"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, October 30, 2015

Faith Filled Friday: On Courage from St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena wrote, prayers, poems, and a great spiritual work called the Dialogue, but I think her most profound writing can be found in her letters.  She wrote what amounts to four volumes of letters—at least that’s what’s survived—in her short life.  I don’t have any of those volumes but I do catch snippets from people who quote them.   In the devotional magazine, Magnificat, there is a “meditation of the day” coupled to either to a bible passage or something of significance for that day. On October 16th’s meditation, coupled to Luke 12:1-7, the passage where Christ says “not to be afraid of those who kill the body,” was this passage from one of St. Catherine’s letters.


I, Caterina, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, am writing to you in his precious blood, longing to see you courageous knights completely free of slavish fear.  This is what our gentle Savior wants: that we fear him, and not worldly people.  Thus he said, Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but of me who can send soul and body to hell.  I want you therefore to be immersed in the blood of God’s son, set ablaze in the fire of divine charity, because there you will lose all slavish fear and keep only reverential fear.


Now what can the world or the devil and his servants do to those who live in this immeasurable love, who have the blood as their focus?  Nothing!  In fact, they are instrumental in giving us virtue, in proving virtue in us, since virtue is proved through its opposite.  So we ought to be happy and glad, and in our suffering always look for Christ crucified, and humble and abase ourselves for him, finding constant joy in suffering and in the cross.  If you want suffering you will have joy, and if you want joy you will have suffering.


So it is better to immerse ourselves in the blood and to kill our perverse wills with a heart generous toward our Creator and with no pity for ourselves.  Then your joy and happiness will be complete.  You will wait without crippling weariness.  No command we have been given ought to cause us pain but rather delight, for there is no command of human origin that could deprive us of God.


Magnificat doesn’t identify which letter and to whom it was written.  That is unfortunate because I am curious who these "knights" are or if she's using "knight" as a metaphor.  It only notes that it comes from Volume II of Suzanne Noffke’s translation.  Three short paragraphs and profound kernel in each one.  I’m not going to unpack each paragraph but I did want to focus on that middle paragraph, especially the first three sentences.  It is by facing evil itself that we can reach virtue.  So in that great question of why evil exists, St. Catherine answers it concisely and elegantly.  It is there so that in opposition to it, we can reach God.  So have courage in the face of evil, for it will be your salvation.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Notable Quotes: On Life and Writing by Ernest Hemingway

The other day I posted an analysis of a Hemingway short story, “Now I Lay Me” which was based on an event in his personal life.  Then I came across this quote.  Now this quote doesn’t quite fit the short story since the quote calls for biography while the story is fiction, or as Hemingway calls it, “invention,”  Still, that short story was so autobiographical that I think the quote is warranted. 

 There are events which are so great that if a writer has participated in them his obligation is to write truly rather than assume the presumption of altering them with invention.
       -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, October 26, 2015

Short Story Analysis: “Now I Lay Me” by Ernest Hemingway

This is a really fine little story, and amazingly you can actually find it on the internet, here.  It’s less than eight pages long, so it’s a quick read, and if you like what I say about it you can read it in fifteen to twenty minutes.  The story also has a Wikipedia entry, but I’m going to give it a lot more depth.

The story is told in first person through a character only identified as Signor Tenente, which in Italian translates, “Mr. Lieutenant” or perhaps “Sir Lieutenant.”  There are two characters in the story, both laying at night in a tent—which may be a hospital tent, it’s not clear—awake listening to the artillery fire in the distant.  It’s during World War I on the Italian front.  This is one of Hemingway’s Nick Adams storiesa group of stories around the character Nick Adams, who in many respects is an alter ego of the author.  Signor Tenente is Nick Adams.  Given this comes from a story sequence, we know more about the character from the other stories than is told in this story. 

Let me fill in that backstory.  Just as Hemingway in his real life, Nick Adams joins the Italian Army to fight in WWI.  This was before the United States entered the war and was the only way Hemingway (and presumptuously Nick) could join the fight.  Hemingway and Nick are both seriously injured in the war, both physically and emotionally traumatized, and spend time recuperating in hospitals.  This life experience is also fictionalized in Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises.  The scene in the “Now I Lay Me” short story is where Nick, post injury, is recuperating.  It is night and he is afraid to go to sleep because he fears “his soul leaving his body.”  He had the sensation of just that when he was injured, and now because of his emotional trauma he senses his soul leaving permanently if he lets it. 

The story is divided into two parts.  The first part is a mostly expository section where Signor Tenente trying to stay awake at night describes the various mental exercises he performs to keep himself from dozing off.  The second part is a dialogue with the man in a bed beside him, John, who also cannot fall asleep.  John also is an American, but an Italian immigrant to Chicago.  He too joined the Italian Army to fight in the war.  It should also be noted that the title, “Now I Lay Me,” comes from the children’s bedtime prayer, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
 I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
 If I shall die when I'm wake
 I pray the Lord my soul to take,

Here’s the opening paragraph, setting up the situation.

That night we lay on the floor in the room and I listened to the silkworms eating. The silkworms fed in racks of mulberry leaves and all night you could hear them eating and a dropping sound in the leaves. I myself did not want to sleep because I had been living for a long time with the knowledge that if I ever shut my eyes in the dark and let myself go, my soul would go out of my body. I had been that way for a long time, ever since I had been blown up at night and felt it go out of me and go off and then come back. I tried never to think about it, but it had started to go since, in the nights, just at the moment of going off to sleep, and I could only stop it by a very great effort. So while now I am fairly sure that it would not really have gone out, yet then, that summer, I was unwilling to make the experiment.

Hemingway doesn’t mention the artillery fire in the distant here, but the sound of the silkworms eating—what I imagine to be a very subtle and delicate sound—contrasts with the cannon fire.  Then Signor Tenente tells the reader the various ways he tries to keep awake.  First he tells us about how he tries to remember every stream and even every locale on the streams where he fished. 

I had different ways of occupying myself while I lay awake. I would think of a trout stream I had fished along when I was a boy and fish its whole length very carefully in my mind, fishing very carefully under all the logs, all the turns of the bank, the deep holes and the clear shallow stretches, sometimes catching trout and sometimes losing them. I would stop fishing at noon to eat my lunch, sometimes on a log over the stream, sometimes on a high bank under a tree, and I always ate my lunch very slowly and watched the stream below me in the back yard while I ate. Often I ran out of bait because I would take only ten worms with me in a tobacco tin when I started. When I had used them all I had to find more worms, and sometimes it was very difficult digging in the bank of the stream where the cedar trees kept out the sun and there was no grass but only the bare moist earth and often I could find no worms. Always, though, I found some kind of bait, but one time in the swamp I could find no bait at all and had to cut up one of the trout I had caught and use him for bait.

Sometimes I found insects in the swamp meadows, in the grass or under ferns, and used them. There were beetles and insects with legs like grass stems, and grubs in old rotten logs, white grubs with brown pinching heads that would not stay on the hook and emptied into nothing in the cold water, and wood ticks under logs where sometimes I found angleworms that slipped into the ground as soon as the log was raised. Once I used a salamander from under an old log.  The salamander was very small and neat and agile and a lovely color. He had tiny feet that tried to hold on to the hook, and after that one time I never used a salamander, although I found them very often. Nor did I use crickets, because of the way they acted about the hook.

Sometimes the stream ran through an open meadow, and in the dry grass I would catch grasshoppers and use them for bait and sometimes I would catch grasshoppers and toss them into the stream and watch them float along, swimming on the stream and circling on the surface as the current took them, and then disappear as a trout rose. Sometimes I would fish four or five different streams in the night, starting as near as I could get to their source and fishing them downstream. When I had finished too quickly and the time did not go, I would fish the stream over again, starting where it emptied into the lake and fishing back upstream, trying for all the trout I had missed coming down. Some nights, too, I made up streams, and some of them were very exciting, and it was like being awake and dreaming. Some of those streams I still remember and think that I have fished in them, and they are confused with streams I really know. I gave them all names and went to them on the train and sometimes walked for miles to get to them.

That is some of the most beautiful writing you will ever read in prose.  That’s Hemingway the prose master at his best.  Notice too how the salamander faces a similar trauma as the character thinking about him, a crippling wound.  After the fishing memories, we hear how Signor Tenente keeps awake praying for every single person he has ever known.

But some nights I could not fish, and on those nights I was cold-awake and said my prayers over and over and tried to pray for all the people I had ever known. That took up a great amount of time, for if you try to remember all the people you have ever known, going back to the earliest thing you remember—which was, with me, the attic of the house where I was born and my mother and father's wedding cake in a tin box hanging from one of the rafters, and, in the attic, jars of snakes and other specimens that my father had collected as a boy and preserved in alcohol, the alcohol sunken in the jars so the backs of some of the snakes and specimens were exposed and had turned white—if you thought back that far, you remembered a great many people. If you prayed for all of them, saying a Hail Mary and an Our Father for each one, it took a long time and finally it would be light, and then you could go to sleep, if you were in a place where you could sleep in the daylight.

On those nights I tried to remember everything that had ever happened to me, starting with just before I went to the war and remembering back from one thing to another. I found I could only remember back to that attic in my grandfather's house. Then I would start there and remember this way again, until I reached the war.

That image of the parent’s wedding cake will have significance later in the story, and those images of preserved animals will also come to be symbolic.  I’ll get to that later when I pull the story elements into a coherent theme, but I’m touched in that passage on how he prays a Hail Mary and an Our Father for every person he can remember.  It’s not commonly known, but Ernest Hemingway converted to Roman Catholicism as a young man.  One catches glimpses of it in his fiction here and there, especially in his earlier work such as this.  I doubt he was all that religious later on; he was divorced three times at a time when even unreligious Catholics did not divorce at all.

From remembering the wedding cake in the attic, Signor Tenente’s memory jumps to an incident where his mother cleans out the basement and in an effort to dispose of what she thinks is useless stuff, burns to ashes her husband’s collectables.

About the new house I remembered how my mother was always cleaning things out and making a good clearance. One time when my father was away on a hunting trip she made a good thorough cleaning-out in the basement and burned everything that should not have been there.  When my father came home and got down from his buggy and hitched the horse, the fire was still burning in the road beside the house. I went out to meet him. He handed me his shotgun and looked at the fire. "What's this?" he asked. 

"I've been cleaning out the basement, dear," my mother said from the porch. She was standing there smiling, to meet him. My father looked at the fire and kicked at something. Then he leaned over and picked something out of the ashes. "Get a rake, Nick," he said to me. I went to the basement and brought a rake and my father raked very carefully in the ashes. He raked out stone axes and stone skinning knives and tools for making arrowheads and pieces of pottery and many arrow-heads. They had all been blackened and chipped by the fire. My father raked them all out very carefully and spread them on the grass by the road. His shotgun in its leather case and his game-bags were on the grass where he had left them when he stepped down from the buggy.

"Take the gun and the bags in the house, Nick, and bring me a paper," he said. My mother had gone inside the house. I took the shotgun, which was heavy to carry and banged against my legs, and the two game-bags and started toward the house. "Take them one at a time," my father said. "Don't try and carry too much at once." I put down the game-bags and took in the shotgun and brought out a newspaper from the pile in my father's office. My father spread all the blackened, chipped stone implements on the paper and then wrapped them up. The best arrowheads went all to pieces," he said. He walked into the house with the paper package and I stayed outside on the grass with the two game-bags. After a while I took them in. In remembering that, there were only two people, so I would pray for them both.

Finally the man sleeping in the next bed beside Signor Tenente starts up a conversation.  The gist of the ensuing dialogue is about family and money and especially marriage.  John insists that Signor Tenente get married and have a family.  Signor Tenente is ambivalent on the surface, but underneath we suspect that his trauma has caused him to be repelled by the thought of emotional engagement that marriage requires.  After all, the very memory of his parents was that of a marital disconnect that ruined his father’s precious personal items.

So what is this all about?  How do the fishing, the prayers, the burning of his father’s items, and the discussion of family, money, and marriage hold together?

The key here is the setting of the injured man laying down praying while dreaming of fishing bya stream.  This creates an allusion to the Fisher King myth, a meme in western culture that originates in the early tales of the Arthurian legend.  From Wikipedia:

In Arthurian legend the Fisher King, or the Wounded King, is the last in a long line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of his story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin and incapable of moving on his own. In the Fisher King legends, he becomes impotent and unable to perform his task himself, and he also becomes unable to father or support a next generation to carry on after his death. His kingdom suffers as he does, his impotence affecting the fertility of the land and reducing it to a barren wasteland. All he is able to do is fish in the river near his castle, Corbenic, and wait for someone who might be able to heal him.

Hemingway was greatly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, which at its core has the Fisher King despondent over the cultural and spiritual wasteland of post WWI western culture.  Hemingway used the Fisher King allusion as derived from Eliot’s poem to great effect in several of his early works, especially his great novel, The Sun Also Rises.  In “Now I Lay Me” we see Signor Tenente as the embodiment of the Fisher King unable to connect emotionally because of his wound.  The sound of the artillery fire in the background recalls the physical trauma of his injury while the contrasting sound of the silk worms gnaws at his psyche and soul.  Signor Tenente lays impotent, struggling to keep his soul from leaving.  The wound is great.  Signor Tenente is still in the hospital months later.  Though he prays, his memory drifts to petrified objects, his parent’s wedding cake and jars of animals in alcohol.  The memory of his parents is not even a happy memory.  It is the memory of a marital blunder and phallic objects (axes, knives, and Indian arrows) reduced to ashes.  It is a memory of a moment gone awry.

John tells Signor Tenente the means to healing the wound, fertility: marriage and children.  But Signor Tenente very means to psychic recovery has been compromised.  He is wounded in the legs and groin; he is left impotent.  He now is the petrified animal.  The story is of the struggle for Signor Tenente to heal from his trauma.   

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Literature in the News: Tolkien’s Annotated Map of Middle Earth Discovered

This is pretty cool.  From the UK’s Guardian

A recently discovered map of Middle-earth annotated by JRR Tolkien reveals The Lord of the Rings author’s observation that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford, and implies that the Italian city of Ravenna could be the inspiration behind the fictional city of Minas Tirith.

The map was found loose in a copy of the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Baynes had removed the map from another edition of the novel as she began work on her own colour Map of Middle-earth for Tolkien, which would go on to be published by Allen & Unwin in 1970. Tolkien himself had then copiously annotated it in green ink and pencil, with Baynes adding her own notes to the document while she worked.

Blackwell’s, which is currently exhibiting the map in Oxford and selling it for £60,000, called it “an important document, and perhaps the finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge in the last 20 years at least”.

J.R.R.Tolkien of course was author of Lord of the Rings.    

Here’s an image of a piece of the map off Google images.

Have you ever read the triology?  It’s a great read and thoroughly enjoyable for adolescent and adult.  Have you seen any of the movies?  They are great too.  But read the books before the movie.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Music Tuesday: “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders

I came across this article where Chrissie Hynde of the rock group The Pretenders calls current young female pop stars, “sex workers.”   From the UK’s Daily Mail

She provoked fierce debate by saying it was her own fault for being sexually assaulted at 21.

And now Chrissie Hynde has waded into another contentious area – the overly sexualised nature of modern pop music.

In an obvious reference to scantily-clad stars such as Miley Cyrus and Rihanna, the former Pretenders lead singer branded them ‘sex workers’ for selling music by ‘bumping and grinding’ in their underwear. The 64-year-old also accused them of doing ‘a great deal of damage’ to women with their risque performances.

Miss Hynde launched the scathing attack during a tense interview on BBC’s Woman’s Hour yesterday. She suggested that today’s provocatively-dressed stars are sending the wrong message about how people should view sex.

Miss Hynde added: ‘I don’t think sexual assault is a gender issue as such, I think it’s very much it’s all around us now.

‘It’s provoked by this pornography culture, it’s provoked by pop stars who call themselves feminists. Maybe they’re feminists on behalf of prostitutes – but they are no feminists on behalf of music, if they are selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear in videos.

‘That’s a kind of feminism – but, you know, you’re a sex worker is what you are.

As I think about it, I don’t recall ever seeing Hynde dressed in a provocative outfit.  For a rock singer, she’s definitely on the modest side.  But she is absolute right.  I can’t stand what these female pop stars are doing.  Frankly I don’t even think they are that musically gifted.  If you have to expose yourself to get popularity, it ain’t because of the music. 

One place I do disagree with Hynde is on blaming women for being sexually assaulted by their dress.  There is never justification for forcing oneself on a woman, no matter what her condition. 

You can read the rest of the article for more details.  But I did want to post the closing paragraph.

 Miss Hynde, who moved to England in 1973, also said she regrets her hard partying ways and how they damaged her relationship with her parents. The singer has given up drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and now embraces a clean-living lifestyle.

Good for her. 

Let me take this opportunity to post my favorite of The Pretenders’ songs, “Back on the Chain Gang.”  I’ll also post the lyrics.  I’m going to ask a question on the meaning of the chorus section of the song.  I want to get some opinions.

Here are the lyrics:

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
What hijacked my world that night
To a place in the past
We've been cast out of? Oh oh oh oh
Now we're back in the fight
We're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

A circumstance beyond our control, oh oh oh oh
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell, oh oh oh oh
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies
Put us back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

The powers that be
That force us to live like we do
Bring me to my knees
When i see what they've done to you
But i'll die as i stand here today
Knowing that deep in my heart
They'll fall to ruin one day
For making us part

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
Those were the happiest days of my life
Like a break in the battle was your part, oh oh oh oh
In the wretched life of a lonely heart
Now we're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

And here is the song.

While the Wikipedia entry on this song says it’s about the death from a drug overdose of the Pretender’s founding member and lead guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, ostensibly the song seems to be about the memory of a failed relationship.  Nowhere could I find was it said that Chrissie Hynde and James Honeyman-Scott had a romantic relationship.  It doesn’t appear to be.  The lyrics are cryptic enough to blur both a romantic relationship and a friendship.

What do the chorus lines “Now we’re back on the train/Back on the chain gang” refer?  For the thirty-something years I’ve heard this song, for some reason I thought “Back on the chain-gang” referred to being remarried: wedding rings being links in a chain.  Suddenly yesterday while listening to the song I questioned myself and realized she means just what it means, a euphemism for convicts.  But then how does that fit into the song?  And what does being “back on the train” have to do with chain gangs?  It’s quite odd, and like the stanzas very cryptic.  I can’t seem to crack it.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

But what a great song this is.  The melody is so memorable, and melancholic.  It seems to capture a sadness with an angry undertone.  And the phrases are just superb, despite their opaqueness.   That first stanza in one succinct sentence captures the situation.  The verbs “hijacked” and “cast out” suggest powerlessness to forces beyond their control.  And the outside world entering their “house like a pigeon from hell” is superb.  And this stanza just captures the anger and bitterness: “But I'll die as I stand here today/Knowing that deep in my heart/They'll fall to ruin one day/For making us part.”  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Reading Lists: 10 Russian Novels to Read

I never thought of a category for something like this, but I think it’s a natural for a literature blog.  It occurred to me that everyone loves reading lists.  Why is that?  Is it because we put books in queue to be read?  Or is it because we tend to place books into categories, either by era or by nationality or by genre or even something as individualistic as taste?  Is it because many people like to (I don’t) place books in a hierarchy of prominence?  Perhaps it’s all of those reasons.  Nonetheless we love book lists.

In honor of the recent Nobel Prize winner in literature, Svetlana Alexievich, Andrew D. Kaufman at The Daily Beast put together a list of “ten Russian novels to read before you die.”    

Before I get to the list, let me say something about Svetlana Alexievich.  I’ve never heard of her.  She writes in Russian, which is akin to Belarusian, and she was born in Ukraine from a Belrussian father and a Ukrainian mother.  They moved to Belarus when she was a child.  What’s interesting is that she is a journalist by profession and her books are a sort of non-fiction chronicling of people in their actual voices.  Some people have been calling this a new style, and perhaps it is.  I can’t make that judgement since I haven’t read anything from her.  Maybe she does something different but it sounds a lot like the work of Studs Terkel who wrote quite a few books in a oral history format. And I’m sure there are other writers who have put together books from oral history.  Perhaps the way Svetlana weaves together the story is original.  Either way, congratulations to her.

Here is Kaufman’s Russian novels list to read.  I’m just going to provide the list.  Go over to his site to read why this author and a little something on each work.

1. Eugene Onegin (1833) by Alexander Pushkin
2. A Hero of Our Time (1840) by Mikhail Lermontov
3. Fathers and Sons (1862) by Ivan Turgenev
4. War and Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy
5. The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Fyodor Dostoevsky
6. Doctor Zhivago (1959) by Boris Pasternak
7. And Quiet Flows the Don (1959) by Mikhail Sholokhov
8. Life and Fate (1960) by Vasily Grossman
9. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
10. The Funeral Party (2002) by Lyudmila Ulitskaya

Let me say that I consider the Russian novel to be the greatest of all the nationally categorized novels.  The Russian author seems to capture both humanity and the intensity of life, and fit it into a transcendent world view.  I love Russian novels.

Kaufman’s list is interesting.  He seems to limit himself to a single work for each writer, and he lists them chronologically so that he stretches from the beginning of the Russian novel down to the contemporary. 

I’ve only read four on that list: Fathers and Sons, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.  Interesting he doesn’t include Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which I have not read but was supposed to be one of the great Russian works of the 20th century.  I’ve been wanting to read that for some time now but haven’t been able to fit it in.

I highly endorse Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.  It’s one of the great novels of the 19th century, and really captures a time and place and a generational struggle. I've been trying to find something else to read by Turgenev.  I think I have a few of his short stories somewhere.

I also endorse War and Peace, and while I don’t consider it the greatest novel of all time as some do, it is a great work.  Actually I don’t consider it to be Tolstoy’s greatest work.  I would replace it with Anna Karenina.  Not only do I find that to be a greater work, but more manageable in length. 

The Brothers Karamazov truly is a great work, perhaps in the top five of all time great novels ever written, but as I’ve mentioned I’m currently reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and amazingly that is as great a work as well.  Dostoyevsky might have two novels in the top five novels ever written.  And it might be a little easier to read than The Brothers Karamazov

Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is an interesting work and an important work as far as documenting the miserable life in the Soviet Union.  But I found it to be a bit boring.  It didn’t seem to rise to a high tension.  I think the point was the soul crushing routine of life in a Soviet prison camp.  Curiously Kaufman does not pick Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.  I have never read it, but it’s the book which won him the Nobel Prize.

I haven’t hyperlinked all these writers and their books here.  You can find them all on Wikipedia.  If you’ve read any of these or have some other suggestions on Russian novels, please comment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Matthew Monday: First Test

Matthew is in first grade now.  I don't know if it's common core or what but first grade is a lot harder than when I went.  It's only been a month, and he gets at least one test a week.  So far he's been getting a weekly spelling test.  He's had at least one math test that remember, a religion test (he goes to St. Rita's Catholic School), and a science test.  He's done well.  Here is his very first test he's ever taken, a spelling test.

He had one little error.  He wrote the "d" for dog backwards, but since bog was not one of the words to spell the teacher, Mrs. Epstein, realized what he meant and did not subtract points.  He still got a 100% and a sticker.  Matthew is not dyslexic but he does confuse b's and d's and 9's and p's.

I'm also surprised at how good his penmanship is.  He's normally not that neat when he writes at home.  Not sure what the picture at the bottom was meant to be, but it's cute.  I don't remember getting to draw on my spelling tests.  Here he is holding up his test.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Notable Quote: Life among the Books

I came across this marvelous quote by St. Jerome, the fourth century translator of the Bible into Latin, commonly known as the Vulgate translation.  The quote was written to a friend and is actually referring to the scriptures, but it applies to all worthy works of literature.

I beg of you dear brother to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else.  Does not such a life seem to you a foretaste of heaven here on earth?

        -St. Jerome

Friday, October 9, 2015

Faith Filled Friday: Photos from the Papal Mass

I posted on my experience at the Papal Mass of September 25th at Madison Square Garden in NYC when Pope Francis made his way in the United States.  I promised some pictures.  Here’s a photo essay of it.

Here’s Madison Square Garden with people approaching and being redirected.

And here’s the billboard for the event.

I mentioned we were queued up for perhaps a half mile.  Here’s the line trying to move forward once they started letting people in.  It became a semi disorderly swarm. 

This was the view from my seat, though I think the camera is zoomed out and makes it look more distant.  But there is the stage, a large TV monitor in front, and below you can see the lighting and TV controls.

Here’s more of a zoomed in look at the stage.  I think that was Gloria Estafan performing.

I got a zoomed in snap of the hanging crucifix. 

The monitor provided close up views with lyrics and captions.  Here’s Harry Connick Jr. performing. 

I could not get a great picture of the Holy Father rounding the perimeter in the golf cart.  It was all moving too fast.  This was the best I could do.  You can see the back of his head and waving.


Zoomed in from far back and people moving, pictures got blurry, but these two kind of show his face.

The procession coming in.

With the Holy Father coming in at the end, the last one in the green.

Some pictures off the monitor.

Here’s a few zoomed in not off the monitor.

The white frocked priests up the ramped seating behind the altar made for a great backdrop.  And finally the procession out.

It really was a great experience.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Literature in the News: Sylvia Plath’s Daughter Rebukes Feminists

I found this article interesting.  Frieda Hughes, who is the daughter of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, criticized the feminists who idolized her mother’s work but who condemned her father because of their belief that he was responsible for Plath’s suicide.  Here’s a quick background for those who are not familiar.  Plath and Hughes were young poets married to each other from 1956 to her death in 1963.  Sylvia Plath had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts, and finally did kill herself.  It is true Ted Hughes cheated on her and had a mistress, and five months before the suicide had separated from Plath.   With that, here is Frieda Hughes’ claim as published in The Telegraph:

The feminists who exploited Sylvia Plath's death to accuse her husband Ted Hughes of mistreating her committed an "abuse" and a "horrible form of theft", the couple's daughter has said.

Frieda Hughes, the oldest of Plath and Hughes' two children, said she had been "appalled" by the appropriation of her family's tragedy to suit a cause.

Appearing in her first ever television interview, she said she deplored the judgment of "outsiders" who mistakenly believed they had an insight into her family's life.

What I didn’t realize was that the mistress Hughes took up with, also eventually committed suicide.  From the article:

Her father, the former poet laureate Hughes, went on to a relationship with his mistress Assia Wevill, who killed herself and their child in the same way six years later.

The incidents, which left Hughes unable to write his Crow collection, was taken up by furious feminists, who idolised Plath and accused the poet of mistreating both women.

Crow, mentioned above, is perhaps Hughes’ most famous collection of his poems.  I am not knowledgeable enough oh the Plath/Hughes history to know how substantive the feminists’ charge are, but given Plath’s mental illness history I can’t see how Hughes is more than just a bad husband.  And Frieda Hughes is right, who can really know a relationship from the outside.  She is quoted:

Speaking in the documentary, to be broadcast on BBC Two, she said the links made between the two tragedies were a form of "abuse" in themselves.

"I was appalled that something that happened in 1963 could be carried forward," she told programme-makers.

"What an easy way out for somebody to think, yes, we’re right, we have got the real story, we know what really happened, and we are going to punish this complete stranger for something we weren’t around to witness, we know nothing about, but we’re the ones with the answer.

"For outsiders - because that’s what they are, outsiders - to make judgements that affect somebody in their life, for all of their life, is a sort of horrible form of theft.

"It’s an abuse."

The charges against Ted Hughes—he was even accused of outright murdering Plath—colored his entire career.  Plath unfortunately died young, so she never did reach her potential.  Hughes, who was already a more mature poet than Plath, on the other hand, developed into one of the leading British poets of his generation, even titled as the Poet Laureate of Britain, the feminists did all they could to destroy his career. 

Since I’m on the subject of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, let me give an example of their poetry.  First from Plath.  I’ve always thought highly of this poem, though I can’t completing comprehend it all.

Fever 103?

Pure? What does it mean?
 The tongues of hell
 Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerebus
 Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
 Of licking clean

The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
 The tinder cries.
 The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!
 Love, love, the low smokes roll
 From me like Isadora's scarves, I'm in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel.
 Such yellow sullen smokes
 Make their own element. They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe
 Choking the aged and the meek,
 The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib,
 The ghastly orchid
 Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard!
 Radiation turned it white
 And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers
 Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
 The sin. The sin.

Darling, all night
 I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
 The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss.

Three days. Three nights.
 Lemon water, chicken
 Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone.
 Your body
 Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern --

My head a moon
 Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
 Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you. And my light.
 All by myself I am a huge camellia
 Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.

I think I am going up,
 I think I may rise --
 The beads of hot metal fly, and I, love, I

Am a pure acetylene
 Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim,
 By whatever these pink things mean.
 Not you, nor him.

Not him, nor him
 (My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats) --
 To Paradise.

I’m not going to do a close analysis, but don’t get too hung up on understanding every line.  Bear in mind it’s a confessional poem, and unless you’re a Plath scholar (and I’m not) you probably won’t get the immediate situation.  Plus there are some obscure details which obfuscates the meaning.  For instance that “Isadora’s scarves” in line 12 refers to the dancer Isadora Duncan and her accidental strangling death with one of her scarves.  The poem goes from a sexual desire she considers sinful to being redeemed by it, from hell to paradise, from adulteress to virgin.  I’m not sure, but it could be the poem moves from the sexual sin to a blessed motherhood.

Ted Hughes is quite a different poet.  Here’s one from his Crow collection. 

Crow Communes

"Well," said Crow, "What first?"
God, exhausted with Creation, snored.
"Which way?" said Crow, "Which way first?"
God's shoulder was the mountain on which Crow sat.
"Come," said Crow, "Let's discuss the situation."
God lay, agape, a great carcass.

Crow tore off a mouthful and swallowed.

"Will this cipher divulge itself to digestion
Under hearing beyond understanding?"

(That was the first jest.)

Yet, it's true, he suddenly felt much stronger.

Crow, the hierophant, humped, impenetrable.

Half-illumined. Speechless.


The way I read Hughes is to see him as a sort of modern Romantic, idealizing nature and finding some hidden theology behind it.  I’m not overwhelmed by his poetry, despite his reputation.  He seems to me to be a lesser D. H. Lawrence, both in theme and style.  I’d rather read Lawrence.