Saturday, December 29, 2012

More Pseudoku

Five, seven, and five:
not really haiku, but still 
a good exercise.

Okay, so maybe I'm not really done with my "haiku" streak.  I feel a little bit sheepish, because I know full well that for the most part, what I'm doing isn't actually haiku at all. It's really just the standard grade-school exercise loosely based on the Japanese poetic form.

But you know what? It's a really, really good exercise.

It was good practice back then, and it's good practice now.

Also? It's fun. It's a great way to gripe about headaches...

When the light show fades,
I know that there will be pain.
For now, it's pretty.

... and to make report card comments more interesting, although I obviously can't share any of those.

Mostly though, it's just a way to hold onto ideas as I struggle to develop them out into essays and sonnets...

Undeserved and free,
grace poured out in the measure
of our own ladles.


Star of bitterness,
glistening with Rachel's tears;
Mage's salvation.


Tears and stories spill
from broken alabaster,
collapse together.

So I keep on plugging at my little game of "pseudoku"--enjoying it for what it is, all the while hoping every once in a while to find

a tiny image,
crafted out of syllables
to trap a thousand words.

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Frozen Trees on the Golf course' photo (c) 2004, Ewen Roberts - license: comes suddenly, whether we're ready or not.
The long waiting and anticipation is over.
In an instant, the water will freeze into place, whether or not we are ready with the lamps to transform the wild wastes into a wonderland.

Christmas comes suddenly, in the midst of all the busy fullness, and we scramble about just to sweep out a stall, gather a few fresh blankets. There is never enough room, but Christmas comes anyway, and for all the anticipation, its gift always comes as a surprise.

May Christmas come to you with its swift and long-expected gladness, making you suddenly ready.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


January, 2001
(everything changes, but somehow it always comes back around again...)

I always seem to think best with my fingers in hot, soapy water.  As the water rinses over the clean dishes, words start pouring through me, and I pause to watch them melt together into now a story, now a harmonic progression, now a poem, as my fingers mindlessly play with the bubbles.  I love college life, but it feels so good to be washing dishes again.  I still haven't found any other context quite so suitable for dreaming.  So as I shape these words, on an un-Arizona-ish-ly cold January evening, I'm washing dishes.  And I'm home.

I went down.  It really wasn't as profound as I had hoped it would be.  I was hoping to hike, strangely enough.  As a child, I always hated hiking.  Every trip was a horrible ordeal, although to be perfectly honest, the hike itself was usually a lot of fun.  It was only the anticipation of misery that was actually miserable.  Dreading hard work sure takes a lot out of you.

It was a bit ironic.  I had hoped and longed and begged and wished to take the helicopter so many times, but almost every time, we hiked.  Eventually, though, I learned to love the hikes.  And sure enough, just about every trip since then, we've needed to take the chopper for one reason or another.

Even when we've only been out for a little two week shopping trip, flying into the canyon is usually bizarre and disorienting. It takes me a long time to figure out where I am, who I am, and what strange world this is.  The hike gives me time to adjust, but when we fly, I always spend the first day back in the village in a bewildered daze.  This time, I'd been away for a whole semester, and much had changed--for me, for my family, for Supai. It should have been much harder than usual.

But it wasn't.  I was home, and everything else was just a dream.  Ida was there; apparently she'd come in on the flight before us.  She smiled at me, and amid the wrinkles and wisdom, she looked just like a delighted little girl.  We shook hands.  For one brief moment I thought that I was welcoming her home.  After all, she was the one who'd been gone . . . right?

After a semester of Plato and Bach, here I am again in this place of Jesus Loves Me, Hot Cross Buns, and Jingle Bells, more than a little off-key, and tiny fingers twining through my hair, covering my jeans with hominy and kool-aid.  After four months of sophisticated dialogue, I am back where life is simple, where everything is stripped down to a few basic truths. After pondering the abstract concepts of food and water and forgiveness and shelter and love and hate and hurt and hope and anguish, here I am again, where they are as concrete as can be.  After working everything out into tidy little syllogisms in my head, I'm back to the place where reality is very, very complicated.  Because this is where it matters.

Just a ways beyond the place where the rubber meets the road is the place where my bare toes crunch through the dust.  This is the place where sky touches earth.  This is the horizon, the age-old now.  And this is where I live.

The light shimmered through a particularly magnificent bubble, and colors danced and wove through one another.  Mom interrupted my reverie, and the bubble popped, leaving me staring at my own hand.

"Oh, Elena.  I know that the textures of the water are fascinating, but if you stand there and dream too long, you'll never get anything done."

So I plunged my hand down beyond the glorious bubbles, picked up the rag and a cup, and began to scrub.

You shall call his name... Joshua

The other night, Andrew asked Willie what Bible story he wanted to hear.

He wanted to hear the story of Lyle.

You know, the friendly Viking.

Because surely any story from Veggie Tales must be in the Bible somewhere...

In the end, Will decided he would settle for the story of Joshua and the battle at Jericho. Daddy sent one older sibling to go find an ESV, and I sent another one downstairs to bring me my Septuagint, so I could take advantage of the language learning opportunity.

It took several kids several tries to find it--it was camouflaged among the encyclopaedia volumes--but eventually we were all settled in. Andrew began to read as I flipped through to the book of...

Iesus Naue.

Jesus of Nun.

On some level, I'd known that Jesus and Joshua meant the same thing, were transliterations of the same name. But it still felt bizarre to read this familiar story, now with the main character bearing the exact name of Christ.

In our English Bibles, the name Iesus shows up for the first time with the announcement of the angel Gabriel, but that's really just a fluke of translation history, evidence that in the Old Testament, we transliterate Hebrew names directly, whereas in the New Testament we Anglicize their Greek transliterations. It certainly wasn't the first time this name showed up in the Bibles of the Gospel writers.

He was to bear the name of the one who came after Moses. The one God raised up to do what Moses couldn't do, and lead them into the promise.

Law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Joshua, the messiah.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Let the Wind Groan

For this there are no words,
but only groanings.
Still, we must speak;
we must speak on behalf of the silence.

Words are wind or of the wind;
explanation is a vapor.

Yet not a sparrow falls
unseen, but the unseen wind
still broods upon our void,
and with deep groanings speaks our silence.

Friday, December 14, 2012


My poems collapse:
no sonnets, only haiku.
Twitter is to blame.

Actually, that's not entirely true. My muses had already traded iambic pentameter for pithy-little 17-syllable fragments.

Twitter just made this wave more fun to ride out, with @baffled's one word haiku prompts.

It's advent, and I'm nesting... it's the time of winter when thoughts turn simultaneously to the fragility and constant newness of life. It's a time of bright solemnity and somber light. There is a time for analysis, and there is a time for simply holding on to paradox. A time for gestation.

Mine is still a very Western muse, but haiku makes for a good container to hold these thoughts as they grow.

Your fluttering heart
pulses blood as red as leaves;
only for a bit.

See what I mean? Incurably Western. Out of all the little 17-syllable poems I've been writing, I'm pretty sure that only one of them is really haiku-like at all.

A small pebble drops.
Ripples slowly fade away
from the still center.

The haiku muses seem to be fluttering away now, and I'm working on some prose and sonnets.

Prose, sonnets... and housecleaning. It's still advent, and I'm still nesting, awash in quiet wonder and anticipation. Waiting in the already-not-yet.

Tremblingly you gasp,
your small damp lungs expanding,
fill with breath of life.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A little perspective before finals week...

'Orange Hibiscus Glow-1' photo (c) 2011, Thomas Tolkien - license:

Valedictory victory of the kindergarten class,
remember that the greatness of your glory soon shall pass.
I'll come along in first grade, and I'll force you to salute;
if I should reign 'til second grade, why that would still be moot.
No one will remember the rank in which we rate,
for other matters matter more when we all graduate.
And if a Tiffany window should adorn your palace bright,
may it remind you of the leaves that dabble in the light.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seek and Find

Like many bloggers, I have fun looking at the different ways readers find this site.

Most of the time, it's pretty straightforward... people were looking for this blog, or for some particular poem. Or for a definition of "iambic pentameter."

So here we go:

Iambic pentameter is verse composed of five-footed lines--poetic pentapedes, if you will. The feet, in this case, are iambs, or pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. "Iambic pentameter" is a good example of a phrase that is NOT iambic, and this fact has caused me to become rather stressed off and on, since it severely limits the possibilities for self-referential sonnets. However, all is not lost, because at least you can use iambic pentameter to describe its decidedly non-iambic rhythm: "The silly thing's an amphibrachic phrase."

At any rate, apparently one reader came here wondering whether or not Genesis is in iambic pentameter... and that set me to wondering, too.

Hebrew poetry uses very different structures altogether, but as it turns out, somebody has indeed translated Genesis into English blank verse.

But I can't really tell you much about it until my copy arrives in the mail.  =)

Meanwhile, I'm going to go look for some nice juicy leaves to feed my new pet pentapede.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Greek to Me

This is an exciting year for Andrew. He has a great group of students and colleagues, and as he digs deeper into the texts every year, things just get better and better.

But as great as the humanities classes are, the really exciting thing is that he's teaching math again--and he's teaching it the way he wants to. He's doing Euclidean geometry with a small group of bright and committed students, and it's the real deal. They're doing real math, the way real mathematicians do it, with nothing  watered down.

It's hard work, and the class is only possible because the students are so committed. It's not the sort of thing you can force anyone to do.

But for those students who really want to do it, in a lot of ways it's actually easier than a standard high school geometry class. Standard classes are designed to accommodate unwilling students--and what facilitates good compulsory education is often very different from what facilitates easy learning for committed students.

I've found this to be true in my own personal intellectual life as well. Sometimes, if you really want to learn something, you can just dive straight into the deep end, and do it. And sometimes when you jump right in, you can do stuff that you wouldn't have been able to do in the gradual, step-by-step way.
Recently, somebody linked to an interesting article on the Loeb Classics and the Hamiltonian method. (Sorry, I can't remember who to thank...) This is essentially what I've been doing with Greek for the past few years.

I can't really comment on the comparative effectiveness of this method versus a standard grammar-based approach. The standard method may get you further faster, and it may lay a more solid foundation. Certainly it provides more opportunities for cheat-proof evaluation. As a busy mother of five, though, I can heartily recommend a Loeb-style quasi-Hamiltonian approach for one very important reason: it's actually possible.

I wanted to learn Greek for a very long time. Every few years, Andrew and I would carefully scheme to  carve out a bit of time each day to sit down together with our textbooks and grammars, but it never worked for more than a few weeks. Life would always interrupt us, and by the time we would get back to the books, we were at ground zero again.

A few years ago, I gave up on all of that, and just started doing morning devotions in Greek. 

It was all Greek to me. I had about a five-word vocabulary from my many false starts, and I (mostly) knew the alphabet, although I went several weeks without discovering that chi and kappa were two different letters. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but every morning I spent a few minutes staring at the beginning of John's gospel. Every morning I got a little bit further, and every morning it made a little more sense.

Meanwhile, the kids and I listened to the gospel of John on mp3 over and over. It was running in the background as we did our chores, ran our errands, until I had it stuck in my head like a song that won't go away.

That way, when I stared at the unfamiliar Greek, I already knew what it meant. The puzzle was just to figure out how it meant that. It started very, very slowly... but it was exhilarating to watch meaning emerge out of the formless void.

Once I became a little more comfortable, it was very productive to follow along in the Greek while listening in English. Eventually, I began carrying my Greek New Testament everywhere, so I could take advantage of this incredible opportunity every time someone read aloud from the New Testament. (Side note: somebody needs to publish a single-volume Koine Bible, because it's rather cumbersome to carry around both Septuigint and NT!)

I'm still a beginner, but Greek is now an important and enriching part of my life, and of my involvement with Scripture. It's also a sustainable part of my life, with steady progress built right into the fabric of my routines. As it turned out, learning Greek didn't require carving out enough time to break it all down step by step. It just required using the time I already had to step out into the unknown and sit with the frighteningly unfamiliar.

There are a lot of special interlinear texts designed for use with the Hamiltonian method--texts in which the word order of the original is rearranged to match the word order of an English translation. I've never used any of these texts, and frankly, it doesn't seem like a very good idea to me. It also doesn't seem necessary. It's okay to be confused. Just do it. This sort of thing can be scary for us grownups, but we have to become like little children anyway in order to enter the Kingdom, so this is just good practice.

I do sometimes use an ordinary interlinear Bible, and that has definite advantages. This allows me to cover extended passages with greater speed, and whenever I'm just quickly looking up a verse or two, this lets me slip in a bit of Greek practice without any extra time investment. It can be easy to slip into just reading the English, though. For the most part, though I find a Loeb-style format to be ideal--the straight original text with easy access to a fairly literal translation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Cyclops gets Skewered

'lit' photo (c) 2008, Bill S - license: an in-class writing assignment, Andrew had his students paraphrase Odysseus' encounter with Polyphemus.

Of course, the teacher had to write one too...


The Blinding of the Cyclops
by Andrew Johnston

With that he over fell, spread eagle on the ground
And round about his lolling head gross carnage spilled around.
Mixed in with wine he spat it up – he barfed it like a bum
Who after begging bought some wine to drink when he’d had done.
“The time has come,” I told my men, “to poke the Cyclops’ eye!”
So in the fire I thrust the stake to heat up like a pie.
And when I read the temperature, my stake, it was well done
So out I dragged the glowing stick while some god made me run
Then in his face we rammed that trunk once lifted to the sky
And round and round we spun, “So fun!” while gunk spewed out his eye.
The process made me think of how a ship is made by men
Who spin a drill bit round and round their civ-il-i-za-ti-on.
A blacksmith with his hammer will hit a metal ax
Till shaped just so he calms it down in ice-brooks’ temper lax
Then steam pours forth with screeching sound from metal hardening
And thus the pierced optic sphere of Cyclops took to wing.

Friday, December 7, 2012

'The Wave At Lower Antelope' photo (c) 2007, Brent Pearson - license: 

You sang to me, your own peculiar throat
once held the throbbing waves of warm moist air.
The gentle rhythms rustled through my hair
and touched my soul; the pulse of every note
grown large and firm, the airy letters wrote
themselves at once so palpable and rare,
filling up the space in which we share
our lullaby, the waves on which dreams float.

But safely hid from these engulfing waves,
you've found a refuge off in exile far,
and I would hesitate to call you back,
except that deep within your winding caves,
your inward flame still burns without a star,
and your cruel shelter holds no want of lack.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More hope, musical saws, and theremins

Here's a completely different take on "Hope is the Thing with Feathers."

 Isn't the earthy, makeshift musical saw bizarrely similar to the high-tech, disembodied theremin?

Somehow these two songs feel like negative images of one another...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti!

It can be a perplexing thing to be a woman--particularly a woman who likes to think.

I'm not entirely sure why that should be the case, but I do know that I'm not alone in my perplexity. Most women that I know have run into these same paradoxes in one form or another.

Christina Rossetti reminds me, however, that my struggles are as interior as they are universal.

Unlike me, Rossetti lived in times when there were real, tangible barriers to women's education. And yet... there she is, with her rich legacy of theological poetry. She chose the better part, and it could not be taken from her.

It would seem that I am bound, not by anything outside of myself, but by my own foolish, Eve-like tendency to listen to all the seductive snake-voices that would try to redefine me.

The solution is found, I think, in the introduction to her commentary on Revelation, in that deep fear of God that makes all other anxieties irrelevant.

"Teach us, O Lord, to fear Thee without terror, and to trust Thee without misgiving: to fear Thee with love, until it shall please Thee that we should love Thee without fear."

And now for a few of my favorite Rossetti poems:

A Daughter of Eve
by Christina Rossetti

A fool I was to sleep at noon,
         And wake when night is chilly
Beneath the comfortless cold moon;
A fool to pluck my rose too soon,
         A fool to snap my lily.

My garden-plot I have not kept;
         Faded and all-forsaken,
I weep as I have never wept:
Oh it was summer when I slept,
         It's winter now I waken.

Talk what you please of future spring
         And sun-warm'd sweet to-morrow:—
Stripp'd bare of hope and everything,
No more to laugh, no more to sing,
         I sit alone with sorrow.


Rossetti asks all the right questions, and she asks them with such honest fear and trembling, that when she finds joy--and she does!--it resonates in my soul with certainty and hope.

A Birthday
by Christina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Emily Dickinson: Hope is the thing with feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I actually like Kenny Potter's easy setting for middle school choir better than the more sophisticated versions professional choirs sing. The music is so full of hope... and feathers. =)

Monday, December 3, 2012


'Night fog lights' photo (c) 2007, Jason - license:


Her hair tumbles down,
loose, outrageous, and fallen.
Strong perfume rises.

The music's too loud
and the beat is seductive.
Fog machine and lights
mingle in the spectacle:
scandalous extravagance.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Starting points

I can't help it.

I'm postmodern.

It's an inescapable fact of location, as profound and mundane as my roots in the deserts of Arizona, my SoCal sojournings, and my current residence in the semi-urban jungles of North Houston.

I'm postmodern.

It doesn't mean I don't believe in truth. It doesn't even mean that I don't believe in certainty and knowledge. It just means that I live in the year 2012, and the jig is up for modernism.

That's okay. It never was a very good foundation anyway.

But Jesus is the same in every age, and his truth stands above the lies, confusions, and blind spots of every generation.

And I'm so glad for the ancient witness of people like St. Augustine, who can help us understand what it means be earnest truth-seekers and disciples of Jesus... even though we can't be modern.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Neither to the right nor to the left

'Breithorn path' photo (c) 2006, Martin F - license:
The slope is slick on either side,
and leaves no feeble hope to hide;
you ever, always must decide,
        or fall.

For hard and narrow is the way,
and on each side the wide wastes lay;
at times the climb is just to stay
        at all.

There is no safety over there;
truth stands exposed in the mountain air,
and always, if you don't take care,
        you fall.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Robert Frost: Not to Keep

"Genuine poetry communicates before it is understood." --T. S. Elliot

Of course, Elliot was talking about the reader's experience over multiple readings, but that idea is actually embedded in the structure of this Frost poem.

First he gives us an experience; only then, and only slowly, does he tell us what he's talking about.

He doesn't just tell us about the bewilderment. He forces us to become bewildered as well. That way, whether or not the rest of our life experience prepares us to empathize with the characters, we can actually share in this one little aspect of their emotions.

We know what it feels like not to understand. Because we have read this poem.

Not to Keep
by Robert Frost

They sent him back to her.  The letter came
Saying. . . . And she could have him.  And before
She could be sure there was no hidden ill
Under the formal writing, he was there,
Living.  They gave him back to her alive--
How else?  They are not known to send the dead.--
And not disfigured visibly.  His face?
His hands?  She had to look, to look and ask,
"What is it, dear?"  And she had given all
And still she had all--they had--they the lucky!
Wasn't she glad now?  Everything seemed won,
And all the rest for them permissible ease.
She had to ask, "What was it, dear?"
Yet not enough.  A bullet through and through,
High in the breast.  Nothing but what good care
And medicine and rest, and you a week,
Can cure me of to go again."  The same
Grim giving to do over for them both.
She dared no more than ask him with her eyes
How it was with him for a second trial.
And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.
They had given him back to her, but not to keep.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


You are her daughters,
adorned in lamblike silence.
Let God be the judge.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not as the gentiles: with you the last is first;
with you no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free,
and even heaven's angels are accurst
if they would preach salvation differently.

For faith, by hearing, enters like a child,
here where the poor and hungry are the blessed,
delighting in the joys of the reviled;
here honor's in the marks of the oppressed.

So not of soaring visions, but the boards,
splintered and broken from the ruined ship
to which you clung—boast; and of the cords
that bound and lashed, the crowning thorns that rip
your flesh, the sword that wounds your side;
boast in Christ's shame, and in his glory hide.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Christina Rossetti: Windflowers

There is something very courageous about Christina Rossetti's unflinchingly whimsical innocence. Her poetry is wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove, and somehow even when she is not dealing with explicitly sacred subjects, I see the spirit of Christ in her poetic sensibilities. 

by Christina Rossetti

Twist me a crown of wind-flowers;
That I may fly away
To hear the singers at their song,
And players at their play.
Put on your crown of wind-flowers:
But whither would you go?
Beyond the surging of the sea
And the storms that blow.
Alas! your crown of wind-flowers
Can never make you fly:
I twist them in a crown to-day,
And to-night they die. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beer Lahai Roi

Understand, dear child, that to be understood
is good, but rare; beware, it could
if you care, lead you wild through the desolate wood,
and there lies the way of despair.

As sunlight grows the glistening green
leaves, and leaves the space between,
be content but to be seen
by the one who sees, and who is, good.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Haiku: Burnt

Smoke of jasmine rice
like incense wafts through the house.
Fragrance will not feed.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

John Donne: Witchcraft by a Picture

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
    Pity my picture burning in thine eye,
My picture drowned in a transparent tear,
    When I look lower I espy;
        Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marred, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform thy will?

But now I have drunk thy sweet salt tears,
    And though thou pour more I'll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish fears,
    That I can be endamaged by that art;
        Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.


I love how Donne seems always to be in perfect control of the force of his words.

The first stanza is like a hammer.  The unrelenting rhythms drive home the meaning, reinforced by intense internal word play.  It's compellingly creepy, and reminds me a bit of Poe.

But then those last lines completely fall flat. The rhythm is off, the rhymes are trite, the grammar is strained, ambiguous, and redundant.

I don't believe him, and I don't think he does either.

But of course that's the whole point.

Maybe its true, maybe it isn't... who cares?  He's gone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goldiblox and the 30th Spenserian Sonnet

I was reading some of Spenser's Amoretti this morning. But first a lovely little something I just saw on facebook.

I know. I'm distractible. But it relates... really.

Last night, as I folded the mountain of laundry, I listened to a lecture from my alma mater on the difficulty of communicating absolute truth in a media-saturated age.

 Images, you see, are more about feelings than about truth. You can't argue with an image.

Actually, you can argue with an image... it just takes work. A lot of work.

(Our family makes a hobby of analyzing billboard imagery as we drive around. I highly recommend the practice, both for entertainment value, and the opportunities to discuss important stuff. But I digress from my digression.)

Surrounded by powerful images, we've become a culture driven by emotions divorced from reason, and that has led to all sorts of appalling troubles.

But here's the weird thing: I could have very easily flipped over to another section of the archives, and listened to a lecture on scientism, and the way in which our culture has become obsessed with reason divorced from any overarching story.  That's true, too, and it's contributed to the exact same problems.

Our trouble isn't too much emotion or too much reason. Our trouble is that reason and emotion are no longer on speaking terms.

That's why I care so much about poetry. Thinking hard about feelings, feeling deeply about ideas: this matters. It matters a lot.

So I press on with my sonnets, hoping to contribute my own tiny scrap of thread toward the patching of this gaping tear. Goldie Blox is a stitch of a completely different sort, and I'm so very happy to see it.

And now for the Spenser sonnet that I was intending to share in the first place. The moment Spenser describes is perhaps nearly universal, but as he points out, it is really rather strange and unnatural. It's also (hopefully) brief. Opposites really do attract... but it's so that they can moderate one another. Otherwise, it's very, very miserable--and fodder for good poetry, of course.

That's the other reason why poetry matters. There's no experience so miserable that it can't be turned to good use in a poem. =)

(I hope you don't mind, but I've taken the liberty of updating the spelling a little bit. I do realize that Spenser wanted to be archaic... but I think that by this point he's probably old enough to be archaic without even trying.)

Sonnet XXX
by Edmund Spenser

My love is like to ice, and I to fire;
    how comes it then that this her cold so great
    is not dissolv'd through my so hot desire,
    but harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
    is not delayed by her heart frozen cold:
    but that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
    and feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told
   that fire which all thing melts, should harden ice:
   and ice which is congealed with senseless cold,
   should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
   that it can alter all the course of kind.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sonnet for Baby Elizabeth

For a time, the swing will replace the overlapping
rhythms of her mother's breath and blood.
In time, her own rhythmic breath, her own heart's tapping
will be enough, unfolding as the bud
of rosy lips expands, contracts to hold
the words to frame the undulating dawn,
the wavelike rhythmic seasons, and the cold
salt-drenched tides of the moon. When her mother is gone,
these maternal rhythms will comfort her still,
soothing her asleep, awake, in turn
cradling her tenderly until
blinking and reborn at last, she'll learn
that the world itself's a small, reflective thing,
with the fleeting, surrogate sweetness of an infant's swing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Scarecrows

'There Are No Scarecrows Down This Lane' photo (c) 2012, Tim Green - license: of the most famously deceptive rhetorical moves is known as the straw man argument. You know the drill: misquote your opponent as saying something really silly, and then debunk the silly idea that nobody ever believed in the first place.

If allowed to stand, straw man arguments can quickly turn any discussion sour and unproductive, so it's a good thing that people tend to be on guard against them.

But this can lead to a bizarre dilemma.

Sometimes people really do say silly things.

Sometimes people try to say perfectly sensible things, but end up saying silly things anyway. (I do this one all the time!)

And sometimes people say things that sound perfectly sensible and even obvious in one context, but start to sound pretty silly when you put them in a different context.

All of these situations deserve (demand!) serious dialogue. Silliness needs to be refuted, misunderstandings need to be cleared up, and ideas need to be examined in all their relevant contexts.

But in each of these cases, anything you say can be instantly dismissed as a straw man argument. And that's a problem.

Mary Kassian's review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a good case in point. Kassian laughs at the selection of books from which Evans quotes, but whether or not she happens to agree with them, each of those books has been very influential. Not all of the books cited were silly or extreme, either. It's been a long time, but I seem to remember getting a lot of good encouragement and insight out of The Hidden Art of Homemaking. Agree with her or disagree with her, Edith Schaeffer is not made of straw. She is a real woman, and her work has had an important influence on today's complementarian thinkers.

I think that Evans' selection of source material is quite defensible, but be that as it may, the book did not depend upon those particular choices. She could have written her (sweet, winsome, and uproarously funny) chapter on domesticity just fine without quoting from anyone but Mary Kassian.

Of course not all complementarians believe the ideas that Evans plays with.  It's quite possible to affirm every word of the True Woman Manifesto without believing that "God gave women a unique responsibility to create and maintain a welcoming, nurturing home environment."

But Mary Kassian does believe that. She doesn't hold to the more extreme views, but that much she does affirm.

And Rachel Held Evans disagrees with her.

So let's pull out our Bibles and examine the issues carefully, diligently seeking after truth. And leave the straw (wo)men out in the cornfields where they belong.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On taking Genesis seriously

I'm not sure why (the Platypus might know), but for some reason that's probably traceable back to some German philosopher a few hundred years ago, we have a habit of using the words "seriously" and "literally" as thought they were interchangeable. It's a bad habit, because we desperately need both words for their own separate and important purposes. It's annoying enough in sloppy casual conversation, but my head doesn't literally explode until we start talking about Biblical interpretation. That's where this problem can cause some serious confusion.

Sometimes we can get so worked up over whether or not to take the Bible literally, we forget to ask ourselves whether or not we're taking it seriously.

I like young-earth creationism. I think that would be pretty cool, and I'm firmly convinced that when God makes stuff, He does so with maximal awesomeness. As for the scientific evidence, I really haven't studied it enough to say one way or another. I admire those who inquire, but I have duties and vocations enough of my own, so for now I'm just going to have to withhold judgment. After all, "smart people say so" may be a sound basis for practical decision-making, but it certainly isn't a very scientific attitude.

But the whole debate feels a little bit like speculating about whether or not John is still sitting on the Island of Patmos, growing a very long beard while he awaits the second coming. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't. The only thing we really know for sure is that the very question misses the point. 

Maybe creation unfolded in seven 24-hour days. That would be cool. But I'm utterly convinced that the Bible isn't trying to tell us one way or another.

Why? Because I believe that Genesis is the inspired Word of God. If these are the words that the Holy Spirit wanted to use to communicate with us, then it follows that these words must be exactly the right words to convey their intended meaning.

But if God wanted us to know the details of natural history, these are confusing words. If He wanted us to know the time-table on which he made the heavens and the earth, I'm not sure why He gives us the story twice, but with different sequences. Of course it's quite possible that some complicated scenario might account for both chronologies... but I just can't shake the sense that if that was the point, I probably could have come up with a better way of communicating it.

Whatever else it may or may not do, though, the Genesis creation account provides us with unimaginably rich and powerful insight into the nature of God and His creatures. It tells us what it means to be human, and it does so with better words than anyone else has ever come up with for the purpose.

And even just on a practical level, the (very clear and powerful) poetry matters a whole lot more than the (fuzzy and confusing) literal chronology. I don't really need to know when exactly it was that God created the sea monsters, or how long it took. But the fact that God made them changes everything. Every agent of chaos in my life is God's creature, and is under His sovereign control, possessing only as much power as He chooses to grant them. That's something that changes the way I live.

I don't need to know how many hours there were in the days of that first creation, but I desperately need to remember that there is evening and there is morning, and that God created them both. He separated them and named them and said that it was good. The dark night of the soul is not hidden from God. It is part of His distinctive workmanship, and even the blindness of my perplexity is for his glory, as the one who created me makes me anew.

God creates with the Word, effortless and instantaneous. The progressive stages of God's work are not the result of difficulty, but are rather an integral part of His revelation. Time itself and the fullness thereof was created to be an image of God's eternal rest. Man is the pinnacle of creation, but he is not the point. The whole poem revolves around the seventh day, around God's holiness and rest.

Over and over, God creates and separates, gathers and fulfills, and this beautiful and profound poem contains the template both for the grand sweep of salvation history, and for the unfolding of God's work in individual hearts. So law came through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ. We see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face, in that day beyond time when we enter into rest.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veterans Day Links

'lest ...' photo (c) 2010, jenny downing - license: poetry on NPR.  Good stuff.

I like Malcom Guite.  A lot.  This sonnet is haunting.

Sarah Bessey's words work their way into your soul, wounding and healing and singing.  This essay is no exception.

More good stuff from the Poetry Foundation


'Oak and Mustard' photo (c) 2012, John Morgan - license:

The ears to hear, unfolding ripe with grain,
emerge now from the green and tender blade.
The mustard seed, grown rich with leafy shade,
shelters those who, faithful through the pain
of want and hunger, waited for the rain
and sun in season, as seeds die unafraid,
silent in the ground where they were laid;
so abide, and truth will be made plain.

The search for wisdom, wisdom's choicest fruit,
without its final end cannot begin.
What is shall be, and vastly multipled,
as spreading branch and penetrating root
unfold now from the life unseen within
with power to reveal and power to hide.

Friday, November 9, 2012

On books and their covers

After all the provocative marketing, the book finally came out.  You know--the one about the lady who took the Bible literally for a year to make fun of its teachings to women.  Predictably, the internet is all in a tizzy.

When I read the book, though, I was in for a huge surprise.  As a matter of fact, there was such a big difference between the marketing and the actual product that I might have been tempted to ask for my money back, if the book itself hadn't been so unexpectedly lovely.

I'd been led to expect a book in which Rachel Held Evans deconstructed the Bible.  Instead, I found a chronicle of the year in which the Bible deconstructed Rachel Held Evans.  I also found a bracing challenge to let the Bible reinterpret my own soul.  To take it seriously, even when it says hard and scary things.  To trust it enough to really listen.

From the introduction and conclusion, it looks like she really did intend to write the book as it was marketed... but that the writing of it changed her.

Good writing always does.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Sometimes the afternoon light
pours its balm into my soul
like the orange that yields its fragrant, sharp vitality:
tiny jewels that burst between my teeth
as joy flows down my throat.

I rise, refreshed, and gather up the peels,
inhaling their still-pungent savor.
With a sigh, I drink the fading scraps of light,
all that remains of the day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

John Milton: Psalm 136

Whether this morning finds you joyful or sorrowing, Jesus is Lord.  He alone can protect us from our enemies and provide for our needs.

May God grant President Obama great wisdom as he leads our nation over the next four years.

And may God grant us all the grace to trust only in His mercy.


Let us blaze his name abroad,
For of gods he is the God;
    For his mercies ay endure,
    Ever faithful, ever sure.

All living creatures he doth feed,
And with full hand supplies their need.
   For his mercies ay endure,
   Ever faithful, ever sure.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


At the dawn of time, there was the Word,
the life which was the breaking light of day.
His voice we've seen, his very flesh we've heard,
he makes the shattered shadows break away.

God have mercy on us all, a man
was born: not the light, and yet a light,
not the Word, and yet a voice,
drenching and drenched in the desert streams
to prepare the path of dawn.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Pied Beauty

'to shout' photo (c) 2009, andy li - license: part of his dream teaching lineup this year, Andrew has been going through Augustine's Confessions with his advanced Latin students.  As a result, we've been having a lot of great discussions about philosophy of time--mostly in the kitchen, while Andrew does something productive, and I . . . attempt to do something productive.  My attempts at multi-tasking never go quite as well as I hope, mostly because I can't talk without using my hands any more than my father ever could, and so dinner ends up being rather late. There's nothing like talking about time to make you lose all track of it.

I love how Augustine's philosophy of time is all shot through with aesthetic wonder, and bursts forth in worship.  But while Augustine lays out his theory of time in a frenzy of sophisticated mental motion, Hopkins presents his in the serene stillness of a few homely images.  This is either profoundly ironic or profoundly fitting--I'm not sure which.  In any case, I'm intrigued by the idea that dappled-ness is something that can be displayed in either space or time.  In this model, change is not a property of time, but rather a property of "fickle, freckled" things--opening up all sorts of possibilities for God's relationship to space-time.

This poem leaves me wildly euphoric at the prospect of all the thinking that there is to be done, but at the same time calmly joyous in the certainty that right now, it's time to close up the laptop and go make some bread.  It's the sort of thinking about time that inspires me to want to learn to live well and contentedly within the rhythms of my changingness.

It's just the sort of thing a girl like me needs.

Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things--
  For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
            Praise him.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Leonardo, Lady Antebellum, and the power of ambiguity

True confession: I get unreasonably happy every time Lady Antebellum's pop/country hit 'Need You Now' comes on the radio.  There isn't a whole lot to the song, but it's utterly perfect for what it is.

It's a narrative song, or at least an implied narrative, but all the particularities have been stripped away, leaving nothing but the painfully common situation of a late-night phone call to an ex.  Not everyone has actually been in that situation, but I think that most of us at least know somebody who's been there.  The song allows space for the listener to flesh out the characters from their own experience, and it doesn't supply any details that could contradict whatever faces or personalities come to mind.

As a matter of fact, the details are even more universal than the storyline:

"Picture perfect memories scattered all around the floor..."

"It's a quarter after one, and I'm all alone..."

"I wonder if I ever cross your mind..."

Instead of specifying the unique characteristics of this particular situation, the song fleshes out the universal human experience of time, memory, and loneliness.  The universally shared nature of these experiences is what forges a re-connection between the two estranged lovers; it also forges a connection with the listener.

As for the specifics, when they are supplied by the imagination, they're actually alive.

I enjoy the song for its own sake, but what makes me positively giddy is the reminder that poetry, too, can participate in the techniques that Leonardo used to make the Mona Lisa so compelling.

Every time you look at her famously mysterious smile, she seems to have a different expression.  This is because in this richly detailed portrait, Leonardo very carefully painted the corners of her eyes and mouth shadowy and ambiguous.  The viewer's mind must supply her precise expression.  Hence, the image that we see is always changing, and always strikes a deep chord.  She looks alive, because we're really seeing a projection of our own living souls.  Leonardo's genius was in compelling the viewer to see much more than he actually painted; much more than it would be possible to paint.

I tried to play with this effect in my poem about leaving the hospital.  My goal was to leave enough ambiguous space for the reader to fill in the specifics, while providing enough detail to make the total picture as vivid as possible.

The concept initially came to me while praying for a friend, upon hearing that she was at the hospital with an unexpectedly dying loved one.  While there's no such thing as an easy time for a tragedy, it struck me as particularly awful that this would happen at a time so full of other transitions.  As I prayed for peace amid all the painful changes, an image came to my mind of her walking out of the hospital.

I thought of the disequilibrium that I experience every time I leave a hospital. Whether I have been ill, or have had a baby, whether I am visiting a loved one, or one who I wish that I had loved better, walking out of the hospital is always the same experience, and it always leaves me feeling a little bit dizzy.  Always, I am alive, and always, that fact is suddenly bewildering.

So I wanted to write a poem that was not about any one particular hospital-leaving experience, but which could evoke memories of all sorts of different such experiences.  And I wanted to do it with nitty-gritty sensory experiences, rather than with philosophical abstractions.

As it turns out, that was much easier said than done.  As I tested it out on friends and family, I discovered that a lot of the details that I'd picked out weren't really universal at all.  Green vinyl plays a big role in my hospital memories, but that didn't strike chord with anyone else.  However, as my mother pointed out, every hospital really ought to have sleek white floors... and that image has more poetic possibilities, anyway.  =)  This poem ended up requiring more editing than any other I've ever written--and I may go back and rewrite yet again, based on your feedback.

In any case, whether or not this poem ever achieves its intended effect, the writing process itself was very much worthwhile.  It allowed me to redeem all sorts of intense experiences, and also to clarify my poetic vocation.  By painting the universal while leaving space for ambiguity, poetry can make empathy possible for the reader, and safe for the writer.

And that's something that's worth a lifetime of rewrites.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eye of the Camel

Is there a slow renunciation,
drop by drop a long oblation,
without a hope of consecration--
without the treasures of the poor?

Can there be a long slow threading,
full with waiting, long with dreading,
camel's eye each tear-drop shedding--
without the treasures of the poor?

The choosing must be swift, complete,
though stiff and slow may be the feet
which we compel to seek the sweet
rich treasures of the poor.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A meditation on Mark 10

Good master, grant us what we ask, though blind,
and grant us not to see until you heal
and open up our eyes that we may find
the space to enter--only if we kneel--
into the sharply pointed binding truth;
but hear us now, poor camels, blind, uncouth.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


After the echoes
of the sleek white floors
the disinfected smells
and the semi-rhythmic beeps
have melted in a blur of sliding glass
and you are standing on the sidewalk
blinking at the snap-dragons
and decorative grasses
around a round-a-bout
where a car is waiting
for you
although (like grief)
spring comes and goes
too soon
you cannot help
but start to feel
that you
might after all
be something that's alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Robert Frost: The Tuft of Flowers

Yesterday I poked around Bible Gateway a bit, trying to trace the history of that unexpectedly delightful word choice in the CEB.  As far as I can tell, the only other major translation to use the word "passion" in this context is the NLT.  (Interestingly, this word choice did not originate in Kenneth Taylor's original Living Bible, which uses the milder word "concern.")

I'm pretty sure that the word "passion" isn't going to connect the dots for anyone who isn't already thinking about the crucifixion, and for anyone who is... well... "zeal" works just fine, as does "fervor."  This bit of poetic loveliness serves no practical purpose; it's not going to change anyone's understanding of the text.  It is simply and solely a wordsmith's quiet act of worship, and coming along behind, it's a privilege to enter into that joy.

All this reminded me of Frost's poem about the unseen mower...

The Tuft of Flowers

by Robert Frost

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a ’wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hidden treasure in the Common English Bible

It absolutely made my day to read John 2 in the CEB.  "Passion for your house consumes me."

Passion.  It's a good word.  A nice, strong, ordinary word that means roughly the same thing as the archaic anglicized Greek word  "zeal."  As such, it's a solid translation choice.

But it's more than that.  In a subtle, quiet, inconspicuous way, it's also brilliant.

I don't know about you, but when I think of "the zeal of Christ," I think about the cleansing of the temple.  When I think of "the passion of Christ," though, something else comes to mind. The same thing, in fact, that came to the disciples' minds.

The Psalm John quotes isn't just about a passion that consumes him internally, but rather about a passion that consumes him externally--a passion that attracts persecution. The psalmist's enemies sought to destroy him precisely because of his fervor for God's house, and the same was true for Jesus.

John's account of the temple cleansing is a puzzle for harmonizers of the gospels.  In the synoptics, the temple cleansing comes at the end--the last straw that finally gets him crucified.  John tells this story near the beginning of Jesus' ministry, right after the wedding at Cana. 

Here's the strange thing, though:  in John's gospel--the one gospel that doesn't chronologically link this event with the crucifixion--the whole point is that this action got him crucified.  The synoptics draw out the reasons why Jesus was angry, the cheating and the disruption.  John leaves all that tacit, though, and simply talks about Christ's death and resurrection.  "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again."

I suppose that it's logically possible that Jesus cleansed the temple twice--but given the unique focus of John's account, I read the temple cleansing as a careful and intentional flash-forward.  I suspect that John assumes that his readers are already familiar with the chronological placement of this event, and he wants them to understand the wedding at Cana (" hour has not yet come...") in light of that context. Even the heavily time-laden transition between between the two scenes is richest when read as a reference to the brevity of Jesus' entire earthly ministry.  Jesus stayed present in Capernaum with his mothers and brothers and disciples, but not for many days, because the passover of the Jews--the Passover of the Jews--was near at hand.

Be all that as it may, it's clear that one way or another, when John talks about Jesus' passion in 2:17, he also wants us to be thinking about His Passion.  It delights me that there would be a single English word that could simultaneously refer to the one concept, and hauntingly suggest the other.  I'm not sure which delights me more--the lovely serendipity of language, or the sense of kinship with the modernday disciple-wordsmith who recognized "passion" as exactly the right word for that spot.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Like so many grains of sand
the little lights to mark the times
have slipped through the glass one by one.

Tonight I will number the stars,
divide them among my children,
and look back on ages spent.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Christina Rossetti and the humor of tragedy

I've been mulling over the serious power of humor lately, ever since hearing Tig Notaro's amazing comedy set on This American Life.  Just to warn you, the other segments of the show aren't necessarily for the faint of heart, but the Tig Notaro part comes first, and it is precisely for the faint of heart.  It's for those of us who need a little bit of encouragement and help in order to look pain square in the face, and live well anyway.

Somehow I always thought that humor was for "cheering up" and for distraction.  It certainly can be, and that's fine, but it's not the highest or most important use of humor. The best humor, as it turns out, is all about courage and truth.

And now for a sobering little funny from Christina Rossetti:

A handy mole who plied no shovel
To excavate his vaulted hovel,
While hard at work met in mid-furrow
An Earthworm boring out his burrow.
Our mole had dined, and must grow thinner
Before he gulped a second dinner,
And on no other terms cared he
To meet a worm of low degree.
 The worm turned on his blindest eye
Passing the base mechanic by;
The Worm entrenched in actual blindness
Ignored or kindness or unkindness;
Each wrought his own exclusive tunnel
To reach his own exclusive funnel.

A plough its flawless track pursuing
Involved them in one common ruin.
Where now the mine and countermine,
The dined on and the one to dine?
The impartial ploughshare of extinction
Anulled them all without distinction.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Wait, when you wish with the tigers so wet
to swim with the sure sweet strokes of the sun
that streak down soft as a song when they set;
with the sleek stripes of fire in the sky you will run,
you will run, but not yet, oh my pet, you must wait.

Wait, while the snow melts like stars streaking down,
silently now in the light-drenched rain;
plant yourself deep in the velvety brown
decaying of leaves 'til the pure and the plain
light of truth will sprout green, inexplicable, sure--
until then, oh my child, you must wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Emily Dickinson: LXIII

I love the way Dickinson's rich and elusive sound-play drives me to experience this poem in the same way as she experiences the nature imagery. Her rhyme scheme is simultaneously so intense and so free, I can't help but pause to reflect on those phrases that came before which might (or might not) have rhymed.

The exquisite fusion of form and content makes this poem yet one more of those joys beyond hope.


by Emily Dickinson

A something in a summer's day,
As slow her flambeaux burn away,
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer's noon,--
An azure depth, a wordless tune,
Transcending ecstasy.

And still within a summer's night
A something so transporting bright,
I clap my hands to see;

Then veil my too inspecting face,
Lest such a subtle, shimmering grace
Flutter too far for me.

The wizard-fingers never rest,
The purple brook within the breast
Still chafes its narrow bed;

Still rears the East her amber flag,
Guides stil the sun along the crag
His caravan of red,

Like flowers that heard the tale of dews,
But never deemed the dripping prize
Awaited their low brows;

Or bees, that thought the summer's name
Some rumor of delirium
No summer could for them;

Or Arctic creature, dimly stirred
By tropic hint,--some traveled bird
Imported to the wood;

Or wind's bright signal to the ear,
Making that homely and severe,
Contented, known, before

The heaven unexpected came,
To lives that thought their worshipping
A too presumptuous psalm.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2 Cor. 11

Not of soaring visions, but the boards,
splintered and broken from the ruined ship
to which you clung--boast; and of the cords
that bound and lashed, the crowning thorns that rip
your flesh, the sword that wounds your side;
boast but in grace, and in that grace abide.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Longfellow: The Rainy Day

This was the poem that first taught me that poetry could matter.  I'd admired and enjoyed poetry before, and had used poetry to express my feelings, but when I stumbled upon The Rainy Day in my seventh grade literature textbook, I discovered something entirely different.

Longfellow understood exactly how I felt, and he said it better than I could have--but he wasn't me.  He was somebody else entirely.  As it turns out, teenage angst and middle-aged angst aren't so different after all.  The main difference is just that middle-agers tend to have a better idea of what to do with their angst.  As a teenager, I profoundly needed middle-aged poetry.

Longfellow took his/my feelings seriously... but not too seriously.  Much less seriously than I was inclined to take them.  He earned the right to tell me to snap out of it, and then he did so.  And then I could.  It's (almost) as simple as that.

These days, there are many poems that I admire and enjoy more, but this one holds a special place in my heart, as the poem that taught me what poems are for.  Poetry is that space where reason and emotion--and for that matter, teenaged girls and wise souls from other centuries--can sit down together and really understand one another.

And that's something that matters.

The Rainy Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

a new creation

a time for darkness, and a time for light;
into this work you poured your works,
dividing heaven's waters from the sea,
gathering the seas to bring forth land.

you sang time's spheres, then the doves of the air
the fish of the sea and the serpents of the deep,
then all the things that move upon the land,
and we your creatures, void without your light.

three days you made the heavens and the earth
in three days more you filled them to the brim.

fanged cherub hissed triumphant from the tree;
but in three days you built it all again.

there was evening and there was morning,
bright bless'd third day that also was the first.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


In the space between the heart and the brain
between the sinuous flesh of the brain and the rocky skull
and between all this and the mind
where the yielding and curvacious waves
break and are broken
break and are broken
she must break and be broken

From the beginning it was not so.

Still, my soul, between the heart and the mind
must silently wait beneath the wind,
pulsing with the beat of the dove's winged breath
that breaks and is broken
breaks and is broken
I must break and be broken
to live.