Ten Things I Believe
1) I believe in beauty, in the joy of having a body and being in the world.
2) I believe in wisdom, the patience of discipline and the clarity of action.
3) I believe in the moment, which is both itself and its own transcendence.
4) I believe in respect, the unfolding of the Universe and everything in it.
5) I believe in love, the desire to make another person happy.
6) I believe that freedom is the ideal between slavery and tyranny.
7) I believe that we can end hunger, war, and civil violence.
8) I believe that we can eradicate disease and illness, both communicable and inborn.
9) I believe that everyone can be happy.
10) I believe that nothing in the world can be possessed.
To Christ our Lord
I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
These days, English prose and poetry are uneasy allies. On the one hand, the god of public opinion holds up prose as more accessible than poetry; that is, it relies less on learned devices such as meter and rhyme (and their gaggle of obscure offspring, such as slant rhyme and line breaks) than does prose. Prose appears to be more straightforward, relying on the writer’s natural speaking voice and diction.
But in fact prose is a relatively recent development. Most writing before say about 1500 was either poetry or what today is called prose-poetry, but in days of yore was known by such terms as blank verse and ballad. Mention these words today, however, and one is likely to get either a look of incomprehension or the humble admission that they just don’t make writers like they used to.
In other words, poetry is the older and, to be honest, the more popular form. Far from making writing (not to mention speaking) difficult and condescending, poetry *helps* its audience follow along with structuring devices like repetition, rhyme, and stanza breaks. A good deal of the appeal of contemporary folk and rock and roll derives from their use of lyrics that are essentially poetry.
Why has poetry fallen out of favor? Partly, at least, because the traditional forms were rejected by the intellectual elite after WWI; the informal guilds of storytellers at the pub and small, independent publishers (and self-publishers) were disappearing, taking the traditional craft of poetry along with them. Poets (and generations of poets) no longer had time to evolve, perform in intimate settings, and pass along their work.
Then God created Pound, Auden, Joyce, and Elliot, and the rest of the story is only too dreadfully familiar. It’s not that the moderns have abandoned literary standards (at least I hope they haven’t, since I’m one of them), but that they have been robbed of the vital elements of slow crafting and an appreciative, face-to-face audience. The old story themes of hard-won love and epic adventure have been consigned to the nursery and the literary limbo of matinée romances. And the mere suggestion that an aspiring writer is working in verse is enough to send any respectable publisher shrieking into the night.
Writers, inspired or monied, should take the lesson of the current vampire sagas to heart: people want stories based in old-fashioned myth and ballad, and the more structured and beautiful their words are, the more their audience will be satisfied. Poets must learn to reincorporate story elements (and above all, plot) in their work; prose writers will benefit by taking the time to make their words more than serviceable. RT
THE SICK ROSE
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
I’m becoming more and more puzzled by recent depictions of Jesus as a peasant. Not to say that Jesus did not grow up among peasants; this seems likely. But to suggest that his achievements were based in charisma and verbal facility seems to fall short of the mark.
There is in the first place the incontrovertible fact that Jesus started a major world religion, the contributions of Paul and others notwithstanding. In fact, one could argue that Jesus founded “two* religions: Christianity and Gnosticism. The many gospels and ancient interpretations that have come down to us, however fragmentary some of them might be, suggest a complex and subtle mind that could easily be mis or partially read.
And then there are the many sayings, whether sanctioned or not, that echo and expand the admittedly complex four gospels: “I am the day” comes to mind. Or, expanding only slightly on Paul, “The Kingdom of God comes like a thief in the night.” Did Jesus purposely adapt the image of the sun (the ancient Semitic god of justice) to his own message? And how could he then claim that the Kingdom can inflict one of the most frightening experiences of the night? Not irreconcilable, just suggestive, and beautiful.
I also have issues with the claim that Jesus was illiterate. It presupposes that no boy has ever learned how to read on his own. It seems more likely to me, given Jesus’ extraordinary flexibility of thought, that he was bi, if not multi, lingual: Aramaic, Greek, Coptic, and Latin. And of course he could write, doubtless using more than one alphabet. A child prodigy, even.
All of this suggests gifted parents…from the upper classes, Mary exiled in rural Galilee, and the human father, who could he have been? King, patrician, magus? I suppose that the details aren’t important; what matters is the weight of the evidence. RT
this may be the most destructive insult out there;
and who really believes it? By all accounts, being chosen as a messenger of the divine, one who has experienced the otherness of the Truth, is no easy job: Moses stammering in front of the burning bush; Jesus doing combat with the demon in the wildnerness; Mohammed seeing Gabriel surrounding him on every side–the mind and words of such a person is being crushed and transformed by the impact of the divine. Surely anyone listening to a prophet must think that, by human standards, this person is not quite sane…but then, how do we judge the actions of people who take on the established powers and perceptions and fundamentally change them?
Here are some thoughts about signs of prophecy in a person’s words & behavior:
1) the prophet critiques and seeks to eliminate genuine problems in a society: Moses denouncing the oppression of the Jews in Egypt; Jesus pointing out the divinity in children, whose fate was generally in the hands of their father; Mohammed taking the oppressed and marginalized into his faith.
2) the prophet operates from a coherent and deliberate interpretation of the world: Buddha took years to formulate his views and gain enlightment; likewise with Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. The divine did not reveal itself all at once, but gradually, revealing itself in many encounters. And all presented new and compelling images of the divine: as liberator, Father, transcendent utterance, emptiness.
3) the prophet breaks fundamental taboos of the society to demonstrate the illusions of culture: eating with sinners, denouncing the clan/class system, destroying the images carved in stone. Community is always more than a set of rules.
4) the prophet never participates in the realization of the vision that he (or she) carries: they never quite reach the place they see so clearly. It is for others to finish the story.
Tolerance? Appreciation? Engagement? All these things are signs of the prophet. RT
Part 3, The Alphabet and Redefining Intelligence
This is the latest installment concerning my off-and-on enthusiasm for reforming the English alphabet and possibly creating a global alphabet.
That our current alphabet confounds many adults and more students is no secret…and in my last installment in the series I looked at spelling reform briefly. Now things start to get a bit more complex…we’ll look at some alphabets that actually add new letters to the existing one.
1. The Pitman Initial Teaching Alphabet
Designed by the grandson of the man who invented Pitman Shorthand, this system was adopted on an experimental basis in some schools in the U.K., the U.S., and Australia during the 60s. But the mainstream educational system did not adopt it, partly because of complaints that while the kids indeed found the Pittman ITA easy to learn, they found the transition from the ITA to the regular alphabet difficult….whether because they had already imprinted the ITA onto their brains or because the English alphabet is just plain hard to learn, is unclear. Still, the ITA does seem to suggest that a revised alphabet would be easier to learn than the one we have. That is probably due to the fact that the ITA follows the one-sound, one-letter principle, offering many new letters for the vowel sounds. For those who want to learn more about the ITA, go to omniglot at http://www.omniglot.com/writing/ita.htm.
The real problem with teaching alphabets, of course, is that they are meant to be a bridge to the English alphabet when they are in many ways superior to it. If children find the Pitman ITA easier to learn, then why not let them use it as adults?
But there is a further problem with the ITA, or any reform that attempts to improve or perfect the latin letters we currently use: the latin letters were designed to be carved into marble monuments or on plaques that listed Imperial laws and achievements. We, on the other hand, are brought up to write onto paper by hand. The shapes of the current letters slow down our writing. Have any alphabets been designed that depart from latin letters in form, so that the act of writing is easier? Tune in next time, folks, for the answer.
yours once again, RT