What Changes The World

There is a rather large, bulging problem that is about to burst through our culture and overtake the world.  The problem has many aspects to it.  Humanism.  Marxism.  Darwinism. Pantheism. Atheism. Socialism.  The underlying issue is that people in societies around the world are drifting further and further away from truth.  It’s happening in our government, politics, literature, music, art.  Anything that defines our culture.  But the worst part of it is this.  Our culture is shaped by smart people who know what they want, and our culture is made up of people who are blindly following the smart people around, because they think the smart people are wise.

But there is a difference between being wise and being smart.  Wisdom is founded in truth; smartness is founded in how quickly our brain functions, how we size people up, our intuition.

Our presupposition is that truth is something external, something that’s not found inside ourselves.

Napoleon didn’t change the world.  He wanted to, but he only ended up changing France, really.   Darwin changed the world.  Marx changed the world. Voltaire changed the world.  Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, all these philosophers changed the world by their influencing thought.

Many of these philosophers had a problem.  They did not believe that truth was external.  They looked inside themselves for the answer.  It reminds me of when G.K. Chesterton talked about the Hindoo saints.  Their eyes were closed, looking inward.  The Christian saint’s eyes were opened wide, looking for truth without.

Now, I need to say something about Darwin here, because I listed him as one of the greatest influences.  You may say that he was looking for truth externally, because he was studying the natural world.  The thing about looking for truth internally is saying: “I will explain truth, what I think truth is.”  Which is what Darwin basically did with his ideas.  He used evidence to explain his ideas (granted he explained the evidence against his ideas.)  But the Christian saint who is looking with eyes wide open for truth externally is looking for something that is not explained by him, but is explained to him by the source of Truth

Changing the world does not begin with finding one good person and getting him into government.  It starts with making influences that will make better people.  It doesn’t start with a general who thinks he might be able to overrun the world and rule it.  That ends in chaos.

No, changing the world starts with our literature, our music, our art.  If you want to change the world by being a politician, that’s fine.  But do something that influences the young generation.  We need to be a generation producing books, music, art, philosophies, that point to ultimate truth, so the next generation can be better.

We can’t be the people blindly following the smart people around.  We have to be the smart people.  And even if you’re the follower, be a smart follower.  Be smart enough to resist the flow of culture.

But don’t be proud.  Pride is what makes us fall, pride is what leads us away from truth, down our own path.  Remember that life every is a struggle, a fight.  It has its moments of bliss and joy, but overall, we are struggling for what is right.  We are fighting the world, the flesh, the devil, and the fight never ceases, especially in this reformation of our culture.

We must go through some of the pain of learning.  I would like to say now that we’ve become pretty stupid people.  Here we have a wonderful brain and only use a small fraction of it.  The temptation is to use less and less of it.  But let’s take care of our bodies and our minds.  It’s not easy, it’s hard.  We don’t feel like doing these things.

But really, we live in an education driven society where no one learns anything.  Let’s change that, please.  Love learning, love studies, love the hard, laborious work.  It will do you good in the end.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  You don’t have to be a rich city kid who always got straight A’s in school.  You don’t have to be a grown up.  It starts now, with whoever you are, and however old you are.

But just remember something.  We can only know the extent of something to an extent.  Learning is a frustration.  It takes faith to learn, so if you have any, expect to use it.  We will never know the full extent of something.  But as long as these other smart people are shaping our culture, we have to be just as smart to counterbalance them.  We must be strong, confident, courageous, but we must be humble, accepting the fact that our bodies are finite, that our minds are limited, that we can’t know everything, or know everything about everything.

Just remember it starts with the books.  The latest song.  The newest painting in the art museum.  That’s where you start.  Be a painter, an architect, a writer, a musician and reform our culture.  That’s where it starts, with ideas.

Of Primroses and Books

On this warm Spring day, my primroses are dying.

I killed them.

I really did, because I didn’t water them. And now I’m sitting calmly writing about it while their drooping leaves are draping themselves over the pots.

I should take care of my flowers.

I used to think  I would be a horrible gardener, because whenever I went outside I would most likely read and not attend to the earth.  At other times I think I would make a wonderful gardener, because I love feeling the dirt on my hands, and tending the flowers and herbs.

I admire people who garden.  When I’m gardening, I usually think: “I wonder how many pages of such and such a book I could have covered,” or, “I wonder how much I could have written in a blogpost or a story or an essay.”

I’m sitting here writing about all my faults, all the while neglecting a comparison essay on Darwin and Marx…

There’s been a thought in my mind that I’m sure has been there for my whole life, but has been experiencing micro-evolution, and has been growing with me.  It is the idea of a holistic life.  I do know how to cook, I know how to write, and I know how to play piano.  But I also know how to read, and that seems to send all the other things into the water.  I read when I’m supposed to write, I read when I should cook, and sometimes I grow impatient when I’m playing the piano so I go read instead.

As a writer, I have become convinced of the importance of “being accomplished” as the Jane Austen prigs would say.  I’m not saying that I have to know French, German and have “a general knowledge of all contemporary languages,” or that I have to play the piano incredibly well, or that I need to be able to paint screens and embroider cushions.

But I do believe in experience.  I believe that experiences form the most poignant stories.   That’s why true stories grip us.  When Gene-Stratton Porter writes about birds, insects, and nature in fiction you appreciate it all the more because she was, in fact, a naturalist.  The same goes for any author who describes the way a drawing or portrait is done, if he has a knowledge of art.

Beatrix Potter’s stories are charming because she wrote and illustrated them, and because she kept many of the animals she writes about as pets.  Arthur Ransome wrote and illustrated his own works as well.  And we mustn’t forget J.R.R. Tolkien, whose illustrations for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings lend a whole new perspective into the work.  They are truly beautiful, and you know that this is exactly what he wanted things to look like.

Historical literature is a wonderful thing, let me tell you.  But what makes it so interesting?  That the writer has knowledge enough of history to know what he’s talking about in fiction that he knows how to write. (We’re talking about the good historical fiction here, yes? Yes.)

What I’m trying to say is that fiction is always more interesting when it’s not just a romance where people talk back and forth about how they can’t live without each other.  (By the way, I think that romance in literature is biblical and sometimes, depending on the context, necessary, but I think it needs to be well-mixed with other elements.)  Fiction is always more interesting when there’s a law intrigue (Bleak House by Charles Dickens, for example) or when there is an art theme (A Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevelier) or when there is historical background (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.)  But if you think about it, all these books have many, many other elements combined.  In order to have a variety of characters, there must be a variety of characteristics.

Imagination is a beautiful thing, but imagination also tends to go overboard. (I always tell myself that I can’t write stories about Switzerland until I go to Switzerland… but maybe that’s beside the point.)  Imagination tends to make things out to be more than they really are.  The problem with mine is that it tends to blow up a circumstance—one I’ve never been in— like a balloon, and then make the character respond as I would imagine they would respond, not taking the time to see the character as a real person with their own personality.

This is why the study of life is so important to those who are going to write.  I know I’ve said it before, but I like to say it again because it sounds nice and studious and thoughtful.  I would like to have a general knowledge of art and drawing and painting… Then I could draft my illustrations and have some other painter who’s good at the thing paint them.

It’s always nicer reading a book where the mother is cooking something and you know that the author knew how to cook because of the way he describes the food, lovingly, in a way, and thoughtfully.  He knows what he’s talking about.  I’m guessing Dickens didn’t cook because the way he approaches food is rather indifferent.

Chesterton is another matter.  If he didn’t know how to cook, he certainly was passionate about his food (see here Chesterton on Cheese) and that fact alone makes the meals described in his books more interesting to read about.

Then there is the aspect of music.  I love music.  I play piano, but not like I should.  Every day I sit down to play and I think: “Good heavens, I wonder why I’m so sloppy.” I shouldn’t be surprised when I never really practice.  I know enough about music, the history of music, genres, and composers to appreciate it in literature.  The First Violin, by Jesse Fothergill, is not very well known, and the romance is a bit sentimental  but I was able to appreciate the many musical aspects of it because I was introduced previously to Beethoven and Bruckner and others.

The thing of it is, people don’t appreciate books that were written by unintelligent and misinformed people.  Perhaps the majority of America love Stephanie Myer, but I have to wonder if she really knows what love is.  Awhile ago there was a rumor that J.K. Rowling was a witch.  If she was, then we know that Harry Potter was truly penned from the heart.

All this gets back to the idea of a holistic life.  It is not enough to imagine myself doing the gardening, or cooking a meal, or painting a picture.  It is not enough to simply read about them.  Even on a small scale, it is enough to experience.  This is because sight, sound, texture, smell, taste… these are all part of it.  I love the way the air tastes around the basil and oregano plants.  I love the way it feels to play Chopin passionately.  I love the way the paints swirl together while your mixing colors for a picture.  I love the way bread dough feels under my hands.  You cannot experience the feelings that come as natural consequences of these activities through reading.  You must do them.

Fifty-Six Stories

THIS EVENT STARTS ON MONDAY, 21st MARCH, 2011

Kent Nelson took only two English courses as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he was majoring in political science, but one of these was crucial to his eventual decision to make a career out of writing. In a class called “Daily Themes,” the students had to write 300-word stories every day for eight weeks, and it was this process, he noted in a 1992 interview, that taught him some crucial things about writing: “It gradually dawned on me that to write fiction you had to know everything. You had to listen to the way people talked, you had to observe how they acted, you had to study the environment. That was a powerful revelation to me. Twenty-four hours, a day you’re paying attention to everything you can pay attention to with the intention of learning from it. You have to train yourself.” – Literature and the Environment, a Reader on Nature and Culture by Lorraine Anderson, Scott Slovic, and John P. O’Grady

I have challenged myself to this, and now I am resolved to do it.  Some of these little stories I write may be horrible, some might be good.  The point is not whether they are good, but whether this process is teaching me anything.  Of course I hope I shall be able to do it well, but the main thing is discipline, that’s what it is.  It’s training myself to be steady, to take everything I notice and turn it into a story.  Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, Arthur Ransome, and countless others took in the food of their natural surroundings, the places they loved, and turned them into stories.

Another thing is important.  I must not write about things I know nothing of, or things I am not interested in.  I must not write merely to meet my challenge.  I must force myself to imagine, train myself to notice, discipline myself to love what should be loved.  That is what is at the root of this whole practice.

Fifty-Six Stories, one 300-word story every day for eight weeks.

Of course all writers should do this.  But I would also encourage non-writers to do this too.  Take time out of your day.  An hour, maybe, in the morning or in the evening, it doesn’t matter.  Think quietly for a few moments, and then take up your pen.  Make your plot minuscule, but your moral broad.

It does matter whether you are young or old, single or married, a student or a working person; this can apply to anyone.  It is three hundred words.  Some of you might have trouble.  Some of you might not.  The words might be stuck in your brain, or they might flow easily from your mind through your fingers, like a clear stroke of paint.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what your capabilities are.  You can train yourself.

I have a friend who challenged me to write 1,000 words a day for my novel.  When I complained to her she said: “Well, let’s do a detox.  What are you having trouble with?”  She made me dig down to the root of the issue, which was that I didn’t feel like writing, and the inspiration was dead.  But she told me to go on, and I did.

You must pursue it.  If you lie on your couch all day with a pen waiting for it to come, you will probably never get anything written.  Life must be studied in order for writing to be pursued, and both these things require thinking.

Remember that Kent Nelson did not begin as a writer, but he became one through practice and determination.

Click on the following link to read my eight weeks of stories.  Fifty-Six Stories

Turkish Rugs

I want to be a Turkish rug.

Because I am saying it now, it probably seems ridiculous to you.  After all, why would I want to be a rug? Even metaphorically speaking?

I often amuse myself by looking at questions in my science book before I read the material.  It amuses me because it shows me how reading one or two paragraphs can teach me so many things.  The phrase “I want to be  Turkish rug,” acts like the science question.  It makes no sense now, but after you read my post it will, and I hope you will want to be a Turkish rug with me.

I was reading about Edmond Dantes apartments in Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.  It talked about the rugs, the tapestries, the paintings, the vases, and everything else.

“Of course,” was the first thought that came to my mind.  The description didn’t surprise or astonish me, because everything was relative.  It is not surprising that some of the best composers were German, because of Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann.  French silks, Egyptian cotton, Indian spices.  The best glass is, of course Venetian glass.  Dutch cabinets are quite common, and Arabian horses are said to be the fastest.  All well-plotted and planted gardens must be English.  If you wish to describe a richly woven tapestry or carpet, it will probably be Turkish. None of these things surprise or shock us—they are all in their element, especially when put together.  It is only right that they should go together.

Let us look at the reverse of the Count’s room.  The hovel.

A broken table, three-legged chairs with pieces of rotten wood replacing the missing support.  The floor is of dirt, pieces of soiled rags are stuffed in the cracks of the walls.  Rain drips from the roof, but there are no buckets to place under it.  The children are hardly dressed, the wife has greasy hair and filthy clothes.  The husband sits at the table, head in his hands.  A rat investigates a broken cupboard, but there is no food.  A piece of yellowed canvas stretched over a smashed window pane.  Rivulets stream under the door and gather into a puddle underneath the table.  The walls are stained, the ceiling is of rancid straw.

This is the way I imagined the poor man’s house in The Idiot.  I do not remember his name, but it was not surprising to me.  When his poor, ragged clothes were described, it was only right that he should live in a hovel.

But could you imagine the bright, rich, warm Turkish rug in this hovel?

Or could you imagine the dirt floor in the apartment of the Count?

Those two things are startling, when you think about it.  If I walked into the hovel, I would not gape in astonishment at the natural surroundings.  But if the Turkish rug were there, I would be puzzled, confused.  Likewise, the Count’s room would only surprise me if I saw that he had a dirt floor, or a thatched ceiling.

It’s because the Venetian glass and the Turkish rugs, the rat and the broken window are all relative.  When the glass and the rug are by themselves, they stand out.  When they are put together, they compliment each other.  It is the same with the rat and window, but in a more repulsive sense.  Yet, if the Venetian glass was set by a broken window, the thing becomes confusing, as does the rat on the Turkish carpet.

The latter combination does not fit, and does not belong.  It never will.

If this world were our hovel, then I would want to be the Turkish rug.  The bright, cheerful element that lifts the utter depression of the place, and shocks and surprises the onlooker at the same time.  But it is a good sort of surprise and curiosity.

“Where did this rug come from?” they would ask.

But I would never want to be the dirt floor in the count’s apartments.  I would want to replace the hovel with a mahogany table, French paintings, Venetian glass, Roman marble floors.  I would want to make it into the count’s apartments, but I would never want to be the stain on the beautiful.

Hitler was a stain on the beautiful.  He destroyed many of the carpets and smashed the Venetian glass, reducing the spectacular elements of the room to more like that of a hovel.

But I am determined to be a Turkish rug, and I want my friends to join me in this.  Be something outstanding, be as startling and shocking to the world as the rug in the hovel.  Remember that the world is watching you.  It will not be surprised if I revert to being the dirt floor—in fact, it might feel a little less uncomfortable if all things remain in their own elements.  “Leave Heaven to itself, and let the world be, though it is a hovel.”  But I cannot do that.  If the world is a hovel with all its proper elements, how can those who enter have any idea of a salvation from such a life?

So I want to be  Turkish rug, or the Venetian glass, or a German symphony, or an Indian spice.  Join me.

Ethereality

Sometimes there are those wonderful poems that take us away from the reality and darkness of this world and bind us to beauty and peace.  I feel like this poem is one of them.  I know it is a little long, but it is worth the read.

Sleeping Beauty, by Maxfield Parrish


Alfred, Lord Tennyson


THE DAY-DREAM

Prologue

O Lady Flora, let me speak:

A pleasant hour has passed away

While, dreaming on your damask cheek,

The dewy sister-eyelids lay.

As by the lattice you reclined,

I went thro’ many wayward moods

To see you dreaming—and, behind,

A summer crisp with shining woods.

And I too dream’d, until at last

Across my fancy, brooding warm,

The reflex of a legend past,

And loosely settled into form.

And would you have the thought I had,

And see the vision that I saw,

Then take the broidery-frame and add

A crimson to the quaint Macaw,

And I will tell it. Turn your face,

Nor look with that too-earnest eye—

The rhymes are dazzled from their place

And order’d words asunder fly.

 

 

The Sleeping Palace

I.

The varying year with blade and sheaf

Clothes and reclothes the happy plains,

Here rests the sap within the leaf,

Here stays the blood along the veins.

Faint shadows, vapours lightly curl’d,

Faint murmurs from the meadows come,

Like hints and echoes of the world

To spirits folded in the womb.

 

II.

Soft lustre bathes the range of urns

On every slanting terrace-lawn.

The fountain to his place returns

Deep in the garden lake withdrawn.

Here droops the banner on the tower,

On the hall-heaths the festal fires,

The peacock in his laurel bower,

The parrot in his gilded wires.

 

III.

Roof-haunting martins warm their eggs:

In these, in those the life is stay’d.

The mantles from the golden pegs

Droop sleepily: no sound is made,

Not even of a gnat that sings.

More like a pictures seemeth all

Than those old portraits of old kings,

That watch the sleepers from the wall.

 

IV.

Here sits the Butler with a flask

Between his knees, half-drain’d; and there

The wrinkled steward at his task,

The maid-of-honour blooming fair;

The page has caught her hand in his:

Her lips are sever’d as to speak:

His own are pouted to a kiss:

THe blush is fix’d upon her cheek.

 

V.

Till all the hundred summers pass,

The beams, that thro’ the Oriel shine,

Make prisms in every carven glass,

And beaker brimm’d with noble wine.

Each baron at the banquet sleeps,

Grave faces gather’d in a ring.

His state the king reposing keeps.

He must have been a jovial king.

 

VI.

All round a hedge upshoots, and shows

At distance like a little wood;

Thorns ivies, woodbine, mistletoes,

And grapes with bunches red as blood;

All creeping plants, a wall of green

Close-matted, bur and brake and briar,

And glimpsing over these, just seen,

High up, the topmost palace spire.

 

VII.

When will the hundred summers die,

And thought and time be born again,

And newer knowledge, drawing nigh,

Bring truth that sways the soul of men?

Here all things in their place remain,

As all were order’d, ages since.

Com, Care and Pleasure, Hope and Pain,

And bring the fated fairy Prince.

 

The Sleeping Beauty

I.

Year after year unto her feet,

She lying on her couch alone,

Across the purple coverlet,

The maiden’s jet-black hair has grown,

On either side her tranced form

Forth streaming from a braid of pearl:

The slumbrous light is rich and warm

And moves not on the rounded curl.

 

II.

The silk star-broider’d coverlid

Unto her limbs itself doth mould

Languidly ever; and, amid

Her full black ringlets downward roll’d,

Glows forth each softly-shadow’d arm

With bracelets of the diamond bright:

Her constant beauty doth inform

Stillness with love, and day with light.

 

III.

She sleeps: her breathings are not heard

In palace chambers far apart.

The fragrant tresses are not stirr’d

That lie upon her charmed heart.

She sleeps: on either hand upswells

The gold-fringed pillow lightly prest:

She sleeps, nor dreams, but ever dwells

A perfect form in perfect rest.

 

The Arrival

I.

All precious things, discover’d late,

To those that seek them issue foth;

For love in sequel works with fate,

And draws the veil from hidden worth.

He travels far from other skies—

His mantle glitters on the rocks—

A fairy Prince, with joyful eyes,

And lighter-footed than the fox.

 

II.

The bodies and the bones of those

That strove in other days to pass,

Are wither’d in the thorny close,

Or scatter’d blanching on the grass.

He gazes on the silent dead:

‘They perish’d in their daring deeds.’

This proverb flashes thro’ his head,

‘The many fail: the one succeeds.’

 

III.

He comes, scarce knowing what he seeks:

He breaks the hedge: he enters there:

The colour flies into his cheeks:

He trusts to light on something fair;

For all his life the charm did talk

About his path, and hover near

With words of promise in his walk,

And whisper’d voices at his ear.

 

IV.

More close and close his footsteps wind:

The Magic Music in his heart

Beats quick and quicker, till he find

The quiet chamber far apart.

His spirit flutters like a lark,

He stoops—to kiss her—on his knee.

‘Love, if thy tresses be so dark,

How dark those hidden eyes must be!’

 

The Rivival

I.

A touch, a kiss! the charm was snapt.

There rose a noise of striking clocks,

And feet that ran, and doors that clapt,

And barking dogs, and crowing cocks;

A fuller light illumined all,

A breeze thro’ all the garden swept,

A sudden hubbub shook the hall,

And sixty feet the fountain leapt.

 

II.

The hedge broke in, the banner blew,

The butler drank, the steward scrawl’d,

The fire shot up, the martin flew,

The parrot scream’d, the peacock squall’d,

The maid and page renew’d their strife,

The palace ban’d, and buzz’d and clackt,

And all the long-pent stream of life

Dash’d downward in a cataract.

 

III.

And last with these the king awoke,

And in his chair himself uprear’d,

ANd yawn’d, and rubb’d his face, and spok,

‘By holy rood, a royal beard!

How say you? we have slept, my lords.

My beard has grown into my lap.’

The barons swore, with many words,

‘Twas but an after-dinner’s nap.

 

IV.

‘Pardy,’ return’d the king, ‘but still

My joints are somewhat stiff or so.

My lord, and shall we pass the bill

I mention’d half an hour ago?’

The chancellor, sedate and vain,

In courteous words return’d reply:

But dallied with his golden chain,

And, smiling, put the question by.

 

The Departure

I.

And on her lover’s arm she leant,

And round her waist she felt it fold,

And far across the hills they went

In that new world which is the old:

Across the hills, and far away

Beyond their utmost purple rim,

And deep into the dying day

The happy princess follow’d him.

 

II.

‘I’d sleep another hundred years,

O love, for such another kiss,’

‘O wake for ever, love,’ she hears,

‘O love, ’twas such as this and this.’

And o’er them many a sliding star,

And many a merry wind was borne,

And, stream’d thro’ many a golden bar,

The twilight melted into morn.

 

III.

‘O eyes long laid in happy sleep!’

‘O happy sleep, that lightly fled!’

‘O happy kiss, that woke thy sleep!’

‘O love, thy kiss would wake the dead!’

And o’er them many a flowing range

Of vapour buoy’d the crescent-bark,

And, rapt, thro’ many a rosy change,

The twilight died into the dark.

 

IV.

‘And hundred summers! can it be?

And whither goest thou, tell me where?’

‘O seek my father’s court with me,

For there are greater wonders there.’

And o’er the hills, and fary away

Beyond their utmost purple rim,

Beyond the night, across the day,

Thro’ all the world she follow’d him.

 

Moral

I.

So, Lady Flora, take my lay,

And if you find no moral there,

Go look in any glass and say,

What moral is in being fair.

Oh, to what uses shall we put

The wildweed-flower that simply blows?

And is there any moral shut

Within the bosom of the rose?

 

II.

But any man that walks the mead,

In bud or blade, or bloom, may find,

According as his humours lead,

A meaning suited to his mind.

And liberal applications lie

In Art like Nature, dearest friend;

So ’twere to cramp its use, if I

Should hook it to some useful end.

 

L’envoi

I.

you shake your head. A random string

Your finer female sense offends.

Well—were it not a pleasant thing

To fall asleep with all one’s friends;

To pass with all our social ties

To silence from the paths of men;

And every hundred years to rise

And learn the world, and sleep again;

To sleep thro’ terms of mighty wars,

And wake on science grown to more,

On secrets of the brain, the stars,

As wild as aught of fairy lore;

And all that else the years will show,

The Poet-forms of stronger hours,

The vast Republics that may grow,

The Federations and the Powers;

Titanic forces taking birth

In divers seasons, divers climes;

For we are Ancients of the earth,

And in the morning of the times.

 

II.

So sleeping, so aroused from sleep

Thro’ sunny decades new and strange,

Or gay quinquenniads would we reap

The flower and quintessence of change.

 

III.

Ah, yet would I—and would I might!

So much your eyes my fancy take–

Be still the first to leap to light

That I might kiss those eyes awake!

For, am I right, or am I wrong,

To choose your own you did not care;

You’d have my moral from the song,

And I will take my pleasure there:

And, am I right or am I wrong,

My fancy, ranging thro’ and thro’,

To search a meaning for the song,

Perforce will still revert to you;

Nor finds a closer truth than this

All-graceful head, so richly curl’d,

ANd evermore a costly kiss

The prelude to some brighter world.

 

IV.

For since the time when Adam first

Embraced his Eve in happy hour,

And every bird of Eden burst

In carol, every bud to flower,

What eyes, like thine, have waken’d hopes,

What lips, like thine, so sweetly join’d?

Where on the double rosebud droops

The fulness of the pensive mind;

Which all too dearly self-involved,

Yet sleeps a dreamless sleep to me;

A sleep by kisses undissolved,

That lets thee neither hear nor see:

But break it. IN the name of wife,

And in the rights that name may give,

Are clasp’d the moral of they life,

And that for which I care to live.

 

Epilogue

So, Lady Flora, take my lay,

And, if you find a meaning there,

O whisper to your glass, and say,

‘What wonder, if he thinks me fair?’

What wonder I was all unwise,

To shape the song for your delight

Like long tail’d birds of Paradise

That float thro’ Heaven, and cannot light?

Or old-world trains, upheld at court

By Cupid-boys of blooming hue—

But take it—earnest wed with sport,

And either sacred unto you.

 

The Voices of My Life

There are so many voices of my life.  They inspire me, they clear my head, they make me feel.  I absolutely love music.  Today I was doing some Algebra on the couch with Tirzah…. I had my headphones in, and I was singing along with all four movements of Beethoven’s fifth symphony… and pretending I knew how to conduct.  I did it because the music enthralled me.  I made her laugh, partly because I couldn’t hear myself sing and probably sounded very sharp through the — ahem — shall we say difficult passages.

There is another song that inspires me to the -enth degree.   Listen to it.

I cannot tell you… how… amazing that is to me. How wonderful.  As Bugs Bunny would say, “I have goosebumps, on my goosebumps.”

I realized that music like this song and Beethoven’s fifth form the voices of our lives.  I mean that they are the most inspirational—the ones we listen to over and over and over again.   The voices of our lives… it sounds beautiful, but it also does not imply that they are good voices.

In the beginning of the Silmarillion, in the thought of Iluvatar, the Ainur spun him a melody that was glorious.  Together they created a chorused that pleased Iluvatar.  But Melkor, one of the highest Holy ones, had it in his thought to create his own melody, and not follow the one that Iluvatar had instructed.  Therefore, he began to spin and weave, and the theme was no longer melodious, and the Ainur sensed a powerful music being played.  Melkor’s self-will was great, and he challenged Iluvatar to a duel of Melodies.

“Then Iluvatar rose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power an had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no long, and Melkor had mastery.  Then again Iluvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Iluvatar, and they were utterly at variance.  The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came.  The other had no achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn patter.

In the midst of this strive, whereat the halls of Iluvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Iluvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Iluvatar, the Music ceased.

Iluvatar told Melkor that no one could invent a theme that did not have its uttermost roots in himself, and he threw him out.

There are voices in our lives, and not necessarily songs, that are like Melkor’s melody.  They bring discord, they are loud and violent, making more noise than anything.  But there are voices in your head that inspire you to do good, to think wonderful things, voices that turn your head to all things wonderful and beautiful, voices that bring you back to the center of everything: to the Creator.  These voices are things that guide you, that influence you.

So then there’s the bad voices. What a clever discrimination—the good voices, and the bad voices.  Well, what would you have said? For these bad voices, I cannot name any one element of intellectual study or cultural products because it changes for each person, depending on their strengths and weaknesses.  But we must be wary of what our Voices are.  We must be ever so careful… and we must always ask if it matches Iluvatar’s melody, to use the metaphoric image.

Just remember the three aspects of Iluvatar’s melody… Truth, beauty, and goodness.  This famous guideline doesn’t say happiness, or sorrow, or non-violence, or violence… but if it fits into those three aspects, it is probably a beautiful and wise Voice.

A Scholar’s Archive of Favorites

I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading.  I’ve finally stopped wondering if it would be possible for me: it just isn’t.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what I’m doing, there will always be a book.  I have not decided whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Sometimes I am inspired to read fast, sometimes I am inspired to read slowly.  With the rates of different books, I find that the ones I read slowly get grouped together.  So, unfortunately, I have 18 currently reading books.  I decided to knock a few of them off the list, recently, so I’m working on it.

Last year I made a book of 100 books to read in 2010.  I only read 50 of them, but I think that 2009-2010 were the two best reading years of my life.  I discovered so many different worlds and writing styles and characters.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been heartbroken and was forced to play Chopin for days at a time in order to sympathize with myself.  But I also cannot tell you how many times my heart has been filled with joy at wonderful stories or deep-meaning themes.  It’s been an adventure.

So without further ado, here are my top 11 books of 2009-2010. :) They’re not listed in order of favorites… since it’s so hard to have a top favorite book.

The Royal Road to Romance – Richard Halliburton

I never found Geography to be so thrilling.  This book inspired me to look at maps more… Richard Halliburton uses his sense of romance and passion for the wild and “unheard of” to pen his tale of his first adventure.  The style is invigorating and colorful, the stories and myths he combines with the exotic places he visits are wonderful to read about.  He took forbidden pictures at Gibraltar, and then mailed copies to the officials saying he was sorry, but he wasn’t staying in one place so it was impossible to leave an address.  He always traveled first class with a third class train ticket.  He camped on the Cheops, and took a bath in the Nile.  He spent the night in the gardens of the Taj Mahal, he climbed the Matterhorn in winter—and Mount Fuji.  His fearless approach to travel and adventure make the book exciting to read.

An adventurer like Halliburton deserved no less than a heroic and dramatic death.  He thought of jumping off of Gibraltar rock and flying down into the sea where the moon flirted with the waves.  He thought of many drastic ends.  I suppose he was quite satisfied: he died at the age of 39 years (quite tragic, don’t you think?).  His grave is unmarked—his ship was lost in a storm, and no traces were ever found.  I think he would have been satisfied.

The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey was the pseudonym used for Elizabeth Mackintosh, Scottish author.  The hero of most of her books is Alan Grant, a detective of the Scotland Yard.  After an accident, he is forced to lie in a hospital bed for a few months.  He memorized the ceiling and made up every kind of geometric figure he could.  He soon got bored.  When looking through pictures he found one of Richard III.  His detective’s eye, before he discovered who the person was, thought the man to be one whose life was burdened with grief.  He was astonished at discovering it to be the famous murderer of the two Princes in the tower.  He goes on an adventurous research trip in his hospital bed through all the different sources he can find, and finally comes up with a brilliant alternative.

I’m not quite certain whether the research done in the book is accurate or fictional, but certainly, several of the facts of the murder and the circumstances do not match up. Reading this brilliant little mystery made me realize that many of the stories in history cannot be taken for granted.  You cannot say that a myth is untrue and a story with facts is true, because sometimes it turns out to be quite the opposite.  The only thing you can do is look up all the books ever written on the subject, then decide your own opinion.

The Idiot – Fydor Dostoevsky

The Idiot… Where to begin? This is an incredible book.  There is no other word to describe it.  I was thrilled to the very last chapter, and then I was crushed.  It is the only novel where the good people don’t die, but it’s almost worse that way, if that makes any sense.  Now you’re not going to read it, I imagine, after such a dark report.

Prince Myshkin, aka, the Idiot, tells Lizeveta Prokofyevna Yepanchin and her three daughters a story that takes up three chapters out of the book.  They go back and forth between loving him to death and thinking him entirely weird.  But what the Prince relates, which takes you back in his past to the Swiss mountains and legalistic villagers, is wrought with quiet passion and beauty.  The first 200 pages barely cover 12 hours of one day.

The themes in this book are almost too deep to discover.  Everybody is almost too dramatic and passionate to be real, but it’s purposeful.  The intricate plot, the progression and digression of the characters, the streak of epilepsy, and the philosophical tone of the novel produces something that will change your thought-life forever.  It’s a haunting book.

The Great Gain of Godliness – Thomas Watson

Lately I have been appreciating more and more the writings of the Puritans and early church fathers.  An older man at church got me into Thomas Watson’s books—really, hidden treasures!  The Great Gain of Godliness is precise… it’s written by a passionate, godly man seeking to encourage Christians in the right way.  It’s the most humbling book I’ve ever known, as well.  It makes you want to run into the arms of Christ, yet cringe with shame before him at the same time.  For those who believe, it follows with a definite tone of hope.
The most amazing passage in this book was the chapter on thoughts.  I thought it strange how someone who lived 400 and some years ago could get inside my head so accurately, or gauge my thoughts so exactly.  He talks about how, in guarding against sinful thoughts, one must not only “not think of that….” we must look higher and set our minds on heavenly things.  It sounds simple enough, but when thoughts become truly tempting, thinking of the Kingdom of God and its righteousness is not an easy thing to do.  So this is a wonderful treasure to read.

William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity – Kevin Belmonte

William Wilberforce… a hero for humanity… the greatest man that ever lived… my hero.  If I ever get married, I want it to be to a man with the mindset like William Wilberforce.  I have never enjoyed a biography so much.  He was such a passionate man, he was such a humble man…. he was so magnanimous.  This book is filled with journal entries, excerpts from letters to him and letters he wrote, different opinions of different critics.  It is a well researched, well-written book by someone who loved Wilberforce and everything he stood for.  It is truly wonderful, and I have never stood more in awe of any person than I have of him.  Wracked by physical illness and pains, his purpose remained clear, and his determination strong: he lived and he finished what he set out to do.  His story is amazing, and if you have not read it, this is a wonderful place to start.

Wilberforce was loved by everyone who knew him, and his aim was to think the best of everyone—even when they spoke of him in harsh and bitter terms.  He always strove to seek out the best in them.  One thing I love best about him was that he read and studied the philosophies of different men for a few hours every morning.  His books were always underlined—he memorized passages of great books: but his most studied book was the Bible, no matter what.  Even though he was a great and wonderful man, and I am a girl, he inspires me to the -enth degree.

The Children of Hurin – J.R.R. Tolkien

This was a birthday present from a very good friend.  Unfortunately, said friend’s sister had read me the ending so I was a bit spoiled.  At any event, if you want to see the powerful hold that evil can have over a human being, this is the book to read.

I have never been so stunned as I was at the end of this book.  I remember lying on my bed just thinking, praying and hoping about my life, and my relationship with God.  I remember shaking my head and being shocked.  It was a terrible, but a good feeling at the same time.  I felt like Pandora, after beholding all the evil she had let loose, and then peering inside and seeing hope.  Not that I had leashed the evil….

Reading Tolkien is easy and hard at the same time.  He uses such interesting expressions and phrasings that sometimes it’s difficult to grasp his meaning. But this was a truly wonderful book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a depressing read.

Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom (Sequel) – Louisa May Alcott

I don’t know about you, but after the reviews on The Idiot and The Children of Hurin I’m ready for something lively and bright and cheerful.  Eight Cousins (and Rose in Bloom) is precisely that.  Alright, how could you not want to read a book about a small lonely girl with eight cousins who go around proclaiming their Scotch heritage?  Having four brothers I can appreciate the humor that goes on between the main character, Rose, and her eight boy cousins.  But like most fun stories, these have many growing up themes, or important lessons that one is learning all throughout life.  Rose is not portrayed as the perfect heroine: she’s just a young girl who’s growing up and learning her life lessons.

The characters have quite a range, from the timid but well-meaning and sometimes vain Rose, to the cheerful and honest servant Phebe, to the good-natured and sensible Archie, to the handsome charmer Charlie, to the grumpy bookworm Mac, to the bright-eyed, mischievous youngsters, and never to forget the good Uncle Charlie, always seeking to instill good principals and habits in all his nephews and his niece.

Shirley – Charlotte Bronte

If you want to learn lots of new words and lots of French phrases, this is the book for you!

Most pro-feminist people nowadays would say that Charlotte Bronte was all for women’s rights and “being equal” with men.  But it seems to me that this was more the journey of a girl finding something useful to do instead of sitting around reading or sewing all day.  She says: “I may have half a century of life before me.  How am I to spend it?” It is the travels of a young girl who first wishes to marry the man she loves and assist him in his work, and then realizes she will probably never be able to marry him, and then seeks to find a way to apply herself diligently and purposefully apart from the man she thought she couldn’t live without.

Don’t worry, I can promise happy endings for everybody.  But the journeys of this young girl, and a mill-owner struggling to survive during the Napoleonic war, and an independent heiress, and a quiet, steady schoolteacher are beautiful.  The character development is phenomenal. :)

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

This book was read aloud to me and some other people by my best friend’s father.  It was a year ago, and I’m still struggling with the themes.  John Steinbeck introduces the dark, questioning side of reality… his books are, needless to say, depressing.  I have heard different opinions on Of Mice and Men, but this is definitely a read again: not necessarily because the story is so good, but because the theme is so intense, and it leaves you wondering.  There is something so raw and morbidly beautiful about the way John Steinbeck writes.  It’s effective without being overbearing.  In fact, the style is almost so simple is complicated.  A lot of modern literature is like that, I suppose.

But anyways.  Why was it on my list of favorites?   Well, it appealed to my love for morbid, tragic literature; but even more than that, I have a weakness for deep books and themes, things that make me wonder and search to find answers. :)

How The Heather Looks – Joan Bodger

Have you ever wanted to get steeped in charming tales on a winter evening, after taking a hot shower and getting in warm clothes with a cup of tea or… wassail, while sitting by the fire listening to a winter gale?

Even if you’ve never had that interesting feeling, you should still read this book.  John and Joan Bodger took their children in 1956 to spend a summer in England.  They went on a scavenger hunt, really.  They didn’t want to see all the touristy places—they were on a mission to find the bank from The Wind in the Willows, or the farm where Jemima Puddleduck lived, or the land of Arthur, the country of Randolph Caldecott.  The two children, Ian and Lucy, provide a humorous side to the story, and you encounter all sorts of things on this adventure: gypsies, two boys riding backwards on a huge farm-horse, a Cornish festival, myths, legends, mysteries, stories, and obscure tales.  She talks about books long out of print—treasures of the past.  On a rainy afternoon they stop in a quaint English/Welsh village and, being hungry, buy some bread, cheese, and fresh tomatoes for their lunch, watching the villagers go to market.  It is filled with charming descriptions, jaunts and rambles, and haunting stories that will make you want to see this wonderful place called England.

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton

Alright, I said I didn’t have a favorite.  But if you want something as deep as the see, as nice as a fairy tale, and as thrilling as the novel then this is the best book.  Look at his face! He was a genius!

Orthodoxy is packed full of thought.  You could read one sentence of it and write an entire book on the subject.  He deals philosophically (and yet un-philosophically) about maniacs, pessimists, optimists, love, Christianity, Agnostics… and these are only vague ideas of what he covers.  It is an adventure to read this book.

To see the journey of a deep thinker as he battles with thoughts and ideas of Christianity that have not even entered the head of a believer is wonderful.  His method of thinking, his wit and humor, his deep faith are all woven together cleverly with a colorful thread.  I love him best because he believed in fairy tales, and anything that had to do with the nursery.  He saw so much sense and reason inside the world of fancy, and so much to laugh at with the great determinists and philosophers of his era that it’s almost shocking to read.  But you are convinced to agree with him at last!  I would recommend this book to… well, everyone.

Alright! That’s it! :) Those are my top eleven. I hope you enjoyed reading about them, and now if you haven’t read any of them, I hope that at some point you will enjoy reading them. :)

A Misunderstanding with Robert Walpole

I have a great appreciation for art.  It inspires me.  It rebukes me.  In fact, I was rebuked by art last September when I went to London.  My sister and I were wandering around the National Gallery one quiet day.  I was admiring the paintings of all the great men I had studied in history the previous year.  I found my hero, Marlborough.  He wasn’t quite what I expected.  I thought to find a kinder face.  But after all, he was on the battlefield, immediately after a great victory.  What can you expect? Perhaps a whole man’s character can’t be captured in a single moment – especially following a battle in which he’s lost a great deal of men.  Very sobering – even in light of the victory.

I had studied Sir Robert Walpole that year.  He captured my attention immediately.  I considered him the physician of England – whom nobody appreciated.  After England had been tossed in the throes of war for the past 50 years, she emerged with a national debt of extraordinary size.  Her troops were almost exhausted.  The time was one of economic distress.  Sir Robert Walpole began the laborious task of raising England from her fallen state.  He persevered even though his efforts went unappreciated.  However, when the respective monarchs of England, France and Spain had a quarrel about the successor of the King of Spain (each monarch had possible candidates, seeing as the present had no direct heir) England was eager to plunge straight into war again.  Robert Walpole attempted to prevent it, but the urge upon the people was too strong.  They were tired of peace.  He said, as he watched the parade in the streets of London: “They ring their bells now, but soon they will wring there hands.”  His hard perseverance, his dark foreboding of the future, produced a rather stern-faced image in my mind.  Therefore, when I saw Sir Robert Walpole hanging on the wall of the National Gallery, I cocked my head, and then smiled, because it looked like he was about to smile too.

I’ve searched frantically, but can’t remember for my life where I put the notebook in which I wrote notes on this painting.  I remember saying: “He looks a bit like Benjamin Franklin.  Slightly dull, but with a keen smile on his face, as though he knows what’s going on and nobody else does.”  He looks more like he would make a joke about the Spanish Succession rather than the remark he did make, with the exception of those black eyebrows, contrasted by the wig.  His eyes have the half-drooping look that makes you think that anything you say to him cannot aspire to his region of thought and knowledge.  Yet still, he looks a little kind, though perhaps annoyed with the painter.

I saw later this portrait of young John Churchill (Duke of Marlborough.)

He’s handsome, isn’t he?  His features are finely chiseled.  His face is proud, austere.  His eyes dark, his mouth resolute.  He looks the picture of pride, determination and resolution.  Yet there’s life – there’s a fire in his eyes that’s absent from Robert Walpole’s.  It might be due to the difference in styles of painting, or maybe it’s a difference of character; possibly it’s the contrast of age.  But whatever, it’s interesting to notice the differences between paintings – especially portraits. I read about Robert Walpole, but gained a new perspective by seeing his portrait.  I read about Marlborough, and likewise gained a new perspective on his character.  Yet both portraits, somehow, retained the characteristics they contradicted at first glance.  Marlborough was still kind.  Walpole was still stern.  Portraits are interesting, and beautiful.  Through them you glimpse the beauty of a century, of an age, of the painter’s soul, of the subject’s character. :)