Reality: Experience and Ignorance

Today, readers, I hesitate.  I’m hesitant to write of something that someone else has written about better.  I hate to discuss very broad concepts, and I hate to admit that I have no clue what I’m doing.

And yet…I’m fighting that hesitation.  Writing is better than worry; the reader may not have encountered the proverbial Someone Else who is better than me at everything (Khan?  Is that you?); and if it was worth my cogitation, it might well be worth someone else’s.  An Experiment in Criticism taught me not to fear reading a book more than once, even many times over; it follows I ought not fear thinking a thought more than once – or, in fact, many times over.

So here’s what I’ve been wondering:  what is the world really like?

We all observe the world from our particular vantage points.  We experience our own lives, hear about the lives of our families, our friends, our colleagues, our churches, our whoevers, whatevers, wherevers.  Our social media feeds us a constant stream of information about Life as Someone Else, whether that person is really quite similar to us, or completely different: the other side of the world, the other side in beliefs, otherwhere in health, otherwise in wealth.  There are the books, the articles (in magazines, in print, on the web), the television shows, the cinema.

We do our best to cut a swath through the unknown, and the stories we feed ourselves, in whatever medium, give us some sense of what is out in the white of the chart: whether dragons lurk there, or poverty, or beauty, or war.  This is fortunate, for me if for no one else; anyone who knows me very well at all knows that I dwell in detail, being a very poor hand at sweeping generalizations.

But no matter how much we learn, there is still so much to know: 7 billion lives out there, right now, not to mention the billions of lives from centuries past.  So many streets in towns in counties in countries where we’ve never walked.  There are so many biases we have ourselves, or problems in perception and recall and understanding, and so many agendas, conflicts, and obstacles in receiving information from other people.

So here I am, left wondering: what is, in fact, true about the world today?  Not to get all Cartesian about it, but which authorities, if any, can I actually trust?  Which do I trust without realizing it?

Here’s a minor example of the last:  I have in my mind the image of a high school party: parents gone, two hundred people showing up, booze and drugs going around, pounding music, and plenty of interpersonal drama like only high schoolers could foment.  I have never witnessed anything like this outside a movie.  Do such parties actually happen?  Is this a true image (στερεός τύπος) sifted from reality, or a mere cliché wrought by the media?  Did such parties eventually start because people saw them in movies first?

Another example: some famous ladies protest use of the word “bossy.”  Some other folks argue that this protest is arbitrary bullying of other people’s use of language; others note that there are more injurious words to worry about, and much more insidious problems.  I’m still sitting here wondering “Is that a real thing?  Do people actually call other people that, and does it actually hurt?  Like, more than other words?  The last time I saw or heard that word, it referred to an 11-year-old Hermione Granger, and it really was accurate enough.”  Who actually ought to win my sympathy in this fight?  No one, perhaps – I probably ought to walk right on.

So here’s something else, from an article somewhat-provocatively titled “In Defense of Book Banning”: authors of books, comics, etc. write all manner of narratives, including the agenda-driven, the needlessly salacious, the confrontational, etc.  Are they writing about the way the world is, or how they’ve heard it is, or how they want it to be?  Mark Hemingway notes (emphasis mine),

It was probably inevitable that Archie would change with the times, but I don’t think anyone thought the comic needed to become a statement about The Way We Live Now, where “we” is defined as some narrow subset of the urban creative class. …Of course, the gay marriage issue of Archie flew off the shelves, so it’s hard to tell whether the publisher is just capitalizing on the novelty to make a quick buck or actively trying to redefine cultural norms. But looked at over a long enough time horizon, the former will accomplish the latter.

That article also uses the phrase “With the way that public schools are slaloming toward Gomorrah…” as though that were most certainly the case.  I figured it was – I went to private school and keep hearing the most dreadful things about public schools – but one of my housemates went through public school and reported her experience as distinctly not-Gomorrah-like.  Admittedly, her high school experience was some 12 years ago, to say nothing of her grade school experience, so who knows how much things have changed since?

This is, I think, the aspect of reality with which I grapple most wearily: culture and society, they are organisms.  Whether we wrestle with them or try to unite ourselves with them, they are growing and shrinking and transforming all the time.  Perhaps you thought you had a fine snapshot of the way things are; blink and you find that it is how things were or, just as likely (it seems), how things were not.

At present, all I can do is thank God that my life doesn’t actually depend on my having expert knowledge.  Experts!  As any of us would trust an expert in child development to know an individual child better than his parents, or as if a landscape expert can know a man’s farm better than the man whose livelihood depends on it.  No, we don’t entrust the living of our lives to the experts; we carry on in our narrow swath, we use what tools we can and gain what knowledge we might.

And so I look for Someone Else, whose perspective on the world can shed light on it.  Wendell Berry, perhaps:

One of our problems is that we humans cannot live without acting; we have to act. Moreover, we have to act on the basis of what we know, and what we know is incomplete. What we have come to know so far is demonstrably incomplete, since we keep on learning more, and there seems little reason to think that our knowledge will become significantly more complete. The mystery surrounding our life probably is not significantly reducible. And so the question of how to act in ignorance is paramount.

A Gymnosperm by Another Name

Here is a poem by C.S. Lewis.  It’s one of my favorites, kept in a folder to be deployed when necessary.  I’ve posted half of it before, back in 2011, but recent days have demanded that I bring it out again, so I thought I’d share it around.

Gymnosperm comes from the Greek for “naked seeds,” so there you have it.  Whether Lewis had conifers in mind or not, I can only wonder.

The Naked Seed

My heart is empty. All the fountains that should run
With longing, are in me
Dried up. In all my countryside there is not one
That drips to find the sea.
I have no care for anything thy love can grant
Except the moment’s vain
And hardly noticed filling of the moment’s want
And to be free from pain.
Oh, thou that art unwearying, that dost neither sleep
Nor slumber, who didst take
All care for Lazarus in the careless tomb, oh keep
Watch for me till I wake.
If thou think for me what I cannot think, if thou
Desire for me what I
Cannot desire, my soul’s interior Form, though now
Deep-buried, will not die,
— No more than the insensible dropp’d seed which grows
Through winter ripe for birth
Because, while it forgets, the heaven remembering throws
Sweet influence still on earth,
— Because the heaven, moved moth-like by thy beauty, goes
Still turning round the earth.


Here’s the thing.  My heart doesn’t feel empty.  It’s full of thoughts, of considerations, of half-filled timetables, of a plethora of worries: my job, my car, the friends I don’t write to, the friends I do write to, my parents’ health, my brother’s wedding, etc., etc., etc.

But it isn’t full of what ought to fill it, this heart of mine.  The longing and the love which should fill it and flow from it: they are a mere trickle.  To borrow another of Lewis’s metaphors, the gas tank is empty, or else full of the wrong thing.  I can feel the transmission seizing up, or whatever it is that transmissions do when something’s wrong.  Slipping, I suppose.  Not getting into the correct gear and getting stuck in neutral!  That is surely me this past fortnight (or two, or three).

Lewis is, as always, more eloquent than I; in this poem, he is also more hopeful than I tend to be.  Who will save me from this heart full of death?  Thank God for the heavens remembering when the seed forgets!

Ye Anciente Books of Face

Have you ever wondered what classical stories might look like if they were written in modern terms?

Have you ever meditated on the phenomenon of “micro-verse”, so-called because it stays within the character limit of such modern conveniences as “twitter”, and “facebook”? (Oh, the creative outlet, it never withers!)

Have you ever wondered if this technically advanced society could create – in its particular voice, approach, and form – as nuanced, universal, and delicate an art as the past ages.

Well, wonder no longer!

Recently, archeologists have uncovered several very telling artifacts that depict the Ancients as being much more similar to us than we think! Upon deciphering and restoring, the artifacts are revealed to be something altogether unexpected and amazing, and might even rewrite the cannon of literature as we know it.

Now, solely at the behest, scheming, and brilliant power plays of the Muses of the Egotists Club, here is a sneak peak of these awfulsome relics!







So, there you have it.


~Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy

Created with the wonderful powers of time-traveling telepathy, and the Wall Machine

Thursday Dances: Cataclysmic Codices

“What books would I bring if the world would be destroyed by aliens or cylons and we had to restart civilization as we know it?”

What a question!  And how tempting it is to lay aside the booklist question in order to pursue the nature of the catastrophe…but I’ll keep myself in check.  I talked over the booklist question with a friend I knew to be familiar with Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.  We agreed that we would *not* bring a shopping list, nor blueprints, unless the blueprints were extensive enough to be of use.  Rather, we’d opt for something more fundamental, and would not limit ourselves to one book unless we had to.

Thankfully Thalia’s already got charge of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which did arise as a possibility in the course of our conversation.  We talked about bringing the Bible, Shakespeare, the works of St. Augustine, Pascal (I’d bring the first two and my friend could handle the latter two).  We pondered the best way to sum up or collect all the pieces of art or music in a volume (and couldn’t really get beyond the Norton Anthologies of both, so if you have other suggestions, please make them).  We figured that it might be wise to bring as much information on chemistry, physics, and calculus as possible, despite our personal failure to study them very deeply; why, we asked, leave all the legwork to the people trying to rebuild the world?

Then I consulted my eldest brother, who, after due mention of the Bible and Shakespeare, determined that he would bring a Latin missal, breviary, and patristic writings; a collection of Plato and Aristotle; Homer and Virgil; Dante’s Divine Comedy in Italian; all of Aquinas; and (somewhat peculiarly) a scientific manual that our dad consults regularly.  These, he figured, were among the documents on which the present civilization was founded.  If they did so the first time, then there was no reason they should not again.

So, figuring he would have those covered, I imagine myself bearing the dictionary; a volume of Anglo-Saxon poetry; The Wealth of Nations; a pretty solid anthology of not-Anglo Saxon poetry; some book or other on animal husbandry and agriculture; the small bag of honeymoon-worthy books; and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

…then hopefully I’d find the person who brought Tolkien along.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel fine

Thursday Dances: Bookish Christenings

Having long subscribed to the view that it’s preposterous to plot out first names for one’s entirely hypothetical children without having any idea what surname would be appended thereto, I have not, to be frank, spent a lot of time choosing any.

But I will confess a particular weakness where names are concerned, dear reader, and that is finding out what names mean.  Because my name is a common noun, capitalized, I took to translating it into other languages; any given Solo cup would read “Alegría” on one side and “Freude” on the other and “Alassë” for thoroughness on a third.  On finding that any other name could also be translated once one discovered its meaning, I figured out that my brothers’ names meant “little,” “martial,” and “gift of God,” respectively (and, more importantly, that in Quenya I could call them Pityon, Carnildo, and Eruntalon).

Not only so, but my friends evidently embody such traits as: song; earth-digger; grace; pure; pure; pure; Christian; Christian; honey/dark/we were never quite sure; reborn; powerful leader; little king; princess; reaper; commander of armies.  …there are, you may deduce, a number of Katherines.

However, the Meme does not care how my friends call themselves; the Meme demands to know how my children will be named despite there being, as yet, no sire for them.  So here’s my best assay:

The Princess BrideWesley – Old English, “dweller of a western meadow” – which might be especially false if the family ends up on the Eastern seaboard.  Where he shall become a Dread Pirate.  Muahaha.

The Ballad of the White HorseColan – Gaelic, “people’s victory” (or, depending whom you ask, “dove”) – Man shall not taste of victory / Till he throws his sword away.  And I’d have people remember that.  My only concern is the potential for misfortune should people render my poor son’s name as “Colon;” at best, it’s a punctuation mark.

The Chronicles of NarniaEdmund – Old English, “wealthy protector” – Thalia and I might have to duke it out for this one.  Everyone wishes there were a wealthy protector in their family, right?

In the Hall of the Dragon KingQuentin – Latin, “fifth” – Totally picked this before reading Thalia’s post the other day; Quentin went from weedy acolyte to SWORD-FORGER, which is my favorite part of Lawhead’s work.  Possibly dubious name-wise if I don’t have 5 children…but perhaps more reasonable than Septimus, which also appeals to me despite it being the name of a blood-spilling, power-hungry uncle in Stardust

Ender’s ShadowNikolai – Greek, “people’s victory” – Should we not ask the people who think Colan means dove, this might put me in the peculiar position of having sons named with the same meaning (whatever, man, I bet there’s a family somewhere with sons named John, Matthew, Nathaniel, and Theodore).  But Colan is a sword-flinger whereas Nikolai is a brother among brothers.  We just won’t shorten their names lest the “col” root confuse anyone.

And for the ladies:

Howl’s Moving Castle
Sophie – Greek, “wisdom” – More desirable than rubies.

That Hideous Strength Camilla – Latin/Italian, “young servant” – Is it bizarre to name a daughter for a character who likes weather?  Very well, then, I shall be bizarre.

The Winter’s Tale (and nothing else ever, no nothing, nothing at all) – Hermione – Greek, “messenger” or “earthly” or “travel” or “something else related to Hermes” – I can’t actually name a child this.  No one can pronounce Hermione on the first go-around, and Hermione of myth and plays does not, in my estimation, have the happiest of lots.  But it’s an awfully pretty name when said correctly.

The OdysseyPenelope – Greek, “weaver” – Hopefully people will address her without rhyming her name with “antelope.”  Plus the name’s practically synonymous with fidelity.  Yay!

Gaudy Night et al. – Harriet – Old German, “home-ruler” – Obviously this cannot be the only Germanic name I come up with, but for right now, it sounds reassuringly solid.


Heaven only knows what surname they’ll work with.

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.


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 . . . .

Heraclitean Fire

I baited my hook with a word and caught a poem by Hopkins today, and thought I should share it with you.  But first, wordnotes:
- “chevy” means to chase after something or generally race and scamper about;
- to roister (or, presumably, to royster) is to revel, to engage in noisy merrymaking without restraint (as though one were a rustic, countrified sort);
- shivelights are slivers or splinters of light; given that splintered light, the darkness between is as the shadows of ship-rigging or pulleys or what you will, hence shadowtackle; and
- yestertempest is nothing but my new favorite word.  I shall endeavor to work it into conversation whenever possible.

Second, Hopkinnotes:
- GMH called this “a sonnet with two codas.”  Everyone since has said “No, no, surely that’s three codas.”  As for me, I will say it is one whole poem and leave it at that.
- He also wrote the following to a friend:

Lately I sent you a sonnet on the Heraclitean Fire, in which a great deal of early Greek philosophical thought was distilled; but the liquor of the distillation did not taste very greek, did it? The effect of studying masterpieces is to make me admire and do otherwise. So it must be on every original artist to some degree, on me to a marked degree. Perhaps then more reading would only refine my singularity, which is not what you want.

Lastly, exhortation:
Read this out loud.  Read it to your roommate, to your spouse, to your kid, to your cat, to a hedgehog named Jeffy who was startled by the opening of a champagne bottle.  Read it to yourself inside, or out by a lake, or in a field staring up at the clouds until your eyes are forced shut by the sun behind them.  Read it silently but then read it again.


On the Nature of the Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ‘ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ‘ ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare

Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed ‘ dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks ‘ treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ‘ nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest ‘ to her, her clearest-selvèd spark

Man, how fast his firedint, ‘ his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ‘ nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ‘ death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark

But vastness blurs and time ‘ beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ‘ Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:

                 In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

I can only end by saying that Hopkins delights me and I ought to read more of his work.  If you are looking for actual analysis so as to deepen your delight, go here.

Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twenty-Five

The Book Meme Challenge: A character who you can relate to the most

Many a character throughout the realm of Fiction calls up sympathy simply by virtue of the situation he is in and how the author has constructed his personality, his actions, and his reactions.  However, such sympathy is not exactly congruent with relating to the character, as the phrase suggests some similarity between the character and the reader.  More than feelings, it connotes resemblance.
Therefore I write this not without trepidation, for relating to a character need not reflect well on the reader.  As Hermione Granger represents much of what I would wish to be, Orual reflects a good deal of what I am, such that even when it is clear she chooses, acts, and thinks wrongly, I understand why she does so.  More than once, Orual looks in the mirror of judgment and there I find my own face.
At the outset of Till We Have Faces, that face does not seem grim at all.  Glome does, and the house of Ungit, and perhaps the rooms where Orual’s father the King blusters about.  Orual herself, especially when she is with the Fox and Psyche, seems to be all that is sane and well; perhaps at that point she is.  But as time goes by, more and more of her soul’s deformities come to light:

Though the words You look just like our father, and from her, had hurt me with a wound that sometimes aches still, I let go my anger and yielded.

“I thought we parted that night to talk it over again in the morning.”
“We parted to let you sleep,” said I. The words came fiercely, without my will and in my father’s own voice. Then I was ashamed.

I understood in that moment all my father’s rages. I put terrible constraint on myself … I suppose he never dreamed what he had done to me with those words The day’s work is over.

Envy (twinned with self-pity)
And so she would be far above me in everything: in courage as well as in beauty and in those eyes which the gods favoured with sight of things invisible, and even in strength…

“She used to say, ‘First of all Orual loved me much; then the Fox came and she loved me little; then the baby came and she loved me not at all.’ So she was lonely. I was sorry for her…”
… I am sure still that Redival was false and a fool. …But one thing was certain: I had never thought at all how it might be with her when I turned first to the Fox and then to Psyche. For it had been somehow settled in my mind from the very beginning that I was the pitiable and ill-used one. She had her gold curls, hadn’t she?

We bring our ugliness, in both kinds, with us into the world, with it our destiny. How bitter this was, every ill-favoured woman will know. We have all had our dream of some other land, some other world, some other way of giving the prizes which would bring us in as the conquerors; leave the smooth, rounded limbs, and the little pink and white faces, and the hair like burnished gold, far behind; their day ended, and ours come.

My soul rose up against calling Gram, who was very irksome to me. I felt (though I saw it to be folly even at the time) that if Bardia had come with me instead, all might have been different and better. And away my thoughts wandered to imagine all he would be doing and saying now if he had, till suddenly I remembered what business had brought me there. I was ashamed that I had thought, even for a moment, of anything else.

I might die, thus wounded and fasting, or at least get such a chill as would bring my death soon after. And out of that seed there grew up, in one moment, a huge, foolish flower of fancies. For at once (leaping over all question of how it should come about) I saw myself laid on the pyre, and Psyche — she knew now, she loved me again now — beating her breast and weeping and repenting all her cruelties. The Fox and Bardia were there too; Bardia wept fast.  Everyone loved me once I was dead. But I am ashamed to write all these follies.

It embittered me that the Fox should even desire to leave me. He had been the central pillar of my whole life, something (I thought) as sure and established, and indeed as little thanked, as sunrise and the mere earth. In my folly I had thought I was to him as he was to me. “Fool!” said I to myself. “Have you not yet learned that you are that to no one? What are you to Bardia? as much perhaps as the old King was. His heart lies at home with his wife and her brats. If you mattered to him he’d never have let you fight. What are you to the Fox? His heart was always in the Greeklands. You were, maybe, the solace of his captivity. They say a prisoner will tame a rat. He comes to love the rat — after a fashion. But throw the door open, strike off his fetters, and how much’ll he care for the rat then?” And yet, how could he leave us, after so much love? I saw him again with Psyche on his knees; “Prettier than Aphrodite,” he had said. “Yes, but that was Psyche,” said my heart. “If she were still with us, he would stay. It was Psyche he loved. Never me.” I knew while I said it that it was false, yet I would not, or could not, put it out of my head.

Self-centeredness and unquenchable greed
She spoke so steadily and thoughtfully, as if we had been disputing with the Fox, up behind the pear trees, with hours and days still before us. The parting between her and me seemed to cost her so little.

…The nearest thing we have to a defense against [the gods] (but there is no real defense) is to be very wide awake and sober and hard at work, to hear no music, never to look at earth or sky, and (above all) to love no one. And now, finding me heart-shattered for Psyche’s sake, they made it the common burden of all my fantasies that Psyche was my greatest enemy. All my sense of intolerable wrong was directed against her.  It was she who hated me; it was on her that I wanted to be revenged.  .. And soon I was in my right mind again and knew how I loved her and that she had never willingly done me any wrong, though it hurt me somewhat that she should have found time, at our last meeting of all, talking so little of me, to talk so much about the god of the Mountain, and the King, and the Fox, and Redival, and even Bardia.

A thought pierced up through the crust of my mind like a crocus coming up in the early year. Was she not worthy of the gods? Ought they not to have her? But instantly great, choking, blinding waves of sorrow swept it away and, “Oh!” I cried. “It’s not right. It’s not right. Oh, Psyche, come back! …”

I found some verses in Greek which seemed to be a hymn to the god of the Mountain. These I burned. I did not choose that any of that part of her should remain. …. I wished all to be so ordered that if she could come back she would find all as it had been when she was still happy, and still mine. Then I locked the door and put a seal on it. And, as well as I could, I locked a door in my mind.

We’d rather you drank their blood than stole their hearts. We’d rather they were ours and dead than yours and made immortal. But to steal her love from me, to make her see things I couldn’t see . . .   I was my own and Psyche was mine and no one else had any right to her. Oh, you’ll say you took her away into bliss and joy such as I could never have given her, and I ought to have been glad of it for her sake.  Why? What should I care for some horrible, new happiness which I hadn’t given her and which separated her from me? Do you think I wanted her to be happy, that way? It would have been better if I’d seen the Brute tear her in pieces before my eyes.

“Tell you? And so take away from him his work, which was his life (for what’s any woman to a man and a soldier in the end?) and all his glory and his great deeds? Make a child and a dotard of him? Keep him to myself at that cost? Make him so mine that he was no longer his?”
“And yet — he would have been yours.”
“But I would be his. I was his wife, not his doxy. He was my husband, not my house-dog. He was to live the life he thought best and fittest for a great man — not that which would most pleasure me…”
…”And you could — and you can — bear that?”
“You ask that? Oh, Queen Orual, I begin to think you know nothing of love. Or no; I’ll not say that.  Yours is Queen’s love, not commoners’. Perhaps you who spring from the gods love like the gods. Like the Shadowbrute. They say the loving and the devouring are all one, don’t they?”

“Faugh! You’re full fed. Gorged with other men’s lives, women’s too: Bardia’s, mine, the Fox’s, your sister’s — both your sisters’.”

This vision, anyway, allowed no denial. Without question it was true. It was I who was Ungit. That ruinous face was mine. I was that Batta-thing, that all-devouring womblike, yet barren, thing. Glome was a web — I the swollen spider, squat at its center, gorged with men’s stolen lives.

Love-like Hatred
“Daughter, daughter….There’s one part love in your heart, and five parts anger, and seven parts pride.”

And now those divine Surgeons had me tied down and were at work. My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in. For it was all true — truer than Ansit could know.  I had rejoiced when there was a press of work, had heaped up needless work to keep him late at the palace, plied him with questions for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice. Anything to put off the moment when he would go and leave me to my emptiness. And I had hated him for going.   …Did I hate him, then? Indeed, I believe so. A love like that can grow to be nine-tenths hatred and still call itself love. One thing’s certain; in my mad midnight fantasies (Ansit dead, or, better still, proved whore, witch, or traitress) when he was at last to be seeking my love, I always had him begin by imploring my forgiveness. Sometimes he had hard work to get it.

If I have once again quoted at too great a length, it is only because there is so much of Orual wherein I see myself.  I know what it is to be suddenly full of fury, especially with those in my family who I love best.  I have often (this, too, is shameful to admit) rejoiced that I had only brothers, because then no sister would outshine me in looks, temperament, strength, or grace.  I know the feeling of seeking out some place where one’s countenance did not win the day, and of pitying myself when I did not find it.  Each of the cited follies could have come out of my own head at one point or another.  I have reckoned up my love for others and supposed theirs for me to be so much less.  I have looked on those who I loved best, who loved me best, and regarded them as enemies who intended to hurt me.  I have seized upon how much they talk of themselves, or others, never minding how often I do the same.  And as for happiness – the old line of loving someone enough to let go, or to desire his (or her) happiness more than one’s own – have I ever indeed loved anyone like that in my life?

Therefore I am afraid: afraid that I will be selfish forever, using the love of others as a weapon or instrument of torture, until all that was once love in me goes sour and I myself am a thing bloated and loathsome, inside and out.  But even now, like Orual, I wallow in that fear and snatch back that sorrow for the odd sort of pleasure it gives, weltering in my pitiful state rather than looking to change it.  For how can it?  Psyche reported that when she tried cheering herself with “all that old dream of [her] gold and amber palace on the mountain,” she “couldn’t believe in it at all”; “all [her] old longings were clean gone.”  But what about those of us left in the valley, all our old longings intact?  I would set out boldly each morning to be just and calm and wise in all my thoughts and acts; but before they had finished dressing me I would find that I was back (and knew not how long I had been back) in some old rage, resentment, gnawing fantasy, or sullen bitterness. I could not hold out half an hour. And a horrible memory crept into my mind of those days when I had tried to mend the ugliness of my body with new devices in the way I did my hair or the colours I wore. I’d a cold fear that I was at the same work again. I could mend my soul no more than my face.

In the end, Orual admits “I never wished you well, never had one selfless thought of you.  I was a craven.”  All her ugliness, body and soul, is laid bare; there is the veil stripped from her face.  And then Psyche lifts her up to give her beauty.  I can only hope that relating to Orual extends this far; for though I know who will save me from this body of death, the mirror shows that I am a long way from beautiful.

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?