‘One life, that my dear land may live’

Happy Labor Day weekend—an appropriate time for honoring our country and those who forged her. Do you know the story of Nathan Hale? Here’s William Ordway Partridge’s tribute:

One hero dies—a thousand new ones rise,
As flowers are sown where perfect blossoms fall;
Then quite unknown, the name of Hale now cries
Wherever duty sounds her silent call.

With head erect he moves and stately pace,
To meet an awful doom—no ribald jest
Brings scorn or hate to that exalted face:
His thoughts are far away, poised and at rest;

Now on the scaffold see him turn and bid
Farewell to home, and all his heart holds dear.
Majestic presence!—all man’s weakness hid,
And all his strength in that last hour made clear:
“My sole regret, that it is mine to give
Only one life, that my dear land may live.”

As names of loved ones

I was in the Catholic Information Center on K Street recently after work, browsing their new releases. I picked up A Time to Die: Monks on the Threshold of Eternal Life, and came across this passage on the life and death of Brother Théophane:

During the last months of his life, the monks often heard him reciting a poem of Verlaine that he knew in its entirety, “My Recurring Dream”:

I often have a strange and searing dream
About an unknown woman whom I love
And who loves me. Never quite the same
Nor someone else, she loves, she understands me.

Yes, she understands; the pity is
For her alone my heart is obvious,
Simple for her alone who brings to life
My dead face running with her tears.

Is she dark, auburn, blond? I don’t know.
Her name? It echoes
Soft as names of loved ones gone for good.

An endless thirst for life

Memento mori, as a reason for hope and for right conduct in this life. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura on the event we all face—though not our ultimate destiny:

“Finally, what great and vile desire for life compels us
To quake so much amidst doubts and dangers?
Mortals have an absolute end to our lives:
Death cannot be evaded—we must leave.

Nevertheless, we move again and still persist—
No new pleasure is procured by living;
But while what we desire is absent, that seems to overcome
All other things; but later, when we have gained it, we want something else—

An endless thirst for life grips us as we gasp for it.
It remains unclear what fortune life will offer,
What chance may bring us and what end awaits.
But by extending life we do not subtract a moment
Of time from death nor can we shorten it
So that we may somehow have less time after our ends.

Therefore, you may continue as living as many generations as you want,
But that everlasting death will wait for you still,
And he will be there for no less a long time, the man who
Has found the end of life with today’s light, than the man who died
Many months and many years before.”

A thousand ages like an evening gone

At Epiphany in Georgetown for Mass this morning, O God, Our Help in Ages Past was sung. I don’t remember hearing it before:

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
with all their lives and cares,
are carried downward by your flood,
and lost in foll’wing years.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.

Our God, our help in ages past
our hope for years to come:
O be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.

‘Glimpses that would make me less forlorn’

A scene near Christ Church, Georgetown Episcopal and a bit of Wordsworth:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn

Austere and lonely offices

Attended mass at St. Denis in Havertown this morning, in Philadelphia now, and interested in seeing whether the Philadelphia Eagles season continues tonight against the New Orleans Saints. Sharing a scene from Market Street in Old City, and pairing it with Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays:”

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

It was something like ten years ago (maybe more) in the mid-winter that I was visiting my great uncle Bruce Shakely in western Pennsylvania. I had driven from State College the night before and arrived late. Gradually, the following morning, I woke to what I realized was the sound of Bruce out back, chopping wood for the living room furnace. Bruce was something like 85 at the time, still fulfilling one of Hayden’s “austere and lonely offices” of daily life and love.

Along K Street

A scene from earlier this week of the St. Regis along K Street, as I was making my way to the Catholic Information Center for the Leonine Forum:

8326BF72-750E-42E1-94F2-83D836765F99

Along with Robert Hazel’s 1958 “Statuary Hall,” which I’m still trying to appreciate:

Statuary Hall

The dancers candled in their flames
cold on eyes and brittle hair,
cold on their marble shoulders, light
that is not pleasure but a way
to know by limits, and they know
time by decorum and love by art,
they find this way to imitate
the never final partially true—
they pray with dancing if they pray—
before the movement as they move
subsides to consciousness, before
the movement pauses as they take
this partial truth of movement and
believe pure energy is true
as if dead men were surely dead
because they move so little, as though
the deadness of ideas and men
is always carried slowly and
is true because this movement holds
the shaping deadness finally in;
they know that chaos, if they fail,
becomes a city, and if they move
falsely then all their partial truths
become a stammering of blood;
they move with courage, perilously
in plights of incense as they breathe
freedoms tallowing coldly out.

Golden hour in late summer

I’ve moved to Washington. First major move in a few years, and excited to be here. As the sun was setting, just as I was walking back to my apartment after dropping off my rental car, I looked up and saw that late summer “golden hour” light.

Hearing the twang among the porticoes
Where one expected only noble Romans,
You turn and keep a mild surprise, seeing
The public man descend the marble stairs,
Yourself, but for the grace of God, in the blue day
Among the floating domes. He disappears,
A little heady in that atmosphere,
Trailing the air of power, a solemn figure
Quick in the abstract landscape of the state.
His passage leaves you baffled in the void,
Looking out between two columns. The sun
Burns in the silence of the white facades.
How shall you act in this outlandish place,
This static city, neither Rome nor home?

Ernest Kroll

Although you cannot bless

A pretty day in Philadelphia, preparing for upcoming travel. Here’s Auden’s
As I Walked Out One Evening,” because “life remains a blessing, although you cannot bless…”

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

Janmot’s soulful eulogy

Louis Janmot’s “The Poem of the Soul” series is incredible. I discovered it after first encountering “The Wrong Path”:

Poem of the Soul- The Wrong Path.png

What did Janmot paint this series, and what is he trying to convey in this arresting and ominous scene? In short, he was responding as a Christian to the dechristening of 19th century France:

Janmot has made an extraordinary accomplishment that has remained unique in Western European painting. He dedicated all his life to a series of thirty-four paintings called ‘The poem of the soul’. Eighteen of these paintings, which date from 1836 to 1855, are painted in colour. The seventeen drawings, which he made after 1855, are in black and white. The paintings are accompanied by a long poem on the same subject. Paintings and poem document and explain each other.

The poem is about the birth and life of a boy, a new soul on earth F6 . God and the angels decide on life (Génération divine), a guardian angel brings life to earth (Le passage des âmes) and the boy finds a loving mother (L’ange et la mère). The boy is joined by a companion girl (Le printemps). They play together in an ideal and untouched paradise. Both their souls retain images of their previous life in the heavens (Souvenir du ciel). The children remain together from childhood to adolescence. They leave their family (Le toit paternel), face the dangers of a secularised university (Le mauvais sentier), the wrong path for them, which will lose their souls (Le cauchemar). But they encounter a wise man who teaches them religious education (Le grain de blé) and shows them the path of Catholic faith (Première communion). The children grow up to adolescents (Virginitas) and start to love each other with a pure platonic love (L’échelle d’or). Time goes by (Rayons de soleil). They climb the hills of life (Sur la montagne), live a simple life in the midst of nature (Un soir). Their souls join (Le vol de l’âme) and fly to the heavens (L’idéal). But the boy cannot follow and is thrown back to earth where he mourns on the tomb of his beloved (Réalité).

The black and white drawings take over from that point. The boy still lingers in the solitude of a forest (Solitude), yet he finds new energy at the beaches, a new touch of infinity to his soul (L’infini). He dreams and receives the revelation of carnal beauty (Rêve de feu). The lovers are joined (Amour), but in a true sensual, earthly love now. Only for a short time: the dream ends (Adieu), the lady has to leave again. In solitude, the young man falls in despair and doubt (Le doute). This is a moment the devil has awaited (L’esprit du mal). He tempts the boy to an orgy (L’orgie), so the youth loses his soul and his God (Sans Dieu). The black hooded phantom now accompanies the man (Le fantôme), his fall continues to a total ending (Chute fatale). In a macabre scene, the man is bound to the corpse of his beloved (Supplice de Mézence), tearing it with him across mountains, and all the generations of Evil are visited by him (La génération du mal). His soul however longs again for purity. He prays and his mother intercedes on his behalf to God (Intercession maternelle). Finally, faith triumphs over evil (La délivrance) and the soul is elevated to the Heavens (Sursum corda).

Janmot has been thoroughly inspired for his poem and series of pictures by Catholic faith. He was one of the representatives of a struggling generation. Since the end of the eighteenth century France and Europe had entered a struggle for the education of the young. For Janmot this was a struggle for the soul of man. …

His painting ‘Le mauvais sentier’, the wrong path, is a hallucinating representation of Janmot’s feeling about secular education in France. At each step of the children along their road of knowledge, science and literature professors grow out of the wall and lead, tempt them further into what Janmot considered to be the wrong, entirely secularised path. This kind of education corrupted the soul. …

Janmot uses Classicist techniques for presenting profoundly Romantic and religious ideas. He applied themes from antiquity however as symbols of the republic and past revolutions: the ‘Orgy’ is in a Greek temple and ‘Chute fatale’ or ‘Fatal Fall’ uses forms that could come out of an Ingres or a David painting. Janmot deliberately wanted to break with Neo-Classical French style and clearly favoured the purity of untouched nature.

The paintings of Janmot are magnificent, large and important works of art that illustrate one of the great tendencies of the battle of ideas that were the essence of the nineteenth century. The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon shows them in all their glory next to each other. The paintings are to be admired as the dedication of a great artist to his ideas. Janmot of course was a great Romantic artist. He devoted his life and his creativity to one idea only, a eulogy in the defence of the soul. Here was an artist not gifted with the power of a genius, devoting all his creative energy to an idea that most people of his times and almost all of ours would mock. We may find Janmot very naive and we may regret his futile effort. Yet, his series on the soul represents the cravings of many persons of Western Europe of the nineteenth century. Many Romantics sought the ideals of medieval and Renaissance Christianism and even though Europe was de-christened in the end, the values and messages of Christianism did not die out.

“A eulogy in defense of the soul”.