Monday, August 19, 2019

... as if death were nowhere in the background...

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward   
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into   
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee.

Personal Postscript: Because of the poem — “From Blossoms” — I will now go to the market for a bag of peaches. My succulent purchase will allow me to put death in the background. Some people choose drugs, alcohol, and other distractions from death. I prefer peaches and poetry. What distractions do you choose? By the way, today is the poet Li-Young Lee's birthday. Read more via this link.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Invisible Species

This World is not Conclusion (373)

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond - 
Invisible, as Music -
But positive, as Sound -
It beckons, and it baffles - 
Philosophy, dont know - 
And through a Riddle, at the last - 
Sagacity, must go -
To guess it, puzzles scholars -
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown -
Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies - 
Blushes, if any see - 
Plucks at a twig of Evidence - 
And asks a Vane, the way - 
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit -
Strong Hallelujahs roll - 
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul -

Personal Postscript — this is a most mysterious paradox ... death as promised by the fall of Adam can be reversed through resurrection as promised in New Testament ... the poem’s persona remains at the same time convinced and skeptical about the paradox ... it seems as though faith may slip and slide but belief somehow remains ... or maybe I have that backwards ... what say you?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Resurrection: History and Myth by Geza Vermes

I offer you the following reprint of my 2008 BookLoons review, and I do so on the occasion of my return from a friend’s funeral at which the Baptist minister spoke a lot about resurrection. I confess that much about Christianity still confuses me (yet I remain a Christian malgre lui), and resurrection confuses me the most. I wish I could clear up and set aside my many confusions. Perhaps you can help, so feel free to offer me your reading recommendations and other suggestions. Now, here is my review:

Written by one of the world's leading authorities on Judaism in the age of Jesus (and a pioneer whose work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical Jesus has garnered him widespread praise and respect among critics and scholars), The Resurrection (by Geza Vermes) is a superbly reasoned and elegantly written analysis of the story of what happened to Jesus following his crucifixion (which itself is widely accepted and supportable as a factual event). However, Jesus' subsequent Resurrection, a central article of faith in Christianity, is generally met with one of two extreme reactions: absolute acceptance based on faith, or rejection based on a variety of reasons but most often disbelief.

Vermes approaches the problematic subject of either proving or disproving the Resurrection as if he were a detective, relying upon the textual evidence (especially as it has been presented by the authors of the New Testament, and most notably by Paul, the de facto founder of Christianity), which is further clarified (although not consistently or conclusively) by cultural evidence (i.e., that which is contemporaneous with Jesus' life, and locatable within relevant Jewish and Greco-Roman literary and archeological sources); Vermes also significantly turns to traditional Jewish beliefs and textual antecedents in the Hebrew scriptures (otherwise known as the Old Testament) to 'unravel the true meaning {of the Resurrection as} conveyed by the {New Testament} evangelists.'

Based upon the various facts, therefore, Vermes carefully and rationally constructs a 'tenable hypothesis' about what actually happened following Jesus' crucifixion, but 'it will be up to the readers to make up their minds.' Ultimately, as Vermes notes, the dilemma readers have 'to confront and resolve is how to reconcile the extreme importance ascribed to the Resurrection by Christianity with the very limited amount of interest discernible in the authentic teaching of Jesus.'

Anything written by Vermes is always fascinating and often provocative, and The Resurrection is no exception to that rule. At slightly over 150 pages, this deceptively slender volume is ironically overflowing with powerful and, of course, thought-provoking evidence. The Resurrection may not change anyone's mind about the Resurrection (and I have many acquaintances - some agnostics, some secular humanists, some liberal Christians, evangelical Christians, and some fundamentalist Christians - whose mindset either for or against the Resurrection is fairly well entrenched and immutable), but if readers (even some of my acquaintances) are carefully attentive to and open-minded about Vermes' evidence, they will nevertheless be richly rewarded by a stimulating intellectual presentation.

In other words, here is the bottom line: Don't miss it!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War

Thomas Fleming’s richly detailed and eminently readable account of events leading up to the Civil War, A Disease in the Public Mind (2013), is like a complex melodrama, populated by an intriguing assortment of heroes, villains, victims and plenty of surprises—some of which are very disturbing. Loaded with provocative insights, this book is a well-argued answer to that persistent question: Why did Americans fight the Civil War? 

Continue reading my America Magazine review via this link.

Monday, August 12, 2019

There is a gold light in certain old paintings

“There is a gold light in certain old paintings”


There is a gold light in certain old paintings
That represents a diffusion of sunlight.
It is like happiness, when we are happy.
It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light,
              And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross
              Share in its charity equally with the cross.


Orpheus hesitated beside the black river.
With so much to look  forward to he looked back.
We think he sang then, but the song is lost.
At  least he had seen once more the  beloved back.
              I say the song went this way: O prolong
             Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong.


The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work.
One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good.
The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar.
Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good.
              And all that we suffered through having existed
              Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.

Postscript from Wikipedia— Donald Justice (August 12, 1925 – August 6, 2004) was an American poet and teacher of writing. In summing up Justice's career David Orr wrote, "In most ways, Justice was no different from any number of solid, quiet older writers devoted to traditional short poems. But he was different in one important sense: sometimes his poems weren't just good; they were great. They were great in the way that Elizabeth Bishop's poems were great, or Thom Gunn's or Philip Larkin's. They were great in the way that tells us what poetry used to be, and is, and will be."[1].

Continue via this link.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Louise Bogan — “Knowledge”

“Knowledge” by Louise Bogan 

Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,—
I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.

Postscript — Today is Louise Bogan’s birthday. 
Read more about her via this Poetry Foundation link.

(More from The Writer’s Almanac)
It’s the birthday of American poet and critic Louise Bogan (books by this author). Bogan. W.H. Auden thought she was the best critic of poetry in America and gave the eulogy at her funeral.
Bogan was born in Livermore Falls, Maine (1897). As an adult, she lived in Vienna for three years and then moved to New York City, where she fell in with fellow writers William Carlos Williams, Malcolm Cowley, and Edmund Wilson. She worked in a bookstore with Margaret Mead, who would later find fame as a cultural anthropologist. It was Wilson who suggested she start writing reviews to make money. Her reviews were terse, astute, and sometimes very funny. About poets Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, she said: “They will never surprise anyone again…They are half-dead already.” She became the poetry editor of The New Yorker in 1931.
She was intensely private and most of her friends didn’t even know she had a daughter from her first marriage. In the 1930s, she had a brief, raucous affair with the poet Theodore Roethke. In a letter to a friend, she wrote: “I, myself, have been made to bloom like a Persian rose-bush, by the enormous love-making of a cross between a Brandenburger and a Pomeranian, one Theodore Roethke by name. He is very, very large (6 ft. 2 and weighing 218 lbs.) and he writes very, very small lyrics…We have poured rivers of liquor down our throats, these last three days, and, in between, have indulged in such bearish and St. Bernardish antics as I have never before experienced. ... I hope that one or two immortal lyrics will come out of all this tumbling about.” They remained dear friends after the affair ended.

Bogan’s New Yorker reviews are collected in the book A Poet’s Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation (1970).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Laurence Binyon — birthday remembrance

She was a city of patience; of proud name,
Dimmed by neglecting Time; of beauty and loss;
Of acquiescence in the creeping moss.
But on a sudden fierce destruction came
Tigerishly pouncing: thunderbolt and flame
Showered on her streets, to shatter them and toss
Her ancient towers to ashes. Riven across,
She rose, dead, into never-dying fame.
White against heavens of storm, a ghost, she is known
To the world's ends. The myriads of the brave
Sleep round her. Desolately glorified,
She, moon-like, draws her own far-moving tide
Of sorrow and memory; toward her, each alone,
Glide the dark dreams that seek an English grave.

The following is copied from The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of poet and playwright Laurence Binyon (books by this author), born in Lancaster, England (1869). He was deeply affected by the First World War, and though he was too old to serve, he is best remembered for his poem For the Fallen, which is often recited on Remembrance Sunday in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. He wrote it in 1914, sitting on the cliffs of Cornwall and looking out to the sea.
An excerpt from For the Fallen:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.