28 December 2006

A Poem for Christmastime

This little Babe, so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold.
All Hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold do shake.
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of Hell He will surprise.

With tears He fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield.
His batt'ring shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble flesh His warrior steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
A crib His trench, haystalks His stakes;
Of shepherds He His muster makes.
And thus-- as sure His foe to wound--
The angels' trumps alarum sound!

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that He hath pight.
Within His crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy!

-Robert Southwell

12 December 2006

Giving thanks for art

I came across another great G.K. Chesterton quote lately:

You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Cited in Frederick Buechner's Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought To Say), which in turn was cited by Ron Reed in his blog Oblations.

11 December 2006

How to read the Narnia Chronicles

Several of my students (and their parents) have recently been asking me "What's the right order in which to read the Narnia Chronicles?" Actually, they probably said "What's the right order to read Narnia in" since they're in my Inklings class and not my grammar-crazy writing class, but that's OK. The purpose of language is the communication of ideas, and I understood them. Well, there are lots of other purposes of language, too, including patterns & the sheer beauty of the sounds & traditions & wrestling with the ineffable, etc. So.

But back to Narnia. Well, I told them that I didn't think it mattered in which order they read the Narnia Chronicles. I added that I had a slight preference for the "Published" order, but that's only because that's how I was raised, and I'll never forget the moments of wonder & revelation when I read The Magician's Nephew for the first time. Wow. But I didn't know which order Jack himself preferred.

So first of all, which order do you prefer? And why?

And then here's a really good posting on that over at another web site called What Order Should I Read the Narnia Books in (And Does It Matter?). I couldn't discover the author. Please do read it, and please read all of it, if you can. There are some very interesting points, especially the quote from Lewis. And I wonder what you think of the ending of this article?

By the way, I was really glad that the new movies are being made in the "original" order (even though that idea is now skewed a bit by that article), but I think we should all write to Douglas Gresham & beg him on bended knees to make sure the screenplay of Prince Caspian is much, MUCH more accurate than LWW! Sure, Disney probably thinks that modern viewers are too dumb for that kind of slightly elevated British 1950s English. But, as CSL himself said in the preface to Mere Christianity, "I don't think the average reader [viewer] is such a fool." Hear, hear.

06 December 2006

The Myth of Talent?

Paul Butzi has a couple of good posts on the myth of talent over at his blog, Musings on Photography: the first is here with follow-ups here and here. I've commented on the first of those on his blog. His thesis is essentially that innate talent is an overrated notion. There is no way of gauging a person's early talent that will predict whether he will end up successful as an artist. It is only in hindsight that you can recognize talent. Furthermore, this mysterious thing called talent is no substitute for hard work. Given enough determination and practice, even someone who did not think she was talented can develop the skill to make good art. Deciding after a couple of false starts that you have no talent and just giving up on art would be a tragedy, whether you're destined to become another Rembrandt or not. Here's my friend Jayne's great story of how she never thought she'd become a good knitter but then persistence paid off. Her present passion for knitting (addiction, one might call it) means she gets tons of practice and gets better and better. You should see some of the amazing stuff she does (all photographed and shown off on her blog, See Jayne Knit).

Of course as a Christian I believe that there are gifts bestowed by God, including artistic gifts. Some people have them and others don't, or rather some people have certain gifts and other people have other gifts. But I agree with Paul's observations that thinking one has no artistic gifting (or "talent") is no excuse for not working hard to develop it (and even, I might add, to discover it in the first place). Even the most gifted artists have to work at their art. A lot of times an artistic talent can be buried by hurtful (and untrue) comments made to one during childhood by insensitive adults. While it is not always the case, usually you will find in the background of great artists a supportive parent or patron. Mozart, for example, doubtless had a larger measure of gifting/potential in the area of music than most of us do, but he was also fortunate enough to have had a supportive father who took him all over the place to play for and get training from famous musicians. Some artists who have suffered early discouraging remarks have been able to break through that later in life and rediscover and develop their creative gifts. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron helps people do that.

01 December 2006

December Poem of the Month

It certainly is not feeling like Christmas around here; 70 degrees today.... But here's a Christmas poem to help usher in Advent. It's a few years old now, and stylistically outdated, but perhaps you'll find something to enjoy notwithstanding.


Immense and joyful was His infinite
existence, massive both in size and bliss,
in cosmic comfort, starry celebration,
and sustained aseity of happiness.
He folded up that hugeness slowly. In
an instant crammed into the virgin’s seed,
gently holding back so not to burst
by size and speed: and thus contained knew grief.
When born, He suddenly was jarred by pain,
embraced by arms that, too, knew pain, and lost
the warm protection of that prenatal place.
Stabbed with sudden hurts, He later stood
on weak legs, scarce contained by skin, and lost
the cool perfection of an infinite space.

~ Sørina

© 2002, Sørina Higgins. Do not use this work in any way without permission from the author.

28 November 2006

To photograph, or to take photos?

Interesting post over at Shards of Photography. I quote it in its entirety:
"To photograph" is to talk, to sympathise, to open up to people, to interact and to share your emotions with you[r] subject, and hopefully vice versa. The actual act of tripping the shutter is only second to that. This is in contrast to "to take photos", where a photo is "taken" without "giving". When photographing, the subject gives a part of himself to you in response to your giving your attention, your showing interest, your sympathy. It's still not an equal deal as you gain income, fame or whatever you think to gain from your photographs. The subject most likely doesn't benefit materially from this deal unless he (or often she) is a model posing for you. Often the subject, however, is left with a positive feeling, a sense of importance or just had a pleasant interlude in an otherwise boring day.
I think this is very important, as a Christian and a photographer. Creating art with my camera, when it involves a human subject, must involve my relationship with the person I am photographing. I am guilty of "taking photos" when I've shot pictures of charming looking natives in foreign countries where I'm traveling, all from the safe distance of several yards, with a telephoto lens so the subject doesn't even know she's having her image "taken." I am realizing now that, aside from being somewhat unethical (you are supposed to get a person's written permission before publishing a photograph of him anywhere [though I've never published any of these surreptitiously "taken" photos], and in certain cultures having your photograph "taken" is akin to have your soul captured), it is not a very Christian way to do photography. As someone who has been touched by relationship with the Almighty God, I should be ever more keen to engage relationally with the world and the people I photograph. This post by ShardsOfPhotography has really got me thinking.

25 November 2006

Shutter & Palette

This past week G. & I spent our Thanksgiving Vacation in Washington, D. C. In addition to running around looking at the monuments at night (in the freezing cold), touring the Capitol, sitting in the empty House gallery listening to a police officer give his rather leftist interpretation of the intricate workings of the U.S. government, and going hungry because of the atrocious cost of food in our capitol city, we whiled away several afternoons in the excellent Smithsonian museums. I’d like to take a moment to talk about the photography was saw in two to them, and to contrast these to some of the paintings we saw.

Well, first of all I’m wondering what makes a good photograph. Yes, of course, I know this is one of those unanswerable questions, like What is art and Why is this awful piece of music so famous and My 6-yr-old could paint like that what makes it worth hanging in a museum. Right. But I was a little baffled by some of the sharp contrasts we encountered. I’d like everyone to answer, of course, but I’d also like to direct you to Rosie’s photo blog for you to view some contemporary photography & maybe bring it into this discussion.

First of all, we saw a collection of photographs of NYC at the National Gallery of Art. Here are highlights. I was confused by this exhibition. I couldn’t understand why these were worthy to hang in the first art museum in the US of A, why they were supposed to be good. I mean, I’m no photographer, and I know that photographers love to mess with traditional settings, etc., but these were just out of focus, poorly arranged or not intentionally arranged at all (like aleatoric music, perhaps), oddly cropped, and so on. I felt like any hack with a camera could do better. Yet here they were, hung all neatly in their lovely rows, with plaques pronouncing how revolutionary and profound and gritty and full of the sense of life they were. Well, fine, but I didn’t get it.

Then we went on down the road to the Museum of Natural History (or, as we young-earth Intelligent Design Creationist like to call it, the Museum of Unnatural Fiction). There we were swept breathlessly away by a fantastic, gorgeous, stunning display of photographs from the current exhibition of winners from a nature photography contest. Wow! These were just wonderful. Picture after picture, crystal clear, vivid color, astonishing poses, stories printed on the sides of courageous photographers risking their lives to get the perfect picture. Take a look at this one of a giraffe at sunset, or this one of a polar bear afloat on ice. These struck me like the great sky-scapes of Tuner. Then there were astonishing compositions, like this one of an alligator’s snout above & below water. There was one of clownfish, not presented on the website, in which the camera was placed below bright orange seaweed where brilliant orange-and-black clownfish played, and the leaves of a mangrove tree were clearly visible above the water in the sky beyond! Wow. And eagles in their nests, and snow monkeys frolicking in the snow, and owls & bears & flowers. G. asked why these shouldn’t be hung up the street in the National Gallery of Art. And I had to ask the same question. What made these beautiful, carefully crafted pieces “Nature Photography” and what made those fuzzy, haphazard NYC photos art?

Well, of course, it doesn’t really matter. We had our various enjoyments in each building. And people who would be, perhaps, scared away or bored by “Fine Art” were thrilled and blessed by those photos of Creation. So that’s fine.

And then here’s another contrast we experienced. There was one particular image of a bald eagle which became the icon for the entire exhibition. When we viewed it, 5’ long & 3’ high, in stunning color, G. said it looked like a painting. We were shocked that something in nature could be that vivid, that bold, that perfectly posed. The head looked carven, as if out of wood, and painting with sharp contrast. So that was our highest compliment to these photographs: that they resembled paintings. Well, the evening before at the National Portrait Gallery, we had done just the opposite! There was a starting painting of Toni Morrison by Deborah Feingold. When we walked into the spare, primary-yellow room, her figure clad in black & grey, with a determined expression on her face, leapt out at us from the bright white canvas. Unfortunately, this image is not available online. You’ll just have to go to D. C. to see it for yourself! But we could not tell if it was a photograph or a painting. We stood looking at it & guessed before we looked at the caption. One of us thought it was a photo; one, a painting. It was a painting, but you’d be startled to know that. She was coming right off the canvas at us! Her shoulders were a good five inches away from the white background, her hands and elbows and breasts curved outward towards us; and all this in two-dimensions. It amazed me. Here’s the link to the web site of an acquaintance of mine, friend-of-a-friend, who does photorealist paintings. Again, they amaze me.

Of course, you see where I’m going with this. We gave our highest praise to the eagle photo by saying it looked like a painting; we gave our highest praise to the Toni Morrison painting by saying it looked like a photograph. Why is this? Is the goal of visual art, then, to fool its viewers into thinking it’s something it’s not? Or, to put it in different terms, is mimesis primarily a deceptive practice?

And then what about art, specifically photography, that does the opposite: that achieves its artistry by giving an image of something that could occur nowhere outside its borders? I’m talking about “avant-garde,” or specifically “surreal” works, those fantastical images of random (or not-so-random) juxtaposition like this one of paper clips and cows by Rosie.

I have not even begun to talk about the ideological or spiritual implications of these questions. It seems obvious to me that an artists could incorporate surreal elements as religious statements that there’s-more-than-meets-the-eye, or that some people could take offense at what they see as the deceit of some art, or that comments could be made on social interrelationships by visual juxtapositions, or that photography & painting can slide in and out of one another as multiple visions of the way things are & they way they should be & the way the artists sees them & the way they could be.

Feel free to speculate.

20 November 2006

Short thoughts on contemporary fantasy

I was just informed by one of my students today that Eragon is "The best book ever." I wonder if any of my readers share that opinion? I haven't read it yet, and will try to do so before The Movie comes out in December. So I'd love to read your thoughts on this book -- no spoilers, please!

And then let's expand the conversation a bit further. You Harry Potter fans: what's so good about it? Does Rowlings stand up to Lewis & Tolkien, think you? Are her books "great literature," whatever that may be, and will they find a place in the Canon, whatever that is & whoever decides what goes in it?

And (thanks for doing my research for me), I'm wondering who the other heirs of The Inklings' imagination might be? I plan to talk about this at the end of my current course on MacDonald, Lewis, Tolkien, & Charles Williams. I'd include Dorothy Sayers, Christopher Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Walter Wangerin, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, Mervyn Peake, Phillip Pullman.... Who else would you include, and why? I'd love recommendations, reviews of these books/authors/movies, links, and all intelligent thoughts on -- what shall we call it? -- spiritual fantasy?

I'll try to chime in more profoundly at some point.

12 November 2006

"Performing" Scripture -- The Lord's Supper

In a comment on an earlier post, I wrote:

Do we "perform" Scripture in a way when we read it into our lives and re-enact it in worship? Are we the actors/musicians, and our pastors and biblical theologians the directors/conductors? Can there be multiple different valid "performances" Scripture? And the big question: who (or should I say Who) is the audience?
I probably tipped my hand a bit too much by that parenthetical comment. Yes, I do believe God is the audience when we "perform" Scripture in our lives and worship. Not that the text of Scripture is some kind of script that we follow blindly as if our lives are completely choreographed in advance. But the stories of the biblical narrative are played out again and again in our families and communities, the psalms and anthems are sung in our worship services, and when we celebrate communion we are re-enacting the Lord's Last Supper (Catholic theologians would go so far as to say we are re-enacting the sacrifice of Christ).

As to whether there can be multiple different valid "performances" of Scripture, I think there can. Let me just take the eucharist as one small example to show how. Until I was in my 20's I had rarely experienced a communion service that had differed in substance from any of the others. They were all simply a matter of going through the motions, passing around the same little trays of individual cups of grape juice and broken bits of crackers, hearing the same words of institution from the man behind the communion table, doing in unison with everyone in the congregation an act which had practically no meaning to me other than as a simple reminder of what Jesus had done. Only once in my young life do I recall anything other which I was allowed to participate in. It was an Episcopal or ecumenical service where there was a common cup served at the front, and everyone filed up to receive it. That made an impression on me. More because I was grossed out about the possibility of picking up someone's germs, but that's just the mind of a kid at work. The point was, it was the first time I'd experienced something substantially different -- and thus ultimately memorable -- in a celebration of the Lord's Supper. It was to be the first of many. The next one I remember was at a Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, WA, which I visited with a friend. They had a special Maundy Thursday communion service one year. There were several stations set up around the sanctuary with tablecloths and baskets of bread and a common cup at each table. The room was in darkness except for some candle light. People gathered around the tables in groups and served the bread and the cup to each other. That communal aspect of it was very significant to me.

At Regent, the introduction of real wine instead of grape juice was a welcome change from my prior experiences of communion. We always have the option of grape juice at one of the stations, for people who are constitutionally incapable of having wine or prefer not to. But I almost always choose the wine (unless that line is too long), because there is something more powerful to me in the symbolism of real wine. I believe any liquid can work, and of course one has to use what is available given cultural limitations and all. I heard about one church in Africa that uses Kool-Aid for communion because wine and grape juice are not available. They cannot drink the water without boiling it, and even then it has a funny flavor, so they use Kool-Aid it to cover that. One time there was no Kool-Aid mix to be had, so someone had bought Jell-O powder, thinking it would do the same trick. But of course once you boil water and add Jell-O mix and then add ice cubes to cool it down, it turns into Jell-O, so it was an interesting communion service, to say the least. "This is my blood of the new covenant., slurp ye all of it."

I have experienced so many memorable communion services with the Regent community. There was the one which took place on a weekend class retreat. About 60-80 of us sat for our final meal at picnic-style tables that had been arranged in the shape of a cross. The Lord's Supper was celebrated as part of the meal, with bread and wine that we would finish consuming with our meat and salad, just as Jesus and his disciples would have done with the wine and bread he used as symbols on that night 2000 years ago. I loved that very down-to-earth aspect to it. Another memorable communion service was the time when the words of institution were given by someone who had grown up in a church where guilt was the motivating factor: you had to repent before approaching the table because otherwise you were not worthy to receive the elements. But of course none of us is ever "worthy" to receive the elements, and Donna told us, with tears in her eyes, that it wasn't until she got to Regent that she realized communion was a gift to us, an invitation from Jesus to the unworthy, Jesus who loved us while we were still sinners. She had never experienced communion as God's grace before.

While I agree with Sorina's comments below mine in that aforementioned post, that there can be productions that are so far away from the text that they are no longer valid (for example the controversial "milk and honey" feminist communion service at the "Reimagining Conference" in 1993), I think there is lots of room for variation in how we interpret Scripture in our "performances" of it in worship and in living. And it is such a rich text, that we will never exhaust all the possibilities. I think God, as the Audience of One, enjoys the creative ways we seek to be true to his Word while injecting newness and memorable qualities into our worship.

11 November 2006

Announcing new photo blog

Come visit my new photo blog, Space For God. It is a place for me to explore the beauty of God's creation, slow down enough to make space for God in my life every day, and bring some rest and inspiration to travellers who stop by.

01 November 2006

November Poem of the Month

I'm starting a new tradition, inspired by my fellow Pennsylvania poet Barbara Crooker's website, of a "poem of the month." We'll see if this really does become a tradition! Meanwhile, here's one to start with. Commentary/critique is encouraged, even requested!

The Taste of Words

To R. L., who lost his hearing at the age of seven

I have almost forgot the taste of words. They slide
As thin as colors past my tongue like light
On eyes and eyelids, or shadows gliding by
Beneath their mirror clouds, cirrus slight,
Reflections twice reflected: once, like sight,
Shone smaller in your eyes, then back in mine:
So I speak ribbon words between my ears and mind,

But barely in my mouth. I should take time to round
My palate to their shapes, their moons and ponds
Of vowels; clench their sudden curtain sounds
In stifled yawns; and run my tongue along
The lone serration at the edge of speech: a long
Delicious lingering while words melt, smooth
And butter-sweet, oh, slowly, like the way a blue tune

Seems to haze the air its own shade, and almost flavour,
Smoky, transient, intangible. You inhale no melodies,
Alas; or is it sad, or does your mind find windless pleasure
In its lagoon depths, without clamour? No screams,
No enharmonic dissonance, just what you see
And what you say, and that formed solid in the dark
Architecture of your teeth & throat, if not built in your heart.

~ Sørina Higgins

Creative Commons License
"The Taste of Words" by Sørina Higgins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. This means that you can copy and distribute the work if you will not receive any commercial gain; that you can use the work in a new creative way (song lyrics, dramatic production, visual display), again, if you receive no commercial gain; and any other use that does not make you any money--as long as you do not change any of the words of the original text. Also, the author would like to be notified of any uses of her poem. Thank you.

"Art is God made visible"

Listened to: Revival in Belfast (Robin Mark CD)

I'm reading a book called House of Belief: Creating Your Personal Style by Kelee Katillac. It's an interior designer's ideas on how to make the decor in your house reflect your personal beliefs and values. She feels it's important to do this because what we see around us reinforces what we believe. In one chapter, "The Church of the Home," she tells of how in times past, cathedrals provided those "visual affirmations" for believers. Describing a visit to Notre Dame, she writes, "the vaulting, the very architecture of the place--the great church in its physical form--suggests man embracing God. The central hall, or nave, with its right and left wings, forms the shape of a human body with torso and arms stretched outward--arms open to receive divine inspiration, baring the soul to receive the secrets of creation. [The shape of a cross, too, I might add, which not coincidentally happens to fit a human body.] Like priests performing a transforming ritual, the craftsmen forged their beliefs into works of artistry. Wood and stone were transformed into a body of belief with a rib cage of great buttresses, leglike pillars, and a heart of carved altars. All around me...I could see...evidence of God, not as remote or detached but as present and active, communing with man in a sort of divine collaboration....There in the brushstrokes of a mural and in the deep carvings of marble statuary I could see something of God's own creative nature as it has been emulated through artistic expression. Art is God made visible."

This is another example of what Admonit was talking about in her Embodied Theology post.

31 October 2006

Another take on the old "What Is Art?" question

A friend of mine, Paul Butzi, is a photographer. You can see some of his excellent work at his website. He also has a blog there, where he posted this interesting musing on whether the question "What Is Art?" is worth asking at all. Essentially it boils down to what he calls "Paul's Rule": "never ask a question unless you're going to change your behavior based on the answer." He wouldn't stop making photography if it turned out it wasn't art, so perhaps it's not important to know the answer. There's a great story in his post about Jean-Pierre Rampal and a mockingbird, so go read it.

29 October 2006

To Adapt or Not to Adapt

...and that's only the beginning of the question...

Christopher Yeatts as Hamlet in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival WillPower touring production of Hamlet.

Read: Lilith by George MacDonald.
Watched: A one-hour-and-twenty-minute version of Hamlet by members of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and a “traditional” performance of King Lear by the theatre department of Northampton Community College.
Listened to: lots of Beatles albums, Bach, Chopin, & contemporary Native American singer/songwriters.

I’ve been wondering about adaptations recently. Here’s the question I’d like readers to answer: Do you hold a sort of “sacrosanct” view of texts, that is, that they should never be adapted, or do you think that anything written is available for change & re-presentation? I’m thinking especially of plays, but this conversation could be relevant for music, books-to-movies, etc. So, do you think that an artist’s original work should stand as it is, or could & should it be adapted to suit the mood of the times? Do you think any “real” presentation of a work is possible when moving from one medium to another, such as page-to-stage, page-to-screen, and so forth?

So, that’s it. That’s my question. But that said, of course I have to go on and give my opinion. First of all, let’s just make it clear that we’re not talking about copyright violations. Let’s assume that the material we’ll discuss is either in the public domain or the adaptor has received permission to do whatever hacking, cutting, and pasting s/he may desire.

I used to believe that any text, or indeed any original work of art, was almost sacred, that it should not be touched or changed at all. I was horrified by The Lord of the Rings when it first came out, due to the drastic changes the director made. He ruined Faramir’s character, changed some crucial speeches, and left out the last sixth of the book! Good grief. Well, now I love those movies for their own sake, but still feel a bit of sinking sickness when I think of all the viewers who may never read the books and will always have the wrong impression. I had a similar reaction to “Narnia” an a first viewing. How dare he change nearly every word of the original book & turn it into a fairly lousy screenplay & throw in some retarded scene of cheesy drama on the ice and leave out the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea & the Deep Magic from before the Dawn of Time, and why were the children whining to go home all the time? You can see I’m rather passionate about this, still. Even though I appreciate those movies for their own sake, as great movies, I shudder when I think of them as visual representations of the books.
But recently I’ve been developing a new attitude towards adaptations. It began this summer in Oxford, when my prof. Emma Smith said many times that she thought the best directors of Shakespeare were those who were not afraid to cut, paste, change, hack, chop, and disfigure to their hearts’ content. Well, she didn’t exactly say it like that, but that was the idea. Her premise seemed to be that any new production of an old play is a work of art in its own right, and must change with the times/places to be relevant, fresh, and compelling. And I’m beginning to agree with her.

The production of Hamlet by the traveling troupe from the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival was extraordinary—very dynamic, very alive, very relevant, and totally exciting. Hamlet dressed in black, of course, but it was black jeans & worn dress shirt & ill-tied tie. The set was like Hot Topic or a Goth-style artist’s flat in Harlem: faded purple & black velvet draped across the back, with well-chosen graffiti scrawled across it: “Remember Me” and “Dust” were most predominant. Ophelia was hovering between a Goth look—black net tights, black tank top over ruffled white dress—and girly-cutsie—pink ballet shoes and a flower in her hair. Clearly, they were teenagers going through identity crises. Claudius and Gertrude, on the other hand, were stiff and business-like, with a roaring-Twenties touch, putting them very far out of touch with Hamlet’s uncertain and artistic world. The ghost’s appearance was accompanied by “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond theme-song kind of music, fast, intense, and supremely modern. One of the guards was a girl, dressed in grey spandex, and all those on watch squatted on the alert with flashlights poised. Think Charlie’s Angels. Very slick, very NOW.

When Hamlet went into his little madness game, he shuffled out wearing a T-shirt that hung to his knees, sneakers about two feet long with their white tongues sticking up, a huge white baseball cap on sideways, and a Sponge Bob necklace. He held his book with the spine perpendicular to his hands, and looked for all the world like a cartoon character.

Oh, and did I mention that the production was 80 minutes long? About maybe 1/3 of the text was presented.

My point in relating all these details is this. I’m coming to think that in the fluid medium of live theatre, adaptations should be just that: adaptations. OED says that “adapt” means “make suitable for a new use or purpose” or “become adjusted to new conditions.” [Thank you, OED.] Shakespeare’s plays have been performed innumerable times. And no one performance on stage can possibly claim to be THE ONE AND ONLY definitive performance that interprets every possible detail according to—what? Shakespeare’s intention? Original performance practice? Elizabethan or Jacobean conditions? The ideal hidden meaning expressed in the outward form? No sir-ee. Each production is a new, fresh perspective, yet another way to look at the play. So I’m starting to think, adapt as you will!

Now, that’s what I think about the fluid medium of theatre. Films, I believe, are in a different category. This is because films are static. Once it’s been filmed, that’s it. OK, sure, so they can release the special edition extended version DVD, and I’m glad when they do (waiting for the “Lion, Witch, & Wardrobe” extended to see what they left out—or in, depending on how you look at that). But even so, that’s fixed. So it does, then purport to be at least a definitive version, if not THE one and only. So, back to LOTR. I’m disturbed by how much was left out & changed of that book/epic/series/triliogy/quadrilogy. Wait, it’s not a quadrilogy yet. Has anyone heard if they are indeed making The Hobbit with what’s-his-name Elijah Wood as Bilbo? Because of the great technology, etc., this film is almost worthy of its literary prototype. Almost. And I’m afraid that it will stand in for the thing itself. So I think that when directors are re-making a masterpiece in a static medium such as film, it behooves them to be as true to the original as possible.

But who knows, maybe one day film too will be somehow a fluid medium, and there will as many LOTRs made as Romeo & Juliets. Who knows. And would that be good or bad?

15 October 2006

Herbert and "Embodied Theology"

Read: Several chapters into Don Quixote
Listened to: Tannhäuser (Wagner), “Amadeus” soundtrack
Watched: at least part of if not most of: City Lights (Charlie Chaplin), The General (Buster Keaton), Sunrise (F.W. Murnau), M (Fritz Lang), and Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) [all for the film class I'm taking]

This started out as a comment on Sorina’s previous post, but it began to get long enough that I decided to promote it to a post in its own right. I’ve been waiting to let Sorina’s students get a chance to post comments first, but seeing that no one has taken the bait (yet), and I’m chomping at the bit to comment on this one, I’m not going to wait any longer.

I had the pleasure of taking a whole class on the metaphysical poets, particularly Donne and Herbert, at Regent College several summers ago. Herbert is among my top five poets, if not my favorite (depending on my mood).

As for his use of poetic form, Herbert is more creative in inventing new forms than he is strictly adhering to existing forms. Over two-thirds of the poems in his collection The Temple are in a unique meter and rhyme scheme. He plays around with varying line lengths, lots of word play, anagrams (“Anagram”), concrete poetry where the physical shape of the poem on the page relates to the content (“The Altar,” “Easter Wings”), and cross-references between adjacent poems (e.g., a word in the last line of a poem which is taken up in the first line of the next, or the title of a poem which takes up the theme of the preceding one). It is sheer fun to read his poems and discover all his delightful frolicking. And yet, as you pointed out, he wrestled with whether these frills were appropriate for the serious genre of sacred poetry.

However, I disagree with your reading of “Jordan (2).” First, you’ll have to be more specific about what “aspects of Sidney’s secular love sonnet” Herbert is copying. I don’t see the resemblance in form at all. Second, when Herbert writes “There is in love a sweetness ready penn’d: Copy out only that,...” you’ve got to see it in the context of Herbert’s own poetry -- both this very poem, and his whole oeuvre. He begins “When first my lines of heav’nly joys made mention.” So I don’t believe he’s talking about secular love in line 17, but rather about his devotion to God (as in so many of his poems). I think he simply means to exhort himself (the “friend” in line 15 is merely his own conscience speaking to him): “just say plainly what’s written on your heart, and leave all this decorative poetic inventiveness aside, as it only feeds your pride.” But of course he cannot make himself do that and ends up with another poem that’s just as creative as the last. And we, from our vantage point, realize that Herbert was carrying out his vocation from God and needn’t have beaten himself up over his desire to use artistry in his writing.

As for how Herbert uses poetic form to express his theology:

The ordering of the poems in The Temple is ingenious, and speaks of Herbert’s ecclesiology. Overall, the structure is reminiscent of church architecture, with an entrance through “The Church-Porch,” the opening poem. Then the main body of The Temple is called “The Church,” with an introductory poem called “The Altar.” Of course the altar or communion table would have been a focal point in the interior of an English church in his era. Later there is a series of poems with titles depicting other parts of a church, e.g., “The Church-floor” and “The Windows.” Other parts of the collection are organized around liturgical themes and the church year.

Herbert sometimes uses the number of lines per stanza with significance, as in “Sunday” where there are seven lines per stanza, representing the seventh day, and “Trinity Sunday” where there are three stanzas with three lines each. In “Coloss 3.3” he hides a Bible verse along the diagonal, “My life is hid in Him that is my treasure,” displaying concretely what it is to be “hid with Christ in God.”

That’s enough on Herbert, but I would venture to propose that even Scripture itself uses poetic devices to convey theological meaning. Understanding something about the literary techniques employed in great poetry and literature will help in interpreting the Bible. Some would balk at the idea of “reading the Bible as literature” because it seems to be mutually exclusive with reading it as the Word of God; as if “literature” meant something invented out of whole cloth by humans. And indeed many (if not most) college courses that purport to teach the “Bible as literature” are taught by people who think it is only that. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t onto something with regard to the incredible artistry with which the Bible is crafted. And if human artists can embed their theology in their work, as Sorina’s posts are beginning to convince us, how much more can the Artist of Artists do that, through the pens of his intelligent creatures?

08 October 2006

Milton & the Metaphysical Poets

Read: Phantastes by George MacDonald.
Watched: Cromwell
Listened to: student rap versions of hymns by Isaac Watts & Charles Wesley!!

In a previous post I discussed what I called Bach’s “Embodied Theology”—some of the ways in which Bach expressed his doctrinal beliefs in the very arrangement of notes, rhythms, etc. in his music. Now in this post I’d like to explore something similar in the poetry of John Milton & the “Metaphysical Poets,” especially George Herbert & John Donne, and I’d like my students (and any other readers) to add their thoughts.

There are two ways in which I see Milton, Donne, & Herbert embodying their theology in their works: 1. form & 2. technique. First, poetic form—the shapes they gave to their works. The fact that they chose to use standard, strict forms such as sonnet & epic shows, I think, that they believed the universe was an orderly place. They believed that nature revealed God’s love of organization, structure, and symmetry, so they chose highly organized poetic forms—with some notable exceptions. They also thought, I imagine, that working within boundaries is the best kind of freedom. Only within moral boundaries are people truly free to live & love; only within strict poetry boundaries like 14 lines, iambic pentameter, ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme, and so on, is the poet free to be truly creative (again, there are significant exceptions to this rule, and I’ll discuss at least one). That’s one idea the shapes of their poems gives me.

Form works on a larger scale, too. Paradise Lost is in 12 “books”—again, an orderly structure, and one that can have spiritual significance. 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, 12-sided wall around the new Jerusalem, 12 jewels set over the 12 gates…. And Herbert takes form even a step further, using it to interpret & interrogate the meanings of his poems. In “Jordan (2)” (which we did not read in class; but you can find it here), Herbert copies aspects of Sidney’s secular love sonnet, "Loving in Truth", but says that it’s sinful to write decorative sacred poetry, and then ends by implying that all you can do is copy secular love poetry! So he simultaneously condemns & commends himself for using Sidney’s form, and does so by means of the form! He does something similar with the form of “The Wreath,” which perhaps one of my diligent students would explain below? (It would be good practice for the test that’s coming up, hint, hint…).

And the second way I see them working their theology into their poetry is in some of the specific poetic techniques—meter, rhyme, alliteration, etc. Let’s look at Donne’s "Batter My Heart" as an example. In line 4, he says he wants God to “break, blow, burn, and make me new.” Well, he does just that to the poetry! Instead of following the standard - / - / - / - / - / pattern of iambic pentameter, he “breaks” it with a series of strong monosyllables, all alliterating on one of the harshest consonants—to illustrate just how he wants God to pound on his stubborn heart! Another example occurs in Herbert’s “The Wreath” , when Herbert messes up his habitual pattern with the words “crooked winding ways”—illustrating the fact that his sin has messed up his life so badly it’s even messed up the patterns in his poetry! And he does this again on a large scale with the beginning and ending of his poem, which again perhaps a student would explain in a comment? And Milton even uses the complexity of his syntax & the length of his sentences to express the high, lofty, & complicated nature of the spiritual history he’s giving in Paradise Lost.

So now that you (hopefully) understand this idea of embodying doctrinal beliefs in verse, perhaps you can put in some observations of your own. They could be about the 17th century poets, or about any other writers. Or, as always, I’d really love to see examples of other genres (visual arts, music, etc.) that use similar techniques.

19 September 2006

Unfinished Tolkien work to be published

This is interesting news: J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christopher has finished a book his father began but never completed, The Children of Hurin. It will be published in 2007. Given that the younger Tolkien has been working on this for the past 30 years, I wonder how much of the work is his father's and how much is his. Nevertheless, fans of Middle Earth will surely go nuts over another story about the elves and dwarves from LOTR. CNN story.

13 September 2006

Macbeth and Predestination

Read: C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper.
Watched: the first part of HBO’s Elizabeth I

This is a re-hash of a previous post. My students & I have been exploring this topic in Language Arts classes recently, so I repost it here for their sakes, looking forward to their comments.

David Taylor once said artists must read their systematic theology. Indeed, I do believe that great Christian art is (partly) only as good as its doctrine. Partly; skill/craftsmanship/aesthetic excellence are also essential. But I also think that the debates over theological points are as fertile as solid convictions. The “Problem of Evil,” for example, functions as the catalyst for large passages in Augustine’s Confessions, Dante’s trilogy, Milton’s Paradise Lost….

And the debate over Free Will vs. Predestination is another such matter. We’ve been reading Macbeth for the last month or more, putting it into the context of cultural controversies. One hot topic of Shakespeare’s time was this problem about “Does God deterimine all things beofre they begin, or are human beings free to create their own [eternal] destinies?” And it was very hot; wars were raging all over Europe in the latter half of the 16th century over Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. Shakespeare, man of the age, was certainly not going to let this red-letter debate slip by. But he also didn’t want to lose his head.

However that may be, the author of the introductory matter in our Norton Critical Edition, Robert S. Miola, claims that “Whatever his personal convictions, Shakespeare clearly adopts a Catholic view of the action and theology of free will in this play” and “the doctrine of predestination renders human action essentially undramatic: when the end is known, preordained, and absolutely just, there can be no real choice, suspense, conflict, or resolution. This conception of divine justice and human action renders pity an impertinence, terror a transgression, and tragedy an impossibility” (pp. xv, xvi).

Maybe we shouldn’t be so sure. I have a problem with that sweeping generalization. I wouldn’t say that predestination freezes all possibility of dramatic action. I’d like to make two points:

1. The characters do not know the ending. They are within a double predestination, as it were. Theologians will pardon me for abusing the term. First, they might be predestined by God, if such is the writer’s or audience’s belief. Second, they are certainly predestined by the intent and will of the artist. Or perhaps I have those in the wrong order?

2. In life, we do not know our ending. The staunchest Calvinist, if he has his wits about him, believes that here inside time we must make choices. Yeah, perhaps God has set the choice before hand, certainly God knows what will be done, but that does not make the psychological and emotional experience of choice any less a reality. Any less real. It is also thus inside works of art.

So, here’s the question: Is Macbeth free to choose his fate, or is he destined to follow the prophecies? We’ve talked about how much the witches knew, could they see the future, would Macbeth have become king even without killing Duncan, are the “equivocating” words of the weird sisters quite “fair” from a spiritual point of view, do telling the future and making big decisions create parallel universes… you know, the usual literary discussions. :)

So now, let’s continue that conversation. Feel free to answer the above question, offer new questions, or give other examples of how this doctrinal dilemma has been the catalyst for great passages of writing. Or I’d really love to see examples of other genres (visual arts, music, etc.) that use this or other theological paradoxes for their meaning and motive!

10 September 2006

Resources on Christianity and the Arts

I sent an email this evening to a pastor friend of mine who had recently asked me for some suggested resources on Christianity and the Arts. It's worth reproducing here, with some minor tweaks and book links added.


Rookmaaker, Hans. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. A bit dated, but still a classic in this field. Rookmaaker, along with Francis Schaeffer, was one of the early influences on evangelicals finally coming back to think seriously about the arts.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Mind of the Maker. She compares the human creative act (especially that of writing) to God's creative act and sees trinitarian implications there.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Zeal of thy House. Wonderful play about an architect who struggles with faith, defiance towards God, and pride. He designs a cathedral which ultimately serves as the act of worship he was unable to give any other way. "Behold, he prayeth; not with the lips alone, / But with the hand and with the cunning brain / Men worship the Eternal Architect. / So, when the mouth is dumb, the work shall speak / And save the workman." Out of print; limited availability/expensive in used market; check libraries.

Begbie, Jeremy. Voicing Creation's Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts. Very scholarly/theoretical, but gives a good foundation. Begbie is a brilliant musician/theologian from the UK, one of the key names in the arena of faith and the arts today. I know him personally. He's taught summer school classes at Regent, and I supported and attended his "Theology Through the Arts" conference in Cambridge in 2000. Fabulous!

Begbie. Jeremy, ed. Beholding the Glory: Incarnation Through the Arts. A more readable collection of essays about theology through various specific arts: literature, poetry, dance, icons, sculpture, music.

Johnston, Robert. Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue. Encourages a two-way conversation between theology and film. The stories in films can teach us about reality, and a theological perspective can help us interpret films.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic. Sees art as an instrument of action in the world, and artists as responsible servants.

Van Gogh, Vincent. The Letters of Vincent van Gogh. Intriguing insight into the mind and spiritual life of an artist who was very tormented by his vocation, but who truly saw it as a calling from God, and in spite of his tragic life ended up making a huge impact with his art.

Wilkinson, Loren. "'Art as Creation' or 'Art as Work'?" Crux, March 1983, pp. 23-28. I can't improve on Brad Baurain's summary: "An excellent essay, seeking a synthesis between sacramentalist (emphasizing creativity) and Reformed (emphasizing stewardship) perspectives on the arts." Loren is a friend of mine and one of my favorite professors at Regent. Alas, the article is not available online, but it should be, and I'm working on trying to rectify that (permissions, etc.)

Larsen, David. The Company of the Creative: A Christian Reader's Guide to Great Literature and Its Themes. A very useful reference book.

Debray, Régis. The Old Testament Through 100 Masterpieces of Art, and The New Testament Through 100 Masterpieces of Art. Two volumes of excellent reproductions of great art depicting themes in the Bible, with commentary.

Essays online:

Vonnahme, Nathan. "Art as Witness." Paper written for Regent College class "The Christian Imagination."


Image Journal - the premier journal of Christian faith and the arts; to its credit it has in a short while (50 issues) become one of the top 10 literary journals of any sort in the United States; poetry, short fiction, essays, visual art on color plates; high quality publication; co-sponsors the annual Glen Workshop (Christian artists/writers conference) in Santa Fe.

Christians in the Visual Arts - organization that encourages, promotes, and fosters networking among Christian visual artists; holds annual summer workshops at Gordon College, and co-sponsors the Glen Workshop with Image Journal.

Mars Hill Audio - engaging in contemporary culture from the vantage point of Christian conviction; they publish an audio journal and have lots of interviews related to the arts; some free tracks are available as MP3 downloads (click "Listen for Free")

Diary of an Arts Pastor (excellent blog by David Taylor) - David is a Regent alum and currently arts pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, TX, a very arts-focused church indeed. He's a thoughtful writer, and is working on a book (to be published by Baker) on Christianity and the arts which promises to be very comprehensive (he's been posting outlines of his chapters as he works on it).

Iambic Admonit - this blog! :-)

Modern and Contemporary Poets of Christian Faith - a substantial list put together by a professor of English Literature at Dallas Baptist University

Art Index (aka Art Concordance) - thematic and Scripture indexes of artwork, with links to online reproductions

Movie Index (aka Movie Concordance) - topical index of movies with biblical themes, with links to reviews and articles about each movie

Ransom Fellowship's "Movie Central" - reviews and resources for leading movie discussions that will develop discernment and deepen discipleship.

Arts & Faith (discussion forums)

The Arts & Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films

08 September 2006

Till We Have Faces part two

Read: Jack’s Life by Douglas Gresham. A very sweet, tender bio of C. S. Lewis, by his stepson.
Listened to: Vivaldi’s “Autumn,” favorite Bollywood songs, the soundtrack to “Apollo XIII.”
Watched: The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C. S. Lewis debate God, love, sex, and the meaning of life and World Trade Center.

"Psyche" by Leighton

I said in my last post, “There are two main beauties of Till We Have Faces. One is the ‘big idea,’ Lewis’s mythopoeia,” and of this I intend to speak now. I called it previously “Christian Mythology,” and located it in Part II of this great book. What could I possibly mean by “Christian Mythology?” That sounds offensive to the Truth. But let me try to explain what CSL meant by it.

In Surprised by Joy, he writes that he had been taught, as a child, that Christianity was 100% true, and all other religions were 100% false. When he came to love the poetic beauty of the Norse myths (“Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead!”), he felt his soul moved in a way that none of his early Christian teaching had moved him. Also, during his theistic days, he felt his mind moving towards Christianity, but couldn’t understand the essence of it. Sinfulness, the need for redemption, that he got quite clearly. But he couldn’t, as he put it in a letter to Arthur Greeves, see how the life and death and resurrection of a man 2000 years ago had anything to do with spiritually rescuing people nowadays. Tolkien and Barfield came over to talk some sense—or supra-sense—into him. They reminded him that when he came across the idea of substitutionary sacrifice in a pagan myth, he was not only not offended by it, he loved it and was strangely moved, profoundly affected by something mysteriously and deeply true about it in a way that could not be translated into simple prose. The death and resurrection of, say, Gilgamesh, was beautiful and powerful in its mythological setting. Well, then, said Tolkien, Christ’s death and resurrection works the same way. It’s a sacrifice with all the emotional and psychological power of a myth, but with this enormous difference: it actually happened. The others didn’t happen in history, but they were God’s way of preparing the human soul and imagination to accept it when it did really happen. In other words, God put the concept of sacrifice deep into our spirits so that even pagan writers who do not believe in it feel its power and work it into their greatest poems/plays/etc.

This conversation with Tolkien & Barfield was enormously important to Lewis. A few days later (on 28 September 1931, to be exact) he came to believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. He finally knew how sacrifice works, and he knew it somewhere even deeper than in his intellect, in some place in his soul that didn't have to turn in into a mathimatical proof. In short, he was converted/justified/redeemed.

From then on, CSL e felt that the idea of Christianity as the "true myth" solved the terrible problem of comparative religions—it answered that awful question, “How can your religion be perfectly true and all others perfectly false when they have important bits in common?” It explained to him, in a huge and universal way, the principles of Natural Law (otherwise known as General Revelation) outlined in Romans chapter one. It set him at rest, that he could fully commit his intellect to Christianity and it would actually help him understand the cultural and literary significance of all the other religions and philosophies that stirred his poetic imagination and thrilled his heart.

So he created a perfect myth. Till We Have Faces is one of his last books and, I believe, his best. The very feeling and faith of the pagan religion of Glome is inherent to TWHF. The Cult of Ungit is at once a false religion (“It’s very strange that our fathers should first think it worth telling us that rain falls out of the sky, and then, for fear such a notable secret should get out… wrap it up in a filthy tale so that no one could understand the telling”) and yet reveals true spiritual principles. The poor woman who come with her offering finds calm and peace and comfort in praying to that shapeless mass of stone. The crowds greeting the priest are full of joy. Every poor man and woman in that pitiful kingdom longs for the divine, longs for the comfort and the beauty of the gods.

And Orual rejected it. She became Ungit; ugly in soul, unmendable. She came to “the very bottom”; her nakedness before the gods, the worst and best that could be true. This is the first necessary stage of conversion: abject remorse, bitter horror at one’s own worthlessness, the depth of one’s own sin. At the river, the god told her “Die before you die; there is no chance after.” She needed to be buried in baptism and rise again out of herself. She had turned away from Joy, from “the everlasting calling, calling, calling of the gods.”

But in the very writing of her Book, she finally saw-—while reading out her putrid, mewling, nagging complaint against the gods—-how Truth rewrites all we ever thought we knew, shows us our very “virtues” to be the shabby, tarnished, raggedy things they are—and were, if we could have but seen it.

And the ending is the most Sublime piece of writing I have encountered. This, from a lover of Dante, Wordsworth, The Winter’s Tale, whatever glorious and lofty poems you have to offer. That beauty, however, does not reside (primarily or exclusively) in the words themselves. Yes, Lewis knows exactly what word to use in every case. But he intentionally chose an idiomatic style, an almost blue-collar diction, as it were. Now, in TWHF, that language rises to suit its subject, but it’s still not Virgilian. No, the sublimity comes through the words. And for me it resides here:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

And there is a perfect summary of Christian theology; all you need to know to be saved, yet couched in a pagan story. That is sanctified genius, I believe.

Mom, does that help??

04 September 2006

An excuse for a short post: a great Chesterton quote

Sometimes I think I don't have time to do a proper post so I put it off for a long time. But I miss seeing regular activity on the blog, and a short sweet post is better than none at all.

I recently came across this great quote on Ron Reed's Soul Food Movies blog (his blog is a sneak preview of what'll be in his book, Soul Food Movies: A Guide to Films with a Spiritual Flavour).

"I don't deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet." G.K. Chesterton

Well, I'm not dead yet. I've been meaning to do a post on Christianity and film, and haven't gotten around to it yet, but I figure pointing you towards Ron's blog is at least a step in the right direction.

16 August 2006

Till We Have Faces.

Read: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Very weird, interesting, remarkably visual. Stunningly imaginative.
Listened to: “The Book of Secrets” by Loreena McKinnet, with her perfect setting of “The Highwayman.”

Ah, the good ol’ US of A. Ah, the ugly cities and the lovely farmlands, the traffic and the taxes, unbeautiful accents and ubiquitous jeans, hooray for Walmart’s prices and a sigh for the crimes of capitalism…. Sorry for the long lapse in posting; we have no internet at home, so I have to haul my thoughts over to the nearest public library for a time.

This post is for my mother, who asked me to explain my fascination with and delight in Till We Have Faces . I will try. While writing about my favorite books is one of the many pleasures in being in the literary field, it is also painful. I detest dissecting these glorious works, these worlds of their own that need to be simply, purely, fully experienced from beginning to end as immersion, as universes, as ethical and terrestrial holisms. And yet, and yet… what could be more desirable than sharing the delights of my favorite book? So here goes. Fair warning: I’m going to write this to those of you who have read it, and not stop to explain who’s who and where quotes come from, etc.

There are two main beauties of Till We Have Faces. One is the “big idea,” Lewis’s mythopoeia, and the other is the totality of all the little glories—the incidental or local glories, as it were. I’m going to work backwards, from the minor delights to the major one, because I think this approach will be more accessible. What follows is a list of some of the book’s pleasures. The next posting will be on Christian Mythology.

- The epigraph: “Love is too young to know what conscience is.” The first line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 151, but surpassing that work by as much as Lewis’s philosophy and faith were above the Bard’s. While that sonnet is a chain of carnal quibbles, here the quotation speaks of Orual’s sub-moral love, Psyche’s super-moral love, and the god’s supra-mortal love.

- Dedication: “To Joy Davidman.” TWHF was published in 1956, when Lewis was married to Joy. He says somewhere that she was so involved in his mental processes during the creation of this book “as to be almost a co-author.” Hence his profound understanding of female psychology; hence his heightened awareness of female beauty, both physical and mental; hence the noticeable lack of misogynist comments freely peppered through his other works. Also, I find it endearing that he calls her by her maiden name here—also her pen name throughout her life, I believe—as a gesture towards her youth and her authorship.

- The first sentence: “I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.” Alright, perhaps there is not much prettiness in that sentence, but as a piece of literature it is beautiful. Look at how it sets the tone for the entire first section of the novel; see how it paints a vague historical and geographical context by the mere word “gods”; see how it encapsulates the character’s past and present, age and attitude, faith and heresy? She has not always been old, has been wont to fear the anger of gods. Even now, she still has something to fear from them. But not much.

And do not you fear: I shall not proceed at this pace through the entire book! More beauties:

- The psychological honesty about the human sense of injustice by the gods. Who has not been tempted to say to God, “It’s not fair”?
- The fairy-tale feeling (The Stepmother, a nurse, a tutor, a dark god in a darker house, an agricultural society) infused with emotional realism, peopled by complex, timeless, modern characters.
- The Fox. Wise, stoic, affectionate, stolid, tender, clever, witty, loveable, loving, a seeker of knowledge, a story-teller, a muddled mixture of the practical (“lies of poets, child, lies of poets”) and the fantastical (carried away on the songs of Aphrodite). He thrills to Lewis’s own Joy: “The real lilt came into his voice and the real brightness into his eyes when we were off into Take me to the apple-laden land….”
- The intuitive, experiential understanding of the truth that The Law Kills (but the Spirit gives life….). The smell of “the horror of holiness” hanging around the Priest of Ungit, human sacrifice, temple prostitution, ritual superstition: all these are Old Testament, are Law before Grace. They are the essence of a pre-Christian religion.
- Psyche herself. True beauty. As a newborn, “she made bright all the corner of the room in which she lay. Always laughing, making all others laugh, merry, truthful, obedient, virtuous, spirited, compassionate, selfless. In her was the Form of the Beautiful, “what every woman… ought to have been and meant to be.” The Fox calls her Helen (one of Lewis’s great symbols, and Joy Davidman’s other name): “Terribly does she resemble an undying spirit.”
- The subtlety of the horrors that shattered Orual’s youthful happiness. No obvious catastrophes here: people worshipping Psyche, wars won but won with bad spirit, no heir and no mate for the king. Then famine, plague, drought, lions in the land. Not the troubles that usually upset the settled loves in a young girl’s head, and yet—so real, so true. Then, finally, the worst blow paganism can give: sacrifice the most pure, the most beautiful, to The Brute.
- The unanswerable nature of pre-Christian language, that apes our own diction so closely, yet with such twistings. In holy language, loving and devouring are the same; the Bride is the Brute’s Supper; in a mystery, Ungit and her son are one. Parodies of the Trinity, of the Eucharist, of a believer’s death and resurrection in baptism. And not only that, but the Priest was sure of Ungit. His faith in that vile goddess was unshakable. What’s a good pagan to do?
- Bardia. A soldier’s heart (whatever that means; it works in the stories), full of admiration for bravery and awe for beauty, with complete trust in gods he does not understand. Like Emeth in The Last Battle, he has sincere faith in the wrong deity.
- The psychological perfection of the scene in Psyche’s prison-room on the night before the sacrifice. Orual finds she is being comforted, as if she were the child and the victim, by her calm little, ageless sister. This nettles her. She needs to be needed, needs Psyche to weep and cling to her. Psyche “wastes” time getting Orual to tell her the whole tale of their father’s anger. How often have we found that listening ear and babbled out all our troubles, only to feel unsatisfied because the listener is unmoved by any sorrow and requires no listening in return? Orual accuses her of a heart of iron—because it is strong and unbendable in torment. Like Christ, Psyche says to forgive Redival, for “she also does what she doesn’t know,” and “How can I be the ransom for all Glome unless I die?” Orual has lost her, lost her to something greater which she cannot understand. And she grudges her this joy.
- This Joy. “When I was happiest I longed most,” says Istra, for death. For whatever was beyond the Grey Mountain. It was so intense “it almost hurt me.” “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain—“ or the island, or the blue flower, or the Great Beyond. “The longing for home.”
- Then, the perfection of the moment when each realizes the other’s ignorance of an entire world. When Psyche realizes Orual cannot see her palace; when Orual realizes Psyche sees it right there in the fields and forest. The tension, the shock, the quivering of mind and body with disbelief. And then the rain, the terrible rain that falls on Psyche and she feels it not, and Orual tries to cover and comfort her and cannot. How many moments do we suffer like this? When we are in another realm from those we love, separated by illness or unbelief or misunderstanding or misperception or culture or time or place? Here they are divided by the gods.
- The gods. The West-Wind, a young, rough god. If he touched to hastily mortals would fall to pieces. Here begins the truth, the eternal truths expressed in nature and in story. If Moses had looked God in the face, he would have died. The god who comes to Psyche in the night, who looks upon Orual with “passionless and measureless rejection.”

And there I will cease for today, and another day talk of the great beauties of the second part, and of Lewis’s mythopoeia. They are one and the same, and they are the glory of this excellent book.

04 August 2006

The Gallimaufry Again

Material Shakespeare Class with Dr. Emma Smith

[3 August 2006]
So, I turned in my paper, got comments back, & I'm done!! Off to Stonehenge today, around Oxford tomorrow, Dublin on Sunday, off home on Monday! Meanwhile, here are bits of my revised paper to ponder if you wish; it still needs a little more substatiation and revision....

A Gallimaufry of the Gospel:
Mixed Genre and Biblical Structure in The Winter’s Tale

The structure of The Winter’s Tale bears a remarkable resemblance to the overarching patristic-historical biblical narrative, both generically and topically. However, to an Anglican of Shakespeare’s time, the Bible itself would rarely have been experienced in anything but synchronic, thematic weekly readings chosen from Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels. Therefore, the linear tragedy-pastoral-comedy development which The Winter’s Tale shares with Christian history must have been mediated to Shakespeare through some means other than Sunday services. And indeed it was. While the exposition of typology was a common feature of preaching—interpreting the Old Testament to prefigure the New—a chronological presentation was more readily found in the Medieval Corpus Christi cycles of mystery plays. Shakespeare’s use of a Roman Catholic theatrical form probably implies a desire for the former unity lost in the great schism of the Church, and explains the apparently deliberate involvement of both Catholic and Protestant elements in the play’s conclusion. Shakespeare draws on this pre-Reformation tradition in shaping the tripartite generic structure of The Winter’s Tale, but eliminates central elements of the mystery cycles and any presentation of Christ Himself. This adaptation of Medieval models frees the play from the sixteenth-century charges leveled against “papist idolatry” and reveals Shakespeare’s aesthetic interest in the dramatic power of biblical history’s trajectory.

The question of genre has obtained in discussions of The Winter’s Tale nearly since its publication. Technical or trivial as such labels may seem, naming the play provides a way of seeing it. At the most basic level, a piece of Renaissance drama is already in two “modern” categories: Play and Poem. A playwright was typically called a poet. This particular poem-play is also, according to its title, a “Tale”—a story of wonder and hyperbole. In addition to asking into what generic category the play falls, scholars should also ask why The Winter’s Tale has been so persistently hard to classify. The answer may lie in the fact that it contains within itself three distinct genres that had been related to one another in the Middle Ages but became detached in the Renaissance.

[Here follows a survey of what scholars have said about the genre of TWT.]

The tripartite generic structure of The Winter’s Tale resembles that of the Christian Bible. The play is not, however, a simple Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative. Rather, its development from tragedy to comedy with a pastoral interlude resembles that of Old Testament episodes and the conclusion of the New Testament, connected by a Shepherd’s Play and mediatory Pauline doctrine. “‘A sad tale’s best for winter,’ says little Mamillius, and so the first half of this play is tragic,” writes Wincor; I agree that the first third of the play is compact tragedy. I read the second section as a pastoral Shepherd’s play and the last as a New Testament-style comedy, climaxing (like Dante’s) in a glorious Apocalypse. Therefore, I propose a new genre for The Winter’s Tale: cycle. According to the OED, a cycle is “A series of poems or prose romances, collected round or relating to a central event or epoch of mythic history and forming a continuous narrative; as the Arthurian cycle.” The Winter’s Tale is a series of poetic dramas, each with its own generic qualities, relating closely enough to the central events of biblical history to partcipate in their universal power, but skirting them with enough circumspection to avoid being thrown off the stage. By the time Shakespeare was an adult, the Protestant authorities had banned mystery plays.

[ was the body of the paper, going through and comparing each section with its corresponding Mystery play. Then I talk about the fact that Shakespeare left out Jesus, skipping over Nativity, Passion, and Resurrection. Now here's the discussion of the ending. Spoiler warning: This gives away the very startling ending of the play!]

The statue scene is Shakespeare’s “most vivid fesitval Cure….no greater Cures were ever seen before on any stage. Spring has come at last, and the Mock Death has been succeeded by a joyous Resurrection” and several joyous weddings. A greater Cure had been often seen by the older members of his audience, and they would remember the Resurrections of Christ they had seen, year after year, in Corpus Christi plays, before those were banned by Protestant Reformers and replaced with whitewashed churches stripped of icons. The Roman Catholic associations of The Winter’s Tale have been well documented and persuasviely argued, but the lack of a celebration of the Eucharist (a contentious subject), the Second Coming ending, the multiple (and seemingly irreconciblae) Roman Catholic and Protestant references suggest that Shakespeare has something else in mind than doctrinal polemic. He is reaching back behind the split for a pre-Reformation Medieval Christianity, not for its doctrine, but for its structure and its beauty. “The ‘miracle’ of a statue of a blessed lady coming to life …emerges not as an endorsement of the truth-value of Romanism but as a recuperation of the aesthetics involved in Catholic devotional practices.”

What exactly is the Medieval aesthetic Shakespeare “cures” in The Winter’s Tale? First, it is technically impressive, containing “masque-like scenes and stage effects, “ which he employs with great confidence, not fearing the current mood that distrusts the visual. Happé notes this feature of the mystery plays in addition to its narrative efficacy: “Besides this sturctural power, one must also consider the dramatic strength of many of the episodes. One notices particularly the ability to centre a play on a striking episode which has a power visual impact.” Think of the static, striking impact of the last scene, when Paulina pulls aside the curtain to reavel, as we think, a statue of Hermione. Think of the shock when she moves, when she comes down off the pedestal and embraces Leontes. Second, it is the emotional effect of the story’s scope, its depths, and its heights. “The biblical drama of the mystery cycles,” like The Winter’s Tale, picked out certain narrative of operatic despair and ecstasy, thus conjuring “emotional engagment with its patterns of fall and redemption, judgment and salvation….the thelogical pattern is given thereby an emotional emphasis it would not otherwise possess.” Third, “the effect on an audience is analogous to religious expereince: an act of faith is required for the enactment of the seeming miracle…. [which] is closer to the incarnational religious aesthetic I described as the basis of medieval art.” The sublime feelings the audience might feel at the close of the play are similar to those felt in lofty moments of religious ritual. By calling up these associations, Shakespeare availed himself of all the artistic power of the timeless—and universal—Dying God myth. In other words, the Bible, the Corpus Christi cycle, and The Winter’s Tale are dramas that engage the eye, the heart, and the soul. In The Winter’s Tale, one of his last and longest plays, Shakespeare harnessed the dramatic power of the three-fold genre, making a cycle—and a spectacle—of his own.

~ Admonit

Shakespeare's Grave

02 August 2006

Glen Workshop

I'm in Santa Fe this week, for the Glen Workshop put on by Image Journal. I am discovering some great poets here (Jeanine Hathaway, Thomas Lynch). I have already spent a good deal more than the cost of my plane ticket at the book table run by Eighth Day Books (from Witchita, KS), which the folks from Image call the bookstore from Heaven, and I'd have to agree. It rivals the Regent Bookstore at Regent College, which is my favorite place to spend money. The Glen Workshop is held on the campus of St. John's College, one of the premiere colleges based on the "Great Books" curriculum. It also has a delicious bookstore for browsing in -- awesome selections in literature, philosophy, poetry, etc. OK, so this is an advertising post. I'll have more to say of substance by the end of the week.

29 July 2006

A Gallimaufry of the Gospel

I don't get out much.

Think about it. I've travelled across an ocean and a couple of islands and several countries to get to Oxford, and now the furthest I travel each day is around the block to the library. Then I sit all day in once place, only travelling in my mind. But, O! the places I go!

So I thought maybe I'd share what I'm writing now, little by little. It's a ridiculously massive paper, but it's a massive topic. My biggest concern is whether or not I'm being spiritually honest in what I'm writing. I believe that Shakespeare probably believes it, and that it is possible for someone (me) to make the point I'm making validly from the text, but theologically I'm a bit dubious. See, the conclusion (spoiler warning) is something like:

"Shakespeare’s text is hard to figure out. It has both Catholic and Protestant features. The Bible must be hard to figure out, since 2000 years of debate has not solved the Catholic/Protestant divide. Shakespeare does not come down on one side of these big theological questions. Critics of The Winter’s Tale, like Christian theologians, take the same text and come up with opposite, fully-convinced, well-argued, logical, solidly supported conclusions. This is not to say that there are no correct answers, nor that all interpretations are equally valid. Rather, it is to say that a good piece of writing generates more pieces of writing. Viewing The Winter’s Tale through the literary edifice of the Bible has the reciprocal effect of offering a possible Shakespearean interpretation of the fertility of Church History and the Biblical text."

But I don't believe that the Bible is in any way indeterminate, nor that the Bible equally supports Catholic and Protestant readings. Do you see my problem? But anyway, OK, here's a rough draft for the opening of my paper. I've taken out all the parenthetical citations just to make it tidy; no fear, there's no plagarism in the real thing.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Two Fools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A Gallimaufry of the Gospel:
Mixed Genre and Scriptural Structure in The Winter’s Tale

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.
This is what the ancients were commended for.
—Hebrews 11:1-2

Like any good preacher, Paulina begins the conclusion of her on-stage/back-stage sermon with “It is required / You do awake your faith.” It is a commonplace in Evangelical churches that every sermon must come around in the end to either the person of Jesus Christ or the listeners’ need for faith in Him. But is it as obvious that Paulina—or Shakespeare—is evoking a specifically Christian, let alone Evangelical, or even Reformation, faith? After all, if The Winter’s Tale is a romance, as little to be believed as a fairy tale, its injunctions apply only to the on-stage crowd and have no metatheatrical application or literal religious reference. Furthermore, the play is set in a vaguely Classical time and place, the gods of the Olympic pantheon freely and explicitly invoked. The name of God does not appear anywhere in the play, although “gods” and “goddesses” do. Yet again, Scripture quotations interspersed throughout the text, and allusions to Christian theology, specifically Pauline doctrine and Mariological practices, abound. Scholars’ religious interpretations range from exact, point-by-point Calvinist allegories through comparisons with Catholic practices relating to the worship of Mary and the veneration of images. Certainly Renaissance authors were comfortable functioning in a dual Christian/Classical universe, but it would be poor scholarship to suppose that the specific mixture and organization of these elements in a given work has no significance.

It seems to me that the structure of The Winter’s Tale resembles that of the Christian Bible. The play is not, however, a simple Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative. Rather, its generic development from tragedy to comedy with a pastoral interlude resembles that of Old Testament-Intertestamental Period-New Testament. Internal thematic elements support this reading, which in turn sheds light on the whole question of what faith Paulina requires and which Faith, if any, Shakespeare endorses. Finally, viewing The Winter’s Tale through the literary edifice of the Bible has the reciprocal effect of offering a possible Shakespearean interpretation of the indeterminacy of Church History and the Biblical text.

24 July 2006

A Year of Rereading

To everyone who reads this blog (that's you, if you're reading this): I'd love to have your ideas on this post. Since you're reading this, please comment! We were talking in an earlier post about poetry and other works that bear frequent, even annual, rereading. I'd like to compile a list of works that you read, or wish you read, every year, especially at certain days or seasons. A liturgical calendar, as it were, of literature. Let's not include Scripture in this list, because there are excellent resources available (The Book of Common Prayer, one-year Bibles, etc.) that do just that. So drop us a little note to say what you love to reread, and when.

22 July 2006

Bearing Witness: Christian Poetry in the 20th Century (Part II)

Read: Several poems by W.H. Auden

This post is a continuation of Part I.

W.H. Auden wrestled with the same thing T.S. Eliot did--whether there was any point to writing poetry. I mentioned in Part I Eliot's line in Four Quartets, “The poetry does not matter.” Auden wrote, similarly, in his poem "In Memory of W.B. Yeats," “Poetry makes nothing happen.” He was at a stage in his life when he was beginning to become disillusioned with poetry's role in celebrating the transitory erotic moment or bringing about revolution, but he had not yet found a replacement for these. It was to be another couple of years before he would become a Christian. The remarkable thing is how he ever did become one, in the midst of unlikely circumstances. He was a homosexual, living in Greenwich Village in a house shared with a bunch of loose-living artist types, including Golo Mann (son of Thomas Mann), composer Benjamin Britten (also gay), and Gypsy Rose Lee (a famous stripper). Auden had escaped to New York in 1939 from early fame in England which had been cramping his style. Everyone expected him to be the leading figure of his generation (the phrase "the Auden generation" first appeared in print when Auden was only 27). But in New York, he could make a fresh start and reinvent himself. After a while he started going to church (his housemates had no idea that's where he was disappearing on Sunday mornings). And he finally returned to communion in the Episcopal Church (he was familiar with the liturgy from the Anglican Church in his childhood).

So how did he become a Christian? This was a significant period of Christian renaissance. Auden was influenced by Eliot (who by this time had become a Christian), C.S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, Kierkegaard, and Pascal. An experience in a German movie theatre in Manhattan in November 1939 was a catalyst in his conversion. He saw a newsreel, a Nazi propaganda documentary about the invasion of Poland. The Germans in the audience were shouting "Kill them! Kill them!" At first he thought it was natural for the Germans to want revenge for being downtrodden in WWI, but when he realized the Poles didn't do that, and that such hatred was wrong, it ultimately brought him to Christianity. When Auden converted, he was at the height of his career, and he paid a price for it. The people who had idolized him in the past now reviled him.

Auden's turn to faith helped him to realize a responsibility to others in his poetry, the first glimpse of which had appeared back in June 1933 in England, when as Edward Mendelson writes, "Auden experienced what he later called a 'Vision of Agape.' He was sitting on a lawn with three colleagues from the school where he was teaching, when, he wrote, 'quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly--because, thanks to the power, I was doing it--what it meant to love one's neighbor as oneself.'" (Preface to Selected Poems)

Auden only communicated his beliefs indirectly in his poetry. There is a certain reticence, even in his poems about explicit Christian themes, which makes them more powerfully able to "bear witness" to people who might be turned off by a more outspoken apologetics. I turn to a couple of his significant poems now to give some examples of his post-conversion writing.

Excerpts from "Friday's Child" (In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred at Flossenburg, April 9th, 1945)
[from Auden's Selected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelson]

He told us we were free to choose
But, children as we were, we thought--
"Paternal Love will only use
    Force in the last resort

On those too bumptious to repent"--
Accustomed to religious dread,
It never crossed our minds He meant
    Exactly what He said.


Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again? We dare not say;
But conscious unbelievers feel
    Quite sure of Judgement Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
    And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
    A death reserved for slaves.

When he writes "We dare not say," he doesn't mean Christians, for he believes and recites the creeds at church. He means poets. He felt that poetry was not meant for apologetics. As a poet, he can only make people stop and look at "the insulted face." He cannot tell them what to believe about the man. We are really and truly "free to choose."

Auden's long poem, Horae Canonicae (also in Selected Poems) is so amazing, I hope you'll indulge me as I give it a longer treatment. It traces the events of the original Good Friday of Christ's crucifixion, and also every Good Friday when we annually remember those events, and also any normal day. The epigraph “Immolatus vicerit” (a quote from the poet Venetius Fortunatus) means “the crucified one triumphs.” The poem is organized in seven sections named for the canonical hours of the monastic day: Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline, Lauds.

It begins, in Prime, with the common human experience of waking up, before doing anything sinful in the day. We all share in this instant when "Still the day is intact, and I / The Adam sinless in our beginning, / Adam still previous to any act." But in this section there is already a foreshadowing of what is to come. "This adjacent arm" which the poet "has still to my own" upon waking, becomes "this ready flesh / No honest equal but my accomplice now, / My assassin to be, and my name / Stands for my historical share of... / ...the dying / Which the coming day will ask." The "dying" is Christ's execution.

In Terce, we humans set off into the public world, dividing into our different roles: the hangman, the judge, and the poet. Each takes his own part in the crucifixion, the first two in obvious ways. In the first stanza, there are three abstractions associated with these three roles: Justice, Law, and Truth, respectively. So the poet's role will be to bear witness to the truth. In this transition from bed out into the world, each of us prays to "get through this coming day / Without a dressing down from a superior, / Being worsted in a repartee, / Or behaving like an ass in front of the girls." If we can make it through such hurdles, "We shall have had a good Friday." And yet that last line has a double meaning, for "It is only our victim who is without a wish, / Who knows already...that, in fact our prayers are heard, / That not one of us will slip up, / That the machinery of our world will function / Without a hitch...that by sundown / We shall have had a good Friday." In other words, Christ knows before our day begins that each of us will crucify "our victim" anew by nightfall.

We move on to Sext, which comes in three parts, one for each of the three roles above. In each one, Auden builds up humor and then ends on a serious note. The key word here is "vocation." The vocation of the hangman is to be the "agent" of our victim's death. The vocation of the judge is to be the "authority" to command the death. The poet identifies himself with the "crowd" who are witnesses of the death, as we ourselves are, for "joining the crowd / is the only thing all men can do." And as men [humans], we alone (unlike ants, those "social exoskeletons") can stop our work "to worship / The Prince of this world... / at this noon, on this hill, / in the occasion of this dying."

Nones is the night hour of the day, between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The deed is done, and no sooner done than forgotten. There's a darkness over our minds as well as over the earth. "[W]e are surprised / At the ease and speed of our deed / And uneasy: It is barely three, / Mid-afternoon, yet the blood / Of our sacrifice is already / Dry on the grass." Everyone disappears to wash or eat or return to work, and "We are left alone with our feat." We go back to our hobbies, our "chalk-pit game; stamps, / Birds' eggs..." but they "are not the same." "We shall always now be aware / Of the deed into which they lead." But as long as we are still awake, "we have time / To misrepresent, excuse, deny, / Mythify, use this event." So "It would be best to go rest." But instead of "our dreaming wills" being able to "escape / This dead calm," they "wander instead / On knife edges..." Our dreams torment us because of the deed we have done. In the final stanza, Auden gives us a picture of sleep as a locus for the beginning of healing, redemption. It is when

    ...our own wronged flesh
May work undisturbed, restoring
The order we try to destroy, the rhythm
We spoil out of spite: valves close
And open exactly, glands secrete,
Vessels contract and expand
At the right moment, essential fluids
Flow to renew exhausted cells.

The grace of God to redeem us begins in our bodies, the very flesh we have wronged.

In Vespers, humanity is once again divided, this time along different lines. The poet (an Arcadian by temperament, drawn to romanticize about an innocent past) meets his anti-type, the Utopian (who looks forward to a perfected future). These are two possible ways to respond to the reality of the sinful present. But to focus on either one is to neglect part of the story. We need both. The Utopian can teach the Arcadian that there is no going back to Eden. We must go forward to the New Jerusalem, by way of sacrifice. But the Utopian teaches the Arcadian that the victim must be innocent. Ultimately, "without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand." ("Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin." (Heb 9:22)

Compline is the end of the day, just before sleep. It is the hour when "should come / The instant of recollection / When the whole thing makes sense." But the poet "cannot remember / A thing between noon and three." The possibility of redemption is there, but he still hasn't quite gotten it. Like pagans who try by their "magic cult to propitiate / What happens from noon till three," he still thinks that to atone for his own sin he "Must go back into non-being / For the sake of the equity..." But ultimately, he knows this is not enough. "Can poets (can men in television) / Be saved? It is not easy / To believe in unknowable justice / Or pray in the name of a love / Whose name one's forgotten: libera / Me..." With this prayer, "free me," the poet finally accepts this love which triumphs only through the crucifixion. Now he knows "That [he], too, may come to the picnic / With nothing to hide, join the dance / As it moves in perichoresis, / Turns about the abiding tree." The picnic is Auden's image of the wedding supper of the Lamb. Perichoresis, in theology, means the dance-like interrelationships of the Trinity. And the "abiding tree" is in some sense both the Tree of Life and the Cross.

Finally we come full circle to Lauds, the praise that is offered at the beginning of a new day. The whole section is written in the form of a three-way dance, repeating occasional lines in a sort of half-villanelle. Though we are reconciled to God, the morning cock crow reminds us that we do still crucify Christ again every day. The mass-bell calls us to come to the communion table. The crowd from earlier in the poem are now a "Realm" -- a people joined together under the sovereignty of one Lord. The repeating refrain "In solitude, for company" reminds us that we all have to make our own decision about how to respond to the death of our victim. But in doing so, we are united in company with our neighbors.