Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In The Bleak Midwinter

It is the last lines which are famous, but I think Christina Rossetti's genius is in the stark simplicity, artful contrasts and melodic timing of the entire poem. One of my favorite Christmas carols, for both lyrics and music. 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Gone With The Wind

Gone With the Wind has been on my to-read list for many years now. I'm finally reading it, and except for a 6 week break while I crammed in a summer semester of biology, I haven't been able to put it down. It's a shame Margaret Mitchell only created one book, but what a masterpiece she left to her world. One thinks primarily of the movie, and of the relationship between Rhett and Scarlett mostly, but the 1939 epic fails to capture the complexities of the Civil War South, its aftermath and the effect it has on the novel's two primary characters. Ms. Mitchell's story leads to an exploring of the societal bonds and rituals that were simultaneously held dear and hated by an old, genteel class of Southerners. They are elite, ignorant, optimistic, and eventually crushed by a rising tide of time and modernity that they cannot stop. Within a generation, the Southern culture they took for granted is gone, their traditions face extinction, and they must survive in the newly established world of the post-Civil War era, with its new hierarchy and class system. The book's characters are left reeling, saddened, and uncomprehending. They cannot understand the changes that encompass them and they are left to be broken or made in the new era. Yes, the book is appallingly factual with all its depicted brutality of land and families torn apart by war; the white, Southern contemptuous attitudes towards black people and cringe-inducing (and politically incorrect) grammar; all the sad details of a hate-filled and near disastrous Reconstruction-era, with all the rage, greed and social-climbing ambitions portrayed so accurately - and yet this book is fascinating. Perhaps it is the way the author propels us into a story of weak vs. strong, leading us to believe Scarlett, with all her might, strength, and beauty, is the protagonist. It is only towards the story's end that we learn otherwise as Ms. Mitchell questions our notions of strength and weakness. Perhaps it is the way controversial elements are handled; presented with little commentary from the author (Ms. Mitchell preserves her opinions for descriptions of the Yankee army's pillage of her beloved South), she tells us a story based on a monumental historical event which ushered in the light beginnings of the modern era, and we are left to draw our own conclusions from its consequences.  

“Perhaps - I want the old days back again and they'll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears. ”Gone With The Wind
There are many reasons to like or dislike this book, per your feelings of the South - and many reasons to probe it and ask ourselves the questions whose answers eluded even its author. Perhaps I find myself drawn in because, like Ms. Mitchell's characters, I love the traditions and established lifestyles of the past but am finding that I cannot refuse the siren song of the new, exciting, modern times we live in. Technology, medical advances, global traversing, and all the ethical dilemmas they present are something I struggle to reconcile while using the advantages they offer. Maybe one day someone will write about the paradoxes of our age; the disappearance of the still, quiet, uncomplicated lifestyles that we traded in for convenience and connectivity; the generations before us who paved the way with their inventions and scientific discoveries (probably never guessing what we have ended up with!) and the dilemmas we eschew for the sake of convenience, tolerance, and guilt-free lifestyles... 

Maybe, one day, someone will probe fully the complexities of our era. For now, I'm content to probe the complexities of another, past.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Praise of Simple Things

Homemade cherry limeade
Gardens releasing their many scents
Birds who perform acrobatic feats as if it were nothing
Paper and pencil

Friday, January 06, 2012

Of Poems and Prose

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Poetry. Most people think primarily of rhyme when poetry is mentioned. I know I used to. When I was a little girl, my idea of fun was creating poetry with (what I thought were) clever rhyming words. I remember learning about the haiku in my grade school years. It didn't matter what my English workbook said, I didn't think that the haiku could possibly be real poetry because it didn't rhyme. I've grown since then, and learned an awful lot more besides. I now know that poetry is more than getting words to rhyme on every other line while still making sense. In fact, poetry isn't really about rhyme at all. It is about imagery, prose, elusive expressions that we must decipher and words painting pictures on our brains. Sometimes these elements come together in a rhyming way within a poem. Sometimes it is free form, without rhyme. Sometimes there is slant rhyme, internal slant rhyme, or some other clever device that a poet will use within his poem to add depth or dimension. Above all, poetry is art, created and used by God. His Word is full of poetry in song, psalms, and prose that is thrilling and unrivaled. Poetry is not something you can simply pick up and read unless you are open to using your imagination to picture words, and using your mind to sort out the nuances of language and form. But don't be put off by the challenges of poetry; the rewards of reading it far outweigh the effort. And don't just read popular offerings (even if they may be good ones), unless you mean to get your feet wet by it; but then delve deeper, find authors that you like, and sort out the type of poetry you are drawn to. Also, don't give up on a poem if you don't understand it, keep reading it until you do, and by all means, just read poetry.
A good place to start is Poets.org. I also credit The Oxford Book of Children's Verse for renewing my interest in poetry. And don't let the title fool you, there's some serious poetry in there, as well as some genuinely funny and imaginative verses. Finally, listening to poetry is a good way to get started, as sometimes it can be ponderous trying to figure out how to read a poem. I loved hearing Dylan Thomas read his poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". His voice lends a sombre and reflective tone to his work, and is a good introduction to hearing poetry read. Read the backstory to the recording and then listen to it.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year, New Intentions (and, incidentally, new blog design!)

I haven't been a faithful writer, I'll admit. But I've missed writing. I love chronicling my thoughts, adventures, books I'm reading, and the life I'm living. I hope to be more faithful in 2012. To begin the year, I redesigned this blog for a simpler look - in a way, it represents my hope for a simpler year. I don't believe in making resolutions that you can't keep, such as impossible expectations for what you may/may not actually be able to accomplish. But there are good sorts of resolutions that can and ought to be made, not just at the beginning of a new year but all through it. I prefer to think of such resolutions more as purposeful intentions. What do you intend to change in your life this year? Here are a few of my intentions for 2012...

Redeem the time. I'm in my late twenties. Time is beginning to look more like a luxury and less like an everyday commodity. Make every day count, especially for an eternal value.

Read more on paper, less on a screen. Read more purposefully. Read more poetry. Read things that make me think.

Save money. Pay off credit card debt. Pay for my courses at the local college with cash only.

Write more.

Be content. I enjoyed this post by Nancy Wilson. I need to practice contentment and gratitude, instead of constantly looking at other people's lives (what they have, where they live, what they do) and comparing them to mine.

Be a better daughter, sister, aunt, friend. Listen more, talk less, encourage others.

Read the Bible with diligent purpose and intent. Pray often. Praise God when he answers with a no. Praise him when he answers with a yes. Talk more about him. Love him more.