Saturday, February 07, 2015

Swifter than a Weaver's Shuttle

So, I'm reading at Mass tomorrow, and this is the passage I have to read:

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.
(Job 7:1-4, 6-7 NAB)

I like this passage (I like most of Job), but it's a passage that makes no sense without its context. It tickles me a bit that everyone will be saying "Thanks be to God" to Job complaining that life is short, terrible, and without hope, but that aside, this is not an easy passage to read. I suppose the idea here, as usual, is that it serves as a kind of prologue to the other readings, on God healing the brokenhearted (Psalm), Paul becoming weak to win the weak (second reading), and Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law (Gospel); but it's not obviously going to come across like that to anyone, I think, and I suspect the portion of the congregation that pays any attention to the readings will be baffled by it. Much of reading in church is getting the mood right. Exhortations can be read pleasantly, narratives in a measured way, and prophetic proclamations forcefully (in the history of the world, no one has come up with a better or more fun way to open than, "Thus says the Lord!"--those readings always take care of themselves), but how does one read a complaint that is at the same time simply an allusion to a larger story? I'm not sure. I always do some practice, but this is likely one that will just end up read however it happens to be read; I don't know that practice will get anywhere with it.

I find it odd, too, that the reading just skips over Job 7:5, "My flesh is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin cracks and festers." It can't be squeamishness, since the readings next Sunday are about leprosy. Was there any particular rationale for leaving it out? It is another of those mysteries.

In context, of course, Job's complaint is in response to Eliphaz, who has scolded Job with almost stereotypical pious advice, telling him that if Eliphaz were Job, he'd appeal to God: "Happy is the man whom God reproves! The Almighty's chastening do not reject. For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands give healing." So Job responds that he would appeal to God if he could, and demands to know why Eliphaz is attacking him when his miserable life is going to be coming to an end soon anyway. That's what's going on here. I don't see why we couldn't have had a little of this exchange, which would take all of one more minute and make the whole passage make sense on its own. It would still cohere with the other readings, and it wouldn't sound like it was from a scrap of paper floating around after the fire in the library in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.

At least this is one in which the NAB is reasonably readable. The epistle, which also makes little sense out of context, is clunky enough in translation that it borders on incomprehensible.

All very curious. One wonders what the thought process was underlying these kinds of things.

Weary Watching, Earnest Toil!

My School
by Roswell Derby

Weary watching, earnest toil!
My days are spent with thee;
Weary brain returns the spoil,
Yet blessings come to me:
As in those in'cent forms, I see
That love, so pure, that dwells with thee.

Earnest hopes for thee, doth glow,
Watchful care is given;
That pure seeds, their hearts may sow,
Their flow'rs to bloom in Heav'n;
For, on this cold and fleeting earth,
Our works should be of Heav'nly birth.

Watchful day and dreamy night,
Calls care I give to thee,
Pleasure's flow'r they seem to blight,
But thought they give to me;
For as their minds, to me, are giv'n,
I strive to teach them earth and Heav'n.

Roswell Derby (1845-1927) was a lawyer from Ohio, but he had a brief stint as a schoolteacher before that. There doesn't seem much more to say about him, but his Poems of Friendship, Love, and Hope shows him to be a quite competent minor poet.

Friday, February 06, 2015


Today is the feast of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan, also known as St. Paul Miki and Companions, who, on orders from Hideyoshi Toyotomi, were crucified and speared in Nagasaki on February 5, 1597. (February 5 is the feast of St. Agatha, one of the oldest and most important Virgin Martyr feasts, which is why the Twenty-Six Martyrs have their feast today instead of yesterday.) Of the twenty-six, four were from Spain, one from Mexico, one from India; the other twenty were Japanese. The youngest (St. Luis Ibaraki) of those executed was twelve years old.

Antonio Dainan
Bonaventura of Miyako
Cosme Takeya
Francisco Branco
Francisco of Nagasaki
Francisco of Saint Michael
Gabriel de Duisco
Gaius Francis
Gundisalvus (Gonsalvo) Garcia
James Kisai
Joaquim Saccachibara
Juan Kisaka
Juan Soan de Goto
Leo Karasumaru
Luis Ibaraki
Martin of the Ascension
Mathias of Miyako
Miguel Kozaki
Paulo Ibaraki
Paul Miki
Pablo Suzuki
Pedro Bautista
Pedro Sukejiroo
Philip of Jesus
Thomas Kozaki
Thomas Xico

The execution was just a warning shot across the bow; Hideyoshi wanted to make clear to the Christian daimyo that they needed to fall in line. But other persecutions would sporadically follow, and then rigorous repression, so that the Catholics of Japan were without priest or open worship for more than two hundred years. But they were still there.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Law Is Loving Liberty

Freedom and Fate
by Alfred Austin

`You ask me why I envy not
The Monarch on his throne.
It is that I myself have got
A Kingdom of my own:
Kingdom by Free Will divine
Made inalienably mine,
Where over motions blind and brute
I live and reign supreme, a Sovereign absolute.

`Ebbing and flowing as the seas,
And surging but to drown,
Think you that I will pass to these
My Sceptre and my Crown?
Unto rebel passions give
Empire and prerogative?
They are attendants in my train,
To come when I command, and crouch as I ordain.

`If Will by long succession be
Not arbiter of Fate,
Assail its majesty, and see
If it doth abdicate.
Chains that do the body bind
Cannot manacle the mind.
What fetters may the heart control,
Nor doth the Tyrant live that can enslave the soul.

`In Spring, when linnets lift their voice
To praise the Lord and bless,
They are thus punctual of free choice,
Detesting waywardness.
Throughout earth, and sky, and sea,
Law is loving liberty,
That could, but will not, go astray,
And, free though to rebel, delighteth to obey.

`And Spirit, though encased in clay,
To sense's grovelling mood
Accepteth not, befall what may,
Ignoble servitude.
In the faggot thrust the torch,
Till the flame-tongues search and scorch.
Calmly the martyr mounts the pyre,
And smiles amid the smoke, and prays above the fire.

`Nor is it Fate directs the waves,
Or dominates the wind:
They are God's servants, not His slaves,
And they surmise His mind.
If the planets walk aright
Though the dim and trackless night,
Nor their true pathway ever miss,
Know ye it is because their Will is one with His!'

`What is it rules thy singing season?
`What is it rules thy singing season?
Instinct, that diviner Reason,
To which the wish to know seemeth a sort of treason.'

`Why dost thou ever cease to sing?
Singing is such sweet comfort, who,
If he could sing the whole year through,
Would barter it for anything?'

I've mentioned Austin before; a very underrated poet. Poetry is a cruel field; there is no other area of life, I suspect, in which people are so likely to despise real competence simply for not being obvious genius. Austin is one of the sufferers of this; from the beginning he has been constantly criticized for not being Tennyson, who was his predecessor as Poet Laureate. This is an absurd criticism, but such is the way of things.

Abandoned to Agitation

Every error soon produces another which is the very reverse of itself; and so our poor humanity, owing to error, is necessarily abandoned to agitation, and distracted by opinions the most opposed to each other.

Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, p. 141.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A Poem Draft

The Speed of Thought

The speed of thought, they say, is swift,
but this, I think, is mostly false.
As giving only ends in gift,
so thinking only ends in all.
Through epochs, eons, ages slow,
unfinished yet our thought has been,
an ice-sea glacier's icy flow;
and unforeseen is thinking's end
as every mind by love begot
has moved but centimeter's pace,
no one completing any thought,
remaindered to some other day.
The circles filled with stars are vast;
their orbits slowly turn in place;
thus we must share our thoughts to last
and time itself in circles chase.
And when completed is our run,
we leave our thinking incomplete,
a task continued, never done,
like turtles racing swifter feet.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Vision of Truth

We have seen that there are two principles of certainty, one intrinsic, the other extrinsic. The intrinsic principle is the intuitive knowledge of truth; the extrinsic, the knowledge of a sure sign of truth.

The extrinsic principle is never the ultimate principle; it is ordered to, and dependent on the intrinsic principle because a sure sign of truth cannot exist without a preceding certainty. And this certainty can only be given in the last analysis by the intuitive knowledge of truth....

Hence, the supreme or ultimate principle of certainty is one only, the intuition or vision of truth.

Antonio Rosmini, Certainty (New Essay on the Origin of Ideas, Volume III), Part I, Chapter 5.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fortnightly Book, February 1

Alain-Fournier was born Henri Alban Fournier in October of 1886. He wrote a novel under this pen name, Le Grand Meaulnes, also known as The Wanderer, that was published in 1913 and slowly built up a steady following over the years to follow. Alain-Fournier never wrote another because of World War I. On September 22, 1914, he went missing in action, presumed killed with body never found, when the scouting party to which he was assigned came under machine gun fire.

I know very little about the book, but it is a story of a boy who met a girl once and set out to find her again. In 1999, Le Monde did a survey of French readers to create a list of the 100 most memorable works of the twentieth century, and Le Grand Meaulnes came in at number nine. I don't give much credit to such lists, but it at least shows that the work still has a fair number of serious readers.

I will be reading the work in a Heritage Press (New York) edition, translated by Francoise Delisle with an introduction by Henri Peyre and pen-and-pencil-with-wash illustrations by André Dignimont. It is typeset in 12-point Garamond and has nice satiny-blue covers. While I'll be reading it in translation, I notice that Project Gutenberg has the original French text, so I might occasionally look at that.

Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac


Opening Passage: The stage directions are fairly substantive throughout, so I will take the opening stage directions as the opening passage this time around.

The hall of the Hotel Burgundy in 1640. It is built in the shape of a tennis court, but is arranged and decorated for a theatrical performance.

Summary: The basic story of Cyrano de Bergerac is widely known. A witty soldier and poet, Cyrano, is in love with Madeleine Robin, also known as Roxane; but he suffers under the impediment of having a large nose. Roxane, meanwhile, is attracted to Christian, who is extraordinarily handsome, and she asks Cyrano to look out for him, which he promises, for her. Christian is also in love with Roxane, but, while witty enough in banter with men, is hopeless with women. This is a problem, because Roxane is the sort of woman who could never really bear a man who could not be witty with her. And thus is set up the situation whereby Roxane falls in love with them both without ever learning, until the very end, that she has fallen in love with more than one person.

The play is interesting in that it is highly comic but not a comedy. It is in fact a tragedy. But all the characters have such zest for life -- such panache, as Cyrano taught us to say -- and such wit that one laughs one's way to the inevitable doom. Not a single character in the play finds happiness; but they are all noble, each in his or her own way. Thus the play as a whole is light and pleasant, with a bittersweet aftertaste, like a pastry with orange zest.

In addition to reading the play, I also had a long, fun discussion with MrsD about translating Cyrano's improvised ballade. You can find my version here and her versions at her blog.

I also watched the 1990 movie version of Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Gerard Depardieu. Depardieu's take on the character was somewhat different from what I expected, but it was a very good movie, one that stayed reasonably close to the play itself, while nonetheless making use of some of the advantages of camera over stage.

Favorite Passage:

LE BRET [pointing to the moonlight filtering through the branches]: Your other friend has come to visit you.

CYRANO [smiling at the moon]: I see her.

ROXANE: I have loved but once--one man--
And I must lose him twice.

CYRANO: Tonight, Le Bret,
I shall ascend, without machinery,
And reach the moon at last. [pp. 206-207]

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Quotations from Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Louis Untermeyer, tr., Heritage Press (New York: 1954).