Five Sonnets

I needed to reread these five sonnets by CS Lewis today, so I thought I’d share them ’round.

You think that we who do not shout and shake
Our fists at God when youth or bravery die
Have colder blood or hearts less apt to ache
Than yours who rail.  I know you do.  Yet why?
You have what sorrow always longs to find,
Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;
Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind,
It does men good, it fumes away their grief.
We feel the stroke like you; so far our fate
Is equal.  After that, for us begin
Half-hopeless labours, learning not to hate,
And then to want, and then (perhaps) to win
A high, unearthly comfort, angel’s food,
That seems at first a mockery to flesh and blood.
A Crazy Stair
There’s a repose, a safety (even a taste

Of something like revenge?) in fixed despair
Which we’re forbidden.  We have to rise with haste
And start to climb what seems a crazy stair.
Our consolation (for we are consoled,
So much of us, I mean, as may be left
After the dreadful process has unrolled)
For one bereavement makes us more bereft.
It asks for all we have, to the last shred;
Read Dante, who had known its best and worst—
He was bereaved and he was comforted—
No one denies it, comforted—but first
Down to the frozen centre, up the vast
Mountain of pain, from world to world he passed. 

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found
Even a door—only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his cry no sound.
It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.
Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give
The thing we want.  We ask what isn’t there
And by our asking water and make live
That very part of love that must despair
And die and go down cold into the earth
Before there’s talk of springtime and rebirth.

Pitch your demands heaven-high and they’ll be met.
Ask for the Morning Star and take (thrown in)
Your earthly love.  Why, yes; but how to set
One’s foot on the first rung, how to begin?

The silence of one voice upon our ears
Beats like the waves; the coloured morning seems
A lying brag; the face we loved appears
Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.
“That long way round which Dante trod was meant
For mighty saints and mystics, not for me,”
So Nature cries.  Yet if we once assent
To Nature’s voice, we shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.
Bee
“If we could speak to her,” my doctor said,

“And told her, “Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out your wings and bruise your head,”
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
“Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
The blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there—ahead, ahead—the flowers, the grass!”
We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out—and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers stand thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts.  But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.” 

Free bee

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Latin Word of the Day: A Story

I have been ridiculously jealous of my northern sistren who are enjoying the beauty and grandeur of Winter’s Blessing: SNOW.

I might not miss the driving conditions or the car troubles, but I miss the tingling feeling of life and beauty and purity that cold and snow inspire. While I have been trying to sympathize with all the winter mishaps that Thalia and Terpsichore have, I have been heartsore and homesick for a good, old-fashioned white snow.

This week Dallas has been enduring a cold and wind like the harbinger of an apocalypse. By which I mean, 30 degrees with a wind chill of 12. Weather Channels warned that there was a slight chance of precipitation, (around 13%,) and that precipitation might turn into snow.

Yesterday, my 7th graders asked if I would let them play in the snow. I laughed, and promised them that if it snowed, I would require them to make snow angels. They cheered.

Guess what was happening this morning?

SNOW WAS COMING DOWN IN DALLAS, TX.

Even before classes, my 7th graders were trying to catch my eye and mouth, “SNOW! Outside, right?” I just grinned at them.

By the second period, the snow was sticking and word had spread about my rash promise, and I had to strike a deal with the Freshman Latin Class: if they finished correcting homework sentences and reviewing vocabulary, they could have the rest of the period to play in the snow.

I have never seen them work so hard or fast. Usually I draw random names for boardwork translations, but today almost everyone “volunteered as tribute”. A few even had to fight it out (with rock-paper-scissors) over doing a sentence. They had a good 20 minutes of skating around the frosty parking lot and trying to throw powdery snow at each other.

My 7th graders were next – and they finished the classroom work in under 20 minutes. Of course, few of them had not thought to wear appropriate coats, so they had a strict if-you-get-wet-you-will-not-complain warning. They didn’t mind.

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For kids who have never played in snow before, they got the idea of it pretty quickly! The first 5 minutes or so were spent marveling at the perfect shapes of the snowflakes. Seriously, every single one cam running over to show me a big fluffy flake and gasp over the beauty, and wonder over the incredible detail that God put into each snowflake. (Their words, not mine.) I love these kids.

And then the snowball fights and snow angels and snow-skating began in earnest. The sheer joy and exhilaration was contagious. One of the girls ran up proudly to show me the snowball that she had made, and then earnestly asked my advice on at whom she should throw it. The boys proceeded to chase after each other like middle school boys.

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By lunch the roads were so bad that we had early dismissal. On the 7 miles between school and home, I slid into two intersection and passed three accidents. Winter Mishap Quota: check.

Right now I am curled up with a mug of soup, enjoying the sensation of cold toes, and watching the light reflected off snow shine on my ceiling. One of my students did give me fuzzy socks for Christmas . . . where did I put those?

But before leaving, I gave my students one last thing: a Latin Word of the Day.

Nix, nicis


SNOW

Earworm Alleluia

It’s that time of year when Choral Union prepares for Handel’s Messiah, which always confuses the inner calendar.  We skate from Isaiah’s prophecies to Luke 2 fulfillment, from Lenten sorrow to resurrection triumph, to judgment, and then back in reverse order because that’s how rehearsal works.  Truly, it is a glorious liturgical muddle.

This week, we ran through the happier movements of part 2 (“Lift up your heads, O ye gates” and the choruses following) and all the choruses of part 3.  Instead of picky melismata, there’s more emphasis on dynamic contrast and fugal exposition.  The music rises in one great crescendo, such that I left practice with “Worthy is the Lamb” resounding in my head.  There is such a fierce joy in proclaiming Christ’s victory over sin and death, a taste of what is to come.

That vehement delight also accounts for my aural addiction to Anuna’s “Dicant Nunc,” a new setting of an old Easter antiphon:

Christus resurgens ex mortuis          Christ, being raised from the dead,
iam non moritur:                         dies no more;
mors illi ultra non dominabitur.        Death hath no more dominion over him.
Quod enim vivit, vivit Deo.              For in that He lives, He lives to God.
Alleluia.                                    Alleluia!
Dicant nunc Iudaei,                      Let the Jews now say
quomodo milites custodientes            how the soldiers guarding
sepulchrum perdiderunt Regem         the sepulchre lost the King
ad lapidis positionem.                    sealed with a stone.
Quare non servabant                    Why did they not watch
petram iustitiae?                          the rock of justice?
Aut sepultum reddant,                  Let them either return him buried,
aut resurgentem adorent nobiscum    or with us worship him risen,
dicentes Alleluia.                         saying Alleluia.

This whole text makes me waggle my fingers in exultation.  Death has no mastery over Him!!  In the same way, we may count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

What welcome news at any and all times of year.  Alleluia indeed!

Autumnal Song

October has finally reached its sullen stage, and is turned damp, grey, and chilly. The sky right now is a dull, milky shroud, which is rather startling after the bright blue of the weekend. It is drizzling, showering, and  misting in turns, and everything is permeated by the smell of rain on the dry earth. (Or, in awesome words, petrichor!)

I love it.

Autumn rain in Michigan

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Infinity, Plus or Minus One

Over the past few days, I’ve been pondering the extent to which Christians are heirs of infinite blessing, incorruptible and undefiled and waiting for us.

Waiting for us is the worst bit.  It’s frustrating to be the heir who can’t access the fullness of his inheritance yet.  One is left anxiously fiddling with one’s pocket change, and casting about for security elsewhere.  I tend to eye the people who have more capital (so to speak) than I do: the people with more to be happy about (as though contentment were quantifiable), the people more focused on their goals, the people with more graces and gracefulness.

God help me.  When I was younger, I imagined that I would grow out of envy at some point.  Despite the fact that I am just as loved, just as redeemed, as any of them – loved and redeemed by the Creator of the universe, loved beyond my comprehension – I look, and I focus on the +1 that my neighbor has, that I don’t.

The very fact that such a mathematically small gap feels so big should be signal enough that my perspective is skewed.

It feels preachy (also, like cheating) to copy and paste the entirety of Romans 8 right here, even though it’s precisely what I need to reread.  Instead, I will share a poem from Sheldon Van Auken’s A Severe Mercy.  Julian, a friend of Sheldon and Davy’s, wrote it for them; it hung over Davy’s bed as she lay dying of cancer.  Davy’s life and love were part of the +1 that Sheldon enjoyed; the fact that he survived her, the severe mercy that taught him what inheritance was his through Christ.

If everything is lost, thanks be to God
If I must see it go, watch it go,
Watch it fade away, die
Thanks be to God that He is all I have
And if I have Him not, I have nothing at all
Nothing at all, only a farewell to the wind
Farewell to the grey sky
Goodbye, God be with you evening October sky.
If all is lost, thanks be to God,
For He is He, and I, I am only I.

Seeking Song and Story

Once upon a time, I read this guest post by Briana of Pages Unbound.  I put in my two cents about sidekick protagonists, carried on with my reading, and proceeded not to think about it further for four months.  But that post has been bouncing about my mind of late, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Briana sought something that might not have existed.  She wasn’t looking for help remembering that one book she read in seventh grade that focused on the sidekick for a change and also it involved the Brooklyn skyline somehow. Had none of us readers had any volume to suggest, we might have taken it as a request to create such a narrative for her.

The second reason I’ve been thinking about it is that this post highlights the benefit of human eyes and human minds when one is on the hunt.  Google and other search engines do their very best to help one find a particular item or passage, and there have often been times when I could use such tools to find a song, a movie, a book of which I only recalled the haziest details.  But if you don’t come up with the right search terms, or if your query gets too lengthy, it can impede rather than assist your progress.

Therefore, dear readers, I bring my concerns to you, and hope that you can help with one or the other of these things I seek.

I’m looking for…

…a piece of music. 

I sang it in June 2001, at the Illinois Summer Youth Music choir camp.  It is called “Canticle,” and I sang it as part of an all-girl ensemble led by some Canadian lady whose name eludes me.  Tragically, I supposed that remembering all the words and most all of the notes would help me to find it again.  I was mistaken.  The text is Psalm 89:1 (or Psalm 88:2 for the Douay-Rheims folk) in Latin: Misericordias Domini in æternum cantabo; in generationem et generationem annuntiabo veritatem tuam in ore meo.  No idea who composed it.  No idea if it’s a setting of some earlier composer’s work or chant.  Someone, for the love of my sanity, tell me this rings a bell for you.

UPDATE: I ask, and Jenna delivers!!  Michael Levi’s Canticle!  MY HEART IS FULL OF SONG.

…an explanation for why “capital” should be different from “capitol.” 

Evidently I completely forgot this distinction in the years since my elementary spelling classes, but “capital” refers to the city or town which serves as the seat of government, while “capitol” refers to the building in which the legislature gathers.  Typically heterographs don’t bother me, but I just. don’t. understand.  Someone call the Inky Fool.

UPDATE: I have been informed that the legislative building was named, per Jefferson, for the Roman temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.  Thus far I am satisfied that the difference stems from an existing difference between the words in Rome, but there has been no further illumination of the difference between Latin suffixes or whatnot.  Do feel free to ring up Inky anyway and see what capital he can make of it.

…a less-typical narrative. 

This one’s a bit tricky to explain.  Earlier today, I read this post (which, briefly, is the story of Susan Isaacs looking for love online, getting rejected from eHarmony because she didn’t fit into their algorithm, and eventually finding The Man on Christian Cafe).  I’m not 41, and my fortnight on OkCupid is nothing compared to Susan’s litany of dating site attempts.  When I reached the end, I was glad for her: she seems to have found what she was looking for, and it rounded out the story quite neatly.  But it also rang a bit hollow because it rounded out the story so neatly.

    "The artistic flaw is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line. Which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing." Oh, Dr. Whalen. How illuminating you are.

“The artistic flaw is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line. Which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing.” Oh, Dr. Whalen. How illuminating you are.

This isn’t normally a criticism I raise, because I appreciate both romance and happy, tidy endings.  I don’t recall ever complaining about the Prince marrying The Girl in any given fairy tale, or how relationships (and events more generally) shake out in Austen, Harry Potter, Stardust, or the Lord Peter stories.  I don’t whinge about Dune ending with “History will call us wives,” or the end of That Hideous Strength.  I don’t consider myself a feminist, and have never evaluated books on the basis of whether or not they pass the Bechdel Test.

But Susan’s story (and Hannah Coulter, and The Princess Bride, and any given article on Boundless) suggests that there is no other narrative, that no lady can ever be happy without The One, that the only ending possible is marriage.  This ground has been trod by a lot of women in tiresome family-vs-career arguments, but the fact remains that I want a story: a different story than my usual fare, something involving a woman who is content with a different sort of happy ending.  I’m looking for a female character who is content to live her life on her own, if only to show me that it is possible.

Surely one must exist; for all I know, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of such stories that I’ve completely missed.  And if not, my dears, please help me write one.

Requiem for an Automobile

Yesterday morning I was in the kitchen making breakfast, when I heard a dull thud from the street. “That sounds almost like a small accident,” thought I. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was someone running into my car?” Secure in the knowledge that such event was unlikely, I went back to my yoghurt.

I am currently living with a friend in Texas while I desperately assiduously job search. It is a residential neighborhood where many people park in the street. As driveway space is limited, I parked in the street as well.

Before I swallowed even one spoonful of yoghurt, my curiosity and slight anxiety started pricking. Well, more like nagging and poking. Incessantly. So I looked out the front window.

I should have seen my sweet little car sitting quietly directly in front if the house.

What I saw was a mangled bumper gently rocking on the sidewalk.

Through a slight haze, I managed to notice the neighbor’s yard had a new lawn ornament: my car. My faithful, lovely ride was straddling the sidewalk, rear end crumpled.

EbyCarWreck

For seven years and two cross-country trips, this car has served me faithfully and resolutely, and I killed her. Right after I replaced all the breaks, too! Why did I not remember that Texans can’t drive? Why did I park on the street?

But strange things started to happen. After the sadly-born call to the police and insurance, the trauma and drama did marvelous things for the community. Three runners stopped to watch and chat. (To be fair, the car was blocking their path.) Four city utility vehicles (two water inspection officers, one “community patrol” guy, and one fire truck cruising the route,) pulled over to “check on the crash”. Human curiosity is a fascinating thing. Five neighbors came to stand and watch. One, the lady whose lawn my car now adorned, fluttered over to ask for the whole story, and pat my arm sympathetically. Tragedies bring people together in the most exciting and human way.

So, farewell, my hard-working automobile! Even in death you continue to help people gather together. Go to the Happy Car-Crushing Ground!