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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Blog Note: One Year Blog Anniversary

Today makes the one year of my very first post.  It’s been an interesting year.  This is a lot of work.  My views have increase from the first few months.  The average of my last six months is about double the average of the first six months.  Still it’s a humble blog.  There have been a total of 27,344 total views for the year.  Is that decent?  I have no clue what blogs get, except that major blogs are in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. 

Other than the few people that comment regularly or semi-regularly I have no idea who actually stops here to view what I write.  What’s interesting is that only about half of the views come from the United States, which means half are international.   I wish some of you people that stop would comment.  I enjoy a discussion.  I know I’ve sent this to some of my literature loving friends, and they hardly comment at all…lol. 

I’ve said it before: it is hard to comment on a post concerning a work of literature.  First, one has to have read that work in order to have an intelligent thought.  Second, even if you have read that work, if it’s not fresh in your mind you don’t have the details on your fingertips to develop a solid thought.  So I understand the reluctance to comment.  I do try to provide entire poems so the work is in front of the reader.  In theory it should be easier to comment on my poem analyses, but that seems to be the least commented of all the blog’s features.  Are people afraid of poems?

With this post, I’ve put out 185 posts for the year.  That’s surprising to me.  That’s an average of one every other day.  It doesn’t feel like I’m that frequent.  But I guess the Matthew Mondays, the Music Tuesdays, and the Faith Filled Fridays are quickies and probably the most commented.  So are the Notable Quotes, which I haven’t been as dutiful in posting lately.  I do like some of the new features of the last few months: Literature in the News and Lines I Wish I’d Written.  I’ll enjoy doing more of those.

Well, to all those who have stopped here, I want to thank you and wish you all a happy New Year.  I hope people get something out of my posts. 

Now, would people like to guess which of my posts got the most views this year?  Here’s a clue: it’s not a quickie fun one, but one of those with some detailed analysis.  I'm rather surprised by it and not sure why it is so.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lines I Wish I’d Written: The Model T Ford Truck from Cannery Row

I’ve been feverishly trying to finish all the reading I had planned for the year in the past week, and I’ve got a little less than a week to go.  Still I’m not going to get the Mark Twain and Henry James I planned.  But realizing that both of those were longer reads, I skipped over them and went to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  It’s a faster and shorter read.  It’s been ages, possibly over twenty-five years, since I last read a John Steinbeck work.  He’s not exactly my type of writer (too sentimental and too left wing, possibly even socialist) but he really is a fine prose writer.  He deserves the Nobel Prize he won in 1962. 

This is my second installment of this feature, “Lines I’d Wish I’d Written,” and, as a reminder, this presents only writing I really appreciate.  There is no analysis offered here.  Just enjoy it. 

The Model T Ford truck of Lee Chong had a dignified history.  In 1923 it had been a passenger car belonging to Dr. W. T. Waters.  He used it for five years and sold it to an insurance man named Rattle.  Mr. Rattle was not a careful man.  The car he got in clean nice condition he drove like fury.  Mr. Rattle drank on Saturday nights and the car suffered.  The fenders were broken and bent.  He was a pedal rider too and the bands had to be changed often.  When Mr. Rattle embezzled a client’s money and ran away to San José, he was caught with a high-hair blonde and sent up within ten days.

The body of the car was so battered that its next owner cut it in two and added a little truck bed,

The next owner took off the front of the cab and the windshield.  He used it to haul squids and he liked a fresh breeze to blow in his face.  His name was Francis Almones and he had a sad life, for he always made a fraction less than he needed to live.  His father had left him a little money but year by year and month by month, no matter how hard Francis worked or how careful he was, his money grew less and less until he just dried up and blew away.

Lee Chong got the truck in payment of a grocery bill.

By this time the truck was little more than four wheels and an engine and the engine was so crotchety and sullen and senile that it required expert care and consideration.  Lee Chong did not give it these things, with the result the truck stood in the tall grass back of the grocery most of the time with the mallows growing between its spokes.  It had solid tires on its back wheels and blocks held its front wheels off the ground.

Probably any one of the boys from the Palace Flophouse could have made the truck run, for they were all competent practical mechanics, but Gay was an inspired mechanic.  There is no term comparable to green thumbs to apply to such a mechanic, but there should be.  For there are men who can look, listen, tap, make an adjustment, and a machine works.  Indeed there are men near whom a car runs better.  And such a one was Gay.  His fingers on a timer or a carburetor adjustment screw was gentle and wise and sure.  He could fix the delicate electric motors in the laboratory.  He could have worked in the canneries all the time, had he wished, for in that industry, which complains bitterly when it does not make back its total investment every year in profits, the machinery is much less important than the fiscal statement.  Indeed, if you could can sardines with ledgers, the owners would be very happy.  As it was they could use decrepit, struggling old horrors of machines that needed the constant attention of a man like Gay.

Mack got the boys up early.  They had their coffee and immediately moved over to the truck where it lay in the weeds.  Gay was in charge.  He kicked the blocked-up front wheels.  “Go borrow a pump and get those pumped up,” he said.  Then he put a stick in the gasoline tank under the board which served as a seat.  By some miracle there was half an inch of gasoline in the tank.  Now Gay went over the most probable difficulties.  He took out the coil boxes, scraped the points, adjusted the gap, and put them back.  He opened the carburetor to see that gas came through.  He pushed the crank to see that the whole shaft wasn’t frozen and the pistons rusted in their cylinders.

Meanwhile the pump arrived and Eddie and Jones spelled each other on the tires.

Gay hummed, “Dum tiddy—dum tiddy,” as he worked.  He removed the spark plugs and scraped the points and bored the carbon out.  Then Gay drained a little gasoline into a can and poured some into each cylinder before he put the spark plugs back.  He straightened up.  “We’re going to need a couple of dry cells,” he said.  “See if Lee Chong will let us have a couple.”

Mack darted and returned almost immediately with a universal No which was designed by Lee Chong to cover all future requests.

Gay thought deeply.  I know where’s a couple—pretty good ones too, but I won’t go get them. 

“Where?” asked Mack.

“Down the cellar at my house,” said Gay.  “They run the front doorbell.  If one of you fellas wants to kind of edge into my cellar without my wife seeing you, they’re on top of the stringer on the lefthand side as you go in.  But for God’s sake, don’t let my wife catch you.”

A conference elected Eddie to go and he departed.

“If you get caught don’t mention me,” Gay called out after him.  Meanwhile Gay tested the bands.  The low-high pedal didn’t quite touch the floor so he knew there was a little and left.  The brake pedal did touch the floor so there was no brake, but the reverse pedal had lots of band left.  On a model T Ford the reverse is your margin of safety.  When your brake is gone, you can use reverse as a brake.  And when the low gear band is worn thin to pull up a steep hill, why you can turn around and back it up.  Gay found there was plenty of reverse and he knew everything was alright.

It was a good omen that Eddie came back with the dry cells without trouble.  Mrs. Gay had been in the kitchen.  Eddie could hear her walking about but she didn’t hear Eddie.  He was very good at such things.

Gay connected the dry cells and he advanced the gas and retarded the spark lever.  “Twist her tail,” he said.

He was such a wonder, Gay was—the little mechanic of God, the St. Francis of all things that turn and twist and explode, the St. Francis of coils and armatures and gears.  And if at some time all the heaps of jalopies, cut-down Dusenbergs, Buicks, De Sotos and Plymouths, American Austins and Isotta-Fraschinis praise god in a great chorus—it will be largely due to Gay and his brotherhood.

One twist—one little twist and the engine caught and labored and faltered and caught again.  Gay advanced the spark and reduced the gas.  He switched over to the magneto and the Ford of Lee Chong chuckled and clattered happily as though it knew it was working for a man who loved and understood it.

            -from Chapter XI, Cannery Row, John Steinbeck


That makes my mechanical engineering heart go aflutter.  It’s not easy to write about machines and people tinkering with them and still hold the reader's interest. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Feast Day of St. John the Evangelist

All four Gospels are great in their own way, but I have to say I have a special affection for that of John’s.  For me it transcends. 
Today, December 27th is the Feast Day of St. John, the author of the fourth Gospel and a couple of epistles.   Here are a couple of his famous passages.  All quotes taken from the NAB translation.

I love the poetry in the opening first chapter.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.  He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

            -John 1:1-18

And then from the 18th chapter you get this intense moment when Jesus is brought to face Pontius Pilate. 

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium.  It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.  So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?”

They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”  At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.”

The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.

So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

                        -John 18:28-38

But we know the answer to that.  John has presented it in the 14th Chapter.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.  Where [I] am going you know the way.”

Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, then you will also know my Father.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

                        -John 14:1-7

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Poetry: “Daisy” by William Carlos Williams

I just completed my year long poetry read, Imagist Poetry: An Anthology, from which I blogged a couple of poems (the D.H. Lawrence and the Ezra Pound) here this year.  I am going to conclude with a another short one, this one titled “Daisy” by William Carlos Williams.

William Carlos Williams was one of the top American poets of the 20th century and extremely influential.  One can look at modern poetry as branching in two different directions.  One branch would be the T.S. Eliot/Ezra Pound branch of highly structured poetry with integrated allusions that suggest, despite its radical approach, continuity with tradition.  The other branch simplifies the structure, minimizes the allusions, if not completely eliminates them, and makes the language more immediate and colloquial.  And in many cases this second branch tries to break from associating with tradition altogether.  This branch has its origins in Walt Whitman, but through William Carlos Williams it shapes modern poetry perhaps even more so than the Eliot/Pound branch.  The Beat poets are a straight line development from Williams’ work. 

The most interesting fact of Williams’ life is that he was a medical doctor, a pediatrician in fact.  Poets don’t make any money from their poetry, so they all have to have other work.  The fact that Williams was a doctor which involves a lot of study and application and still produce high level poetry is amazing.  You don’t usually have enough time as a doctor and a family man (husband and father of two) to really concentrate on writing, but apparently Williams accomplished it all.  Whenever I read a Williams poem, I always look for any medical or pediatric allusions. 

Williams seems to write a lot of poems on flowers.  He may have been a gardener as well.  I have a vague memory that it was something he enjoyed, but I have not been able to verify it.  Flowers for Williams tend to be a metaphor for something more profound.  This poem is in that mode.

by William Carlos Williams

The dayseye hugging the earth
in August, ha!  Spring is
gone down in purple,
weeds stand high in the corn,
the rainbeaten furrow
is clotted with sorrel
and crabgrass, the
branch is black under
the heavy mass of the leaves—
The sun is upon a
slender green stem
ribbed lengthwise.
He lies on his back—
it is a woman also—
he regards his former
majesty and
round the yellow center,
split and creviced and done into
minute flowerheads, he sends out
his twenty rays—a little
and the wind is among them
to grow cool there! 

One turns the thing over
in his hand and looks
at it from the rear: brownedged,
green and pointed scales
armor his yellow. 

But turn and turn
the crisp petals remain
brief, translucent, greenfastened,
barely touching at the edges:
blades of limpid seashell.

On its most basic level, the poem is about aging and the fading away of a simple daisy in late August.  We know the flower isn’t standing erect, but is “hugging the earth.”   He is a bit tattered but still fresh enough so that his “twenty rays” of flower petals are intact, and so "he" recalls “his former/majesty.”  We have this unusual observation that the flower is not just male, but “a woman also.”  That is not to say a flower is genderless, but hermaphrodite, which is scientifically true since flowers contain elements of both sexes. 

That scientific observation is actually key to understanding the rest of the poem.  In the two concluding stanzas, the poet seems to be holding the daisy and turning it round and round making observations.  The stance between an observing eye and the flower is the core of the poem, a stance of scientific observation.  Notice the reflection between the daisy which is described as an eye with “a yellow center” and the poet’s eye looking back.  The poem was published in 1921, which would make Williams about thirty-eight, and if we assume he wrote it relatively close to publishing it, then we could make the metaphorical jump that the daisy represents the poet himself, feeling passed mid life and heading toward the autumn of his years.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Music Tuesday: Silent Night by Josh Groban

This is probably my favorite Christmas Carol, and this is a wonderful rendition by Josh Groban.

The third stanza is not always heard.  Groban in this rendition skips the second stanza and goes to the third and then returns to repeat the first.  I like it.  I think the second stanza is the weaker of the three, with the first, of course, being brilliant.  You can read all the lyrics here.

Do read the history of the song which was composed in German in 1818. 
Christ the Savior is Born
Merry Christmas to All

Friday, December 20, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: The Magnificat

One of my favorite prayers, from the mouth of our very Blessed Mother, “The Magnificat,” or otherwise known as “The Canticle of Mary,” here quoted from the Douay-Rheims translation:


My soul doth magnify the Lord.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;

for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Because he that is mighty,

hath done great things to me;

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is from generation unto generations,

to them that fear him.

He hath shewed might in his arm:

he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,

and hath exalted the humble.

He hath filled the hungry with good things;

and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath received Israel his servant,

being mindful of his mercy:

As he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

          -Luke 1:46-55

The occasion for Mary’s song is of course the Visitation.  


Here sung in Latin by The Daughters of Mary.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Music Tuesday: The Light of Christmas Morn by Sarah Hart

I'm always in search for Christmas music that is not the same old classics.  Not that there is anything wrong with the classics, but they do get repetitive.

Here is an original, contemporary Christmas song by Sarah Hart that I just adore, and should be a classic.  For me, right now it hits the perfect melancholy note with the future promise Christ's birth.

Oh do check out the lyrics here.  Here are a couple of stanzas that just stand out for me.  The third stanza:

The welcome snow each Christmastide
Falls shining from the skies
On village paths and uplands wide
All holy white, it lies
It crowns with pearl, the oaks and pines
And glitters on the thorn
But purer still the light that shines
On gladsome Christmas morn

And the sixth and last stanza:

And o’er the child a guiding star
Shall lead us into peace
And still in souls, that childlike are
His guardian love shall be
Oh then rejoice, good Christian men
Nor be of heart forlorn
For unto you, in Bethlehem
The Son of God is born
December’s darkness brings again
The light of Christmas morn.

You can read all the lyrics here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Literature in the News: Dictionary of Medieval Latin Completed After 100 Years

This is rather interesting.  Hat tip to Tom McDonald at his God and the Machine blog for bringing it to my attention.   


Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources completed after 100 years

December 10, 2013

After over 58,000 entries, 3830 pages and seventeen volumes, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources is now finished. The final volume will be published tomorrow by the British Academy.
Begun in 1913, the finished dictionary is the culmination of a century-long enterprise which has had over 200 researchers working on it over the decades. Based on the writings found in poetry, sermons, chronicles, scientific texts, legal documents, state records, accounts and letters that were created between the years 540 and 1600 by thousands of authors who were born or worked in Britain, the Dictionary includes material from well-known works such as the Domesday Book, Magna Carta and Bayeux tapestry.
Dr Richard Ashdowne, the current editor of the Dictionary and a member of Oxford University’s Faculty of Classics, said, “This is the first ever comprehensive description of the vocabulary of the Latin language used in Britain and by Britons between AD 540 and 1600. For the last hundred years, the project has been systematically scouring the surviving British medieval Latin texts to find evidence for every word and all its meanings and usage.
“Much of this fundamental work was done in the early years of the project by a small army of volunteers, including historians, clergymen, and even retired soldiers. They provided the project with illustrative example quotations copied out from the original texts onto paper slips – an early form of crowdsourcing that had previously been used in the preparation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

“During its existence the project has accumulated an estimated 750,000 such slips. Nowadays, in addition to this invaluable resource, which covers a vast quantity of material only available in the form of the original manuscripts, we also have access to large electronic databases enabling us to examine the works of authors such as the Venerable Bede more thoroughly than ever before.”

The project began on April 6, 1913, when a Mr Robert J Whitwell had a letter printed in The Times in which he called for volunteers to help compile a new dictionary of the Latin used in medieval times. The first volume, which contained the letters A and B was published in 1975. The last word of the last volume is zythum, which means ‘an Egyptian beer’.

Interestingly some of the words of Old and Middle English that were ‘borrowed’ in the Latin language were found in earlier Latin texts than the first appearance of these words in English. Many we still use today in a modern form, for example, the Medieval Latin huswiva corresponds to modern English housewife, found as early as 12th century Latin texts.


What an effort.  That last paragraph I quoted shows you the importance of the work.  It has enlightened us on the etymology and development of English words.  Now I wonder if languages of other nations have attempted and completed such an effort.  If it took a hundred years to complete such an effort from British sources, what would it take to do all Latin sources from the European continent?
They have a website where you can read about the project, learn about medieval Latin, and find out how to obtain or access a copy. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Poetry: The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

I just came across this Ezra Pound poem for the first time, though apparently it’s somewhat well known.  I came across it in my reading of Imagist Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Bob Blaisdell.    Ezra Pound either has some really great poems or some really crappy ones.  This is a great poem. 

First, let me say that Pound translated a lot of classical Chinese poetry, but his translations are fine poems in themselves.  A lot of times, poetry loses something in translation.  I can’t vouch for how accurate this translation but it’s a wonderful poem in English.  This translation comes from a poet known as Li Po

Second, Pound was one of the founding members, and perhaps the most important, of the early 20th century poetic movement known as Imagism.  The key feature of imagism is that the poet creates an image to carry the meaning of his ideas, so that the emotion and abstract ideas are buried within the image.  Under ideal circumstances, nothing is explained, and what the reader is left to intuit is the meaning the image is suppose to project.  As you can see, this makes imagist poems difficult at times, but they can also be quite simple.  This particular poem by Pound is not particularly complicated.

Notice in the very first line how the image of bangs suggests a certain innocence and childlike inexperience.  Notice in the second stanza how the image of the bashful lowering of her head suggests a young woman’s submissiveness to a more powerful husband.  The third stanza’s image of dust mingling with dust shows the evolving love toward what at first must have been an unequal power allocation in the marriage.  In the final stanza, notice how the varying images weaved together suggest a complex emotional state in the young woman.

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
Translated from the Chinese of Li Po [Rihaku]
by Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse;
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the lookout?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden --
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
               As far as Cho-fo-Sa.

Isn’t that a lovely poem?  The one place where Pound doesn’t use images is right at the core of that last stanza, lines 24 and 25: “They hurt me/I grow older.”  All the images really substantiate those feelings.  The poem is about growing older, starting with girlish bangs and ending with her taking on the challenge and assertion of meeting her husband at the river.

This site, Modern American Poetry, has varying comments and exegesis on the poem.  I can’t vouch for each comment’s accuracy, but from what I skimmed it doesn’t seem far astray.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Matthew Monday: Accepting Brandi’s Passing

It’s been a week since we had to euthanize ourbeloved Brandi, and I think it’s finally sinking into Matthew that Brandi is gone.  He understands she’s dead and that now she’s gone to heaven, but I think until this weekend he expected her to return.  Today I finally saw sadness that she’s gone for good.  He even asked if she’s with God.  I said she was and that she was playing with our previous dog, Sasha, which Matthew has never seen.  Sasha died a few months before Brandi was born in 2003. 

Here’s a picture from Brandi’s last week, where the three of us are sitting on the couch.  Looks like I was reading to Matthew while Brandi rested in one of her favorite spots.


Losing a dog is like losing a family member.  I can tell you the pain has not softened around here yet.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Lines I Wished I’d Written: Old Marley Was as Dead as a Door-Nail

Here’s a new feature for my blog, Lines I Wished I Had Written.  These are passages that captivate me as someone that just appreciates great writing.  When I was younger I would write down such passages in the hopes that I would absorb the skill that went into the passage.  Plus I love to capture really fine writing.  Even when I read I highlight with my trusty mechanical pencil passages that are exceptional.  I either underline them or if they run an extended length I’ll run a curvy line down the margin along that length and write an exclamation mark beside it.  And if it’s really something special, I’ll put a couple of exclamation marks!

So why not share such passages with readers of my blog.  Actually I got the idea for this feature from Will Duquette’s blog, Cry ‘Woof’…andlet slip the dogs of whimsy where he has a feature “Words I’d Wish I’d Written.”  I’m not sure why I prefer “Lines” over “Words” I Wished I’d Written but I do.  I know “words” adds to the alliteration of the phrase, and so may have a snappier sound, but “lines” suggest a passage rather than a sentence, and perhaps, at least to me, a certain eloquence since it alludes to poetry.  So there, I’m not completing stealing.   

Note also, this is not the same as my feature, “Notable Quotes.”  A notable quote has a certain depth of wisdom to it isolated from where it might come.  It also might be a thought outside of a creative work.  “Lines I Wish I’d Written” strictly come from a creative written work and are presented solely for its compositional beauty and interest.

For my first post in this feature, I’m going to offer the opening paragraphs from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Well, it is the holiday season, but this came to mind because our parish last night invited the performers from Quicksilver Radio Theater to perform the radio play version of Dickens’ classic.  As it turns out our music director at St. Rita’s parish, Deborah Williams, has performed with the theater group and somehow was able to bring the full cast over to our church for a performance.  Here’s the press release for the group:

QUICKSILVER RADIO THEATER (founded in 1995) is a group of seasoned New York performing artists, who are dedicated to using the classic Radio Drama form (full cast, layered sound effects, and musical score) to present stories worth telling, executed with both talent and heart.  Quicksilver’s work has aired nationally, and been heard internationally on the World Wide Web.  Quicksilver has earned awards from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and the National Audio Theatre.  It has performed by invitation at the Museum of Television and Radio’s Annual Radio Festival, and its shows are in the collection of the Museum.

They had just about the full cast in attendance and performed with full sound effects and score.  It was a great treat.  You can actually buy a performance from iTunes if you look, but I was able to find a free listen at PRX(Public Radio Exchange).  You just have to sign up and it’s free.  So give it a listen.  You’ll enjoy it.  I took Matthew, and while he didn’t quite get everything, Marley’s ghost with his clinking chains and woeful  holler, really got his attention.

Now here are the opening lines from A Christmas Carol.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain. The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often `came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, `My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, `No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call `nuts' to Scrooge.
Excerpt cited from The Literature Network. 

Isn’t that just a great characterization?  It’s so important to Dickens that the reader know Marley is dead that he uses such a distinct phrase, and drills the reader with “d” consonant alliteration in those first few paragraphs: dead, no doubt, door-nail, deadest, not disturb it, done for, dreadfully, distinctly.  I’ve always thought that Dickens created the phrase “dead as a doornail” but as it turnsout he didn’t.  But I always associate this.  It has forever stuck in my mind from reading A Christmas Carol.

And notice the “s” alliterations in the paragraph the starts with “Oh.”  Isn’t this a marvelous list of adjectives?  “Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”  In rhetoric that's called synathroesmusAnd then that seventh paragraph with all those negative characteristics in parallel sequence to describe him (there’s a rhetorical term for that too, but I can’t remember or find it) is possibly the height of the passage.  It needs to be repeated:

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often `came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Oh that’s a double exclamation mark!!