Category: Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Boots of lead

February 26th, 2014 — 3:57pm

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”
by Emily Dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

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Justice and joy

August 23rd, 2013 — 12:50pm

Violence is Impiety’s child, true to its roots
but the spirit’s great good health breeds all we love
and all our prayers call down,
prosperity and peace.

All in all I tell you people,
bow before the altar of the rights,
revere it well.
Never trample it underfoot, your eyes set on spoils;
revenge will hunt the godless day and night –
the destined end awaits.
So honour your parents first with reverence, I say,
and the stranger guest you welcome to your house,
turn to attend his needs,
respect his sacred rights.

All of your own free will, all uncompelled,
be just and you will never want for joy,
you and your kin can never be uprooted from the earth.
But the reckless one – I warn the marauder
dragging plunder, chaotic, rich beyond all rights:
he’ll strike his sails,
harried at long last,
stunned when the squalls of torment break his spars to bits.

He cries to the deaf, he wrestles walls of sea
sheer whirlpools down, down, with the gods’ laughter
breaking over the man’s hot heart – they see him flailing, crushed.
The one who boasted never to shipwreck
now will never clear the cape and steer for home,
who lived for wealth,
golden his life long,
rams on the reef of law and drowns unwept, unseen.

(Aeschylus, The Eumenides, trans. Robert Fagles, lines 542–71)

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Bastions of wealth are no defence

August 12th, 2013 — 7:53pm

And still some say
that heaven would never stoop to punish men
who trample the lovely grace of things
untouchable. How wrong they are!
A curse burns bright on crime –
full-blown, the father’s crimes will blossom,
burst into the son’s.
Let there be less suffering . . .
give us the sense to live on what we need.

Bastions of wealth
are no defence for the man
who treads the grand altar of Justice
down and out of sight.

(Aeschylus, Agamemnon, trans. Robert Fagles, lines 374–86)

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Allan on Allen

June 11th, 2013 — 2:18pm

Woody Allen’s comedy is nothing but a set of variations on the theme of the man who does not have a real “self” or “identity,” and feels superior to the inauthentically self-satisfied people because he is conscious of his situation and at the same time inferior to them because they are “adjusted.” . . .

Woody Allen helps to make us feel comfortable with nihilism, to Americanize it. I‘m O.K., thou art O.K. too, if we agree to be a bit haunted together.

(Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, pp. 144, 146)

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March 7th, 2013 — 1:50pm

from “The Prelude,” Book Sixth
by William Wordsworth

Imagination – here the Power so called
Through sad incompetence of human speech,
That awful Power rose from the mind’s abyss
Like an unfathered vapour that enwraps,
At once, some lonely traveller. I was lost;
Halted without an effort to break through;
But to my conscious soul I now can say –
“I recognise thy glory”: in such strength
Of usurpation, when the light of sense
Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
The invisible world, doth greatness make abode,
There harbours; whether we be young or old,
Our destiny, our being’s heart and home,
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.
Under such banners militant, the soul
Seeks for no trophies, struggles for no spoils
That may attest her prowess, blest in thoughts
That are their own perfection and reward,
Strong in herself and in beatitude
That hides her, like the mighty flood of Nile
Poured from his fount of Abyssinian clouds
To fertilise the whole Egyptian plain.

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Murdering the movies

October 29th, 2012 — 2:09pm

This is the most intelligent piece of analysis I’ve read concerning 21st century film. Two thumbs up (so to speak), and my personal thanks to Mr. Denby.

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Rumours of glory

September 20th, 2012 — 12:59pm

Above the dark town
After the sun’s gone down
Two vapour trails cross the sky
Catching the day’s last slow goodbye
Black skyline looks rich as velvet
Something is shining
Like gold but better
Rumours of glory

Smiles mixed with curses
The crowd disperses
About whom no details are known
Each one alone yet not alone
Behind the pain/fear
Etched on the faces
Something is shining
Like gold but better
Rumours of glory

You see the extremes
Of what humans can be?
In that distance some tension’s born
Energy surging like a storm
You plunge your hand in
And draw it back scorched
Beneath it’s shining like
Gold but better
Rumours of glory

(Bruce Cockburn, Humans, 1980)

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Akin to self-mutilation?

August 17th, 2012 — 9:29am

Ken Myers tells this story about an acquaintance of his (the rest of his lecture may be found here):

I know a young man who used to live here in Charlottesville who, in his mid-20s, spent a year or two learning about and coming to like jazz. He had an uncle who was very knowledgeable and passionate about jazz, but for my friend, it was a foreign country. He believed, however, that there was something objectively present in jazz to merit his time and energy, so he started a regimen of deliberate, thoughtful, attentive listening.

And in time, as he came to understand what was going on, as he became familiar with the vernacular, he came to really like jazz.

Now he was telling a friend of his, a young woman about his age, about this journey in artistic discovery, and she was at first shocked by his account, and then apparently rather disturbed. She had nothing against jazz, but she thought that learning to like a new form of music was a sort of unnatural act, not the sort of thing respectable people did. He was flabbergasted by her response, and as she explained it, he realized that she believed music and musical tastes were so subjective, and so arbitrary, that an effort to change one’s tastes was almost immoral; it was to violate yourself in some way. One’s subjective tastes were the most intimate, almost sacred part of one’s being, so to try to transcend or alter them would be akin to self-mutilation.

This young woman, like most of our contemporaries, could not imagine that musical forms presented an opportunity to know something about the nature of things, making the cultivation of new layers of musical literacy a worthwhile project.

Music critic Julian Johnson has observed that in our day, “in matters of musical judgment, the individual can be the only authority.”

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Music and the romantic self

June 28th, 2012 — 12:25pm

“The caricature of the ‘creative artist,’ estranged, unconventional, professionally eccentric, anxious about listening too closely to the voices of others in case it deafens him or her to his or her own inner creative urges and surges, is, of course, a caricature, but sadly not without its contemporary representatives. And, as we have seen, the ‘postmodern self,’ a descendant of the romantic self, is perhaps most clearly seen in the contemporary consumer of music, for whom music (in fleeting and ever-new forms) becomes, above all, a means to satisfy the desire for immediate sensual stimulation and, through the very act of consumption, a means to establishing at least a minimal sense of identity.” (Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, pp. 268–69)

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Resurrection and the Greeks

April 11th, 2012 — 10:57am

“Whereas the resurrection of Christ in a sense breaks the bonds of the social order that crucifies, so as to inaugurate a new history, a new city, whose story is told along the infinite axis of divine peace, the religious dynamism of Attic tragedy has the form of a closed circle; it reinforces the civic order it puts into question, by placing that order within a context of cosmic violence that demonstrates not only the limits but the necessity of the city’s regime. . . . The form, context, and substance of Attic tragedy underwrite a particular narrative mythos, which depicts violence as the aboriginal continuity between the natural and moral worlds, and the human community as a besieged citadel preserving itself in part through the tribute it pays to the powers that threaten it.” (David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 380)

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