Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday Hymn

I'd never heard this song before coming to Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Hearing this hymn sung by hundreds of strong a cappella voices is an experience to be treasured. I'm hoping we sing it again soon.

Hark, I hear the harps eternal
Ringing on the farther shore,
As I near those swollen waters
With their deep and solemn roar.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!

And my soul, though stained with sorrow,
Fading as the light of day,
Passes swiftly o’er those waters,
To the city far away.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!

Souls have crossed before me, saintly,
To that land of perfect rest;
And I hear them singing faintly
In the mansions of the blest.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!

~ traditional American hymn, arranged by Alice Parker

Friday, July 28, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1844 ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins is born in Stratford, Essex

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

- Hopkins, 1880

Hopkins's diction conveys the vigor and spark and spontaneity that is inherent in all of life. The focused conviction expressed here is that it is Christ, the God-revealing Christ, who is behind and in all of this living. The message is that all this life, this kingfisher- and dragonfly-aflame life, this tumbled stone and harp string and bell-sounding life, gets played out in us, in our limbs and eyes, in our feet and speech, in the faces of the men and women we see all day long, every day, in the mirror and on the sidewalk, in classroom and kitchen, in workplaces and on playgrounds, in sanctuaries and committees. The central verb, "play," catches the exhuberance and freedom that mark life when it is lived beyond necessity, beyond mere survival. "Play" also suggests words and sounds and actions that are "played" for another, intentional and meaningful renderings of beauty or truth or goodness. Hopkins incorporates this sense of play with God as the ultimate "other" (". . . to the Father") -- which is to say that all life is, or can be, worship.

- Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:
A Conversation in Spiritual Theology

Sunday, July 23, 2006

An Emily Sort of Afternoon

This past week while I was flipping through Pages (a magazine about books) during one of my bi-weekly trips to Barnes & Noble, I happened across a profile of a bookstore and happily discovered that it was located in DC (and has been for 20 years). So yesterday afternoon, Jeff and I sought out Chapters: A Literary Bookstore. It was a small shop, one that perhaps might be overlooked since it sits within the shadow cast by a nearby two-story Barnes & Noble.
(Hmm . . . I'm beginning to feel "You've Got Mail" themes coming on!) And while I enjoy Barnes & Noble and happily patronize the stores frequently, Jeff and I agreed that it was quite satisfying to actually be able to browse an entire store in about an hour. And I do mean the entire store. I looked at nearly every shelf in the shop, while sipping a cup of Lady Grey tea (provided for free on a small corner table).

I was interested to check out the poetry selection, since I had read in the Pages profile that the store prides itself on its poetry offerings. And it was in this section that I discovered Visiting Emily: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson. I flipped through it, read a few, and quickly knew I'd have to buy this book. Some samples -- "Emily Dickinson Attends a Writing Workshop" (Emily - Nice language here, but I end this poem feeling confused) and "Emily Dickinson's To-Do List" (Wednesday / White dress or what? / Eavesdrop on visitors from behind door / Write poem / Hide poem). Then in the children's section, I found The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires (I am a mouse, a white mouse. My name is Emmaline. Before I met Emily, the great poet of Amherst, I was nothing more than a crumb-gatherer, a cheese nibbler, a mouse-of-little-purpose.) I was charmed. It was already feeling like an Emily sort of afternoon. I didn't need much convincing to add this to my other Dickinson purchase.

"Emily Dickinson"

We think of her hidden in a white dress
among the folded linens and sachets
of well kept cupboards, or just out of sight
sending jellies and notes with no address
to all the wondering Amherst neighbors.
Eccentric as New England weather
the stiff wind of her mind, stinging or gentle,
blew two half imagined lovers off.
Yet legend won't explain the sheet sanity
of vision, the serious mischief
of language, the economy of pain.

- Linda Pastan, in Visiting Emily

(Yes, I am aware of the irony of blogging about a small and charming bookshop, while at the same time linking the titles to Amazon, which, on a completely unrelated note, I've just learned is now also offering grocery service of all things. Oh well. )

Saturday, July 22, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1967 ~ Carl Sandburg dies at the age of 89 in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

I find Sandburg interesting as a poet primarily in the ways he echoes the themes and style of Walt Whitman. Both men were drawn to Abraham Lincoln (Sandburg wrote a six-volume biography of Lincoln), both saw themselves as representatives of the common working man, and both were experimental poets working with free verse and "unpoetic" content. Sandburg's poem "Chicago" demonstrates these last two aspects well, and I find it to be a good companion piece to Whitman's "Give me the splendid silent sun," especially to the second part of the poem in which Whitman praises Manhattan. I especially like Sandburg's cataloguing technique in this poem.

"Chicago" (1914)
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Films Still to Come

Will Gray at Explorations has posted a wonderful preview of films yet to come in 2006. If you enjoy movies and would like to know what to keep an eye out for in the coming months, head over to check out his helpful previews.

maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

~ E. E. Cummings, 1956

The mystery that is identity is the focus of "Maggie, Milly, Molly, and May"; the four girls are described as who they are by what they find at the beach. The sing-song of the rhyme belies the deeper intent, which is that who we are determines what we seek out in life. What the girls find, in some sense, is predetermined by our own natures, for the objects retrieved are neutral. It is what we see in them that create their value. Or, as the last couplet concludes, "For whatever you lose (like a you or a me) / it's always ourselves we find in the sea."

~ Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, E. E. Cummings: A Biography

(The poem and the biography excerpt were yesterday's and today's entries in my Page-A-Day Poetry Speaks Calendar.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Something for your radar screen

Here's a shameless plug for the fall release of "The Namesake," the movie adaptation of one of my favorite contemporary novels. I still remember discovering Jhumpa Lahiri's writing when I was in grad school (for some odd reason, I distinctly recall taking Literary Research that semester). Her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (which won the Pulitzer in 2000), and her novel, The Namesake, focus on Indian-American immigrants and their struggles to find a new identity while straddling cultures. I can't recommend this author enough. So, read the books, and then watch the movie this fall. I'm hoping the movie does justice to this author's storytelling abilities.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006



O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

~ H. D., 1922

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

They're Back

I first saw them today in Barnes & Noble. They were on a small table looking subdued, but they were there nonetheless.

Then I saw them in Target. They weren't quite so subtle in Target. They took up three aisles in their own special section.

I looked at them with a mixture of horror and delight.

Harbingers of a coming reality.

School supplies.

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1899 ~ E. B. White is born in Mount Vernon, NY

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book Thoughts: I'm a Stranger Here Myself

If you need a hilarious book you can pick up and put down at intervals, here's the book for you. In I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away, Bill Bryson collects the weekly columns (originally called "Notes from a Big Country") which he wrote for a British paper after returning from twenty years in England to live in the United States. This is the kind of book that makes you laugh out loud, prompting passersby to give you strange looks (everyone needs to have this experience at least once).

Bryson chronicles American pecularities and distinctives such as our obsession with rules (I did a foolish thing the other afternoon. I went into one of our local cafes and seated myself without permission. You don't do this in America.), our need for superfluous cupholders in our vehicles (Volvo's engineers had foolishly thought that what American buyers were looking for was a reliable engine, side-impact bars, and heated seats, when in fact what they craved was little trays into which they could insert their Slurpees.), and our unique holidays (It's Presidents Day tomorrow. I know. I can hardly stand the excitement either.).

This is the first book I've read by Bryson, and I'm sure it won't be the last. You can read an excerpt ("Mail Call") here.

Small Change

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" set two records this weekend, pulling in $55.5 million on Friday alone (highest one-day sales ever) and then $132 million for the entire weekend, another all-time high. In some small way, I'm glad that I was able to contribute $9.50 toward history. :-)

Pirates, Full to the Gunwales in Doubloons
(Washington Post article from this morning's paper, in the same section that just four days ago turned up its nose at the sequel.
I love irony!)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Rain, rain, go away

There trudges one to a merry-making
With sturdy swing,
On whom the rain comes down.

To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.

One slowly drives his herd to the stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.

This bears his missives of life and death
With quickening breath,
On whom the rain comes down.

One watches for signals of wreck or war
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.

No care if he gain a shelter or none,
Unhired moves on,
On whom the rain comes down.

And another knows nought of its chilling fall
Upon him at all,
On whom the rain comes down.

~ Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Free and Independent States

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

~ conclusion to the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Monday, July 03, 2006

(Brief) Movie Thoughts: The Devil Wears Prada

Fabulous clothes.

Will make you want to buy a copy of Vogue and read it seriously.

Very enjoyable summer movie.

(Read The Washington Post's glowing review of Meryl Streep's performance as the icy, demanding, and oh-so-well-dressed Miranda Priestly.)

Valley of Vision CD

Why produce a CD inspired by the prayers of a bunch of dead guys?

Sovereign Grace Ministries has a good answer, and I'm thrilled to discover that they plan to release in August a worship CD centered around several of the prayers from The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers which I first discovered in college and have loved using.