500!

Dear readers, today is a day – though, in fairness, so are all days – to summon up all the grandiloquence I can muster.

To wit: the world, and WordPress, tends to judge on the basis of readership, on likes, on pages viewed and comments made.  This is well and good: whatever else the world can get wrong, it does well enough with quantitative data.

But none of that data could exist without posts to support it.  An empty blog drives no engagement, no discussion, contains no ideas whatsoever.  And so today we celebrate, for this club of ours now has 500 posts to its name!

Okay, so, 501 once this is published, but still.

Okay, so, 501 once this is published, but still.

Not only so, but the annual report shows thousands of views from 119 countries all over the world.

Stat Map

140 since they started the stats-mapping business. I have spent a year wondering how to lure readers from Greenland and Kazakhstan.

All of which is a delight to see.  Therefore do we sip at our whiskey and reread our manifesto, before turning our eyes to other stories and poems awaiting us.

Thank you all for joining us in the club.  The firewhiskey of words served neat, the chamomile of comforting stories, the vanilla waft of lignin from older books, the smoke of snark and the warmth of conversation: all would lose their savor without you.

We hope to share them all with you for hundreds posts more!

Happy New Year

God Knows

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes, 
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

~Minnie Louise Haskins

 

The popular reference is of course King George VI’s 1939 Christmas broadcast, but we saw fit to share with you the entirety of the 1908 poem.

Happy New Year, dear friends.

Poetry Reaches Critical Mass

[In Which The Onion Reckons We Would Make a Fine Addition to their Literary Staff]

My dear friends.  Gentle readers.  My dear gentle readers.  I wish to share with you a brightly evocative, yet dimly translucent piece of wordcraft.  I would that your day, evening, afternoon be illuminated with the delicate ecstasy attending such treatment of mankind’s custom of lexical expression.

It has been my pleasure, in the last years, to cultivate an interest in emerging poets. I have travelled far through Tibet, the Steppes of Central Asia, and New Zealand searching for these artists, these lyricists, these oracles and sibyls.  But, as with many journeys, it was upon my return that I found the treasure I sought. Just outside my front door, as it were, in Indiana.

This tiny gem of idyllic refinement encapsulates the ardent and inconsolable yearning for that shining certainty beyond death, the loneliness thereof, those thin piping notes that strike the air with shrill clarity.  With Pan, this poem floats in illusory consciousness above the groves of the sea.

In anatomy, the poem is, essentially and empirically, a historical Japanese form. It is a traditional haiku in rhythm and in its preference of a primeval burden of intent. In a scintillating moment of Delphic clarity, the poet also chooses to marry this Japanese form with the Western poetic conception of syzygy.

Syzygy’s significance extends far beyond its popular conception as “a good way to use a z and several y’s in Scrabble.” In fact, it is a long-standing poetic device. In definition, it simply means “a yoking” in Greek. It is used as a trade word for astronomy to mean “an alignment of three celestial objects, as the sun, the earth, and either the moon or a planet.” Also, to biologists, it means “the aggregation in a mass of certain protozoans [are we sure we don’t mean protozoa?], especially when occurring before sexual reproduction.”  To be crude about it, you could say that when you get married, you are now in the bonds of syzygy! In poetry, however, it simply means a yoking of sounds, concepts, or images.

This yoking, as employed within the traditional Eastern framework, echoes Western poetic conventions.  Rather than wrench his words into a jingling tangle of chiming rhymes, the poet attends to the reader’s ear by alliterating the greater part of the first line.  Not only so, but he has elected to use words bearing syntactical and semantic similarity to each other, though each remains distinct and widens the swath of his discourse.  As the day is wild and wintry, and the mountain windswept, there is alliteration with a touch of dental consonants.  In fact, as n, d, and t are each dental consonants, the combinations thereof constitute further syzygetical combinations.
But even were one to leave the bonds of syzygy aside momentarily, the fact remains that the structure and weight of the individual words reveal in their shape and in themselves the poem’s essence.  Such framework inherently reveals its own meaning. In cases like this, it becomes necessary to lay aside the quotidian, workaday meaning of words and allow the exigency of each eremitical word to wander through the layers of consciousness; a wild mountain man trekking through the deeps of the soul. Each word must be examined not alone, singly. These masterful words are not widowed, not bereft. They are slung together, chained. They are pulling the oars of the trireme of thought with but a single intent.

Other pens may be distracted by such evocative language, and drawn into the trap of evaluating the narrator’s experience – or worse, attempting to evaluate the extent to which the poet and the narrator are one and the same.  But this distinction tends to distract from the truth by paring down the significance until it applies to a single individual.  A more appropriate reading takes into account the final line and its allusion to all of creation.

Cunningly, at the last the author has compressed a wealth of imagery into a mere two words depicting an indeterminate number of figures.  These recondite creatures, mountain-climbers oft seen on mountaintops by philosophers, are partners of sacrifice and prophecy.  They are the heroes of the Aesopian play of Three, clambering carefully but confidently where they will no matter what trolls lurk beneath the Bridge of Consciousness in the abyss of the id’s darkness.  They are the tragicomipastoral archetypes of brotherhood, their presence in the work eliciting a cathartic response to man’s place in the world: his experience of metaphysical reality via the corporeal plane; his aspiration to godhood often trampled in the mire of asininity; his undeniable bond to all of creation providing fodder for rumination and introspection.
The question may be raised as to the societal or political ends which might be furthered by this poetic effort.  Though no philosophy which is worthy of the name can be pursued solely to justify a particular political end, the extant meaning bound up within it could easily buttress more cerebral arguments.  In the words of Alex Ross, this opus is something of a “utopian attempt to synthesize pre- and post-industrial cultures”; as Elizabeth Crist would have it, it joins the “rural peasants, and the urban proletariat.”  Ross notes that “when…divorced from its political context, it devolves into a simplistic essay in musical exoticism.”

This simple pastoral nature is reflected, mirrored and cast back by the idyllic subject matter, drawn from the gentle lives of those nearest Earth. Reaching back, far beyond the bounds of Western Civilization, back to a time of hills and valleys untrammelled by the excoriating scour of mankind. In this mirror, casting its arcane and esoteric image forward to a jaded and disillusioned age, comes a hallowed glimpse of temples, holy smoke of sacrifice and divination at the shrine of an Apollonian seer. To sterile, sanitary, stainless steel modernity, this heather scented fantasia evokes ancient wisdom anew.
Bearing that in mind, we invite you to inhale deeply this draught of verity.  Steel yourselves, for it is dense with delight.

One wild wintry day
Upon a windy mountain high
I view certain goats.

[Please note that the preceding text is meant to be taken in the lightest-hearted of ways.  Any misused words, curious glosses, or outright contradictions are intentional.  Much love, The Borg.]

A Partial List

Now THAT was an eventful week for the Egotist’s Club. Starting a meme, adding a muse and the marathon church sessions of the Triduum and Easter, I am exhausted. I went to work to relax! I just wanted to zip up the last week and prepare the ground for this week so that all my gentle readers can join me in anticipation of another great celebration of wonderful books.

Last Tuesday, when I (Thalia), mentioned the roster of my book heroes I was requested to make that list public. I still think it had better be in partiality, so I solicited Melpomene’s top 5 loves and I’ll give you my top 5. I’ve included their authors and titles so that you have a hope of finding these men if you happen currently to be strangers. That should tide you over and give you lots to read!

Melpomene:

Captain Wentworth: Jane Austen  Persuasion 
Aragorn: J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings
Lord Peter Wimsey: Dorothy L. Sayers Whose Body?
Sir Percy Blakeney: Baronnes Orczy The Scarlet Pimpernel
Howl: Diana Wynne Jones Howl’s Moving Castle

Thalia:

Jamie: Gene Stratton Porter The Keeper of the Bees
Archie: G.A. Henty In Freedom’s Cause
Richard: Robert Louis Stevenson The Black Arrow 
Nat: Elizabeth George Spear The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Malcolm: George Macdonald (rev. Phillips)  The Fisherman’s Lady

Odd. My list has a high percentage of bagpipe players and soldiers. “This is an older scheme than I thought!” (Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens)

There you are for that topic. It is time for a new delight!

This week, we are considering books and music. Theme songs, iconic sounds, special effects? I don’t know! We’ll have to wait and see what our muses think of. Watch out! or perhaps I mean….

HWAET!

In Which A Brilliant Idea is Born

 

 

Thalia: Once upon a time, in a fair world long, long ago . . .  we dreamt of writing a story together. Remember?

Melpomene: Ah, yes. Or rather, we planned to take similar plot elements and characters, and each write our own story. Just to compare.

Thalia: It’s still a great idea. We had a title, too. “No Excuses on a Clear Day”

Melpomene: We are still doing it. Sometime in the future. A tale filled with humanity, rainfall, mobsters, explosions, and toupees.

Thalia: Toupees! You mean the secret  . . .

Melpomene: SSHHHHH! Don’t give it away!

Thalia: Right. Sorry. But we can make it pretty as well as clever?

Melpomene: Yep! Make it poetci!

Thalia: Yaaaay!

Melpomene: I mean, “poetic”. I mistyped. Sorry.

Thalia: It can be “poetci” too.

Melpomene: AhahahahaAAA! I have a BRILLIANT idea!

Thalia: Ummm . . . “Poetci” looks like Polish?

Melpomene: No. We need to start a po-etsy site!

Thalia: Like Etsy? Only . . . for POETRY?

Melpomene: EXACTLY!

Thalia: OH! Yes. Yes, we should!

Melpomene: We would be given commissions for specific poems.  That we then we would write!

Thalia: Oh man . . . .

Melpomene: And THEN, (wait for it,) we would GET PAID!

Thalia: Ob.vio.sly. GETTING PAID!

Melpomene: Ha!

Thalia: And then we could get RICH!

Melpomene: People NEED poems for all sorts of special occasion, right?

Thalia: Like birthdays, or love confessions, or funerals!

Melpomene: As long as we don’t write for students who are supposed to be perfecting the sonnet form for themselves, we should be alright.

Thalia: I can actually see this working . . . Let’s practice!

Melpomene: Okay. Say . . . a poem celebrating Uncle Greg’s 67th b-day. He loves everything aviation related, and likes Wendell Berry. Go!

Thalia: Okay. I think I can do this.

As soaring overhead
the Angels
So today our banners
And with our banners so
our hearts
Soar above our daily drudge
Yet take with it a homely mission:
To write upon the sky our missive,
Uncle Greg, here’s to many another one!

Melpomene: Aww! It needs some work, but a nice start.

Thalia: I think that it would be rather fun to do this for folks. Especially since they would have to provide the topic.

Melpomene: And, preferably, indicate the form and tone.

Thalia: We have played Blitz Poems often enough to be good at this!

Melpomene: It might not often aspire to be high poetry . . .

Thalia: But it would be pretty, thoughtful, and personal!

Melpomene: Sweet, funny ones . . . .

Thalia: Or deep, angsty ones!

Melpomene: For Your Heartfelt Confession, We Find Expression.

Thalia: Poets, Inc.!

Melpomene: How has this idea not been done already?

Thalia: I DON’T KNOW! It’s BRILLIANT!

Melpomene: According to my cursory internet search, our only competition is an antique seller on Etsy proper.

Thalia: NOT poetry.

Melpomene: And a Dutch website for. . . .  soap?

Thalia: Soap?

Melpomene: I can’t figure it out. Is that silver polish?

Thalia: Uh, possibly. But either way, again, NOT POETRY!

Melpomene: Now we just need a business plan.

Thalia: How to market and drum up interest?

Melpomene: That. I am thinking we start off at fifty cents a line?

Thalia: Pshaw! Cheap!

Melpomene: At least until we build a reputation.

Thalia: And clientele.We need some sample clientele.

Melpomene: And ideas and examples, and possibly a trial website . . .

Thalia: Alright. Let’s do it.

Melpomene: Poetci.com, here we come!

Thalia: Excelsior!

Thalia and Melpomene toast to a day of brilliance.

Beauty, Whiskey, and Helen

Also known as "The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships".

Thalia: Well, I’m sitting at the Laundromat listening to a strange lady draining parsley sauces on the cooking channel.  My muse is distracted! The cheese is melted and hot!

Melpomene: I just came from a house where the three year old boy chose to spend his hour of television watching Martha Stewart.

Thalia: Good boy

Melpomene: He promised to decorate cookies with me later.

 Thalia: Learning social arts!

 Melpomene: It was adorable.

Thalia: That is a lovely thing. I think the men are the ones who really appreciate beauty Here’s this little 3 year old looking for order and beauty. And finding it, in all odd places, on the Martha Stewart show.

Melpomene: Interestingly, some of my friends were just having a discussion – er, argument – about whether or not Helen was worth the destruction of Troy.

Thalia: Was there a conclusion?

 Melpomene: The men all said “yes”. She is the Ideal of Beauty, and beauty is always worth sacrifice.

Thalia: I am fascinated!

Melpomene:  The women emitted a resounding, “no”. One person is not worth the destruction of a city.

Thalia: While I agree that it was a high price, I am inclined to side with the Gentlemen in this matter.

Melpomene: Really?

Thalia: Especially considering that enough time has passed that we should see Helen as a metaphor as well as a woman. Time, that purger, removes individuality, but leaves the shape of a type. And for Beauty and its preservation, many have fought wars.

 Melpomene: While I think Helen is often overlooked as a real character – she does have a surprisingly human realism in her portrayal – I do I think that she was not completely worth the fall of a nation. Was she meant to be so simple a symbol?

 Thalia: Doubtful, honestly, but that has become her role.

Melpomene: Is it what was intended as her role? Yeats calls the men – of mankind – who search for beauty and meaning and love, “Those Who Search for Helen”.

Thalia: If not, what? Given the judgment of Paris, she was set up as The Beauty.

Melpomene: But something in Homer’s portrayal of her emphasizes her very humanity. She was, after all, but a woman. A mortal.

Thalia: Then why didn’t she step forward to stop the war? Did she have a different view than Normal Woman?

Melpomene: Well, she blames the gods. And, frankly, Venus did make her run away with Paris.

Thalia: Oh how very fatalistic of her.

Melpomene: And she regretted it deeply.

 Thalia: Did she?  I don’t recall….

 Melpomene: So the question is then one of, “how much free will did she have in this instance?”

Thalia: From her perspective or from ours?

 Melpomene: Oh yes! The bedroom scene, where she is weaving while Paris plays with his arrows is filled with her fury.

Thalia: Ha, but she got the dumb Trojan, didn’t she. . . . . . . I bet he was a perfume model. Frankly, I think she had as much free will as you and I, but I don’t know much about what the Greek view of free will was. . . . . . . Were the Fata so irresistible that even sin was inevitable?

. . . . also known as "The Patsy Prince Pansy-Pants".

Melpomene: Well, he was played – in a piece of brilliant casting – by Orlando Bloom!

Thalia: Yup! Prettier than his Helen…

I have no doubt that the Men of Troy and the Peloponnese would say “It’s a matter of principle.”

 Melpomene: Given that so many Greek characters – even gods – fell in love against their will, it might be safe to say that her will was not fully engaged . . . Also given the said paradigms of this myth-world.

 Thalia: Did she ever reengage?

Melpomene: That has always been my question. When Priam has her point out the warriors of Greece, or Odysseus sneaks into the city, did it ever occur to her that she could GO BACK?

Thalia: As a modern American woman, I have no idea. I have a very strong sense that if you think its right, you stay, and if you think it’s wrong, you go.

Melpomene: What would Homer have said for our modern life?

Thalia: Well, if it wasn’t worth the siege, she could have …up and left… A la O Brother Where Art Thou.

R-U-N-N-O-F-T!

Sirens. Occasionally referred to to in popular literature. And scary movies.

 Melpomene: Pfft! Runnoft. Oh, for the Cyclops and sire-EEns!

Thalia: So either, Helen was content to have them fighting over her, or she thought it was out of her hands.

HAHAH, yeah….funny movie. So….Basically, Helen was out of cards to play, since either she has no free will, or else she sides with the men and thinks Beauty, (hers,) is enough to be fighting over. Add it to the list of Shoes I Don’t Want to Walk A Mile In. Though if offered a MilliHelen, I would say…ok…

 Melpomene: MilliHelen? Dare I ask?

Thalia: Enough beauty to launch 1 ship….at the cost of a minor feud. Not my joke, but terribly funny.

 Melpomene: So, how many-a-ship-wife are you?

Thalia: HA! I am giggling madly and accounting for my accomplishments

 Melpomene: I think I am worth 6 and half ships. If only on account of my blitz poetry skills.

Thalia: Nine. I am worth 9 ships. I think you are worth twelve. On account of your Aristotelian glory.

Melpomene: Ah-HA!! Should we count for cooking skills? And how big are these ships?

 Thalia: These are triremes. Sadly… not super cool battleship.

 Melpomene: Can we upgrade? I want a Carrier.

Thalia: But I sank your battleship, so nothing doing.

Melpomene: And I want a cute little tugboat.

 Thalia: AWWWW! I do think your cooking, being slightly less….incendiary…..than mine, warrants an extra ship.

 Melpomene: True. My hams do not explode.

 Thalia: You can have a tugboat for that.

Melpomene: But exciting culinary adventures might be worth more to some men!

Thalia: My hams do have comic and social value.

Melpomene: Again, men appreciate such a quality.

 Thalia: The men on airplane carriers, preferably?

Melpomene: Exactly! Men with a taste for the heavenly and sublime!

 Thalia: Lovely! Ha! I see your punniness . . .

 Melpomene: I wish I could figure out HOW to make my hams explode.

 Thalia: Put a sealing lid on a vat of bourbon soaked ham.

Melpomene: I did once have my cake turn into flame.

Thalia: BRAVO!

Melpomene: I think that it was the whisky that I put in it . . . .

 Thalia: Maybe. Hard to say. But maybe.

True Beauty. THIS never lets me down.

Melpomene: I tend to believe that everything is better with whiskey. Even BEAUTY!

 Thalia: As when you and I met. Which was beautiful. And full of tea and whiskey!

Melpomene:You and me, and tea and whiskey. It is a perfect friendship.

 Thalia: Beauty, sans whiskey, foulness only is. A sign of weakness! To paraphrase John Donne

 Melpomene:  If Helen had had some whiskey, she might have summoned the courage to walk out of Troy.

 Thalia: We could have given Helen some real courage! It is that!

Melpomene: So the issue might be, that Helen was not enough of  an ?

 Thalia: I think that is what it boils down to.

Melpomene: And for the purposes of this conversation, we should explain what we are making “Aristotelian Woman” mean.

Thalia: Ah. The Uninitiated might be confused.

Melpomene: Or think we mean all that stuff about woman being an incomplete man.

Thalia: Heavens! No!

Melpomene: What we mean, or what we refer to with that phrase, is . . . .

Thalia: TALL WOMEN! Beautiful women!

Melpomene: Sometime, somewhere, Aristotle points out that only tall can be properly proportioned.

Proportionally perfect. Minus arms.

Thalia: Ergo, only tall women be beautiful!

Melpomene: We take this as a personal compliment. And disclude Helen from our ranks.

Thalia: She was a scaredy cat without whiskey!  Poor Helen! Alas Hector!

Melpomene: Let us not discuss Hector right now. He hurts my heart.

 Thalia: He pains me as well. We shall leave our Son Hector, my Muse!

 Melpomene: Oh, wondrous Hector!

Thalia:  *sigh* Returning to Helen.

Melpomene: Perhaps that other use of “Aristotelian Woman” does give us some insight into her role.

Thalia: She . . . . in the fact that she is considered an idea rather than a thing, became less than she should be. A human.

 Melpomene: Also, clearly she was not tall enough.

 Thalia: Not at all.

Melpomene: She fell short of the True Ideal.

 Thalia: She was an inch. And a Thing!

 Melpomene: An inch! She needed some of the “Drink Me”!

 Thalia: Oh muse of my heart, I must fold laundry.

Alice drank. And grew TALL!

Melpomene: Go forth, beloved, and revel in the smell of clean clothes.

Thalia:The 21st century …what can be said in its defense?

Melpomene: In its defense, we are not required to BE Helens. We can simply be . . . women.

 Thalia: Thankfully.

Melpomene: No city will fall on our account. No souls will be lost.

Thalia: Even if the gods demand it?

Melpomene: Again, thankfully, our God is not so arbitrary.

 Thalia: YES! But, may I request a match of fisticuffs? in exchange for my MilliHelen?

Melpomene: With whom? Helen? or me?

 Thalia: Oh! No! among the Men, the lovers of Beauty!

Melpomene: Ah. I see. Alright then. There ought to be some sort of test, or fight for them to win our womanly affections.

Thalia: Consider the challenge issued. Men, the rest is up to you!

If you insist that Beauty is worth the fight . . . .

King David Was a Harper

(One of our friends, David from the Warden’s Walk, is sharing this experience with us as a guest post. Thank you, David!)

In the autumn of 2008, I studied medieval history and literature for three months at the
University of St Andrews, Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

Secretively ducking into the wood-paneled hall with the grand piano, as I’m wont to do after
dinner to work on my songs alone—especially now that it will be fully dark outside by five
o’clock and the window panes fill with an amber light from the wooden chandeliers—I notice a
tall object standing against the piano bench.

It is an orchestral harp.

Quietly I close the door behind me, and smile; long have I wanted to play the harp, as my
namesake the king of Israel did so long ago. And there it stands, silent in dignity, a simple
roughness to its wooden frame giving it a more tangible reality than the gold-plated ones
that sing with orchestras. An empty case lies nearby. Who would leave such a magnificent
instrument unattended? Who else has found this dark, seldom-used dining hall a fit place for
musical practice? Never mind such questions, they stand in my way. Whatever its story, the
harp is a gift, a gift for this moment. The magic fairly radiates from it.

I cross the wood floor and step on the dais. I sit at the piano bench’s end and gently pluck a harp
string. It rings clear, like the voice of a bird of heaven. I play a key on the piano, but it clashes with the lingering harp tone. Moving steadily up and down, I work each note one by one. The harp is tuned to B minor. What a wonderful key.

Tonight I played the harp.
I do not ask where it came from, nor where it is going. I do not particularly wish to know, for I
am just glad it was there. Perhaps it will be there tomorrow. If so, I shall try to play it again. If
not, then I will still smile, for tonight, the harp… it came to me.
My heart is steadfast, O God;
I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre;
I will awaken the dawn!
I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the peoples,
And I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great above the heavens,
And Your truth reaches to the skies.
~Psalm 108:1-4

Resolved

I will encourage those traits which I admire in myself and in others.

I will cease and desist such things as will be detrimental to my functionality in society.

What do I mean? I mean, like Miss Climpson, I will go get ‘em. Like Beckett. I mean I had better stop watching back to back episodes of Castle, and limit my Fillion addiction feeding habits. I had better begin hanging up my coat. I will accomplish things!

Or I will be very well rested, well adjusted and well liked, but homeless.