Epic Meme Saturday: In a Land Far, Far Away

Well, in my most learned and delectable mind, I think that a favorite setting means a place where I would want to live. (Please note how I conveniently twist it to mean something that I want!) Oh, of all the places I would love to live! Narnia, the Enchanted Forest, Middle-Earth, Prydain, Al-Amarna, The Old-Kingdom…. Actually, not the old kingdom, too many undead there!

There are so many beautiful and wonderful worlds that would be a joy to see. Yet the one I have read that is the most beautifully described is a place called Mistawis. It is a land of mystery and enchantment, where raised eyebrows mean the end of the world (though occasionally the world keeps on spinning despite the eyebrows), cardinal flowers lighten the swamp like ribbons of flame, and islands appear as amethysts. Here a mysterious man is found with crocked eyebrows and a dark past.

Ooh, the possibility gives me the shivers! But this land of deep magic has dangers, evil men who would kidnap the fair maiden from her first dance, a cruel mother whose petty tasks might cause her daughter much suffering… oh, all the traits of a true fairy tale!

But it isn’t. The Mistawis is a real place, in Ontario Canada. Sounds prosaic, right?! (Well, don’t google it for images, I did and I was very disappointed. They had only a few of actual scenery!) But the Mistawis, as seen through the eyes of Valency Jane Stirling Snaith from L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle is that Land of Enchantment where strange and wonderful beauty lies just ahead and ever under her fingertips. If you have the eyes to see it.

Yes, there are many places described by books that I would like to see, but only here would I want to live.

Epic Meme Saturday: Supercailfragilistucexpialidosious

Literary references that would win my heart…oh goodness, Thalia is right there are many ways that would be interpreted.

Well, there are so many books or idea that are quite lovely and would convince me that the person who knew them is someone I would love to get to know better. there are a few though that would assure me that the employer of them is not only well-educated and has a wonderful sense of humor, but also has great strength of character.

First there is that ever fateful and ever quote line from The Virginian “When you call me that… SMILE.” It may be very simple and maybe a tad too recognizable for common usage, but the ideas behind it are wonderful. for who would not admire someone who would righteously stand up for his own honor! After all, it is a sin to calumniate another’s name, so I think it is wrong to let other abuse you, either to you face as Trampas did the Virginian, or behind their back, as the Virginian stopped the same from doing to Molly. Besides, someone who could say that in a right context and not look like a fool would be a very rare thing indeed, with the ability to maintain this own dignity and the strength to not be cowed by another.

Another reference that I would love to hear some one use would be Blake’s poem Tyger, Tyger! Not the first stanza, but the middle (third)

What the shoulder, what the art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat

What dread hand and what dread feet!

Ooooo, it makes me shiver! Though I have no idea how such a quote could even be used in a normal conversation, the person who could pull it off well would be admirable indeed and I would be most desirous to make their further acquainted.

Also, any one who managed to use the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidosious” in a sentence would be my every lasting hero.

So far, all these quotes are things that would raise a person in my estimation, but to truly captures my heart as only the one for whom measures up to my silver yard stick and who will fit me as  the falcon’s feathers fit the falcon, I reserve two references.

The first is “This isn’t Spaghetti, its army noodles with ketchup!” oh, you who know what this is from will know why I love it so much. It also ties back to one of my earlier posts.

The second is very corny, but very beautiful all the same. it is Farm Boy’s humble “As you wish” to his beloved Buttercup. Though I have no wish to be likened to that quintessential blonde, that one phrase has a lot of meaning behind it. Probably a great deal more that the author thought. that one sentiment expresses true love, and I am not talking about the sad impression of true love that one gets from the movie and the book The Princess Bride. It is a reflection of the love that we are meant to have for God. God, as all loving, all good and all-knowing, loves us perfectly and wants only what would make us happy, truly happy, which usually is not what we think would make us happy. (strange how that works out…) and so by saying to God, “not my will but yours be done” we are submitting to His perfect wisdom and love in perfect confidence and love. And that is what I would desire, (not to be god, ug that would be awful!!!), but for my spouse to have love and confidence enough in me to trust that I would do only what was best.

So I am a sentimental sod, but I like it!

Thursday Dances: Words With Which to Woo

I once heard of a couple girls (A and B, shall we say) who spent a day picking out what manner of engagement rings they wanted from a jeweler’s website: an exercise in aesthetics, perhaps.  This done, B told A’s boyfriend all about it so he could get exactly what A wanted without tipping her off.  On one hand, it seemed nice that he would trouble to learn her opinion – but on the other, it struck me that it should have been unnecessary.  Surely if he knew her well enough, he’d be able to discern whether she preferred antique or modern styles, round or square cuts, white or yellow gold.  Surely her character and personality would indicate what would suit her.

This post feels similar: picking out the things that seem shiny or seem to fit.  Any enterprising fellow who likes may feel free to use them, should he find opportunity.  But surely anyone interested in winning my heart would be able to find his own words.

…or perhaps not; “Sihaya” was the nickname an old boyfriend gave me, and I include it now though it has lost most of its power.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
– W. Shakespeare, Sonnet 29

“Joanna,” he said, “y’ ’ave saved my life, and I have saved yours; and we have seen blood flow, and been friends and enemies—ay, and I took my belt to thrash you; and all that time I thought ye were a boy.  But now death has me, and my time’s out, and before I die I must say this: Y’ are the best maid and the bravest under heaven, and, if only I could live, I would marry you blithely; and, live or die, I love you.”

“And, dear Dick—good Dick—but that ye can get me forth of this house before the morning, we must even kiss and say good-bye.”
“Nay,” said Dick, “not I; I will never say that word.  ’Tis like despair; but while there’s life, Joanna, there is hope.  Yet will I hope.  Ay, by the mass, and triumph!  Look ye, now, when ye were but a name to me, did I not follow—did I not rouse good men—did I not stake my life upon the quarrel?  And now that I have seen you for what ye are—the fairest maid and stateliest of England—think ye I would turn?—if the deep sea were there, I would straight through it; if the way were full of lions, I would scatter them like mice.”
“Ay,” she said, dryly, “ye make a great ado about a sky-blue robe!”
“Nay, Joan,” protested Dick, “’tis not alone the robe.”
– R. L. Stevenson, The Black Arrow

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
that you were beautiful, and that I strove
to love you in the old high way of love…
– W. B. Yeats, “Adam’s Curse”

O go you onward; where you are Shall honor and laughter be,
Past purpled forest and pearled foam, God’s winged pavilion free to roam,
Your face, that is a wandering home, A flying home for me.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
– E. E. Cummings, “somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond”

“Miss Vane – I admired you for speaking as you did tonight. Detachment is a rare virtue, and very few people find it lovable, either in themselves or in others. If you ever find a person who likes you in spite of it – still more, because of it – that liking has very great value, because it is perfectly sincere and because, with that person, you will never need to be anything but sincere yourself.”

“Just exercise your devastating talent for keeping to the point and speaking the truth.”
“That sounds easy.”
“It is – for you. That’s what I love you for. Didn’t you know?

She had often wondered, in a detached kind of way, what it was that Peter valued in her and had apparently valued from that first day when she had stood in the dock and spoken for her own life. Now that she knew, she thought that a more unattractive pair of qualities could seldom have been put forward as an excuse for devotion.

“Placetne, magistra?”
– Lord Peter Wimsey, D. Sayers, Gaudy Night

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”

To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you– the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Le Petit Prince

“You are Sihaya, the desert spring.”
– Paul Muad’dib, Frank Herbert, Dune

“Dying would have been the easy way never to have to answer your question,” he said, “or any questions, and if there is one thing that has always been true about you, it’s that you make me question myself — and questioning myself inevitably proves to me how little of myself exists to sustain that sort of interrogation. I know you, my dear, better than I know myself. You are whole and entire — loyal and honest and stupidly, amazingly stubborn and beautiful as you are — and I’m shadows and the ghost of old lies held together by good intentions and hope.”
– Not telling.  Muahah.

For Posterity’s Sake: Poetry & Wine

Last week  my household hosted a party.

A wine tasting party.

And lest you think that we were being all hoity-toity and elegant, let me specific: this was wine-tasting AND poetry!

To be specific, the extremely haughty instructions we issued were as follows:

Continue reading

Epic Meme Saturday: Best (Love) Story

Yuck! Mushy love stories!? Gross.

Pull a random “romance” from the dark and frightening caverns of a library’s paperback fiction section and it very scary. Though, to tell the truth, I have never been able to actually read a whole one of this type through, I pull it off the shelf and see the cover with a beautiful woman on it and a man without a shirt and with rippling abs and I cannot bring myself to open it!!

No thank you, no books about love for me.

You see, what I object to in books about love is that you can’t set out to make a story about love. Love does not work that way! For, although it is the very reason for our existence and should be the reason behind every action, it is not so simple that it can be reduced to The King’s Daughter, who loves perfectly and always succeeds, not is it so earthy that the man with rippling abs can explain everything about it. There has to be more to the plot that love.

(Except for the Bible, that is the ultimate love story without being smarmy, but then, that is God for you. Only He can show love perfectly.)

However, good wholesome adventure stories which happen to have true love in them are quite lovely! Take the story of Conan and Anne, in The Red Keep.

As a young boy in Medieval Normandy, Conan saves the life of a young girl, the daughter of the Lord of the Red Keep (a castle made of red stone), as she is left for dead among her slain family, she is taken back to castle of Conan’s lord and there she grows up, always dreaming to reclaim her fief. While Conan, whose only ambition is to become a knight, is completely oblivious to her hopes and dreams, and her growing love for him. (Though I was never sure why she would love the idiot he was in the beginning). Then something happens to turn his world upside-down and he is faced with challenges and choices that help him to grow from being as cocky boy to a wise and competent young man.

Finally, at the very end he realizes why he fought so hard against his enemies, why he fought for something that was not his own; it was because through her eyes he was shown something good and desirable, something that was larger than himself. And on her part, Conan gave her hope in a hopeless situation.  He gave her something to relay on other than herself, and in this way made her gentle and not the fiery little wild-woman that her red hair implied.

This story is not about love, for most of the book they are not even together! it is a story about life, it is a story about friendship, it is about courage and honor, deceit and treachery, it is about adventure and secret tunnels!

But it has love in it (as life does) as a purpose. And it is the life in the book that makes the love real, not the other way around.

Mel’s Meme: Best Love Story

Literature, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, does not reduce reality but gives us a higher sense of what is real. In particular, love stories might not be the most true to the “reality” of this current world.

Knights in shining armor rarely appear on the modern landscape.

One look across a crowded room does not often result in a life long romance.

And few men can woo their ladies with beautiful song, dance, or poetry.

But we hold up these ideals of love not so that we are disappointed with our own prosaic lives, but so we can recognize the full beauty of Love as it was meant to be.

So when a love story exists as reality, all hope is renewed.

 

The Love Story:

John and Abigail Adams.

 

I cheat. I know.

But hey, their letters are published in a book! And, they most certainly a story, albeit a slightly quieter one than in fiction.

Therefore, I will maintain that they are part of the literary tradition. Their letters are beautiful, and definitely part of the American literary canon.

I was dithering about trying to choose my favorite fictional loving relationship – everything from Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion to Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado – and could not make up my mind. But a then a friend posted a selection of the Adams’ correspondence, and their romance struck me afresh.

These letters, written while Abby was at home with the children at Braintree John was either riding the circuit, away in Boston for his law practice, attending congress, or being an ambassador to France,  convey a glimpse both what amazing people they were individually, and how well they suited each other and made their relationship work.

Miss Adorable

Without dramatics or extremes – other than a revolutionary war and the subsequent creation of Country and Government –  these two created one of the most beautiful love stories in both history and literature. Through the medium of day-to-day concerns and discussions and even something like arguments, their tender, intimate, sweet, respectful love for one another is immediately apparent.

Their relationship is not centered around themselves, but their personal union is a source of stability, joy, and grace for the people they know, from their neighbors to their children.Indeed, these personal letters reveal their biggest plans for the future of their beloved new country. Their love for each other radiates outward into a love for the world, and practical plans to make that world better.

Their letters reveal a mutual concern over the country and its formation, and frank discussion of necessary freedoms and reforms. Abigail gives a compelling argument for more freedom for women in this new country! And John has marvelous ideas not only for for forming  a government, but forming a flourishing culture.

They both worry over the mortal and immortal care of their family, and spend time developing a course of education for their children. And not just the course of study, but how to make the children fond of their readings. John wrote,

“The Education of our Children is never out of my Mind. Train them to Virtue, habituate them to industry, activity, and Spirit. Make them consider every Vice, as shamefull and unmanly: fire them with Ambition to be usefull—make them disdain to be destitute of any usefull, or ornamental Knowledge or Accomplishment. Fix their Ambition upon great and solid Objects, and their Contempt upon little, frivolous, and useless ones. It is Time, my dear, for you to begin to teach them French. Every Decency, Grace, and Honesty should be inculcated upon them.”

The sentence, “My dear, it is time you began to teach them French”, just kills me with its casual endearment, absolute assumption of ability, and complete trust. I cannot wait for the day that my husband remarks, “my dear, it is time we began to teach the children Old English”.

And the  sweet chiding and teasing and endearments between the two! Abigail opens a letter with the rebuke, “I wish you would ever write me a letter half as long as I write you!” and lists all the information that should like to receive. John drily replies, ” You justly complain of my short Letters, but the critical State of Things and the Multiplicity of Avocations must plead my Excuse” . . . an refers her to pamphlets he has enclosed.

They can share every worry and thought, exchange news and discuss how it applicable to their lives, from concerns over the state of the farm and state affairs, to sharing the latest studies on child development. They remark on their readings and experiences, sharing what they have studied, thought, and learned. They both have an appreciation of beauty and joy that seems to have been nourished by their association with each other. Their discussions and shared experiences brought to the fore those aesthetics and virtues needed in so young a country.

They are both friends and lovers. They have the kind of best relationship, where they work together and truly share their lives.

The affection between them is clear through every subject they discuss and in every tone they use. John’s endearments for Abigail are at once teasing and sweet, from “Miss Adorable”, to “Portia”. And Abby return with intense and lively description of home life, including her husband as much as possible despite his absence.

Their love, while singularly bereft of heroic rescues and grand adventures or gestures, is perhaps best exemplified in these simple, tender, and beautiful letters.

To me, it is the height of romance that John can address a letter simply to, “Dearest Friend”, and close with, “I am, with the tenderest Affection and Concern, your wandering John Adams”.

Thursday Dances: Best Love Story

Troilus and Criseyde.  Romeo and Juliet.  Antony and Cleopatra.  Lily and James.  Shasta and Aravis.  Peter and Harriet.  Julian and Petra.  Benedick and Beatrice.  Fitzwilliam (pahaha!) and Elizabeth.  Cupid and Psyche.  Beren and Luthien.

One could list them off forever.  There are so many lovers and love stories throughout time that it’s impossible to pick just one, so I will share the best love story I’ve read in the past year.  Unlike Thalia’s choice, it focuses on a single couple; unlike Urania’s favorite, the couple’s love comprises the greater part of the book.  Where there are adventures, new characters, or scenes comic and tragic, they are shared in order to illuminate this love.  Most singularly, unlike my typical preferred reading, this story is non-fiction:

  A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken 

The book, according to the author, is a tale of “faith, tragedy, and triumph.”  Vanauken tells of how he met Jean Davis, generally called “Davy.”  Their love springs up like a fire, one which they carefully tend, stoke, and hedge about with what they called “The Shining Barrier.”  This was their determination to share everything lest they be separated by anything or anyone, especially selfishness.

In stirring words, including the occasional poem, Van describes what dutiful acolytes they were to this pagan flame; how keenly they sought after beauty; and what soaring delights they found wherever they went: whether at the family estate at Glenmerle, on board a naval ship in Hawaii, sailing off the coast of Florida, or together in Virginia, they were in an unending springtime of love.

…all of which would be quite dull, were that all Van had to tell.  But he also recounts their gradual approach to Christ while in Oxford; how eagerly Davy serves her new Lord and their Shining Barrier is thus breached; and how after 15 years of marriage, Davy becomes very ill and dies.  It is then that Van recognizes (not without some help from C.S. Lewis, with whom he kept correspondence) that this eternal springtime had to change, and that bereavement might have been the easiest way of it.  This is the Severe Mercy: that he did not lose Davy through selfishness, betrayal, or envy of God for being her first love.  Ultimately, even Van’s love is touched by the Son and turned to gold.

I find the text, even the solidly straightforward letters from Lewis therein, so beautifully piercing that it makes me cry about as much as The Little Prince.  Others with a bit less appreciation for poetry might find Vanauken somewhat longwinded or even purple; were it fiction, I would have less patience with his style.  But as it is, A Severe Mercy is the tale of a great truth: the moment love becomes a god, it becomes a demon; only when the Supreme Love rules can that prince wield his scepter in safety.

Book Meme: Literary Love

One of my friends recently remarked: “There are good men out there. It’s just that they are all fictional!”

Besides being a rather cynical view of the world and men, this is also a curse the female book-lover’s suffer: holding fictional men as our ideals.

Real men do have something of a difficulty holding up in comparison.

Particularly as the qualities that we look for in men are formed by our education. Which would be  . . . the books we read.

In part this open adoration is because all those little day-to-day living arrangements that will always get annoying . . . never happen to us as readers! If I had to live with any of my many book crushes I would probably be driven crazy. (Good lord, I forgot to put Howl on that list! He would be the most difficult of ALL to live with.)

But, of all the Fictional Men that make me swoon, squeal, jump about, grin like a madcap, or weep over their beauty, suffering, or heroic nobility, there is really only one that warms the cockles of my heart in that extra special I-could-live-with-that way.

Benedick of Padua.

Aka, Signior Mountanto, the stuffed man! Of the Shakespeare creation Much Ado About Nothing

Oh, he is a flawed character. In fact, it is probably easier to list his faults than his virtues.

  • He is immature, with no mind for anything other than war or fun.
  • He is snappy and egotistic.
  • He apparently has a fickleness in his affections, as he has “each month some new sworn brother”.
  • He is all too willing to fight with a woman.
  • He is a smart aleck who scoffs at love and marriage.
  • He seems to have no idea that his interactions with Beatrice are tinged with romance, which seems to be in part what embitters her.
  • He randomly trusts a strange conversation to the effect that he can proclaim himself to be “horribly in love!” (And THEN he is persuaded by this beloved to kill his best friend!)
  • He is suddenly besotted to the point of idiocy. (“There’s a double meaning in that!” Uh, no, there isn’t.)
  • He is incredibly awkward in his wooing, and almost fails at a confession.
  • He decides to challenge his best friend to a duel.
  • He cannot write poetry.
  • He is still in denial about loving. He still battles his beloved Beatrice.
  • He royally messes up his final proposal and almost loses her. Again.

So, basically, he is very like a real man in the real world.

And yet, I defy any woman to resist his charms.

Immature, selfish, snappish, hot-tempered, easily deceived, easily turned in his affections, and stumbling in expressing that affection: that is Benedick.

I adore him.

I will admit, he does have a few positive traits as well.

Benedick is:

  • Child-like: He takes delight in the small wonders, and has an incredible curiosity. He loves being in the world! And whether he is played by Kenneth Branagh or David Tennant, he retains this absolutely wonderful quality of joy; expressed by getting covered in paint or cavorting fully clothed through a fountain! This open fun sets him apart from the sappy (and overtly ambitious) yearnings of Claudio, or the more gravely minded Don Pedro. Adorable!
  • Open-hearted: He makes friends easily and freely, being a fun and funny guy.
  • Equal-minded: He considers Beatrice to be worthy of his blade tongue verbal sparring, something which he does not even accord to Claudio. But he does not hold back from responding to Beatrice as an equal in wit and standing.
  • Witty: He can snap a reply almost before his audience can process the first sally. Either it in a war of wit with Beatrice or in one of his delicious commentaries, it is clear that he enjoys wit for wit’s sake. Not to mention the sheer hilarity of almost everything out his mouth. (“Is it not strange that sheep guts can hail men’s souls out of their bodies?”)
  • Honest: Although his world view appears darker than Claudio’s or Don Pedro’s, he is the one who can recognize truth most easily. He knows the ways of the world and remarks on them for freely and frankly than any other character. He recognizes that a conventional romance would not be best for him, practically speaking. Yes, he is tricked by Pedro & Co., but he does first test this against what he knows; “I would think this a trick but that grey bearded fellow speaks it.” Also, he is the one who from the first discounts Don John’s attempts at subversion. Would that Claudio and Don Pedro had such an ability and sense of value! (Notice that only those who are willing to deceive are seriously injured by deception?)
  • Humorous: He is just plain funny. And he knows it. But that’s okay, because even though he is completely puffed up, he also doesn’t take himself too seriously.
  • Chivalrous: Yes, he argues with Beatrice even in the midst of wooing. But when it matters, such as defending the honor of a slandered woman, he can and does take up the challenge. And not just because he wants to please Beatrice: he takes pains to ascertain the truth of the matter, and acts accordingly.
  • Loving: Even though is “tricked” into his love, it seems that is more a discover of something that has always been there, rather than a new and sudden obsession. (Ahem. Claudio.) He does completely change his approach to Beatrice; they maintain their bickering, witty style of communication. But the affection and respect that has been lurking under their barbs is finally allowed release. Their tone is tender in the midst of the teasing, and their love is apparent under the hyperbolic extravagance. (“I shall live in thy eyes, die in the lap, and moreover I will go with thee to thy Uncle’s.”)
  • Poetic: Alright, so he was not born under a rhyming planet. But he tries. And his attempts prove that, A.) he at least has some sense of what makes a poem, or not, and B.) he really is incredibly sweet and adorable. Who needs a perfect word form when you have his sincerity?
  • Manly: He almost misses his chance. But he doesn’t. Because he finally steps up and risks everything to win Beatrice. In fact, he has been portrayed as a leader of men through the whole play, from the account of him as a soldier, to the respect that Don Pedro and Claudio show him. And he has been seen to be capable to grasping circumstances wisely, and taking proper action. And proper action is the mark of a Real Man.

. . . and his most attractive points seem awfully similar to his worst flaws. Hmm.

But perhaps this paradox is secret to his humanity. His closeness to life. His aura of manliness that remains present throughout the entire play.

I will contend that Benedick comes as close to reality as any fictional character can. He is rough, full of himself, somewhat common, and given to excessive teasing. And yet he is among the most charming, delightful, wonderful, swoon-inducing heroes of all time. Shakespeare . . . you knew what you were doing. No matter who plays him, Benedick is always adorable.

See?

Both Benedicks are awesome.

(But for the record, I really do recommend reading the play rather than relying on any film or stage version. Those will have to edit, and so lose some of the intrinsic cohesion and value.)

It might be that in my affection I merely decide to see his faults as being part of makes him human. But it is his very humanity makes him attractive. He is the real fictional man.

To quote the inestimable John Wayne – himself a paragon of manliness – “You have to be a man before you can be a gentleman.”

Benedick hits both marks.