Saturday, April 29, 2006

NPM: Meditation 1.8

For my last National Poetry Month contribution, I decided to post a poem by Edward Taylor, a Puritan pastor/poet whose work I first read in college. As is the case with many of my literary interests, my appreciation for this poetry was inspired by a professor's love for Taylor's work. And so I post this poem today with gratitude to Dr. Ray St. John at Bob Jones University and his Colonial and Revolutionary Literature course.

Edward Taylor (c.1642-1729) was born in England and came to Massachusetts in his twenties to pastor a church in a small farming village west of Boston. He spent nearly sixty years in Westfield as the minister and town doctor. And though he was a prolific poet, he didn't publish his work and requested that his heirs preserve but not publish his writings even after his death. And so it wasn't until 1937 that his manuscripts were discovered in the Yale University Library and subsequently published. This discovery of Taylor's work forced critics to reevaluate their conclusions about early American poetry, for Taylor's poems contradicted the idea that Puritans were simply stern and sober. Taylor's poetry - full of metaphors, conceits, and intense imagery - is often compared to that of Herbert and Donne, and now ranks as one of the highest literary achievements of early American literature.

The majority of Taylor's poetry appears in two collections: God's Determinations Touching His Elect and Preparatory Meditations. He wrote the poems in the latter collection at regular intervals between 1682 and 1725 to prepare himself spiritually for administering the Lord's Supper. There are 215 meditations in this collection (divided into two series), each focusing on Christ and His atonement. Nearly all are preceded by a passage from Scripture, which was the text from which Taylor preached his sermon on that occasion.

Meditation 1.8

John 6:51: I am the living bread.

I kenning through astronomy divine
The world’s bright battlement, wherein I spy
A golden path my pencil cannot line
From that bright throne unto my threshold lie.
And while my puzzled thoughts about it pour,
I find the bread of life in't at my door.

When that this bird of paradise put in
This wicker cage (my corpse) to tweedle praise
Had pecked the fruit forbad, and so did fling
Away its food, and lost its golden days,
It fell into celestial famine sore,
And never could attain a morsel more.

Alas! Alas! Poor bird, what wilt thou do?
The creatures’ field no food for souls e're gave;
And if thou knock at angels’ doors, they show
An empty barrel; they no soul bread have.
Alas! Poor bird, the world’s white loaf is done,
And cannot yield thee here the smallest crumb.

In this sad state, God’s tender bowels run
Out streams of grace; and He to end all strife
The purest wheat in heaven, his dear-dear Son,
Grinds, and kneads up into this bread of life,
Which bread of life from heaven down came and stands
Dished on thy table up by angels’ hands.

Did God mold up this bread in heaven, and bake,
Which from his table came, and to thine goeth?
Doth He bespeak thee thus, “This soul bread take;
Come, eat thy fill of this, thy God’s white loaf!
It’s food too fine for angels, yet come, take
And eat thy fill. It’s heaven’s sugar cake.”

What grace is this knead in this loaf? This thing
Souls are but petty things it to admire.
Ye angels, help; this fill would to the brim
Heav'n s whelmed-down crystal meal bowl, yea and higher.
This bread of life dropped in my mouth doth cry:
"Eat, eat me, soul, and thou shalt never die."


Friday, April 28, 2006

"This world will be Troy"

Over spring break I started reading Gilead, which I'm continuing to read even though spring break is now simply a vague memory. It's a lovely and meandering novel; there are no chapters and the plot's not particularly linear. And once you allow your mind to slow down to match the novel's pace, you find that reading a book of this sort is a comforting experience. The narrator is a older Congregationalist minister who's writing to his young son; he tells stories of his past as he ponders the possible significance of his experiences. Early in the novel, Reverend Ames makes a striking observation, one that has remained with me and which I hope might indeed be the case one day.

I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

~ from Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in fiction

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1926 ~ Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) is born in Monroeville, Alabama (and turns 80 today, as she is still living)

I somehow missed To Kill a Mockingbird when I was younger and so didn't read it until I was in grad school when my reading group selected it one month. It was one of those "I'll never forget where I was" experiences -- I remember lying on my narrow bed late at night in the back bedroom of my grad school apartment reading the courtroom scene and knowing that this book would always be one of my favorite novels.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus's lonely walk down the aisle.
"Miss Jean Louise?"
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes's voice was as distant as Judge Taylor's:
"Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1882 ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most influential writer in American Romanticism, dies in Concord, Massachusetts. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, near both Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.

~ from "Hamatreya" (1847)

NPM: I see New Englandly

The Robin's my Criterion for Tune—
Because I grow—where Robins do—
But, were I Cuckoo born—
I'd swear by him—
The ode familiar—rules the Noon—
The Buttercup's, my Whim for Bloom—
Because, we're Orchard sprung—
But, were I Britain born,
I'd Daisies spurn—
None but the Nut—October fit—
Because, through dropping it,
The Seasons flit—I'm taught—
Without the Snow's Tableau
Winter, were lie—to me—
Because I see—New Englandly—
The Queen, discerns like me—

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), #285

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Favorite New CD

On Sunday night, after hearing Derek Webb and his wife Sandra McCracken perform many of their songs, I picked up Sandra McCracken's solo hymns CD, "The Builder and the Architect." She's taken many older hymns from the 18th and 19th centuries and has set them to her own arrangements, ones which allow for full meditation on the words of the songs. She also has a few songs on the CD that she's written the lyrics for. And I think it speaks well of her hymn-writing ability that I have a hard time telling which song was written in 1799 and which was written in 2005. If you click on the link above, you can hear samples of the songs and read her explanations of each song. I highly recommend this CD if you're looking for music that will deepen your enjoyment of God and the gospel.

One of my favorite songs from the CD is "Jesus, the Lord, My Savior Is," a quiet song performed with guitar and cello:

Jesus, the Lord, my Savior is,
My Shepherd, and my God;
My light, my strength, my joy, my bliss,
And I His grace record.

Whate'er I need in Jesus dwells,
And there it dwells for me
'Tis Christ my earthen vessel fills
With treasures rich and free.

Mercy and truth and righteousness
And peace most richly meet
In Jesus Christ, the King of grace,
In Whom I stand complete.

As through the wilderness I roam
His mercies I'll proclaim
And when I safely reach my home
I'll still adore His name.

"Worthy the Lamb," shall be my song,
"For He for me was slain;"
And with me all the heavenly throng
Shall join and say, "Amen."

Mercy and truth and righteousness
And peace most richly meet
In Jesus Christ, the King of grace,
In Whom I stand complete.

Words: William Gadsby, 1814
Music: Sandra McCracken, 2001

Apple + Grape Juice = Fantastic

Today I had a Grapple.
(Which you're meant to pronounce as "Grape-L.")
It's an apple that's been soaked in grape juice.
And it is fabulous.
If you find them in your grocery store, buy them!

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1564 ~ William Shakespeare (whose precise date of birth is unknown) is baptized in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. The proven facts of Shakespeare's early years all come from church documents. The next reference to him will not appear until 1582, when he marries Anne Hathaway.

~ 1731 ~ Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) dies in London.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Do-It-Yourself Education

I'm sure that right about now, many of my students would find this to be an absolutely brilliant idea. I, on the other hand, finished the article and was left with the eloquent question, "Huh?"

"Learning on Their Own Terms" (from the front page of today's Washington Post)

Fairhaven School, in a wooded nook of Prince George's County near the Patuxent River, challenges the assumptions of every public and private school that measures success with test scores and prizes academic rigor. It is an educational anomaly in the super-competitive Washington area: The school day here is unscripted.

Seventy-two students ages 5 to 20 run the school with a staff of eight adults. Students follow no curriculum other than curiosity and whim. Sometimes they seek out a class or workshop, but they are not compelled to take English, geometry or any other subject. Often they just hang. For this, their parents pay $6,680 a year per student.

Is Fairhaven even a school? What is a school?

"The question, too, is what is an education?" replied staff member Mark McCaig. "What is an educated individual?"

Good question.

Odd answer.

Friday, April 21, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1816 ~ Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) is born in Thornton, Yorkshire.

~ 1910 ~ Mark Twain, 79, dies in Redding, Connecticut.

"I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said no doubt, 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks. They came in together; they must go out together.'" - Mark Twain

. . . . from William Dean Howells' eulogy:
"Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes—I knew them all and all the rest of our sages, poets, seers, critics, humorists. They were like one another and like other literary men. But Clemens was sole. Incomparable. The Lincoln of our literature."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

NPM: "The Silken Tent"

Conceit: an elaborate metaphor or simile presenting a surprisingly apt parallel between two apparently dissimilar things or feelings
(The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms)

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

~ Robert Frost (1875-1963)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Word Cloud

Inspired by Katherine ("Does it surprise anyone that "papers" and "english" are keywords?") and Will ("I was pleasantly surprised at this exercise in self-knowledge"), I have also gotten my little blog its very own word cloud.

Get yours here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

NPM: "Delight in Disorder"

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility,
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

~ Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Robert Herrick has always amused me ever since I first encountered his poetry as a sophomore in Brit Lit I. Though Herrick would have far preferred to live a leisurely life in London, circumstances led him to pastor a country church in Devonshire, a time during which he wrote much of his poetry. And while I find his poetry entertaining, I doubt I would have wanted him as a pastor. :-)

"The Puritans would have been scandalized had they realized that this minister of the holy gospel was half a pagan and didn't even have the grace to be ashamed of the fact."

~ The Norton Anthology of British Literature

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

~ I Corinthians 15: 12-23

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I spent much of today with Christa, my former roommate from grad school, who's also on Spring Break this week and came to DC with her family for the weekend. (I think everyone should have Spring Break. The world would be a happier place.)

We started off at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where I was highly tempted by the Shakespeare games, bobble heads, "action" figures, finger puppets, and other fun stuff. :-)

After a lunch of Chinese food, we wandered through the National Gallery of Art (the van Mieris exhibit and then the British and American collections). Thanks for a fun afternoon, Christa!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

~ Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Spring Break Reading & Viewing

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Humility: True Greatness by C. J. Mahaney

MI-5: Volume 3

Walk the Line

NPM: "This Is Just to Say"

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

~ William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Kenneth Koch had a little fun with this poem and has written "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

NPM: "Siren Song"

Here's another favorite poem I first discovered in college. I enjoy hearing familiar stories from the perspective of the bad guy (everything from upside-down fairy tales to The Screwtape Letters), and this poem fits into that category. The three sirens are described by Homer in The Odyssey as half-women, half-birds who live on an island where they sing enchantingly in order to lure sailors to their death.

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can't remember.

Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?

I don't enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical

with these two feathery maniacs,
I don't enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

~ Margaret Atwood (1939-)

Monday, April 10, 2006

NPM: "Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter"

There was such speed in her little body,
And such lightness in her footfall,
It is no wonder her brown study
Astonishes us all

Her wars were bruited in our high window.
We looked among orchard trees and beyond
Where she took arms against her shadow,
Or harried unto the pond

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,
Who cried in goose, Alas,

For the tireless heart within the little
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

But now go the bells, and we are ready,
In one house we are sternly stopped
To say we are vexed at her brown study,
Lying so primly propped.

~ John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunday Hymn

Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So I shall walk aright.
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.

Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me
My poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice
In things both great and small;
Be Thou my Guide, my Strength,
My Wisdom, and my All.

Words: Horatius Bonar, 1857

Saturday, April 08, 2006

National Poetry Month

Since April is National Poetry Month, I plan to post some favorite poems over the coming weeks. This first one, "Palindrome," is a poem I encountered in Poetry Writing, a college class I loved. I don't have a strong interest in science or science fiction, so I'm not quite sure why, but I've never forgotten this poem and it's the one that consistently comes to mind when anyone asks me to suggest an interesting poem.

"Palindrome" by Lisel Mueller

There is less difficulty -- indeed, no logical difficulty at all -- in imagining two portions of the universe, say two galaxies, in which time goes one way in one galaxy and the opposite way in the other. . . . Intelligent beings in each galaxy would regard their own time as "forward" and time in the other galaxy as "backward."
-Martin Gardner, in Scientific American

Somewhere now she takes off the dress I am
putting on. It is evening in the antiworld
where she lives. She is forty-five years away
from her death, the hole which spit her out
into pain, impossible at first, later easing,
going, gone. She has unlearned much by now.
Her skin is firming, her memory sharpens,
her hair has grown glossy. She sees without glasses,
she falls in love easily. Her husband has lost his
shuffle, they laugh together. Their money shrinks,
but their ardor increases. Soon her second child
will be young enough to fight its way into her
body and change its life to monkey to frog to
tadpole to cluster of cells to tiny island to
nothing. She is making a list:

Things I will need in the past
transistor radio
Alice Cooper
acne cream
five-year diary with a lock
She is eager, having heard about adolescent love
and the freedom of children. She wants to read
Crime and Punishment and ride on a roller coaster
without getting sick. I think of her as she will
be at fifteen, awkward, too serious. In the
mirror I see she uses her left hand to write,
her other to open a jar. By now our lives should
have crossed. Somewhere sometime we must have
passed one another like going and coming trains,
with both of us looking the other way.

True friendship

My dear friend and grad-school roommate Christa, who has always been baffled by my love for licorice of any sort, has just sent me Black Opal Australian Licorice.

Now, that's a true friend. :-)
Thank you, Christa!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Less than 24 hours away . . .

I co-lead the Drama Club at my school, and our spring production of Dr. Jeckyll, No Place to Hyde is tomorrow night. The final rehearsal went fabulously, and hopefully tomorrow night will be a success.

Now I just have to get some sleep. Hmm.

Dr. Henry Jeckyll (right) and his servant Chives
(from tonight's rehearsal)