said.

“Oh, yes.” Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket.

“Have a scene?”

“No, there wasn’t any scene.”

“How do you feel?”

“Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while.”

Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods.

 

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It’s official.  After a paperwork mixup, Daughter Number Three finally made it to Italy, the first of our family since her great-grandparents emigrated from there a hundred years ago. 

We hadn’t heard from her since Tuesday after she cleared airport security  in Boston.  But, unless she had been wandering around the airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, we assumed that she made it OK. 

We just received an email from her this morning, Friday:

Hi mom/dad,
I’m here, it is fabulous!!  I have limited internet access; this was the first time I was able to send out an email.  To keep it short though, all is well and Siena is beautiful!
love you,
-Heather

Heather will be studying in Siena this semester, her second year in college.  Siena is located somewhere between Florence and Rome, so she will have no excuse to be bored. 

What will she study?  Italy, of course.  It’s a semester abroad, after all.  Italian language; art history; and literature ( I think).  Dante, in any case, because he lives there: 

La gloria di colui che tutto move per l’universo penetra, e risplende

"Dante and Beatrice" by Ary Scheffer 1851

 

Nel ciel che più de la sua luce prende

fu’ io, e vidi cose che ridire

né sa né può chi di là sù discende;

 

perché appressando sé al suo disire,

nostro intelletto si profonda tanto,

che dietro la memoria non può ire.

 

Veramente quant’io del regno santo

ne la mia mente potei far tesoro,

sarà ora materia del mio canto. 

(The opening lines of Paradiso, Canto I)

 

Longfellow translation: 

The glory of Him who moveth everything

Doth penetrate the universe, and shine

In one part more and in another less.

 

Within that heaven which most his light receives

Was I, and things beheld which to repeat

Nor knows, nor can, who from above descends;

 

Because in drawing near to its desire

Our intellect ingulphs itself so far,

That after it the memory cannot go.

 

Truly whatever of the holy realm

I had the power to treasure in my mind

Shall now become the subject of my song.

__________ 

That’s about it.  Study well, Heather.  Maybe we’ll see you over there? 

Love, Daddy

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If you’ve had enough of the commercialism already, and with Christmas yet a week away, be assured that you’re not the only one.  Try to keep your cool.  Keep it simple.  Sing traditional carols with family and friends.  Eat some chocolate, pour whipped cream with cinnamon into your fair-trade coffee, and read the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke.  In short, insist upon your sanity.

And stay away from the malls. 

To further our “any excuse to play Joni Mitchell” commitment, her song “River” flows along every year at this time to help put Christmas into perspective for those of us who really do have sensitive antennae against the desecration of the holiday.

I’ll include this post in the categories of “poetry” and “literature” too.  I often point out, when talking about writing in a workshop or in conversation, that Joni demonstrates the proverb “Show, don’t tell,” when describing her feelings.  Instead of saying, “I get depressed around the holidays,” she paints a picture:

It’s comin’ on Christmas,

They’re cuttin’ down trees.

They’re puttin’ up reindeer,

Singin’ songs of Joy and Peace.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

Me and Joni are gonna lace up our spiritual skates.  Join us!  Boycott the frenzy, overturn the tables in the Temple and try to save Christmas for yourself before it’s too late.  Others may follow.

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It’s not that Hurricane Earl was a blessing in disguise; it was just plainly and simply a blessing (at least on this side of the Bay of Fundy).

 

I don’t know how much damage Earl did in Puerto Rico; I suspect mostly rain.  As for the Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras, well, I haven’t heard.  So no news is good news.  Cape Cod and the islands?  Not a huge deal. 

The storm stayed on track pretty well for most of the week.  We knew that it would come up into the Bay of Fundy, but the question was, which side of it?  Maine or Nova Scotia?  Here on the coast of Maine, if you’re a fisherman or own a boat, you don’t play the roulette wheel.  If it’s a named storm and it’s headed your way, you’d better move some lobster traps or take care of some boats. 

After a lot of activity around the island bringing in thousands of traps (I brought in 130) and hauling small outboards and sailboats (It’s September; time they were hauled anyway) we prepared for what turned out not to be the worst.  Nova Scotia, God bless ‘em, took the hit. 

But it could have been us.  Hurricane Noel, three years ago, behaved much like Earl was supposed to, and Noel dropped a maple tree on my truck.  Not to mention scattering or staving up hundreds of traps.

So, the morning of the hurricane that wasn’t (well not here, at least) we slept late and listened to the rain come down, but the wind?  Where was that? 

In Nova Scotia, God bless ‘em.  Earl made landfall over there blowing 70 knots.  Over here, a relatively light breeze and the sun came out before noon.  Cool and fallish. 

Monday I’ll start setting those traps back out.

In the meantime, the Annual Three-Day Art Workshop, of which my wife Jeri took part, kept on painting.  Oh, they had a late start for the rain, but were back on the shores after it passed and had some added surf as subject matter.

A very relaxing hurricane.

For myself, I managed to hang out at the dock for a bit, catching up with some friends (it’s been way too busy this summer for hanging out) and taking a few photos. 

And reading.  The Adirondack chair on the porch couldn’t wait for me to camp out and act like a rich man for a change while what’s left of the storm passed.  Bright sun, a good book, Salvadoran coffee and the kind of lunch I can’t get while out lobstering.  And letting scraps of mozzarella fall to the cat.    

I’ve nearly finished a book by Robert Farrar Capon, bought and begun on a challenge by some bloggers I follow (all right, they’re on intenetmonk).  It’s titled Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of GraceI hope to post more about this another day, but for now let me say that grace, which we all know to be amazing, becomes outrageous by the time Capon gets done with it.  The book is a theology disguised as a novel.  How can an extramarital love affair demonstrate grace?  How can a mafia rub-out, jolly though it be, demonstrate grace?  Capon sets up these parables to push grace to the extreme, nearly to the edge of universalism.  Some would say that he flies off that cliff.  Capon denies it.  I’ll finish the book, go over my notes, and get back to you.

Thank God that hurricane came when it did.  I needed a break.

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There. I got that out of my system.

Special thanks to www.addletters.com

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No cihld left behind

At last!  Comic relief for those of us on a school board. 

From HuffingtonPost.com:

When Southern Guilford High School in North Carolina asked contractors to paint a safety zone on the road in front of the school, chances are they weren’t expecting this. Perhaps the painters should have referenced one of the school’s many English teachers before turning the area where students cross the street in to a “shcool” zone. (Via The Upshot)

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The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.”

I have probably read Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants about twenty times, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.  Thankfully, it’s only four pages.  The coffee barely cools off.

This is another of Hemingway’s stories within a story.  It begins in medias res, in the middle of things, and doesn’t really end.  We never learn the names of the characters, nor where they’ve been, nor really where they’re going.  They are identified only as “the American and the girl with him” (he also calls her Jig, but that doesn’t help much).  These are anonymous characters, the kind we’d meet briefly if on a trip ourselves, perhaps overhearing them at a table nearby.  And the male character doesn’t even appear to resemble the author, as many of Hemingway’s characters do.      

The setting is the café of a train station along the Ebro Valley in northeastern Spain.  We do know where they are headed (but not really where they’re going) because the train they await will come from Barcelona and go on to Madrid.

This story is a perfect lesson in tension—as well as conflict, a necessary ingredient—but tension even within that.  Something alarming has happened before the story begins, and something explosive awaits.  We never find out what—but we can surmise from the little we are told that the girl has discovered that she is pregnant, and the American wants to solve that.

The dialogue too gives a perfect lesson in the power of the simple pen.  Hemingway leaves out more than he includes, and this adds unexploded dynamite to the story.  The American wants to talk about terminating the problem; the girl does not.  He wants them to be happy again, he says.  She changes the subject; he presses her toward a solution.  She tells him “please” to stop talking.  He backtracks:  he doesn’t want her to go through with the operation if she feels that way—he says.      

“I’ll scream,” she says. 

They drink cool beers in the summer heat and try new drinks, waiting in a stalemate for the train.

What will happen?  What should happen?  Will they both board the train?  If so, will they part company in Madrid?  Will she maneuver to get him on the train and then disappear as it leaves the station (my preferred scenario)?  Whatever happens, this couple is poison together.    

‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.

‘Let’s drink beer.’

‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.

‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.

‘Yes. Two big ones.’

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.

‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.

‘No, you wouldn’t have.’

‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’”

I’ll leave it here at the beginning—the beginning of the end for this couple—a snapshot within a snapshot within a larger story that we’ll never know.  Find it in your local library, or google it on the web.  The closing line, however, sets up the two for a dysfunctional future, if they even make it out of the station:   

“‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’”

May you live happily ever after and may we all learn to write this well even if we can’t stand the subject.  In my next Hemingway installment I’ll post a scene from the end of a different relationship, unrelated and also leaving much to the imagination.

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One of the blogsurfing finds lately (iMonk) has been a poem by John Oxenham entitled “Credo”.  This followed a discussion about the Culture Wars that got only a little off-topic.  Here is a bit of the discussion, edited:

[someone named Steve said]:  “…I should know – I used to be that person. I was more interested in the knowledge of good and evil than I was interested in the relationship with God. Therefore, I needed my knowledge to be inerrant, because I wanted to play on God’s turf and successfully ‘manage’ my relationship with Him.

Thanks be to God that ‘the Truth shall set you free’ is a statement about Jesus, not a statement about other statements.”

[Ray said, replying to Steve]:  “I think you might have just hit the heart of the matter.  I can remember how much my world expanded when Truth went from being a proposition to a Person in my life.  So many things were tipped on their heads and it was both wonderful and terrifying at the same time…”

[then I said, replying to Ray]:  “Ray, something you said startled me because it’s almost exactly what a physician friend once told me [this was Lou, for you locals].

You said, ‘I can remember how much my world expanded when Truth went from being a proposition to a Person in my life.’

My friend said, ‘My medical practice took a quantum leap when I realized that I should be treating the person and not the disease.’

Eye-opening, isn’t it?”

[then someone named David said nothing, but posted this poem]:

Not what, but WHOM, I do believe,
That, in my darkest hour of need,
Hath comfort that no mortal creed
To mortal man may give;–
Not what, but WHOM!
For Christ is more than all the creeds,
And His full life of gentle deeds
Shall all the creeds outlive.
Not what I do believe, but WHOM!
WHO walks beside me in the gloom?
WHO shares the burden wearisome?
WHO all the dim way doth illume,
And bids me look beyond the tomb
The larger life to live?–
Not what I do believe,
BUT WHOM!
Not what,
But WHOM!

John Oxenham’s Poem: Credo

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