Poetry after Christmas

January 10, 2014

When I looked at Christmas poetry on Christmas day, I came across this poem by W.H. Auden. Since it belongs to the period after Christmas, I delayed writing this post until now.

I can certainly relate to a lot of it – the Christmas tree waiting to be taken down, our sons back in school, and the holiday celebration already a fading memory. I certainly stayed up late during Christmas break, and had a lot of leftovers to finish up. We didn’t get together with relatives, but I can relate to that also from past holidays.

And now here I am in the Time Being. Going back to the office was kind of depressing – and my excitement at getting two days off from school (i.e.the college where I work) this week due to the extreme cold seemed more appropriate to a schoolchild than a 50-something member of the staff.

More than that, I can relate to “craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,” looking for something to inhibit self-reflection (FreeCell works well), wanting to redeem the Time Being from insignificance, and enduring “silence that is neither for nor against [my] faith.”

This poem reminds me that W. H. Auden is one of the modern poets I appreciate. I don’t know that it would be accurate to say I “like” his poems, because they are often reminders of how indifferently brutal people can be. But they are thought-provoking, and their language captures my interest in a way many poems do not.

One of Auden’s poems I had not read before is “The Shield of Achilles.” Even before I read some background information explaining about Thetis and Hephaestos (details from the Iliad that I no doubt rushed through in ninth grade), I got a sense of what Auden is saying about the modern world. But it is even more poignant in light of the contrast Auden draws with Homer’s depiction.

Poetry for Christmas

December 25, 2013

I spent much of yesterday and today reading a book written by an English professor, and thinking that I ought to act on some vague intentions to read more of what would generally be considered “literature” rather than just books. I’m not sure how far I’ll get in this project, both due to time constraints and the thought that having other people to read and discuss literature with would be beneficial.

But for today, I decided a reasonable goal would be to find a good poem about Christmas. Google found me a great many, of course, but I easily settled on a favorite, “Moonless darkness stands between” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I haven’t read a great many of Hopkins’ poems, but I like the ones I have read, both for the way he writes and for the things he says.

I enjoy much of the traditional activity associated with Christmas – the decorations, the food, the exchange of gifts, and especially the singing. But the significance of Christmas to me is expressed in this poem by Hopkins as well as by anything else I can think of. It is about the birth of “Him Who freed me / From the self that I have been.” Not that it is by any means a finished project, but one that is “Now beginning, and alway: / Now begin, on Christmas day.”

Books: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

September 29, 2013

I was in Walmart, shopping, when this book
I chanced to see, and straightway would have bought
It, but for frugal habit and the thought
That freely might I read it if I took
It out for three weeks from the library.

Star Wars rewritten as a Shakespearean play? The very incongruousness of it makes it appealing and humorous, at least for a geek who enjoys both Star Wars and Shakespeare. I’m not a hard-core Star Wars fan, so it would be hard for me to say how closely Ian Doescher’ William Shakespeare’s Star Wars follows the dialog from the movie, but other reviews assure me he reproduces it quite accurately – in amusingly altered form.

My favorite parts are probably C3PO’s colorful complaints about his droid companion, R2D2.

Thou overladen glob of grease, thou imp,Thou rubbish bucket fit for scrap, thou blue
And silver pile of bantha dung! Now, come,
And get thee hence away lest someone sees.

To which R2D2 replies:

Beep, meep, beep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, meep, beep, whee!

(Writing beeps in iambic pentameter is fairly straightforward.)

Not every line is taken from the original. R2D2 occasionally engages in asides to the audience in which he speaks good English. And major characters such as Luke, Obi-Wan, and Darth Vader give soliloquies elaborating on their thoughts and motivations.

I have to admit, the novelty of it does wear off after a bit. By the middle of the book, I was just reading it to enjoy the story. By the end I was tiring somewhat of the need to fit all dialog into metrical form. Doescher does a decent job, I suppose, of imitating Shakespeare’s style, but whether because he is limited – mostly – to the dialog from the movie or because he lacks the skill to write great poetry, it lacks the elegance and sharp wit of much of Shakespeare’s writing.

It is a relatively simple thing
Such verse to write, though eloquence in verse
Is quite another matter altogether.


March 28, 2013

Yours is the glory. Ours is the shame,
that made in Your image, we turned away
and acted so unlike You.

The Word made flesh, Jesus came,
bearing Your image. He showed the way
(made the way, is the Way)
to life as Your people.

Humbly grateful, we come in His name,
restored to Your image, to walk in Your way.
By grace we become holy.

Faith like the tide

September 15, 2012

This morning, over at the Wandering Views blog, Modesty Press posted a link to “Dover Beach,” a poem by Matthew Arnold describing the retreat of faith from modern society. I wrote a paper analyzing that poem for a UConn literature class I took in high school (our school had a cooperative program with UConn), and I remember thinking a lot about the metaphor of faith like a tide than had gone out.

Several years later, I was sitting in church one morning, and the thought came to me that the tide was a very apt metaphor for faith. Unlike Arnold, who seems to see that particular tide as having gone out for good, I see the tide of faith as cyclical, like the tides of the oceans.

It is normal, I think, for faith to ebb and flow as we go through life. What we understand of God and our place in life is never complete (in this life, anyway). Circumstances force us to discover the inadequacies of our views. But if our faith is truly in God rather than in what we believe about God, then our understanding continues to grow and develop, and faith returns, fuller than before.

Until more changes start the cycle again…

I went home after church and started writing a poem expressing those thoughts. I don’t remember whether I was consciously thinking of it as a response to “Dover Beach” at the time or not. It took me two days to come up with a poem that I was happy with – though I’m sure it falls very far short of Arnold’s poem in terms of literary merit.

I can’t find my copy of what I wrote, and I’m not sure of a couple of words. But it’s my poem, so I’m entitled to change it if I like. 🙂  So here, as best as I can remember it, is my view of faith being like the tide.

Faith, like the tide, ebbs in and out.Receding, faith gives way to doubt,
Till doubt, in turn, gives way, and then
Faith, like the tide, comes in again.

Some may bemoan the ebbing tide
That leaves our doubts no place to hide,
But I hold hope that still once more
New waves of faith will reach the shore.

So when the tide of faith is low,
And doubts, like sandbars, start to grow,
Do not despair. The tide will turn
And faith, in fullness, will return.

Poem of praise

August 5, 2012

God of the heavens,
I praise you for the clouds.
Clouds that rain on grass and crops,
Clouds that cool our days and warm our nights,
Dark clouds with silver outlining,
Reminding us that there is always hope,
Odd-shaped clouds that spur imagination
To see dragons, dogs, or dinosaurs.
For radiant sunsets, sparkling stars,
And awe-inspiring lightning shows.

God of the earth,
I praise you for the trees.
Majestic redwoods and melancholy willows,
Trees to climb and trees to give us shade,
Trees that herald spring with budding green
And thrill our falls with changing colors,
Trees that are ever-green, that play a part
In yearly joyful Christmas celebrations.
For mountains, rivers, forests, plains, and seas,
For flowering meadows, orchards ripe with fruit,
For birds and fish, for whales and ants,
For snails and cheetahs, dogs and cats.

God of wonders,
I praise you for your goodness,
Friendly smiles and family’s embrace,
Helpful words and heroes’ great examples,
Sins forgiven and soul and body healed,
Truth revealed and mysteries explained,
Enmities extinguished,
Dark desires dissolved,
Fear replaced by faith,
And death destroyed.

A fresh look at the Bible

July 28, 2011

Reading a familiar passage of Scripture in a different translation than what you are used to can make it seem fresh and alive. I remember reading books by J.B. Phillips and being amazed how the verses he quoted – in his own translation – seemed so relevant to me, in a way that they did not when I read them in my usual translation. (And my usual translation at the time was the NIV, which had the same effect as Phillips’ translation the first time I read it.)

For a really fresh look, take a look at a graphic designer’s interpretation of Scripture – in graphic form, of course. In Jim LePage’s blog post on “An Idiot’s Guide to Reading the Bible,” he explains how he came to start his Word project, in which he creates a design for each book of the Bible. The designs aren’t intended to represent the entire book, just some aspect of it that particularly struck him.

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