Monday, January 30, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1956 ~ When asked in a Newsweek interview about writing free verse, Robert Frost snaps, "I'd just as soon play tennis with the net down."

I remember first hearing this quote by Frost in a college class, and for some reason it has stuck with me. I like free verse, as long as it has lots of other poetic features such as imagery and compression and sound devices. But I have a few students who can't stand free verse (we recently read Whitman) and heartily oppose my assertion that it's still poetry.

They really liked this Frost comment. :-)

Friday, January 27, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1302 ~ Dante Alighieri is expelled for life from Florence when the political group he opposes seizes control.

Every year in 9th grade English, I teach The Inferno, the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy, which he wrote after leaving Florence. And every year, the students are fascinated by this book.

It always starts with the great names of the political parties in Florence -- the Ghibellines, the White Guelphs, and the Black Guelphs (each holding different views on the appropriate power for the pope versus the Holy Roman Emperor). And then they love that Dante assigned his political enemies certain positions in hell.

They're intrigued by the levels of hell that Dante creates -- the visual handout I give them gets lots of attention. The book has memorable characters, chilling and morbidly appropriate punishments, and various sorts of mythological creatures. And at the bottom, Satan resides, not in flames, but in ice. All in all, The Inferno is a memorable, entertaining, and instructive tale of the seriousness of sin, the resulting poetic justice, and the mindset needed in order to conquer temptation.

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
From the straight road and woke to find myself
Alone in a dark wood. How shall I say

What wood that was! I never saw so drear,
So rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear.

Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!
But since it came to good, I will recount
All that I found revealed there by God's grace.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Superbowl is related to football, right?

My students cannot believe that I have nearly zero interest in sports. But Miss Ruffner, how can you not enjoy football?! They produce their great arguments for the benefits and enjoyment of sports. And I do not disagree with them, as I repeatedly tell them. But I personally get no benefit nor enjoyment from watching people run into each other on TV. I will grant that my interest rises ever so slightly when I'm at a live game. Which, yes, is rare.

This week they even tried to convince me to pick a Superbowl favorite based on team colors. Surely, Miss Ruffner, you like black and orange better than grey and . . . . (I can't even remember what the other team's colors are!)

They asked me if I'd ever been to a Superbowl party. I had to think. No, I don't think I've ever been to a . . . oh, wait! Yes, I have been to one! A couple years ago, I went over to my friend Chris's house when she and her husband hosted a Superbowl party. So there.

Of course, Chris and I sat in another room and watched "Pride & Prejudice."
But that's beside the point.

Screwtape on Stage

My Dear Wormwood,
I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties. In the meantime there is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us. One of the great allies at present is the Church itself.
Your affectionate uncle,
Under Secretary
Department of Temptation

C. S. Lewis's creative work The Screwtape Letters, a collection of correspondence from an experienced demon to his novice nephew, is now being performed as a two-person production in New York. I saw an ad this afternoon in the new issue of Christianity Today which caught my eye. The show is produced by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, which has in the past produced dramas based on Genesis and the gospel of Mark. Looks intriguing!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1862 ~ Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome) is born in New York City.

His eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses. He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse was to send them to May instead of the lilies. But they did not look like her - there was something too rich, to strong, in their fiery beauty. In a sudden revulsion of mood, and almost without knowing what he did, he signed to the florist to lay the roses in another long box, and slipped his card into a second envelope, on which he wrote the name of the Countess Olenska; then, just as he was turning away, he drew the card out again, and left the empty envelope on the box. "They'll go at once?" he enquired, pointing to the roses. The florist assured him that they would.

- from Chapter 9, The Age of Innocence

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday Hymn

"Here is Love"

Here is love vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of life, our ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten
Throughout heaven's eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God's mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heaven's peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

That same Love, beyond all measure
Mocked and slain by hateful men,
Lives and reigns in resurrection
And can never die again.
Here is Love for all the ages;
Radiant Sun of heaven He stands
Calling home His Father's children,
Holding forth His wounded hands.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1809 ~ Edgar Allan Poe is born in Boston.

My first experience with Edgar Allan Poe was a movie version of "Murders in the Rue Morgue." I think I was about 7. My sisters and I had planned to sleep outside on the deck that night with my dad, thinking it would be a fun adventure. (The Ruffner girls have never been all that into camping, so, believe me, the deck was going to be adventure enough.) Unfortunately, though, we watched this movie first. It's about a series of murders that turn out to have been committed by some crazed orangutan. Not exactly the sort of comforting movie that inspires you to sleep outside. Needless to say, we never did make it out to the deck that night, all thanks to Edgar Allan Poe and his great ability to terrify!

Edgar Allan Poe was a strong influence on the American short story. He decried what he called "epic mania," the thought that, since America was a large, grand, sweeping country, our literature ought to be large, grand, and sweeping. Instead, he believed that a work of literature ought to be able to be read in one sitting and that it ought to achieve one "effect." In many of his short stories, that effect is horror, while in his poems it is tragedy and sadness. Poe is known for stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "The Tell-Tale Heart," as well as for his poems "Annabel Lee" and "The Raven." Poe's work often focuses on the death of a beautiful woman, testifying to several tragic losses in his personal life. Along with other short story writers during the Romantic period such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe is responsible for raising the American short story to a position of respectability and art.

Monday, January 16, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1599 ~ Edmund Spenser (The Faerie Queene) dies in Westminster, age 46.

In this sonnet by Spenser, the narrator speaks of the power of literature to immortalize, a theme that writers have sounded over the ages.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my paines his pray.
Vayne man, said she, that doest in vaine assay,
A mortall thing so to immortalize,
For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,
And eek my name bee wiped out lykewize.
Not so, (quod I) let baser things devize
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize
And in the hevens wryte your glorious name.
Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sleep: God's Glory and Our Good

How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?

This is the first question posed by the Christian Vision Project, a three-year undertaking by Christianity Today in their magazine as well as in their other publications Books & Culture and Leadership Journal. This question will serve as the basis for a year's worth of articles in these various publications; the successive years will have their own theme question. I receive Christianity Today as well as Books & Culture, and I've loved both articles that I've read on this matter. Christianity Today featured an article by Michael Horton entitled "How the Kingdom Comes," which isn't available online, but which I encourage you to seek out when you're next at Barnes & Noble.

Lauren Winner wrote the first article under this theme for Books & Culture, one entitled "Sleep Therapy" (which you can read online). Winner is one of my favorite modern-day writers on Christianity; her book Girl Meets God traces her journey from orthodox Judaism to orthodox Christianity, and is a book I'm always recommending.

In answer to the question of what can Christians do to be a positive force for good in our culture, Winner suggests that we sleep.

Sleep more: this may seem a curious answer to the question of what Christians can do for the common good. Surely one could come up with something more other-directed, more sacrificial, less self-serving.

She writes that she chose this answer because "many of us trade sleep for productivity," though in actuality that trade-off is more like a rip-off. And unlike a more "grand" answer to this question, the choice to sleep more is within our power this very evening. She enumerates the benefits of proper rest, and argues that submitting to our need for rest testifies to our faith in God's order.

A night of good sleep . . . also testifies to the basic Christian story of Creation. We are creatures, with bodies that are finite and contingent. . . . The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who "neither slumbers nor sleeps."

She concludes the article with a strong argument appealing to the incarnate Christ, who slept while on earth, and wonders if our resolve to go without the sleep we need is more serious than simply neglect - it is, perhaps, a defiance and denial of God's design.

I found this article strong in both theology and practicality (two categories which should always go together). While I do typically get a good night's rest, this article reminded me of why I ought to be getting a good night's rest. It's for the glory of God, and, mysteriously and wonderfully, that glory always has great good for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

1928 ~ Thomas Hardy, author of The Return of the Native (see earlier post), dies in his home in Dorchester at 87. His ashes are deposited next to those of Charles Dickens in Westminster Abbey. His heart is buried in Dorset.

1908 ~ Alan Paton (Cry, the Beloved Country) is born in South Africa.

I read Cry, the Beloved Country for the first time this past fall. I found it to be very moving, and, like other books such as Huckleberry Finn, an effective social critique primarily because it is essentially a well-told story about one person (rather than a social critique masquerading as a novel). Paton was highly influenced by the style and rhythms of the King James Version of the Bible, and, indeed, the novel has echoes of biblical narrative, psalms, and prophecy.

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

1845 ~ Elizabeth Barrett (38) and Robert Browning (32) begin corresponding.

One of my favorite poems from Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:


Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore -
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday Hymn

While I have a great love for old hymns (and am glad to attend a church where we sing many), I'm also thrilled when I discover modern songs that continue the tradition of substantial lyrics. This morning in our "preparation music" (songs we sing before the service officially begins), we sang the following song, written in 2001.

"In Christ Alone"

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Brought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

Words by Stuart Townend

On this day in literature . . .

1824 ~ Wilkie Collins was born in London.

Collins is the author of The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) as well as several other novels. He also had a strong friendship with Charles Dickens, who encouraged Collins's writing. Collins struggled with an addiction to opium as a pain reliever, a struggle that found its way into some of his writing.

T.S. Eliot declared The Moonstone to be "the first and the best of modern English detective novels," and indeed it is often praised as the first British novel to feature a detective. But my favorite aspect of The Moonstone (I've read it twice) is the variety of narrators that Collins uses to tell the story. As the story progresses (the theft of an Indian jewel is at the center of the conflict), different narrators pick up the telling of the story, each with his or her own peculiarities. I think what Collins achieves in The Moonstone is the successful combination of a detective story (which demands brevity) and a study of characters and society (which needs greater length). By using the feature of several narrators, Collins is able to do both.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


I wanted to put in a small plug for Godblogroll, a blog listing founded and maintained by Marla Swoffer, a thinking, young stay-at-home mom who blogs from California. She has her own blog (which is on sabbatical this month), and though I sometimes disagree with her, I find much food for thought and much that I do agree with. A while ago, she also established Godblogroll, a listing of blogs with many different categories of classification (age, location, personality type, etc.). For instance, on the site, my blog can be found listed within the categories of 20s, DC, Evangelical, INTJ, single, and woman. It's a great way to find new and interesting blogs, as well as a place where you might want to list your own.

Friday, January 06, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

1878 ~ Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois

I think of this poem by Sandburg whenever there's a foggy morning.

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

. . . 106 B.C. ~ Roman philosopher, essayist, and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero is born

. . . 1892 ~ J.R.R. Tolkien is born in South Africa

and my favorite . . .

. . . 1882 ~ Docking in New York, Oscar Wilde is asked by custom officials if he has anything to declare; he replies, "Nothing but my genius."