Did I Ever Really Love You?

Did I ever really love you?
Or was it just my quest for Beauty,
To be near that which is lovely,
Like a sea-wave or a symphony,
And to feel it reaching back to me?

Did I ever really love you?
Or was Wisdom my delight,
And her candle burned most bright
When I sat within your sight,
So I stayed and loved her light?

Did I ever really love you?
Or was my bliss in Selflessness,
That last-mite-giving cheerfulness,
The kneeling, praying, willingness
To serve for other’s happiness?

Wise and lovely, selfless  one,
Like an ember-glowing poppy
Set a-fire by the sun,
Virtue’s lovers every one,
In your presence shall be happy.

~Watchful

orange_poppies-t2

You can read some of my thoughts behind this poem in my comment in the comment  section.

 

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Conclusions

In talking and writing there’s usually the expectation of some kind of conclusion. In arguments/conversations, this can take the form of trying to establish some piece of common ground before parting. It can feel forced — we have to find some common ground, so we come up with something like “Well, at least we agree that one of us is wrong:)”

In essays as well I think conclusions are the hardest part. Like in conversations we feel our thoughts should have a conclusion, and so we tack on conclusions even if we haven’t reached very coherent ones.

This is also true in people telling stories of their own lives. A lot of the time people don’t like to tell their story unless they can put some conclusion on it, and so they end up either not telling their story or, if they share about something like a struggle with melancholy or some family/relationship dilemma, they make it sound as if they have come through in some definitive way when they have not.

I do believe in deliverance, and I rejoice to hear of people who have been delivered for good and all from some malady or trial. Yet often when I read people telling of their struggles, it can seem that they feel that they must put some happy ending on. And so the sadness is put in the past tense, and one of the ups, of the ups and downs of life, is chosen as the definitive end of their story.

Aside from hope or pride that might make us try to put a happy ending on our stories, I guess it’s not thought polite to tell a downer story that ends “And I’m still sad,” but when someone is telling me of a struggle from their past, I sometimes think that they might just be trying to talk (in a more delicate way) about a problem in their present.

I suppose the psychologists and novelists have written about this phenomenon before.

*
My experience in writing is that I have a much narrower set of conclusions that I come to than subjects I deal with. As in chess, where there are fewer possibilities in the end-game than in the middle-game, so it seems I could talk about an almost limitless list of subjects and they will all funnel down to just a few conclusions.

Discussing things as various as Ars Nova music, the indigenous language of the Canary Islands, Henry VIII’s sixth wife (Catherine Parr,) the Heimskringla, Craftsmen-style houses, French singer Jacques Brel, Pixar’s The Incredibles, property tax, the Amish, Etruscan necropolises, and baseball, if I try to put some conclusion on, I seem to end up boiling them all down to my handful of conclusions.

This isn’t necessarily all bad. Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, boils everything down to:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Everything that he says in the sermon-book Ecclesiastes comes down to this one, concise conclusion. You might say “That’s only the conclusion to one book.” but I would reply “read Ecclesiastes” — he’s talking in that book about every thing and purpose under the heaven. If wisdom comes to that conclusion about everything, what other conclusion could one come to about anything? It should be some form or sub-category of “Fear God, and keep his commandments.”

Music’s Ennobling Power

So it seems that James Levine, longtime conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, is an abusive creep. Still, he was a good conductor.

This makes me think about something which I have long pondered. Growing up, my main identification was as a Christian, but my parents also took me and my siblings to a lot of music lessons. We were members of the Community Music Center’s choirs, the local youth symphony, and went to week-long Suzuki Violin camps in the summer along with lots of other musically enriching classes and ensembles.

I mention this in relation to being a Christian not so much in comparing the duties (going to church and going to the music center) but rather the beliefs, because across the board in the music world there was a pretty unified philosophy.

That was:  music has great power to make us better people.

Like in the Orpheus myth, music could raise us from being savage and beast-like to being noble and humane. If only every child were part of a choir, he wouldn’t want to do graffiti or drugs. If only enough money were allocated to music education, world peace could be achieved, for what man would want to pick up a bazooka if he already had a bassoon in his hands? What nation would have time to practice violence while practicing violins?

What always concerned me, however, was that the trained classical musicians of our community did not seem to be automatically more kind. Exposure to the music of Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, and Debussy did not seem to have given them compassionate hearts.

Dr. Suzuki, the founder of the Suzuki Violin Method, famously spoke of “a beautiful tone from a beautiful heart,” but I have not really noticed there to be a strict correspondence. Levine seems to be a good example of good musical sense and skill coming from a manifestly selfish heart. And involvement in the splendid and sensitive work of classical music-making didn’t take away that selfishness.

Of course, I can encourage myself that music does have some ennobling effect, that though classically trained musicians are not delivered from being unkind, we would be a lot more vicious without the training and exposure. There is a lot less crime among classical symphony musicians than gangster rappers.

I think music helps you be a healthy human being — like hiking in the great outdoors, listening to Shakespeare, eating healthy food etc.

The first half of the last century saw a widespread movement to equate things like fresh air and good music with moral goodness. I once read an article from the August 1909 issue of Sunset about Katherine Tingley’s Theosophist colony at Loma Linda. It definitely portrayed them as a group that believed in the salubrious effect on the soul of exposure to fresh air.

The activity of the Theosophists, according to the article, “might be said to consist of the teaching of an amplified evolutionary philosophy, in some respects similar to that of Spencer and Darwin, with the addition thereto that the law of evolution and progressive development works the same in the invisible realms of spiritual existence as it does on the physical plane; to this is joined a system of child training…”

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“The indoor study hours are short”


I’m not exactly sure what it means that progressive evolution works in the invisible spiritual realm the same as on the physical (re-incarnation would be a necessary component, obviously) but evolution always was a kind of vague and magical science; it would seem in the invisible spiritual realm as we evolve up — like a snake being raised from the basket to the sound of the pungi — music is used.

“Music instead of being regarded as an amusement, is taught to be one of those subtle forces of nature which, properly applied, tend toward higher aspirations and higher ideals. there are not many hours in the day that music is not heard from some part of the grounds.”

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Mrs. Tingley’s boast of the effectiveness of Theosophical education

But how did all these children turn out? Impervious to all the temptations common to man? Even with all the music and fresh air, it seems unlikely. The Theosophical way of running the colony even with all its dedication to music, exercise, and work also had a certain hard-heartedness. Recounted in the article is how the writer of the article saw a young lady become disenchanted with Theosophy. She was being shown around the campus in the same tour as him, and on seeing some children playing, this young lady inquired, 

“”Whose babies are these?”
“Most of them belong to the members of the organization.” was the reply.
“Kept here during the day I suppose?”
“And at night, too,” was the surprising reply.
“But where are their mothers?”
“They are here, engaged in their chosen work.”
“You don’t mean to say that the mothers give up their babies, allow their little ones to be separated from them and cared for on a community plan?” asked my companion, her eyes wide with astonishment.
“Give them up? Oh, no. At first they see them once a day, when they grow a little older once a week…”
“I cannot conceive of the mother’s heart that would willingly separate herself from her babies. That part of your philosophy does not appeal to me.””

So there’s some cold-hearted wickedness afoot in the Theosophical paradise.

C.S. Lewis critically depicted a somewhat similar progressive 20th-century education in his book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. His character Eustace Scrubb is raised in a family of “very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on the beds and the windows were always open.” 

And personality-wise Eustace is a first-rate stinker. 

But in such a critique one could go two ways: either point out the particular problems in a specific educational model, or argue that even the best training methods that seek to bring out and develop humans are ultimately limited by the wickedness of the human heart. 

C.S. Lewis goes both ways; He often says that Eustace hasn’t read the right books (there were particular problems in his education), but he also reforms this beastly character only through a miraculous new-birth experience. 

In the showing the need for a re-birth Lewis sides with Christ who, in contrast to progressive idealism, is not sanguine about a goodness in man (even with the best education.) Christ says “ye must be born again.” You need a new heart from above. 

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I took a break from writing this and went over to my Grandma’s house as I do most nights, and she was watching a classical music concert on the TV. I sat down in front of the T.V. and felt my heart uplifted by the music. Beauty’s uplifting power seems real; I think that it is real and that is why God gave us beautiful music.

Look around at the beauty of the stars, the flora and fauna of the land and the sea; beauty is something God gave us to be a part of life, and it’s to be received with thanksgiving.  But I still think that Christians should remember the limitations of the power of beauty and not make the field of aesthetics the main battlefield. For, what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his own soul?

Yet God certainly can use beauty to give us a sense of something beyond this world of sights and sounds. I pray that classical musicians like Levine would not only receive the blessings of getting to experience beauty in this life, but that they would take the hint of a world beyond, and seek God.

Ringerike

Halvdan_Svartes_saga-Tittelfrise-Gerhard_Munthe

 

This poem is based on part of a story from old Norway. I found the story in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla or Chronicles of the Kings of Norway in the Saga of Halfdan the Black. .

The metre of the is very particular and I’m not sure how well the poem comes off  if not read with the right rhythm. The middle two lines of each stanza are straightforward, but in lines one and four after the first 3 or 4 syllables, the last six syllables are at a little brisker tempo. It’s close to the rhythm of the first line of the song from Tangled “I See the Light” (here in French, cause it’s prettier in French.) In musical notation the rhythm of the first line of this poem would be quarter, quarter, half, eighth, eighth, eighth, eighth, quarter, quarter. DUM-dum  DUUM, deedle-eedle dum dum

The 4th line is always DUM-dum  DUM-dum, deedle-eedle dum dum, whereas the 1st alternates between that and DUM-dum DUUM, deedle-eedle dum dum, as already described. The final e’s in names such as Ringerike, Hake, and Hvasse, are pronounced.

If you are still interested in this little poem be warned, it’s a dark and nasty small tableau from old Norway.

Sigurd Hjort, King in Ringerike,
Matchless man in strength and size
Matchless son of Helgi Hvasse,
And of Aslaug (child of Sigurd snake-eyes)

Loved the wild and desolate dark woodland
Where alone he often rode
Where the bear and red-toothed wolf ran
From his eager, eagle-feathered arrows.

Thorny, child of Klakharald of Jutland,
Ragnhild to Sigurd bore
Ragnhild in all the northland
Was most fair and fetching, so the world swore.

All alone the King of Ringerike
Rode one day far through the woods
Rode to where the fearsome Hake,
Brave berserk, with thirty of his men stood

In a clearing waiting, close to Hadeland,
Armed with black steel, keen and grim
Armed to kill the hunter king and
With fresh steeds in hand if they must hunt him.

Sigurd Hjort, drawing forth his yew-bow,
Sent six death-shafts through the air
Sent six singing iron arrows
And six warriors tumbled down in death there.

All around the King of Ringerike,
Came those men with sword and shield
Came with shouting, led by Hake
While above the waiting woodland kite wheeled.

Sun was setting o’er the son of Hvasse;
Sigurd’s sword did loudly ring,
Sigurd struck a hand off Hake,
Yet he fell before him in the clearing.

“Men, of Hadeland, mount up on your horses!
To Hjort’s house!” fierce Hake roared.
To the house he led his forces
Even as hot blood from out his wounds poured.

All was dark, there in Ringerike,
In dead Sigurd’s lonely house;
In her dreams fair Sigurd’s daughter
Saw her father standing by the windows.

Ragnhild, waking from the nightmare
Heard the voice of Hake then,
Heard the horses, saw the torch-glare
Of berserker Hadelander horsemen.

As the land is licked up by the sea-waves,
Breaking, breaking on the shore,
Breaking through the door the axe-thieves,
Seized bright silver — stole dead Sigurd’s gold-store.

But the brightest gem in Ringerike
Was not set in brooch or ring,
‘Twas the treasure one-hand Hake
Rode that night to Ringerike seeking.

Ragnhild, matchless maid of Norway
Hake sought and seized that night,
Hake bore her through the doorway
Bore her home in bloody arms by star-light.

 

 

 

 

First Lesson in Poetry

Oh, ye young gallant writers all
Come listen unto me
And I will teach the secret skill
Of writing poetry.

To make it plain I chose this theme,
To show the craft most clearly,
That POETRY IS LIKE ICE CREAM,
That dish men love most dearly.

Words correspond to cream you see,
But everybody knows
That words alone aren’t poetry,
That’s what is known as prose.

So cream alone is not ice cream
Ice gives it form and structure
In poetry the ice ‘twould seem
Is patterned pulse, or metre.

But is that all that’s requisite
To truly make the treat?
In strict sense yes –but what is it
Without some added sweet?

Some added sweetness makes you lick
Ice cream with greater pleasure,
In verse the kick that makes words stick
Is rhyme — poetry’s sugar.

And there are still more ways than this
To give your ice cream flavour,
And there is more that I can list
Of tricks good poets favour.

Alliteration and assonance
Work wonders when well wielded;
The first is done with consonants,
For the other vowels are needed.

Like chopped up chunks of chocolate
Churned right into the mixture
Some poets like a lot of it
To give the text more texture.

And let there be a fine excess
Of sprinkles and of toppings,
In lines that touch of loveliness
No half-way words should stop things.

And as the tastiest flavours are
The ones containing berries,
So verse replete with metaphor
The greatest beauty carries.

I’d say this poem in metaphor
The heights of poesie reaches,
But also does what poems are for
Delights provokes and teaches.

So if toward creativity
Your heart is ever yearning,
Apply my words in poetry
Or  your next ice-cream churning.

Farm boys 1941 ice cream

‘Til Death Us Do Part

If as mere friends our lives had parted ways,
Perhaps years later I might come to hear
That she had died, my friend of bygone days
Had died, and I, perhaps, would shed a tear.
But since God chose our separate threads to braid,
If you should die before me then my part
Will be the deepest pain — a sorrow made
As day by day I gave to you my heart
In hours and hours of talk and work and prayer,
In sickness and in health, and sometimes lost
On winding roads but with you always there.
Yet will love’s parting prove too high a cost?
I choose to brave its pain, gladly I do
As year by year I fall in love with you.

~Watchful