Selfies on O Street – a love song

I’d like to thank the woman I sat next to at the stoplight this morning on the way to work for providing me with the inspiration to butcher Warren Zevon’s poor song after watching her strain at the red light to get her pose and smile just right for the camera. I’m sorry Warren, but it’s just one of those things I had to get out of my system. For those not familiar with Lincoln, Nebraska, O Street is the main east-west highway through our city and goes straight through the heart of downtown  and our main business district.

Photo: allgags.com

Photo: allgags.com

Selfies on O Street

I saw a woman with a smartphone in her hand
Sitting at a stoplight on O Street in the morning sun
She was lookin’ to take a selfie big smile on her face
Gonna post and wait for the affirmations to roll in

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!

Ya see them snappin’ around your office
Ya better not get sucked in
Driver lady hit the car in front of her own that day
Takin’ selfies on O Street again

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!

She’s the jheri curled gal who snapchats in Starbucks
Lately she’s Instagram’d at Caribou
You better avoid getting in her way
She’ll smash your car with her yellow Jeep
I’d like to run over her damned phone

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!

Well, I saw her walking on 13th downtown
Takin’ selfies on O Street
Makin’ a duck face at Walgreens
Takin’ selfies on O Street
I saw her drinkin’ a Fish Bowl at Duffy’s Tavern
And her jheri curls were slick

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Smile big now
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street

Friday Five – Volume 83

Friday Five-Mere Observations

“The longer I live, the more I have the feeling like God looks down, like when you’ve just bitten into a vanilla ice cream cone, you just get the feeling God’s going, ‘Yes! He enjoys it, and I made his taste buds and I made vanilla and he’s putting it together and he’s experiencing what I created him to experience.’ ” ― Rich Mullins

— 1 —

Lately as I’ve stood in line at any coffee shop or restaurant I’ve made it a point to look around at my fellow line dwellers. By my unofficial count over 70% stand slouched over with their gaze held in check by their smartphone. No commentary here other than to say if I was going to start over with my career I’d consider becoming a chiropractor.

Ok…just one comment (by proxy):

cartoon_cone of shame

— 2 —

“Don’t wish to be like the gilded weather-cock on top of a great building: however much it shines, and however high it stands, it adds nothing to the solidity of the building. Rather be like an old stone block hidden in the foundations, underground, where no one can see you: because of you the house will not fall.” – St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way #590

Too many preening cocks taking selfies today. A house built upon sand will not stand. We need more foundational stones. Therein lies the path of humility.

Along those lines…

Today’s America is drunk with the intoxicating effects of materialism, worshipping Mammon as a god that gives her what she thinks she wants. In her addiction to consumerism and her idolization of gadgets, she is forgetting her duty to God. Indeed, she has forgotten the true God she is called to serve in favour of mere “godgets,” the trinket deities of trivia and trash.

In order to truly serve their nation, true Americans must fearlessly criticize her for her waywardness. More importantly, we must evangelize her, bringing her to the fullness of faith in the God under Whom she owes her existence. Only when America kneels before her true God will she become truly civilized; only when she kneels will she become the land of the free and the home of the brave; only when she kneels will American faith and culture become part of the faith and culture of Christendom; only when she kneels, will she rise. – Joseph Pearce, Beauteous Truth, p.42

As I said last week this book is proving to be a great read.

— 3 —

One of the most obvious lessons of the past several weeks has been the exposing of feminist groups in America as being nothing more than political shills whose sole aim is fundraising for the purpose of electing Democratic party candidates. In their eyes the greatest evil on earth is Hobby Lobby.

But I’m a man so what I think doesn’t count. Kate Bryan, however, is a woman. And she  points out the obvious in this piece.

The feminist movement has completely failed women if when women need them most, they are nowhere to be found. The Islamic State’s genocide is the real “War on Women”, yet so-called “feminists” and so-called “feminist organizations” have remained silent.

If these women and their organizations truly cared about women and their well-being, they would have spoken out on this issue from the beginning. According to their actions, these organizations don’t truly care about women, they only care about boosting their profits.

She said it, not me. Forgive my treading to this ground but one of the things that grates my teeth the most is the hypocrisy of those women I know who espouse these views and drum up sympathy for them only to shirk their so-called beliefs when the rubber hits the road.

— 4 —

Ok, so I grumbled and groused a bit in the first three installments. Now for a 180.

I read Sam Guzman’s piece The Quietness of Good the other day and it brought to mind something I’d written after a retreat in the fall of 2012. First from Sam:

Yes, good is very much present. In fact, it is everywhere—it is simply very quiet and very humble. Being, existence itself, is the first good, from which all other gifts flow. But goodness is seen in so much else—in a hearty meal, in a smile, in a kind word, in the sacrifice of a parent for a child, in blue skies on a Spring day, or Sandhill cranes gliding silently overhead.

But while this goodness surrounds us, it is hardly ever noticed. Very often we completely ignore it while we complain about this or that.

And that is the very problem. We have grown so cold to the ocean of goodness in which we swim, in which we live and move and have our being, that we no longer notice it. We never notice it, that is, until it is gone—like a fish does not notice water until he is taken out of it. In short, we do not see goodness because it is the rule. We only notice suffering because it is the exception.

Yep. Guilty of that, I am. Right up there ^^^ in this very blog in fact. More Sam:

It is our solemn duty to open our eyes to this radiance of being. To do so, we must outgrow our petulant discontent and melancholy grumbling by cleansing the lenses of our soul to see the goodness that our Infernal Enemy is trying his very best to drown out. Most of all, we must be grateful.

For the simple truth is that we can never be grateful enough. We can never be fully aware of just how good things really are. If we were, this knowledge would crush us under the weight of its glory. But we can learn to sense the silent presence of goodness through thanksgiving.

In my 2012 piece The Beauty of Creation I wrote about the First Principle of St. Ignatius from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I strained to capture my meditations on this principle from my bench seat near some trees at the base of a South Dakota prairie hill.

Life really is that simple, and we do far too often allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that truly do not matter. The second paragraph of The First Principle is a mini-principle of its own: a principle of simplification. It is a call for us to make use of and enjoy God’s creation, but not get so distracted in the things that don’t matter that we neglect or ignore the things that do. Yeah, that’d be me. Guilty as charged. Since returning from my retreat I’ve made a conscious effort to not become like so many of those I see walking downtown each day, noses buried in a 4 inch screen. We miss so much, no wonder we become so jaded. No wonder we no longer praise.

Yeah, no wonder. And that’s the problem. We’ve simply forgotten. Fortunately He hasn’t forgotten us.

A reminder from myself that I’ve still got work to do on this point.

— 5 —

To further illustrate that concept regarding God’s love affair with his creation throughout time I’ll cite one of the few things I’ve read in a combox that wasn’t dreck. Many people have an understandably difficult time reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the Son, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament. I get that, and until I dug deeper into Holy Scripture and the concept of salvation history through reading, studying and prayer I struggled as well. As “MarcAlcan” writes in a comment on this piece on frustrations in prayer we are often only seeing a smaller picture.

___________

(quoting a previous commenter) “The Old Testament God is not someone I want to hang out with.”

Only because you have a deficient knowledge of the Old Testament.

I think your knowledge of the OT would be like the way this letter has been mangled:

Dear Son, I ….. don’t want to spend time ….with …. you because I … shower you with …. all the evil that has been besetting you these past few days. I want to pour ….. into your heart … hatred and anger …

When the full letter reads like this:

Dear Son, I have been thinking a lot about you these past few days and though you don’t want to spend time with me, I would like to spend time with you because I want to shower you with blessings and remove all the evil that has been besetting you these past few days. I want to pour out my love into your heart that you may experience joy and not be filled with hatred and anger anymore.

___________

At the top I posted a favorite quote of mine by the late Rich Mullins. Another is:

Folks, God knew you at your worst before He ever sent Christ to die for you. And the good news of Christianity is not that Christ came into the world to make good little boys and girls. Christ came into the world to take away the sins that you’ve allowed to come between you and God. It’s sad to me to believe—to look out there and see—when you’re driving down the road and you see people who are afraid, you see people who are angry, and you go, “If only you knew how crazy about you God was! God already loved you, if only you knew!”

Amen.

A brief vacation in Paradise

Today I found myself staring into this painting.

Welcome to Paradise Terry Redlin (1989)

Welcome to Paradise
Terry Redlin (1989)

After navigating staircases and a skywalk to get from my office to the Sasquatch Café across the street, I caught myself melting into this scene. I had placed my order for a Bacon Vacation (salad, bacon, corn, bacon, some other stuff, and bacon) and I stepped back from the line. I turned and saw this painting erected on an easel where it was displayed for the purposes of being auctioned for some cause or another. I’d seen it for the past few weeks, but today was slightly different. You see I’m worn down, way down. I’m beyond mentally tired and looking for an escape. Where some choose other means of escape such as drugs, alcohol, or sex, others check out by distracting themselves in the inanities of everyday life such as social media. I used to check out by reading about the news and current events. Only I can feel I’m in danger of being consumed by it, just as other addicts experience the same by other means.

And then I saw this.

I should mention that I’ve been an admirer of Terry Redlin’s paintings for over two decades. He hails from South Dakota, not far from the neck of the woods (or prairie) where I grew up and so I “get” it. Or he gets me. I can remember as a young boy traveling with my dad down dirt roads that wound around the rolling hills and gentle valleys until you came upon such a scene. Perhaps not as idyllic as painted here, or perhaps even moreso.

This is where I want to be today. Right now. Tonight.

Look closer...

Look closer…

Look closer and you’ll see that recent rains have left puddles in the road in front of the store, just past the woodpile and sign informing you that you’ve reached Paradise Lake, population 13. The jeep tells you that an old friend is here, and the corners of your mouth turn upwards slightly as your last conversation or tall tales comes to mind. Or the jeep is owned by a stranger who might become a friend and share new stories with you and the store owner that you will rehash in the future. An Irish setter is resting in front of the store, the same dog that you pat on the head each time you take the first step up towards the door or sit on the bench beside him to shoot the breeze before heading inside for supplies and easy conversation. He sees you and does not get up, but you note his tail wagging in anticipation of your arrival.

The sun is setting. The lights of this outpost of civilization are aglow. You can hear the wind rustling through the trees, the ducks flying overhead, crickets chirping and the gentle lapping of the lake’s waters. Behind the green bench you can see the table and chair where I’d be found on summer and fall evenings. This evening.

This is where I wanted to be today………

Brittany calls my name to indicate that my salad was ready. Taking a deep breath and casting one last, long look at the painting, I turned to retrieve my Bacon Vacation and enter back into the present. It was a different vacation I had in mind when walking back to my desk.

Friday Five – Volume 82

Friday Five-Mere Observations

I received the following and unexpected email this morning at work from a co-worker:

A blessed feast of the Assumption to you, brother!

While it’s not exactly the catacombs you do need to watch your back here in corporate America. This was very cool and meant a lot. Surprisingly much.

Anyhow…onward. Three quickies and two extended thoughts follow.

— 1 —

While so many are posting back to school photos of their children (our Catholic school begins next week) I’ve also seen a few articles aimed at moms in helping them cope with their “baby leaving for college”. I get it. I do. But at the same time I find that I can’t identify with any of that and am thinking to myself that mine is leaving for Marine boot camp.

Not quite the same thing.

It’s why I could be found last Saturday near midnight, sitting by the glow of the dying embers in our firepit and super moon, praying a rosary. I asked for two things, things that have become a continuous request of mine during these days in which the world seems determined to consume itself: fortitude and wisdom. God grant me these.

spider_backyard_8.9.2014

Near the firepit under the moon I was joined by this spider.

— 2 —

Otherwise, this has been a rather sobering week. I haven’t commented publicly on the death of Robin Williams because a) it’s too soon; and b) who really cares what I say?

robinwilliams_reality_LPI loved the guy, as much as one can love a stranger. I unearthed my box of old albums from deep within our storage room the other day and held in my hands his first comedy album “reality…what a concept” from 1979. Sadly without a turntable I was unable to listen to it. The one quip I do remember from this manic performance was his musing:

I wonder what a chair thinks about all day?
Well here comes another asshole.

I was a big fan of Robin’s and like so many grew up with him. I didn’t see all of his movies but did see more than a few. It’s just too soon and not a little undignified for me to address.

As for his movies, after a disappointing debut in Popeye he went on to huge success of course. And while Dead Poets Society is among my favorites I would have to say that at the top of the heap for me are these two:

This.

Followed by this.

Not even close, really.

It wasn’t just that Robin could make my sides sore from fits of laughter. It’s that he was capable of making my heart ache with emotion.

— 3 —

The only comment I did make on Facebook this week related to Robin’s suicide was by posting:

In the wake of the recent suicide of Robin Williams I’ve seen more than a few articles or FB posts taking shots at the Catholic Church’s supposed teaching that “suicides are condemned to hell.” Everyone needs a hobby I guess. But a simple Google search (or actual desire to know the truth) would reveal that this isn’t the case.

And I provided this link. Took me ten seconds to Google and 2-3 minutes to scan through the first three articles that came up.

To be fair I’ve seen it said by Catholics as well as non-Catholics. When did simple research and thinking become such a chore?

— 4 —

beauteous truth_coverThinking became a chore for many reasons. One of which is that there no longer is a common ground amongst us. A common language. When discussing an issue with someone I used to be able to assume a commonality, but that is no longer a given. I see this most apparent when speaking on issues of life. When the other party you are talking to no longer holds to the centuries old concept that life is precious, dignified, and that we are created in the image of God then the rest is just a house of sand discussion-wise. You won’t reach any sort of civilized consensus on points B or C when you don’t even agree on A.

I’m reading Joseph Pearce’s just released book Beauteous Truth: Faith, Reason, Literature & Culture. It is comprised of 76 essays covering a variety of subjects. Each chapter or essay is 3-4 pages long and the book moves quickly. But not too quickly as there is a lot of meat on these bones and much to digest. In “Chapter Three: Faith and Popular Culture” he writes:

…it is clearly necessary to draw a distinction between the healthy “popular culture” of the rooted common man, and the inane “pop culture” of the rootless masses. Those with roots evolve; those without roots revolve or revolt. It was Chesterton who warned that the “coming peril” was not “bolshevism” but was “standardization by a low standard,” or, to use our ugly modern vernacular, the coming peril is the “dumbing down” of culture.

It can be seen, therefore, that healthy popular culture is rooted, it clings. It is rooted in the decencies and charities of Christendom.

Branch, stem, shoots—We need roots.

— 5 —

So not only has thinking become a chore that is in part because of a lack of common starting ground. It has also been deemed something as unnecessary by the arrogance of modern man. In a chapter called Fides et Ratio: Faith and Philosophy Pearce writes (with my emphasis):

One of modernity’s many misperceptions is that Christianity is irrational. It is somehow assumed by moderns that the beliefs of Christians, or even the more generic belief in God, are somehow superstitious and that such beliefs fly in the face of “reason.” This prejudiced presumption, rooted in ignorance, enables the moderns to avoid thinking about questions of faith. It also allows the moderns to presume that Christians and their beliefs can be safely ignored and marginalized. This is decidedly odd for, as Chesterton reminds us, the Catholic Church is the “one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.”

Shouldn’t this cause the modern to at least pause for thought? Pearce asks. He answers

The problem is that the modern seldom pauses and hardly ever thinks. He’s too busy and too thoughtless to concern himself with such things. Needless to say, however, that his thoughtlessness will not deter him from reiterating his judgment. He can still say, in passing, and in haste, that he doesn’t have time for “religion” or “Christianity” because such irrational nonsense is, well, a waste of time.

Pearce sounds harsh, but he’s right. I’ve shared in this experience when trying to talk to friends or (ugh) engage them or strangers in the comboxes of this life. Thought, real honest-to-goodness thought, is dismissed with a huff of derision, eye-roll, and an appeal to feelings. As if something as arbitrary as one’s feelings is a foundation of truth. Yet there it is. Truth for many has become nothing more than “It’s what I feel so it’s what I believe. Therefore it is my truth.”

Nowhere in that statement is anything pertaining to a thought process.

The Catholic Church has not only been thinking about thinking for two millennia, it has been thinking about those who were thinking about thinking in the preceding millennium also. It was Augustine who synthesized the thought of Plato with Christian doctrine; it was Aquinas who baptised the philosophy of Aristotle. Nor should it be forgotten that the Church was a defender of realism as distinct from the nominalism and de facto realism of William of Ockham and his followers. Little does the modern know that he has abandoned realism in favour of nominalism, or that his much touted “realism” is in fact only nominal, as is everything else he believes! The tragedy, or comedy, of the modern mind is that it has gone far beyond the errors of Ockham or even the reductionism of Descartes. Beginning with the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am,” modern man has descended to the ultimate reductio ad absurdum: “I don’t think, therefore am I?”

As witty and truth-filled as the above paragraph may be, it reveals a huge problem going back to my point about common ground. How do you pursuade people to engage in thought once more or get them to understand the reality of our common predicament today when they have no idea who Augustine, Aquinas, Plato, Aristotle, or William of Ockham were. Old, dead white dudes. Irrelevant.

How do you get them to see that they can stand on the shoulders of giants and reach higher heights when they’d rather sit in front of a television and have all their thinking done for them by their puppet masters in Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Washington DC?

I don’t think, therefore am I?

Based upon all the various commentary I’ve seen surrounding a man’s death by suicide this week the answer is a resounding “no.”

Gardening at Night

MATINS
by Louise Glück

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

gardeningglove

Photo credit: Enviromom

Accompanying music that “works” for me with this poem at this particular moment in time:

Friday Five – Volume 81

While thinking about this week’s F5 last night and again this morning I decided that whatever I included I wanted to keep it light.

And then I saw a photo this morning from Iraq that will haunt my dreams for a long, very long time. I’m not going to write about it, or even link to it. I want to forget it. But I know I never will.

Now I don’t know what the hell to write about or include here. So let’s just start and see where it goes.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Last week I thought that this guy and his flaming bagpipes(!) had rendered the ultimate version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. And then I saw this from Finland:

— 2 —

I’ll begin this week with a question that I’ve asked myself a million times over the last few weeks (years, actually).

Why should I write?

As is often the case when I think about such things, I find that I’m not the first person to have wondered. (Blast! See? Everything has already been done!) One of my roommates, reading O’Connor’s The Habit of Being, shared a passage with me on Sunday. Miss Flannery is giving advice to a friend on accepting criticism and using her skills as a writer for the right purpose, that is, because she’s been given them. If God gives you talents, use them. Develop them. It doesn’t matter if you have no idea what the dickens it’s all about; it’s your responsibility to use what you’ve been given, even if you never see the result of it. And, of course, in reading O’Connor’s advice, I was reminded of similar advice I had also been given by one of my writer friends when I put the question to him. If you’re in a rush, I’ve already summed up what both letters are about (chin up and get to it). But if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, and you’re one of the thousand and one unoriginal souls who have pondered the same question with varying levels of frustration, they’re a comforting read-through. So, be comforted!

If you’ve ever asked yourself this question I encourage you to read it all.

Bonus: Praying Psalm 23 for Writers

— 3 —

Poetry of Witness.inddI’ve become interested once again in poetry and last night was thumbing through a book at Barnes & Noble called Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001. It’s billed as “a groundbreaking anthology containing the work of poets who have witnessed war, imprisonment, torture and slavery” and contains 300 poems.

Ok…so I’m still dealing with that image from Iraq I guess.

Despite that gloomy description it is something that looked very good and I’ve added it to my ever-growing Amazon.com Wish List, where I constantly am storing books I hear about or that catch my eye. They sit on the list for a few months or years before eventually being deleted or (for a few at least) purchased.

This poem was written by Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest who would be murdered by Queen Elizabeth I when, after having him tortured ten times, he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1595.

*****

The Burning Babe
By Robert Southwell, SJ

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear; 

Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I! 

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls, 

For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

— 4 —

Here’s something I had emailed myself to post last spring as the school year was winding down. Since it winds back up in another week or so, here’s my daughter’s BME (Before/Middle/End) illustration from a first grade assignment and accompanying story.

sophie as president

Today I gave a loud speech in front of a huge crowd. I talked about all the laws so that people know what they can’t do. Then I talked to the people about God. Later I ate some cheese pizza in Mexico. It was so hot and sunny so I sat under a tree so that the sun wouldn’t get in my eyes. Then I had some delishous cake for desert. Later I jumped on my bumpy bed. Then I watched the movie Frozen. After an hour I fell asleep.

— 5 —

I’ll close with a quote and a song from a favorite little under-the-radar-movie I’ve watched a time or two on Netflix: The Letter Writer.

There’s a balance in all things. If you give, you will receive. If you give a lot, you’ll be rich. It’s magical! You see, life is like a mirror, if someone steals or is dishonest, they’ll invite people into their lives who also steal and are dishonest. The good thing is you can choose who and what enters your life. Within every human being there is a God given ability that if you find it and nurture it you’ll be able to bless the lives of others.

I really need to work on enforcing a filter on what I allow to enter into my life and mind.

A Portable Form to Posterity

When I read this post by A. Carroll Crowe over at FirstFire I immediately thought of the discussion held between the little quarto and Washington Irving’s pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon in one of my favorite short stories “The Mutability of Literature” (which is available to read online here). Reading Crowe’s fictional (or was it?) account of a note written by a cranky little volume caused me to pull Irving’s collection of short stories from my shelf and read it again the other night. In his tale Crayon is at Westminster Abbey, entering in order to avoid the noise and merriment of a group of boys “playing at football.” He is led by a verger to a little double-locked door, seldom used, and led into a small gallery filled with old books. Removing a “little thick quarto, curiously bound in parchment, with brass clasps” he is astonished to find himself suddenly confronted by a talking book once he accidentally loosened the clasps. What followed is a conversation any of us who have sat in quiet libraries filled with dusty shelves of old books can imagine. It’s a short story that any bibliophile should read.

This passage, near the story’s end, is a fine defense of poets, their prose, and writing from one’s heart. Before that Crayon speaks his defense of Shakespeare, but mourns the fact that “his whole form is overrun by a profusion of commentators, who, like clambering vines and creepers, almost bury the noble plant that upholds them.”

This brings to mind modern academia and those who’s grasp of history and appreciation for mankind’s achievements do not extend back to a time before they were born.

*****

“My very good sir,” said the little quarto, yawning most drearily in my face, “excuse my interrupting you, but I perceive you are rather given to prose. I would ask the fate of an author who was making some noise just as I left the world. His reputation, however, was considered quite temporary. The learned shook their heads at him, for the was a poor half-educated varlet, that knew little of Latin, and nothing of Greek, and had been obliged to run the country for deer-stealing. I think his name was Shakspeare. I presume he soon sunk into oblivion.”

mutabilityofliterature“On the contrary,” said I, “it is owing to that very man that the literature of his period has experienced a duration beyond the ordinary term of English literature. There rise authors now and then, who seem proof against the mutability of language, because they have rooted themselves in the unchanging principles of human nature. They are like gigantic trees that we sometimes see on the banks of a stream; which, by their vast and deep roots, penetrating through the mere surface, and laying hold on the very foundations of the earth, preserve the soil around them from being swept away by the ever-flowing current, and hold up many a neighboring plant, and perhaps worthless weed, to perpetuity. Such is the case with Shakspeare, whom we behold defying the encroachments of time, retaining in modern use the language and literature of his day, and giving duration to many an indifferent author, merely from having flourished in his vicinity. But even he, I grieve to say, is gradually assuming the tint of age, and his whole form is overrun by a profusion of commentators, who, like clambering vines and creepers, almost bury the noble plant that upholds them.”

Here the little quarto began to heave his sides and chuckle, until at length he broke out in a plethoric fit of laughter that had well nigh choked him, by reason of his excessive corpulency. “Mighty well!” cried he, as soon as he could recover breath, “mighty well! and so you would persuade me that the literature of an age is to be perpetuated by a vagabond deer-stealer! by a man without learning; by a poet, forsooth—a poet!” And here he wheezed forth another fit of laughter.

I confess that I felt somewhat nettled at this rudeness, which, however, I pardoned on account of his having flourished in a less polished age. I determined, nevertheless, not to give up my point.

“Yes,” resumed I, positively, “a poet; for of all writers he has the best chance for immortality. Others may write from the head, but he writes from the heart, and the heart will always understand him. He is the faithful portrayer of nature, whose features are always the same and always interesting. Prose writers are voluminous and unwieldy; their pages are crowded with commonplaces, and their thoughts expanded into tediousness. But with the true poet everything is terse, touching, or brilliant. He gives the choicest thoughts in the choicest language. He illustrates them by everything that he sees most striking in nature and art. He enriches them by pictures of human life, such as it is passing before him. His writings, therefore, contain the spirit, the aroma, if I may use the phrase, of the age in which he lives. They are caskets which enclose within a small compass the wealth of the language—its family jewels, which are thus transmitted in a portable form to posterity. The setting may occasionally be antiquated, and require now and then to be renewed, as in the case of Chaucer; but the brilliancy and intrinsic value of the gems continue unaltered. Cast a look back over the long reach of literary history. What vast valleys of dullness, filled with monkish legends and academical controversies! what bogs of theological speculations! what dreary wastes of metaphysics! Here and there only do we behold the heaven-illuminated bards, elevated like beacons on their widely-separate heights, to transmit the pure light of poetical intelligence from age to age.”

- From “The Mutability of Literature” from The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. by Washington Irving (1819)

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