25 December 2013

from the Spiritual Letters (Abbot Chapman OSB)

Palazzo S. Calisto,
Roma, 14.

Dec. 23, 1920.

Dear Miss . . .

It is quite right for us to throw our heart into our work and do it with all our might; but be quite detached from results.  It does not matter whether we are praised and appreciated by human beings.  All our work is for God, and through Him for our neighbours.  The more disappointments and failures there are, the more we are thrown upon Him.  Until we have had plenty of them, we never have a pure intention.

We have a right intention quite easily, but we have all sorts of other, minor intentions mixed up with it, until God has purified us.  It is most important in all our pleasures and successes to have the habit of saying, "I am glad, I am immensely grateful; but I don't want it, I only want Thee."

Never carry out any resolution made in prayer, without first testing it in a dry light outside prayer; to see whether it is reasonable or really the best.   You must have plenty of time for prayer.  Recollection is usually impossible otherwise, and you will be driven to reading Novels!  But when you have time to be alone with God and at peace, the temporal worries cease to be worries and become almost pleasures.  But when you can't get time, then you have to try and be cheerful, and offer all you suffer to God without feeling even that you mean it.  And then, later on, when you get some time again, you find that you have made progress in prayer without knowing how.

If one felt one was suffering patiently and for God, one wouldn't suffer so much.  It is the feeling of impatience and division from God which is suffering, and it is most meritorious.  So don't mind it.  I think it is an excellent thing to laugh at one's self a little whenever one feels a martyr!

Ever yours sincerely in Dno,

H. John Chapman, O.S.B.

20 October 2013

Horatius (Thomas Babington Macaulay)

Lars Porsena of Clusium, by the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it, and named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and West and South and North,
To summon his array. 

East and West and South and North the messengers ride fast,
And tower and town and cottage have heard the trumpet's blast.
Shame on the false Etruscan who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium is on the march for Rome! 

The horsemen and the footmen are pouring in amain
From many a stately market-place, from many a fruitful plain;
From many a lonely hamlet which, hid by beech and pine
Like an eagle's nest hangs on the crest of purple Apennine; 

From lordly Volaterrae, where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants for god-like kings of old;
From sea-girt Populonia, whose sentinels descry
Sardinia's snowy mountain-tops fringing the southern sky;

From the proud mart of Pisae, queen of the western waves,
Where ride Massilia's triremes, heavy with fair-haired slaves;
From where sweet Clanis wanders through corn and vines and flowers;
From where Cortona lifts to heaven her diadem of towers. 

Tall are the oaks whose acorns drop in dark Auser's rill;
Fat are the stags that champ the boughs of the Ciminian hill;
Beyond all streams Clitumnus is to the herdsman dear;
Best of all pools the fowler loves the great Volsinian mere. 

But now no stroke of woodman is heard by Auser's rill;
No hunter tracks the stag's green path up the Ciminian hill;
Unwatched along Clitumnus grazes the milk-white steer;
Unharmed the water fowl may dip in the Volsinian mere. 

The harvests of Arretium, this year, old men shall reap;
This year, young boys in Umbro shall plunge the struggling sheep;
And in the vats of Luna, this year, the must shall foam
Round the white feet of laughing girls whose sires have marched to Rome. 

There be thirty chosen prophets, the wisest of the land,
Who always by Lars Porsena both morn and evening stand:
Evening and morn the Thirty have turned the verses o'er,
Traced from the right on linen white by mighty seers of yore; 

And with one voice the Thirty have their glad answer given:
"Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena! Go forth, beloved of Heaven!
Go, and return in glory to Clusium's round dome,
And hang round Nurscia's altars the golden shields of Rome." 

And now hath every city sent up her tale of men;
The foot are fourscore thousand; the horse are thousands ten.
Before the gates of Sutrium is met the great array.
A proud man was Lars Porsena upon the trysting day. 

For all the Tuscan armies were ranged beneath his eye,
And many a banished Roman, and many a stout ally;
And with a mighty following to join the muster came
The Tusculan Mamilius, Prince of the Latian name. 

But by the yellow Tiber was tumult and affright:
From all the spacious champaign to Rome men took their flight.
A mile around the city the throng stopped up the ways:
A fearful sight it was to see through two long nights and days 

For aged folks on crutches, and women great with child,
And mothers sobbing over babes that clung to them and smiled.
And sick men borne in litters high on the necks of slaves,
And troops of sun-burned husbandmen with reaping-hooks and staves, 

And droves of mules and asses laden with skins of wine,
And endless flocks of goats and sheep, and endless herds of kine,
And endless trains of wagons that creaked beneath the weight
Of corn-sacks and of household goods choked every roaring gate. 

Now, from the rock Tarpiean, could the wan burghers spy
The line of blazing villages red in the midnight sky.
The Fathers of the City, they sat all night and day,
For every hour some horseman came with tidings of dismay. 

To eastward and to westward have spread the Tuscan bands;
Nor house, nor fence, nor dovecote in Crustumerium stands.
Verbenna down to Ostia hath wasted all the plain;
Astur hath stormed Janiculum, and the stout guards are slain. 

I wis, in all the Senate, there was no heart so bold,
But sore it ached, and fast it beat, when that ill news was told.
Forthwith up rose the Consul, up rose the Fathers all;
In haste they girded up their gowns and hied them to the wall. 

They held a council standing before the River-Gate;
Short time was there, ye well may guess, for musing or debate.
Out spake the Consul roundly: "The bridge must straight go down;
For since Janiculum is lost, naught else can save the town..." 

Just then, a scout came flying, all wild with haste and fear:
"To arms! To arms, Sir Consul! Lars Porsena is here!"
On the low hills to westward the Consul fixed his eye,
And saw the swarthy storm of dust rise fast along the sky, 

And nearer fast and nearer doth the red whirlwind come;
And louder still and still more loud, from underneath that whirling cloud,
Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud, the trampling and the hum.
And plainly and more plainly now through the gloom appears,
Far to left and far to right, in broken gleams of dark-blue light,
The long array of helmets bright, the long array of spears. 

And plainly and more plainly, above that glimmering line,
Now might ye see the banners of twelve fair cities shine;
But the banner of proud Clusium was highest of them all,
The terror of the Umbrian; the terror of the Gaul. 

And plainly and more plainly now might the burghers know,
By port and vest, by horse and crest, each warlike Lucumo.
There Cilnius of Arretium on his fleet roan was seen;
And Astur of the four-fold shield, girt with the brand none else may wield,
Tolumnius with the belt of gold, and dark Verbenna from the hold
By reedy Thrasymene. 

Fast by the royal standard, o'erlooking all the war,
Lars Porsena of Clusium sat in his ivory car.
By the right wheel rode Mamilius, prince of the Latian name,
And by the left false Sextus, who wrought the deed of shame. 

But when the face of Sextus was seen among the foes,
A yell that rent the firmament from all the town arose.
On the house-tops was no woman but spat toward him and hissed,
No child but screamed out curses, and shook its little first. 

But the Consul's brow was sad, and the Consul's speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall, and darkly at the foe.
"Their van will be upon us before the bridge goes down;
And if they once might win the bridge, what hope to save the town?" 

Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods, 

And for the tender mother who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses his baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus, that wrought the deed of shame? 

Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may!
I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three:
Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?' 

Then out spake Spurius Lartius; a Ramnian proud was he:
"Lo, I will stand at thy right hand and keep the bridge with thee."
And out spake strong Herminius; of Titian blood was he:
"I will abide on thy left side, and keep the bridge with thee." 

"Horatius," quoth the Consul, "as thou sayest, so let it be."
And straight against that great array forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome's quarrel spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life, in the brave days of old. 

Then none was for a party; then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great.
Then lands were fairly portioned; then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old. 

Now Roman is to Roman more hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high, and the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction, in battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought in the brave days of old. 

Now while the Three were tightening their harness on their backs,
The Consul was the foremost man to take in hand an axe:
And Fathers mixed with Commons seized hatchet, bar and crow,
And smote upon the planks above and loosed the props below. 

Meanwhile the Tuscan army, right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded a peal of warlike glee,
As that great host, with measured tread, and spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge's head where stood the dauntless Three. 

The Three stood calm and silent, and looked upon the foes,
And a great shout of laughter from all the vanguard rose:
And forth three chiefs came spurring before that deep array;
To earth they sprang, their swords they drew, and lifted high their shields, and flew
To win the narrow way; 

Aunus from green Tifernum, Lord of the Hill of Vines;
And Seius, whose eight hundred slaves sicken in Ilva's mines;
And Picus, long to Clusium vassal in peace and war,
Who led to fight his Umbrian powers from that grey crag where, girt with towers,
The fortress of Naquinum lowers o'er the pale waves of Nar. 

Stout Lartius hurled down Aunus into the stream beneath:
Herminius struck at Seius, and clove him to the teeth:
At Picus brave Horatius darted one fiery thrust;
And the proud Umbrian's golden arms clashed in the bloody dust. 

Then Ocnus of Falerii rushed on the Roman Three;
And Lausulus of Urgo, the rover of the sea,
And Aruns of Volsinium, who slew the great wild boar,
The great wild boar that had his den amidst the reeds of Cosa's fen,
And wasted fields, and slaughtered men, along Albinia's shore. 

Herminius smote down Aruns; Lartius laid Ocnus low:
Right to the heart of Lausulus Horatius sent a blow.
"Lie there," he cried, "fell pirate! No more, aghast and pale,
From Ostia's walls the crowd shall mark the track of thy destroying bark.
No more Campania's hinds shall fly to woods and caverns when they spy
Thy thrice-accursed sail." 

But now no sound of laughter was heard among the foes.
A wild and wrathful clamour from all the vanguard rose.
Six spears' lengths from the entrance halted that deep array,
And for a space no man came forth to win the narrow way. 

But hark! the cry is Astur, and lo! the ranks divide;
And the great Lord of Luna comes with his stately stride.
Upon his ample shoulders clangs loud the four-fold shield,
And in his hand he shakes the brand which none but he can wield. 

He smiled on those bold Romans a smile serene and high;
He eyed the flinching Tuscans, and scorn was in his eye.
Quoth he, "The she-wolf's litter stand savagely at bay:
But will ye dare to follow, if Astur clears the way?" 

Then, whirling up his broadsword with both hands to the height,
He rushed against Horatius and smote with all his might.
With shield and blade Horatius right deftly turned the blow.
The blow, yet turned, came yet too nigh;
It missed his helm, but gashed his thigh:
The Tuscans raised a joyful cry to see the red blood flow. 

He reeled, and on Herminius he leaned one breathing-space;
Then, like a wild-cat mad with wounds, sprang right at Astur's face.
Through teeth, and skull, and helmet so fierce a thrust he sped,
The good sword stood a hand-breadth out behind the Tuscan's head. 

And the great Lord of Luna fell at that deadly stroke,
As falls on Mount Alvernus a thunder-smited oak.
Far o'er the crashing forest the giant arms lay spread;
And the pale augurs, muttering low, gaze on the blasted head. 

On Astur's throat Horatius right firmly pressed his heel,
And thrice and four times tugged amain, ere he wrenched out the steel.
"And see," he cried, "the welcome, fair guests, that waits you here!
What noble Lucumo comes next to taste our Roman cheer?" 

But at his haughty challenge a sullen murmur ran,
Mingled of wrath, and shame, and dread, along that glittering van.
There lacked not men of prowess, nor men of lordly race;
For all Etruria's noblest were round the fatal place. 

But all Etruria's noblest felt their hearts sink to see
On the earth the bloody corpses; in their path the dauntless Three;
And, from the ghastly entrance where those bold Romans stood,
All shrank, like boys who unaware, ranging the woods to start a hare,
Come to the mouth of a dark lair where, growling low, a fierce old bear
Lies amidst bones and blood. 

Was none who would be foremost to lead such dire attack?
But those behind cried "Forward!", and those before cried "Back!"
And backward now and forward wavers the deep array;
And on the tossing sea of steel, to and fro the standards reel;
And the victorious trumpet-peal dies fitfully away. 

Yet one man for one moment strode out before the crowd;
Well known was he to all the Three, and they gave him greeting loud.
"Now welcome, welcome, Sextus! Now welcome to thy home!
Why dost thou stay, and turn away? Here lies the road to Rome." 

Thrice looked he at the city; thrice looked he at the dead;
And thrice came on in fury, and thrice turned back in dread:
And, white with fear and hatred, scowled at the narrow way
Where, wallowing in a pool of blood, the bravest Tuscans lay. 

But meanwhile axe and lever have manfully been plied;
And now the bridge hangs tottering above the boiling tide.
"Come back, come back, Horatius!" loud cried the Fathers all.
"Back, Lartius! Back, Herminius! Back, ere the ruin fall!" 

Back darted Spurius Lartius; Herminius darted back:
And as they passed, beneath their feet they felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces, and on the further shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone, they would have crossed once more. 

But with a crash like thunder fell every loosened beam,
And, like a dam, the mighty wreck lay right athwart the stream:
And a loud shout of triumph rose from the walls of Rome,
As to the highest turret-tops was splashed the yellow foam. 

And, like a horse unbroken, when first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard, and tossed his tawny mane,
And burst the curb, and bounded, rejoicing to be free,
And whirling down, in fierce career, battlement, and plank, and pier
Rushed headlong to the sea. 

Alone stood brave Horatius, but constant still in mind;
Thrice thirty thousand foes before, and the broad flood behind.
"Down with him!" cried false Sextus, with a smile on his pale face.
"Now yield thee", cried Lars Porsena, "now yield thee to our grace!" 

Round turned he, as not deigning those craven ranks to see;
Nought spake he to Lars Porsena, to Sextus nought spake he;
But he saw on Palatinus the white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river that rolls by the towers of Rome. 

"Oh Tiber, father Tiber, to whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms, take thou in charge this day!"
So he spake and, speaking, sheathed the good sword by his side,
And, with his harness on his back, plunged headlong in the tide. 

No sound of joy or sorrow was heard from either bank;
But friends and foes in dumb surprise, with parted lips and straining eyes,
Stood gazing where he sank;
And when above the surges they saw his crest appear,
All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry, and even the ranks of Tuscany
Could scarce forbear to cheer. 

But fiercely ran the current, swollen high by months of rain:
And fast his blood was flowing; and he was sore in pain,
And heavy with his armour, and spent with changing blows:
And oft they thought him sinking, but still again he rose. 

Never, I ween, did swimmer, in such an evil case,
Struggle through such a raging flood safe to the landing place:
But his limbs were borne up bravely by the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber bare bravely up his chin. 

"Curse on him!" quoth false Sextus, "will not the villain drown?
But for this stay, ere close of day, we would have sacked the town!"
"Heaven help him!" quoth Lars Porsena, "and bring him safe to shore;
For such a gallant feat of arms was never seen before." 

And now he feels the bottom: now on dry earth he stands;
Now round him throng the Fathers, to press his gory hands;
And now, with shouts and clapping, and noise of weeping loud,
He enters through the River-Gate, borne by the joyous crowd. 

They gave him of the corn-land, that was of public right,
As much as two strong oxen could plough from morn till night;
And they made a molten image, and set it up on high,
And there it stands unto this day to witness if I lie. 

It stands in the Comitium, plain for all folk to see;
Horatius in his harness, halting upon one knee:
And underneath is written, in letters all of gold,
How valiantly he kept the bridge in the brave days of old. 

And still his name sounds stirring unto the men of Rome,
As the trumpet-blast that calls to them to charge the Volscian home;
And wives still pray to Juno for boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well in the brave days of old. 

And in the nights of winter, when the cold north winds blow,
And the long howling of the wolves is heard amidst the snow;
When round the lonely cottage roars loud the tempest's din,
And the good logs of Algidus roar louder yet within; 

When the oldest cask is opened, and the largest lamp is lit;
When the chestnuts glow in the embers, and the kid turns on the spit;
When young and old in circle around the firebrands close;
When the girls are weaving baskets and the lads are shaping bows 

When the goodman mends his armour, and trims his helmet's plume,
And the goodwife's shuttle merrily goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge in the brave days of old.

from 'Subject Reviews: Roman Literature', Greece & Rome 39 (1992) (Don Fowler)

The lack of detailed modern commentaries on the second half of the Aeneid has also long been felt, and is at last being addressed.  Oxford now offer us Book 10, and Cambridge Book 11.  Steven Harrison’s **BVergil, Aeneid 102 is a revision of his doctoral dissertation supervised by Nisbet and Horsfall, and it is a fine piece of work.  Like other recent volumes in the Oxford Classical Monographs series, it offers a translation as well as a text, plus an introduction, detailed commentary, and an appendix ‘Some Aspects of Vergilian Style’.  The overall interpretation is broadly Augustan, though Harrison’s earlier days in Balliol have not been entirely expunged: the ‘glorification of Augustus’, we are told, is ‘full-hearted and unambiguous’ (p. xxiv) but much more ambiguity is admitted in the presentation of Aeneas and Jupiter (see, e.g., the excellent note on the Aegaeon simile for Aeneas at 565-70, where he rightly resists Gordon Williams’s attempt to defuse the simile with an assumption of embedded focalization, or the discussion of Jupiter’s ‘insincere temporizing’ on 111-12).  Even if one admits that there ‘need not be a full typological analogy between literary and historical characters’ (p. xxvi) this is a difficult line to hold, and I think the Aeneid is more disturbing of Augustan order than Harrison admits.  In Vergilian studies, I am a great believer in Solon on civil war (frr. 350-7 Martina): this is all a bit sane for me.  The commentary especially is stuffed with really excellent points, but they are not always developed enough and can be expressed with a blandness which belies their interest.  In the appendix, for instance, we are told that Vergil ‘colours his narrative’ with colloquialisms, the sort of metaphor which usually signals moronic Edwardianism: but Harrison’s discussion of register in the commentary is first-rate, with, for instance, the exact observation on the use of capillos at 832 that it is a touch of ‘pathetic realism’.  Similarly in the appendix, we are told that the pastoral language used of Cycnus and Mezentius ‘provides variation and contrast with the world of epic’, but on the latter passage (835-6) he observes, more exactly, that the locus amoenus description ‘provides a pointed contrast with the surrounding sufferings of battle’.  If only he hadn’t brought in variety, another concept whose use inevitably signals an uninteresting critic, as if the Aeneid was the London Palladium.  If there is one pressing need at my alma mater it is to kill off Oxford ‘elegance’, which is like the miasma that seeps up from the Thames on wet November evenings and rots the brains.  ‘\flameoff\’ as they say on the computer nets: this is too good a commentary to be used for sermonizing.  It is a major contribution to Vergilian studies which we shall all find ourselves using constantly.  I hope a paperback will be produced at some stage to make it available to poorer scholars; if so, someone in OUP might like to check what happened to the final proof of p. 179.

03 August 2013

Habakkuk 3.17-19 (KJV)

Although the fig tree shall not blossom,
neither shall fruit be in the vines;
the labour of the olive shall fail,
and the fields shall yield no meat;
the flock shall be cut off from the fold,
and there shall be no herd in the stalls: 
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 

The Lord God is my strength,
and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.

To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.

02 May 2013

from Bluff Your Way in the Classics (Ross Leckie)

Thucydides (460-400 BC)

By means of making up speeches in his History for the people who made up the war in which they say what he thought they thought they did or ought to, might have, could have done, thereby explaining, commenting, elucidating and rationalising in accord with a History written not for the applause of the moment but for all time and resting on what he himself saw and on the reports of others, after careful research aiming at the greatest possible accuracy in each case, he wrote a history of and, to a large extent, created the Peloponnesian War.

18 April 2013

Kubla Khan, or, A Vision in a Dream, a Fragment (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

The following fragment is here published at the request of a poet of great and deserved celebrity, and, as far as the Author's own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the grounds of any supposed poetic merits.

In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in 'Purchas's Pilgrimage': 'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.' The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unforunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!

In Xanadu did KubIa Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chafly grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult KubIa heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

10 April 2013

from My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George)

Frightful and I went to the meadow when the meal was done, and I flopped in the grass.  The stars came up, the ground smelled sweet, and I closed my eyes.  I heard, 'Pip, pop, pop, pop.'

'Who's making that noise?' I said sleepily to Frightful.  She ruffled her feathers.

I listened.  'Pop, pip.'  I rolled over and stuck my face in the grass.  Something gleamed beneath me, and in the fading light I could see an earthworm coming out of its hole.

Nearby another one arose and there was a pop.  Little bubbles of air snapped as these voiceless animals of the earth came to the surface.  That got me to smiling.  I was glad to know this about earthworms.  I don't why, but this seemed like one of the nicest things I had learned in the woods - that earthworms, lowly, confined to the darkness of the earth, could make just a little stir in the world.

09 April 2013

from The Ha Ha Bonk Book (Janet and Allan Ahlberg)

Jokes to tell your Mum

Mums are busy women.  For instance, if your mum is the Prime Minister, she has to run the country.  If she is the Queen, she has to run the country as well, and make Prince Philip's sandwiches.  The Queen, by the way, likes jokes about horses, wooden legs and Englishwomen, Irishwomen and Scotswomen.

One more thing: mums are supposed to be the experts on children; but this is not always so.  After all, who else do you know who gets you up in the morning when you're sleepy, and sends you to bed at night when you're wide awake?

The Easter Anthems (The Parish Psalter)

Christ our passover is sacrificed for us : therefore let us keep the feast.

Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness : but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more : death hath no more dominion over him.

For in that he died, he died unto sin once : but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin : but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ is risen from the dead : and become the first-fruits of them that slept.

For since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die : even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be : worth without end.  Amen.

02 April 2013

from The Man Born to be King, the twelfth play, The King Comes to his Own (Dorothy L. Sayers)

(A soft knocking on the door)

JOHN: Is that you, Mary?
JOHN: Come in.  My mother will be down in a moment ... How did you find them all at Bethany?
MARY MAGDALEN: With heart and spirit broken.  But a little comforted to know that all of us were safe.  They were dreadfully anxious, thinking you and Peter had been arrested, and wondering what would happen to your mother and Mary Cleophas, and the mother of our dear Lord, left unprotected in Jerusalem.  Martha scolded me terribly for having run off into danger, crying and kissing me all the time, and breaking off every few minutes to fly to the kitchen and cook some little tempting dish or other to comfort us.
JOHN: Dear funny Martha!
MARY MAGDALEN: And when we couldn't eat, exclaiming that she was a wicked woman, and had broken the Sabbath for us, all to no purpose!  And Matthew said without thinking, 'Don't you worry - the Sabbath was made for man -' and that just about finished us.
JOHN: I know.  A familiar word - the echo of a laugh - it is like a stab in the heart.  Yesterday I found a pair of old sandals, moulded by the feet that wore them.  We hid them from Peter.
MARY MAGDALEN: Peter is here with you?
JOHN: Like a sick animal that has crawled home to die.  He can't eat.  He can't sleep.  He can't forgive himself (with passionate self-reproach) It was my fault.  I knew he was frightened, yet I left him alone in the house of Annas.  Dear Lord! was there none of us you could trust for five minutes?
MARY MAGDALEN: Poor Peter!  He takes his failures hard.
JOHN: He calls himself a worse traitor than - I can't speak the name.  It is like poison in me.  I can't say our Master's prayer.  'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive' - no, it's impossible ... You heard what became of him?
MARY MAGDALEN: Yes.  John, you can't hate him worse than he came to hate himself.  His self-hate murdered him.
JOHN (slowly): If I hate him, I am his murderer too ... Oh, God! there is no end to our sins!  Do we all murder Jesus and one another?
MARY MAGDALEN: John, dear, you don't hate Judas - not really.  You can't bear the idea of hurting him.  You don't understand his sin or his despair, but that's because you've never been truly wicked.  The Master's the only good man I ever met who knew how miserable it felt to be bad.  It was as if he got right inside you, and felt all the horrible things you were doing to yourself ... But I don't suppose Judas ever let him in.  He was too proud.  I think it was harder for him than for people like Matthew and me and that poor robber on the cross.  We know we're so awful anyhow that it's no good pretending we're not, even to ourselves.  So it doesn't matter if other people come in and see what we're like inside.
JOHN: Blessed are the humble, and the wretched and the poor -
MARY MAGDALEN: And the lost sheep and the sinners.  You know, when the Rabbi said that, he really meant it ... Don't fret too much about Peter.  He's not proud.  He'll never go the way of Judas ... Only, don't be soft with him.  The Rabbi wasn't soft - he was sharp and stern and bracing, and never let you pity yourself.  Peter must face what he did, and learn to put it aside and do better next time.
JOHN: What next time?  Our Master is dead.  When you anointed him in the house of Simon the Leper, it was for his burial, as he said.  And here come Mary Cleophas and my mother, bringing the spices that they have prepared ... Mother, Mary Magdalen is here.
SALOME: Good morning, Mary dear.
MARY MAGDALEN: Dear Salome.  Dear Mary Cleophas.
MARY CLEOPHAS: God bless you, Magdalen.  Mary the mother of Jesus sends you her love.
MARY MAGDALEN: How is she, poor lady?
MARY CLEOPHAS: Worn out with grief, but wonderfully brave and calm.  She said very sweetly that she commended her son's body to our love.  And she gave us this to take with us.
MARY MAGDALEN: Oh, but what is it? I never saw such a beautiful casket.  The gold and jewels are fit for a king's treasure.
MARY CLEOPHAS: It came from a king's treasure.  It is King Balthazar's gift of myrrh, that he brought to Jesus at Bethlehem.  It has waited for him three-and-thirty years.
MARY MAGDALEN: It shall lie above his heart where the soldier's spear smote him ... I have brought aloes and cassia ...
SALOME: Palm-wine for the washing; cloves and balm of Gilead ...
MARY CLEOPHAS: Labdanum, camphire, nard, and oil of sandal and cedar.
MARY MAGDALEN: We shall need a basin.
SALOME: Here it is.  And a comb and scissors ... Have we towels enough?
MARY CLEOPHAS: I think so.  And a clean linen garment.  And fresh grave-bands.
MARY MAGDALEN: We shall find those at the sepulchre.  Joseph of Arimathea brought them; a new garment, white as snow; and we dressed our Master in it and swathed the long cloths about him and bound his head with a fine napkin.  The richest nobleman could have no better.
SALOME: Take them, all the same.  It is well to be prepared ... Are the gates of the city open?  Mary, how did you get in?
MARY MAGDALEN: I made a little present to the watchman.  He is expecting us, and will let us out by the postern.
SALOME: Then we had best be starting ...
JOHN: I don't like your going alone.  Hadn't I better come too?
SALOME: No, dear.  We shall be safer without you.  Nobody will interfere with three women bound on an errand of mercy.  Besides, this is a woman's business.
JOHN: I wish there was something I could do.  I feel so helpless and hopeless.
SALOME: It's always so, my son.  Men make a great bustle in life, but women wind the swaddling-bands and the grave-bands for all of them ... Come and see us out, and bar the door after us.
JOHN (meekly): Yes, Mother ... The moon's still up.  You'll be able to find your way.
MARY CLEOPHAS: And the sun will rise soon.  It's close on cock-crow.
JOHN: That's a bad time with Peter.  I must go up to him.
MARY MAGDALEN: That's right, John.  Peter's your job.  Do your best for him.
JOHN: I will, Mary ... (He unbars the door) ... Wait a moment ... All's quiet.  Not a soul in the street ... Go quickly, and God be with you!

(He bars the door again)

10 March 2013

Life (Charlotte Brontë)

Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life's sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily
Enjoy them as they fly!

What though Death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O'er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

20 February 2013

from The Wild Places, chapter 13, Saltmarsh (Robert Macfarlane)

Northern European myth tells of an event called 'The Wild Hunt'.  On tempestuous nights, Wodan would lead across the land the troop of warriors who had died in battle, accompanied by their war-hounds.  Travellers who found themselves in the path of the Wild Hunt were advised to lie face down.  In this way only the cold feet of the black dogs who ran with the hunt would touch them, and they would not be harmed.  The purpose of the Hunt was to collect the souls of the recently deceased; its riders were the summoners of the dead.  Many different versions of the Hunt exist: in a Christian form of the myth, it was said to occur when Gabriel rallied his angels into battle.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle detailed how, on 6 February 1127, the Wild Hunt galloped through the deer part of Peterborough and then through the woods up to Stamford: a 'furious host' rushing through the dark forest paths, across the heaths, over the fells, along the coast, and between the places of 'mirk'.  Gervase of Tilbury recorded in the thirteenth century that Arthur and his knights still led a Wild Hunt along the holloway that ran between Cadbury and Glastonbury.

The ur-myth of the Wild Hunt was almost certainly an explanation of the autumn migrations of wild geese - brent, snow, Canada.  Most years, the geese travel in skeins, in groups of fewer than a hundred birds.  Some years, however, they fly low and in large numbers, and when they pass overhead in the darkness, the noise of their wings is so loud that it can resemble a plane or - to pre-aviation ears - a war-host of angels.  An eerie German soldiers' song, composed in the trenches in 1917, spoke of how 'The Wild Geese rush through the night | With shrill cries to the North. | Beware, beware this dangerous flight | For death is all around us.'