Saturday, December 03, 2022

The Isaiah 7 Christmas Controversy?

Typical of my blog posting, I am going to weigh in on a scholarly controversy without scholarly expertise. And though I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Xpress, the mere fact I am writing this lends quite the same weight and logic of that funny ad campaign.

The summary of the controversy is whether the word for 'virgin' in Isaiah 7 is more accurately translated 'young maiden' and does that word choice negate it as a sign, or 700 year old Biblical prophecy. This of course could challenge the text in Matthew (but not really) for those who want to be skeptical at the start.

“Every time you hear the Word of God preached, you come away from that exposure to the truth either a little closer to God or a little further away from Him, either more softened toward God or more hardened toward God…. What you need is more grace. Nothing else can save you from your deadness. Therefore, fear your own hardness of heart more than anything else. Beware of rigidity, ingratitude, a demanding spirit. Beware of an unmelted heart that is never satisfied.” Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Christmas can be a clue to our heart. Are we scrooge or are we childlike?

May we allow grace to melt away our cynical hearts. Laugh and sing, love and give, hope and help this Christmas season. Speak positive words of life!

Do I really want to dive into this? This is blog writing... so... oh well...

I absolutely love the passage in Isaiah 7 where the target text takes place.

Here we have political intrigue, the son's names (here 'remnant' and later 'swift booty fast prey') and the setting of the conduit of the Upper Pool where a 2nd dramatic showdown takes place. (Ironically, the spring that feeds that pool is called "the fountain of the 'virgin' spring of Gihon - Gihon being one of the 4 rivers of Eden and the legend of the fountain of the virgin is that Mary washed the swaddling clothes there-  God does have a sense of wry humor IMO).

The story of the confrontation of Isaiah to Ahaz, his tiny faith in God,  and his stupid reliance on manipulation and payoffs to Assyria adds to the eventual judgement of Judah.

After Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign (using spiritual arguments but heart deceptiveness) Isaiah gives the famous 'sign' that will be referenced 700 years later in Matthew 1.

The 'controversy' centers around the translation of the word 'virgin' in Isaiah 7:14. 

The masoretic texts (and later confirmed by the Dead Sea scrolls) clearly use the word better translated 'young maiden' than virgin.  (However, I did read in my research that the greek septuagint in the time of Christ had the greek work in Matthew as 'parthenos' a virgin, chaste woman).

I also want to say a thank-you to some great teaching from Bryan College videos where I think it is Dr. Judd Davis who expresses a contextual analysis of Isaiah 7gives some strong supports that the promise of a sign demands a more miraculous interpretation of the statement. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-qQEfHBq50&t=396s) He also gives compelling evidence that "THE" Almah has 9 OT references that suggest pure/chaste virgins.

I also find it interesting that the root of Almah is 'hidden one" and is fascinating to compare that to the apocalyptic nativity scene in Revelation 12.

 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. [2] She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. [5] She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1–6 ESV) 

Jesus was born of the virgin Mary as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. The emphasis of this verse and in Matthew is "IMMANUEL" not the woman. The virgin birth of Jesus stands on the account in the gospels where Matthew and Luke testify to this. And then Matthew gives a plausible rendering of 'virgin' to the Isaiah reference. There are other uses of the work Almah that could easily refer to a virgin in context.

Now why is this even important? We have to be careful to understand that there is often in Biblical prophecy DUAL fulfillment of the text. In other words, there will be a literal fulfillment in a soon time, but also a larger more expansive fulfillment in the future.

An example of this is prophecy regarding Babylon- the literal fulfillment of its destruction, but also the larger prediction of the world's system which will be destroyed in the second coming of Christ.

This passage in Isaiah is an excellent example of this. It was literally fulfilled in Isaiah 8:1-10 but it also points to Christ 700 years later. The Old Testament contains types and shadows of the King. Again, we use Scripture to establish these ideas... that is why I included Matthew 1 where he points back to this verse.

I still believe in miracles.

Now it points out an interesting part of 'Immanuel', which is this: God's presence - His being with us- is not loved or wanted by everyone. The reference in Isaiah is again judgment for God's enemies and comfort for God's people.

It is never easy... Christ is always a battle ground. That is why you see even today, conflict over nativity scenes and over the name of Jesus Christ.

But do not lose heart. Embrace Immanuel. He is with you. Yes that frightens me too. He is so with me that He knows how I think. He knows how poorly I obey. He knows how weak and sinful I am. And He still loves me- WOW!

AND He is FOR me. He is WITH me. When others run, He stands and supports. When Satan accuses, He defends.

This Christmas.... meditate on this truth. God is with us. He is not distant. God is with us, He has not tucked tail and run. God is with us. Allow Him to draw even closer still.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Ex·po·sure

Do you ever fear being EXPOSED? Isn't that a part of the fear of social media as well? Do we all imagine waking up one day to find ourselves targets of an avalanche of negative opinions, serious charges, and subtle, snarky jabs? Is it any different from the nightmares of going to school without our clothes on?

People who live in a more public spotlight experience this. As an AD, I work with coaches who live with a reality that there is a visible grade of job performance after every game.... the scoreboard. And it isn't that black and white. Sometimes I am having to counsel a coach who won a game, but they are wounded by the public perceptions about how they won, or if they played enough players, and the many types of second guessing that accompany the sports world where opinions are free and sometimes cheap.

ex·po·sure
2.the revelation of an identity or fact, especially one that is concealed or likely to arouse disapproval.
Ex: "she took her life for fear of exposure as a spy"



A good friend of mine wrote his dissertation about whether anonymous student evaluations of teachers is a valuable tool in helping teachers grow in their craft and he asked me to help him tabulate the results of hundreds of surveys over a two year period.

At the beginning of the process, I was way more obliged to have doubts and concerns about the usefulness of such a tool. Does this empower the students to give a thumbs up or thumbs down in the Roman coliseum with a ferocious tiger ready to shred the loser to shreds?

And then I began to read and record the data. It was what I would expect. There were a number of students who rated the teacher as 'the worst of the worst' and some rated the same teacher as 'best of the best'. Some wrote comments that were way too general and full of hyperbole. "No one likes Mr. Smith" which wasn't true, because I had just read 4 previous surveys who said the opposite.

Here was one more fascinating part of the surveys. As an administrator in the school, I felt like I had a good read on who the really good teachers were and who were the bad eggs by the soundbites that was the most common 'in the hallways'- but to my surprise, even the rock star teachers has comments that were not complimentary and some of the teachers who I thought 'no one liked' had students who gave them a very high rating and wrote comments like 'my favorite teacher of all time!'.

Now, this should not have taken me off guard. It was Patrick Henry, in his speech to the Virginia Convention who said it the best (our politicians could learn a lot from this opening which followed speeches from his opponents).

NO man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope that it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if entertaining, as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve.

So where am I going with this? The gospel is too good and life is too short for us to waste any time living the life of an imposter OR paralyzed by what other people think.We often shrink or hide from the fear of encountering opposition or people who do not like us.

I'm discovering a wonderful release when I dive headlong into the ability to say what I want and be who I am regardless of what the reaction may be. Ultimately, my concern should be my love for God and my desire to live according to the golden rule. Both require us to NOT be selfish... but it is also a freedom to be ourselves.

THE PRESS CONFERENCE 

I have always sort of imagined this as a press conference where I am about to have to go out and face hostile accusers who are rabid in their hatred of me. They wag their heads and spew their venom, mostly twisted lies and gossip, but also some elements of truth.

Just as I am about to have to face them, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to me. 

"What those people think outside is a very trivial thing. What we know of your true heart is worthy of condemnation... you know that. If the people outside knew of your true inner nature, then there would be ample room for scorn.

But guess what? Though your sin was a crimson stain, you are now freely justified, forgive,... you are a Son of the Lining King of the Universe!"

"We've got this", says the Son.

And the curtain comes down.

I can face the most vicious attack now.... you can't hurt a dead man. 

In fact, it is very therapeutic to listen to the accusations now. My wife is hurt because I haven't loved her like I should. I have the freedom to change that. I have said or done things I should not have done... but I can empathize. I can forgive others because I have been forgiven.

I can't be mad at them- God is no longer angry with me.

And some will see the radical hospitality and forgiveness and find God. Others will be even more enraged.

"In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more."
In Another Country (1926) by Ernest Hemingway

[5] Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
[6] Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5–6 ESV)

Be free to listen to others without fear!





Thursday, September 01, 2022

Remembering 50 Years of TEAM

One of the joys of this football season has been doing a podcast in celebration and remembrance of 50 years of football at Briarwood. In my 31 years of coaching, it is hard to stop and celebrate. As soon as you rejoice at a fun win, you have to bear down and get ready to compete again.

There is no shortcut to success, because the only thing I can really add to preparation is hard work. Years ago I wrote about the constant mental toil that churns inside weekly. The post is old, so I had to republish it (should be re-published on Sept 1, 2022)

That never changes.

And so, before long... not only has a decade gone by, before you can take a breath... it becomes 3 decades!

When I realized that our 50 year celebration was coming, I knew it was time to see if we could archive a few stories and memories. The frustration is that we will leave more out than we can document. And I do hope those that get left out of the process will be gracious!

Even this post will be just a taste of what the experience has meant to me.  As we come into another game this year, I have become more acutely aware that there is a very common theme to the teams I have been able to go to battle with... and that is IT TAKES A TEAM!

And each week, as we did another podcast- it became obvious- these guys bought into TEAM concepts!

And once a team finishes a season, what remains is the fundamentals that it takes to become a team. One of the many reasons I love football is because it is the ultimate team sport. Football requires incredible cooperation and team unity. Once I became a head coach, I began to rethink my definitions of ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ and developed the idea that one factor in our success, as a program, is if we grew into a ‘team’. Many of us know the slogans- “There is no I in Team” and T.E.A.M. “ together everyone accomplishes more”- but I want a team to be much more than a slogan.

I think all teams are products of growth. A team cannot be made in a moment; it must be developed over a period of time. The fundamental ingredients to becoming a team are love and trust. To the degree that our players and coaches can learn to love each other and trust each other will be the depth of our power as a team.

In the first third of a season, a coaching staff can begin to see the types of players on a team, where they are, and what the challenges are in the way to  'becoming one heartbeat'.  

Here are the three types of players, and each group has a unique challenge:

Stars and starters- these guys feel good about their role, but the danger is to rest and cease from the grind. They also bear a responsibility to encourage and include ALL of the players, no matter their role. My best groups over the years are appreciative of the scout team guys, the JV guys, and even the managers, filmers, and trainers.

The back-ups- increasingly, this is becoming an endangered species. A recurring theme in this culture is "if I don't play, I'm not going to stay on the team". A successful team HAS to have back-ups and coaches need to make sure they are developing these players. They aren't ready for prime time, but how do we get them there? Some players will always be a back-up. But 10 or 20 years AFTER a season, none of that matters. 

The role players- These are significant members who often go unrecognized. But we HAVE to remind them that they have VALUE! A win is enjoyed by all!

Ultimately a team is characterized by self-sacrifice and a unity of purpose. Selfishness, bitterness, cynicism, apathy, and isolation are team killers. To develop love and trust requires communication, honesty, forgiveness, tolerance, and effort. A great step to love and trust is learning to suffer together. I can point to important moments when our football teams experienced major moves in developing the team spirit that we so eagerly wait for each season and it usually follows very difficult struggles or failures. Under pressure, we learn who we can rely on. There is very little pretending in times of pain.

CULTURE MATTERS!  We want to be champions 20 years from now!

In the early 1980’s, the University of Miami won a National Championship while Harvard University lost every game that season. Sports Illustrated did a story on where the players were 10 years later and found that a large percentage of the Miami team had gone to prison or experienced other unnecessary hardships while the Harvard players were enjoying unprecedented success in life. Who really won that year? Time shows us the obvious answer.
 
The same is true at ANY school. What will we gain if we win the state championship but forfeit our soul?

 So please understand that we are seeking not only wins now, but wins for our players in life…ten, fifteen, thirty years from now. How do we do that? Here a few reminders for all of us.
 
#1 We are committed to very high standards of ethics, work, and morality.
#2 Violations of standards will bring consequences.
#3 Great athletes without character will have a hard time getting honor.
 
Parents can be a HUGE help here. Great parents demand the same standards out of their children and seek to model those standards at home. If a son is punished for disobedience or dishonesty or immorality- back that punishment with harsh consequences of your own, and hold to them.
 
If your son is tempted to quit because of high standards of work or effort- DO NOT LET HIM DO IT. Never let a son quit out of fear or dislike of work.
 
Let me say again, we do not believe we have to sacrifice wins now to win in life. We have seen that we can do both. In fact, by holding to high standards, we are better now AND we have seen that the program is producing great students, quality leaders, good husbands and fathers, and great community servants.
We do not win them all- but we believe time is demonstrating God’s blessings on the effort.

As you listen to our podcasts- this unified effort is evident!

Christianity is ALSO a team sport. Our need for the team is based on our enemy being the best one on one player in the history of the world. Our Savior beat Satan in the contest in the wilderness, but no one else has survived the encounter. We need each other to make it in this world of danger and pitfalls. 

I believe that God’s mystery is designed to bring us together in fellowship. As we struggle with the questions of Scripture and life, we have to spend time together. It is good to hear different experiences and discuss various ideas. It is good to come together, it is dangerous to drift apart. 

One of my mentors noted that most men who fall are isolated, without support or accountability. We need to make an honest effort to take time and invest in the relationships that carry us in life. For a man, it will be his spouse and a significant two or three men who are able to challenge, encourage, love, forgive, and support. The local church provides some of the greatest opportunities to develop these types of relationships.

BTW- hear this for yourself- listen to some of these podcasts... and hear team concepts in each one!



Friday, August 26, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Last Post- T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is mesmerizing. Though he was born in America, he expatriated to England in 1927 and is linked as one of the main founders of what we now call the modernist movement. If this series would continue, I would now move to the modern American writers who captured the mood of disillusionment with the American dream after two World Wars and the depression compelled the artists to cry out in their pain and disappointment.

When I read poetry, I often feel the freedom to analyze it as it appeals to me. I often don't know the entirety of what the artist means of felt when he composed it, but I apply it as it fits me. It is a luxury I don't have, for example, when I am working through Scripture where it is important to use the whole counsel of God's Word to inform and direct (with the Holy Spirits guidance, of course), let Scripture interpret Scripture. But with poetry,  I take a more selfish view and enjoy the luxury that it affords.

In my readings from T.S. Eliot, I often feel like he propels me in this liberty as well.

I will only quote the lines that resonate with me:

From The Hollow Men:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

And also, the famous ending of the poem:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This poem always haunts me as a loss of leadership and especially leaders with virtue. In Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, God often curses a land with bad leadership even as He prepares a ruthless army for invasion.

Israel’s Irresponsible Leaders

[9] All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
all you beasts in the forest.
[10] His watchmen are blind;
they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
loving to slumber.
[11] The dogs have a mighty appetite;
they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
they have all turned to their own way,
each to his own gain, one and all.
[12] “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
great beyond measure.” (Isaiah 56:9–12 ESV)

Every time I read Hollow Men, I have to go back and read these Old Testament passages about ineffective and corrupt leaders that God uses as part of His punishment on Israel's sin.

This poem was also an inspiration of my own thought experiment when I composed a poem entitled "Hollow Men with Heavy Hatchets"  a few years ago.

The ending of the poem is also mesmerizing with its triplicate song,

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

When I first saw the movie, Apocalypse Now, and the powerful ending as Marlon Brando says, "The horror, the horror, the horror" I actually quoted "hollow men in my head".. yeah, I'm weird like that!
But that whole movie had a T.S. Eliot, stream of consciousness, vibe.

Speaking of "Stream of consciousness" how about the next mesmerizing poem:

From the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

This poem is a riot.... and it speaks to me as a man who is long divorced from the applause of the world. It is the ultimate anti-celebrity, snarky, and sober song of the 'never will be in the club' rest of us.

I often link this poem with the famous, 'I Went to a Garden Party' by Ricky Nelson (1972) after he was rejected by the audience at a concert in Madison Square Garden... to me, this poem has a lot of that sentiment.... left out, uncool, rejected, and somewhat depressed that we are old and no longer part of the scene... see if it hits you that way.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.


In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)


Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

That poem... I love to read it.. the older I get, the more it rings true. It seems to me to be the ultimate vanity of life statement.... 

And again, this poem inspired me to compose my own version of this thought WAY back... the first version of it I wrote in 1983... and it still seems more true for me today... Quarter-Filled Cups of Coffee

Finally- the last epic Eliot composition...

From The Wasteland

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

later on in the poem

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

The opening line, now famous ( and famously misquoted without regard for the source) captures the entire mood of the modernist movement...

Spring only promises renewal... don't believe it... it is only going to hurt you when your hopes are dashed..

And this is where I get off of the modernist movement express... my hope springs eternal. April is not cruel, it is an ever present reminder of new life and new mercies. Yes, this world is a rat's alley.. but I wasn't made for this world.

Let us go then, you and I... not to a meaningless rejection from the garden party of the elites... let us go to the Land of the Lamb of God.

I hope you enjoyed visiting these guys... many of whom are interred in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey (I was there in 1988 and stood next to  Patrick Swayze, true story!)... I have no clue when I may write again... never know where my quirky brain goes!

This series was my "Ode to English Poets"... sorry I bypassed Yates, Auden, and many others - I even wished to do an analysis of "Convergence of the Twain"... but on to to other things

Send me an email and tell me how you are inspired by poets. jayopsis@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Kipling

I have been re-reading Kipling's biographical information in advance of this post. My goodness, what a life of travel and intrigue! Kipling was very English, but more a man of the world as he experienced a myriad of cultures and lived in exotic places around the globe, including time in the United States.

I am inspired to read a biography of Kipling based on this general survey and he seems controversial, complex, but admirable on many fronts. We tend to forget that he also wrote the famous Junglebook characters as well.

When I read Kipling, I always end up with the more famous of his writings, "If-" , a wonderful poem known by almost any casual reader but I actually spend more time on his poem, "Recessional", which was published for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Both poems contain mighty messages of character. If-, the standard call to persevere and Recessional, the epic warning against pride and a constant need to be humble before God.

Let's start with Recessional- 1897

I was recently reminded of this poem when we got to see parts of Queen Elizabeth's royal "Platinum Jubilee' celebrations this past summer. The pomp and cheer of these types of moments are enjoyable, but also can spur traits of humanity that can be seeds of sin as well. Kipling captures this well in the bravado of English pride at the end of the 19th century.

The title itself is ironic... Kipling says "no, this isn't our peak.... if we continue in pride without a reliance or acknowledgment of God... this is our recession!"

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The line, 'dominion over palm and pine' is a reference to how vast the British empire was at this time in history. The English rule encompassed the globe and was made even more famous by the phrase, "the sun never sets on the British Empire."

We also get here the refrain,  "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,- Lest we forget—lest we forget!" quoted over and over. It stands as a prayer and call for national repentance and God's mercy.

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

A clear allusion to Psalm 51- the Psalm of repentance by David in which he readily admits:

[16] For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
[17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17 ESV)

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Kipling predicts the retreat of English power in the wake of this pompous pride and with a common sense reality that no empire can maintain power when stretched so thin. And we have another Biblical allusion to powerful nations that fell under God's judgment.

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues
that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

This stanza always comes to mind during football seasons where we get on win streaks. It doesn't take long for teams and fans to turn to boasting with 'wild tongues' as we get intoxicated on power. It is SO natural. One year in Nashville, my team went on a 7 game win streak and my coaches were shocked when I read this poem to them at our coaches devotion. But to a man, they agreed, that we had become to high on ourselves and that is a dangerous place to be.. you stop working and start 'resting on your laurels'... don't get me wrong- we need to enjoy times of success...but BE CAREFUL! But the grandiose things we say when we are in the zone can get pretty obnoxious!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Where do we put our trust? Those without God in mind, put their trust in "reeking tube" or the power of the cannon. The iron shard is likely the shrapnel of war, but the point is clear... do we trust military might?, global power?, financial security?, technology?... or do we find a humble trust in God? Everything else is 'dust built on dust'.

I guess you can see why I like this poem even more than IF

For the sake of this post to Kipling, I am posting IF- - it is such a good and clear poem..it needs no analysis.. just enjoy. This may sound weird, but the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, Simple Man, always pops in my head after I read IF... and then the song Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, because I seem to fall short of these ideals- LOL

IF- by Rudyard Kipling (1895)


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I think I'm only going to do 1 more post right toward the end of the month on T.S. Eliot which means I'm passing by Yeats and a few others. If you have been enjoying these or ever have a series or post you would like for me to do- let me know. jayopsis@gmail.com. I also entertain guest blog posts at times. Take care!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Arnold

I want to apologize for skipping Robert Browning, but I find his work too dark and upsetting to spend a lot of time thinking about. I have a deep appreciation for the gift of reading. It was what my mom pressed into me at a young age. She had a way of reading that helped me to hear, taste, smell, and see what the words were describing. So my imagination was spurred and improved by good books.

I even have to admit that volumes and volumes of comic books helped as well. I read Batman, Sgt. Rock, Superman, and many others as a young boy and the pictures became alive. Then I read every Hardy Boy book ever written and spend many days at the East Lake library consuming everything I could understand.

Right after I became a Christian, a pastor gave me a New Testament copy of "Good News for Modern Man" and I read it cover to cover in about 2 days. At that time the words seemed to be burning into me and I wish it still felt that way- though I love just thinking about little phrases even today... each one like an icon on a screen that you click on and there is volumes of connecting ideas and passages.

As I moved into longer books, I noticed that I read in a voice that matched the characters that were being developed. The same is true of the Bible- I have an inner voice that is my Paul, or Peter, or Jesus... I even read Genesis with a voice I attach to a Moses.

So when I read dark novels or scenes...they become pretty graphic... much more so than any movie or video can capture. I still say that "Interview with a Vampire" is the most personified evil I have ever read in literature and was thrilled when I read the story of that novel and that Anne Rice came back to faith after those dark days of atheism captured by the vampire, Lestat.

I also have to mention the axe murder scene in Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. That one shook me up.

So the same is true with poetry... I feel it deep in my bones.

This makes me stop and comment on Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold. The poem more popular than the poet.  Arnold was a school man raised by a family of school people. I find it sad that he died by a heart attack while running to the train station to see his daughter in April 1888!

I first read Dover Beach in the spring of 1982 and was mesmerized by the picturesque beauty of the white cliffs and was overjoyed when I got to see those cliffs in person when we went there on a mission trip in the summer of 1988. It was exactly as Arnold captured it in his poem.

I had taken a copy of the poem in my pocket for the visit (though it was daytime) and I re-read it as I watched the people on the pebble beach and could just see France in the mist across the sea.

It is a sad poem, the poet is depressed that beauty and faith seems to be on the decline. Though he is steadied by the beauty of his lover who accompanies him.

As I read the poem, I was away from my wife on a trip that lasted two seeks (and no cell phones back then- the distance and silence was awful!). We were there to participate in a Billy Graham crusade in London and had made a day trip to Dover to see the famous white cliffs and enjoy authentic fish and chips.

I too was depressed that faith had withered in England. People went to the church there on two occasions: to be married and buried. I was sad, missing my wife, but deeply impacted by the words written over 100 years earlier.

As we stood on the beach, I noticed sounds of pebbles hitting the ground around me and looked over. There were French college students who were sneering at us and throwing the pebbles at us! It seems they knew we were Americans, we were as loud and obnoxious as the stereotype they held about us.

I remember praying for them and that there would be revival in England and if we are honest, we are more like England today. We need revival in our land as well!

I haven't been back- now close to 35 years ago, but I can still feel the breeze and hear the 'grating roar of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling'.


DOVER BEACH by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery;
we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another
!
for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

As I grow older, it helps me to embrace these feelings and pursue the hope we have in Christ.
Yes, the reality of entropy, sin, and the curse still sweeps our minds but we can't give up faith, hope, and love. The beauty of creation still remains as proof that God is there and He does care. 

The world still throws pebbles.... and there are times we deserve it. But the love of Christ will never retreat from us.

THROWING STONES

[5] When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. [6] And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. [7] And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! [8] The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

[9] Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” [10] But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” [11] And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. [12] It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” [13] So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. [14] And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself. (2 Samuel 16:5–14 ESV)



[3] The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst [4] they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. [5] Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” [6] This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. [7] And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” [8] And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. [9] But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. [10] Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” [11] She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3–11 ESV)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Tennyson

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson  is as popular today as when he was lauded as the poet Laureate for Queen Victoria in the late 19th century. 

His father, George Clayton Tennyson (1778–1831), was an Anglican clergyman who served as rector. He raised a large family and "was a man of superior abilities and varied attainments, who tried his hand with fair success in architecture, painting, music, and poetry. He was comfortably well off for a country clergyman, and his shrewd money management enabled the family to spend summers at Mablethorpe and Skegness on the eastern coast of England. Tennyson was a student of King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth from 1816 to 1820. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827, where he joined a secret society called the Cambridge Apostles."  (source wiki)

Lotus Eaters

In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon. All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem …

This poem from the adventures of Oysseus (Ullysses)- The Odyssey has always impressed me. You read the account by Homer and then read this poem and you are struck by the brilliance of Tennyson. How often have I wanted to start regimens of discipline and said, NO MORE LOTUS EATING. And yet, the draw we have toward luxury and leisure is a constant tug on our souls.

Ulysses

So this may be my favorite poem of all time. I have written about it on at least three blog posts over the 18 years of jayopsis.com. I have paraphrased it- but thought this time I will deal with the text as it is. Again, reading the Odyssey by Homer give the background needed to appreciate the depth and dynamics of this verse.

Before you read it, think about an aging warrior and leader. A mover of men and nations. The battles are over and he is definitely in the last stages of his life on earth. The glory stories are fading. His will to fight and win is unmatched, but there isn't a war to go to anymore. What does that do to a man?

Tennyson masterfully imagines what that must be like. And the message is powerful.


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race
,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence,
something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The warrior- the son whose hands have no blood- the restlessness of civil leadership, the yearning of the fellowship he has with his team of warriors- and the famous end... yes, we may fail, but we are one heartbeat with an unmatched spirit to never yield.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light brigade used to bother me. It is the story of a lost battle. A brigade NOT heavily armed (thus light) is sent into a senseless battle and though they charge in valiantly, they are cut down. Tennyson released this poem just weeks after the news of this disaster came to England. 

This poem has a mesmerizing beat when read aloud. When I was teaching literature, I would read it to my class for 5 or 6 periods in a row. I never grew weary of reading it though my classes for the most part were distant and disinterested.

As I have grown older, I appreciate the courage to carry out an order even if it seems like a mistake.

In times of battle, we don't have time to sit down and reason- we must act. And the nobility of the act does deserve honor!

I


Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

II

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


III

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

IV

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.

Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.


V

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.


VI

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!


When I write these blogs I often wonder.... is anyone out there? When poets published their works, there wasn't analytics or like buttons.

So if you are reading this... maybe in a far away place, a strange time of night, or years past the publish date...drop me an email: jayopsis@gmail.com. And let me know if these poems stir you as they stir me. 
I'm thankful for these 'strange ministers'.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Keats and Shelley

John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley both died too young: Keats by tuberculosis and Shelley by drowning. And though I don't read them regularly, both poets have some epic moments that can cause anyone to stop and appreciate the powerful ability to capture deep concepts in poetic forms.

These poets in short verse create powerful images of thought and meaning.

Keats genius elevated to special heights during 1819 in a short a period where he wrote six "Ode" poems. Five of these he penned in the spring and the last one that autumn.

Ode on a Grecian Urn
Ode on Indolence
Ode on Melancholy
Ode to a Nightingale
Ode to Psyche
OdeTo Autumn

I wish I had time to dissect each one, but I will mention a few lines and thoughts.

Ode to a Grecian Urn has a powerful message: the inevitability of change yet the picture captured on the Urn has resisted any change for years and years. There is an irony of the two lovers on the Urn who cannot kiss, but also they never grow old!

‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’.
A 'romantic' theme of the power of imagination.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
All truth is God's truth and there is a deep beauty in God's nature

Ode on Indolence is a witty exploration of laziness and God's provision for His creatures, with a sharp allusion to the 'lilies of the field". Is idleness a virtue or vice? A waste of time or rest?

So, ye three Ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raise            (The ghosts are: Love, Ambition, and Poetry)
My head cool-bedded in the flowery grass;
For I would not be dieted with praise,
A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!
Fade softly from my eyes, and be once more
In masque-like figures on the dreamy urn;
Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,
And for the day faint visions there is store;
Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
Into the clouds, and never more return!

Ode on Melancholy is haunting. How many young school age students have fled the poem based on the title! But it is a spell binding mystical and ironic view of grief and suffering. Is there a hidden joy when one embraces grief?

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies …            
peonies are flowers

Ode to a Nightingale is a fanciful exploration of responses to the poet as hear hears (or does he?) a nightingale sing in the dark moments of the early morning.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!

Ode to Psyche is my least favorite of the 'Odes', partly because I really don't like mythology and partly because it doesn't explore much beyond does man serve god's made in their own image or desire to be worshipped as gods.

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind …

Ode To Autumn is also clever and deep. Yes, autumn is frequently understood as an early harbinger to death. Burt Keats seems to have an understanding of the depth of this reality that doesn't fit his age.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run

Now to Shelly.... Sad story... he was bullied, wayward, staunch atheist. But I have always been captivated by his wonderful work: Ozymandias

OZYMANDIAS
BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Ozymandius is the great Ramses of Egypt and this poem is a veiled reference to some artifacts that were being delivered to the British Natural History museum. a 14 line sonnet, there is elite narrative and meaning.

The obvious message is that the pride of man always falls to the forces of time and nature in unrelenting entropy.

But I often focus on the sculptor, the one who captured the essence of the king.

I love the idea of how he carved the passions he saw in the real man and 'stamped' it on a lifeless thing.

Did he capture the real person or is this his judgement on the leader?
Of course the pedestal was approved no doubt!
I also love the phrase, antique land

No matter how powerful or ruthless, he eventually crumbles to the sand and known no longer!

And that life was a 'colossal wreck'!

What an image!


Friday, August 12, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Coleridge

 


Did you know that Iron Maiden and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are connected? To be honest, I don't spend a lot of time with Coleridge. But his influence is seen within our cultural literacy. Coleridge and Wordsworth were good friends and the two, together, are largely credited for the rise of what we call "English Romanticism" though what is meant by "Romantic' in that sense has little to do with how we define romance today.

Coleridge has two poems that most casual readers know: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Kahn and unfortunately most folks just reduce to Coleridge as a 'poet on opium' and know little of this son of a pastor and headmaster (who passed early in Coleridge's childhood life) and the battle with poor health, anxiety, and depression when he was an adult.

The entire idea of an 'albatross around the neck' comes straight from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as well as many other ideas and quips. And many people know of the Rime because of the famous Iron Maiden song (recorded in 1994) with the same title that tells the narrative of the poem.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–1798 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads.

The poem is a story of the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. The mariner stops a man who is on his way to a wedding ceremony and begins to narrate a story. The Wedding-Guest’s reaction turns from bemusement to impatience to fear to fascination as the mariner's story progresses.

The lines that echo in my head are the ones that everyone remembers:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

(and later in the poem)

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.



Kubla Khan
is a fun run through a dream that Coleridge had (opium delirium) after reading a work about the Chinese leader bearing that name, emperor of the Yuan dynasty. It is ironic that this week, Olivia Newton John passed away and the opening lines of this poem influenced the 1980 film "Xanadu" which I never saw and was a commercial flop. I did read that a portion of Kubla Kahn is quoted in the film.

Kubla Khan
BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

This, in my opinion, is the height of this poem with vivid imagery of this river. I can hear the river and picture the beauty of its appearance in my mind as it winds through caverns and the 'sunless sea".

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place!
as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:

Beautiful AND dangerous

And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,

To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

And again- it is the imagery that pulls us in more than any 'story'. Though we understand the speaker in the poem wished to revive the song that would fill the pleasure dome though it was already a place of enchantment by its vast river, caves of ice, sunless sea ..... a type of paradise. And it could be that this is just the image of the decree and these are the plans he is building 'in the air'. The river, caverns, etc are there but the dome is still in the design stage.

But, true to form, there a hints of 'trouble in paradise' by the "Ancestral voices prophesying war" and the anxiety of the consequences when one is too full of the pleasures of that paradise.

Again, I haven't spent enough time meditating on it, but it is a fun read. Maybe I will have to watch the movie and listen to the track on iTunes.

Here are the lyrics to the Iron Maiden song- a 13 minute tempo changing and fun re-telling of the poem.

Rime of Ancient Mariner- Iron Maiden Lyrics
Hear the rime of the ancient mariner
See his eye as he stops one of three
Mesmerizes one of the wedding guests
Stay here and listen to the nightmares of the sea
And the music plays on, as the bride passes by
Caught by his spell and the mariner tells his tale
Driven south to the land of the snow and ice
To a place where nobody's been
Through the snow fog flies on the albatross
Hailed in God's name, hoping good luck it brings
And the ship sails on, back to the north
Through the fog and ice and the albatross follows on
The mariner kills the bird of good omen
His shipmates cry against what he's done
But when the fog clears, they justify him
And make themselves a part of the crime
Sailing on and on and north across the sea
Sailing on and on and north 'til all is calm
The albatross begins with its vengeance
A terrible curse a thirst has begun
His shipmates blame bad luck on the mariner
About his neck, the dead bird is hung
And the curse goes on and on at sea
And the curse goes on and on for them and me
"Day after day, day after day
We stuck nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean
Water, water everywhere and
All the boards did shrink
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink."
There calls the mariner
There comes a ship over the line
But how can she sail with no wind in her sails and no tide?
See... onward she comes
Onward she nears out of the sun
See, she has no crew
She has no life, wait but here's two
Death and she life in death
They throw their dice for the crew
She wins the mariner and he belongs to her now
Then, crew one by one
They drop down dead, 200
She, she, life in death
She lets him live, her chosen one
"One after one by the star dogged moon
Too quick for groan or sigh
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang
And cursed me with his eye
Four times fifty living men
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump
They dropped down one by one."
The curse it lives on in their eyes
The mariner he wished he'd die
Along with the sea creatures
But they lived on, so did he
And by the light of the moon
He prays for their beauty not doom
With heart he blesses them
God's creatures all of them too
Then the spell starts to break
The albatross falls from his neck
Sinks down like lead into the sea
Then down in falls comes the rain
Hear the groans of the long dead seamen
See them stir and they start to rise
Bodies lifted by good spirits
None of them speak and they're lifeless in their eyes
And revenge is still sought, penance starts again
Cast into a trance and the nightmare carries on
Now the curse is finally lifted
And the mariner sights his home
Spirits go from the long dead bodies
Form their own light and the mariner's left alone
And then a boat came sailing towards him
It was a joy he could not believe
The pilot's boat, his son and the hermit
Penance of life will fall onto him
And the ship it sinks like lead into the sea
And the hermit shrives the mariner of his sins
The mariner's bound to tell of his story
To tell this tale wherever he goes
To teach God's word by his own example
That we must love all things that God made
And the wedding guest's a sad and wiser man
And the tale goes on and on and on

I can't decide whether to do Lord Byron or Keats next....my friend, Bob Blake likes Keats... so probably Keats next.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Remembering the English Poets- Wordsworth

 " Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”

Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey

As I spend the month of August remembering English poets and their lasting influence on me, I have to take some time TRYING to capture the power of William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850). And to be honest, I don't know how to do it. Wordsworth has a style that defied the common conventions of poets during his day. His poems were designed for simple understanding and are very readable to almost anyone. I guess that is why I enjoy him in particular. 

The William Wordsworth poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, has been a recurring joy to me throughout my adult life. . It portrays a speaker who has encountered a field of daffodils waving in the breeze who seem to be 'dancing' in the wind. The beauty of nature in that moment is so powerful that the image is burned into his soul. And later, all alone, quiet and even blue- he hearkens back to that moment as it 'flashed on his inward eye'

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Wordsworth's style and subject matter aligns frequently with my needs to meditate on life, death, creation, and substantive, healing memories which characterize the life God has blessed me to have.

I find it interesting that he spent countless hours in the outdoors during his formative years. He had been sent off to school by a guardian after Wordsworth lost both his mother (at age 7) and father (at age 13) in a village that was surrounded by a lake and vacant woods.

As a boy, I practically lived in the woods as well. My house was at the base of Ruffner Mountain in East Lake. In the days before cell phones- we would pack a brown bag lunch and walk off into the woods, only to return at dusk.

Over time, we  had it all 'mapped out'- the limestone quarries, the iron ore mines, we knew how to get to (and climb) the old fire tower, and we knew that over the ridge was the Ruffner ball fields.

Of course now I experience this immersive beauty in fishing, hikes at Oak Mountain, sunsets at Briarwood, and my bliss of retreat, Lake Caroline.

As I experience these moments, orchestrated by the Lord, I often find that Wordsworth captures the feelings the best. I have to give a little nod to Thoreau and Walden Pond as well.... but Wordsworth resonates in my soul.

Here are just a few examples- just excerpts, but each piece has a connection to my personal experiences and happy places.

FROM TINTERN ABBEY:- (THIS IS MY LAKE CAROLINE COLLECTION)

As I am writing this, I can already tell that I have been away from Lake Caroline for way too long.
And I only get to go there as a blessed benefit and generosity from the owner. I am always wary that this door may not be open forever. The picture at the top of this post has even more significance and part of it is that beautiful red tree that sits so majestically on that point across the water from the cabin.

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters,
rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din            This is a repeating theme- Wordsworth remembers
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,            and the memories are treasures- yes, indeed
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure

If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,     The 'sylvan' (wooded) river 'Wye'- the Wye River Woods
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

FROM IT IS A BEAUTEOUS EVENING (MY BRIARWOOD SUNSET STANZA)

From the field, or better yet, from the press box- come soak in this beautiful moment!

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;


FROM THE SOLITARY REAPER (MY OAK MOUNTAIN STANZA)

There are a number of places there- Eagle's Nest and others. I often think of this when I am on the white trail and the jagged ridge leading to the Shackelford Peak view

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

FROM ODE: INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY (ANY NEW VIEW OR PLACE)

This summer in Alaska- oh my - I don't know if any poem can capture that place

Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

FROM THE PRELUDE (MY LAKE MARTIN STANZA)

Lake Martin may be the prettiest place in Alabama

Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.

Time to move on- this time of year isn't great for writing.... hope to cover more later. These are SMALL samplings of great treasures if we learn to dig for it. Again, no substitute for God's Word...but wonderful expressions of God's world!