The marvel of an ordinary life

I caught a 5pm Amtrak to Philadelphia earlier and am visiting for 12 hours or so. It’s good to be here, even briefly. I’m short on time; sharing something I saw recently:

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

—William Martin

‘Barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day’

Fall is here, and summer is over—so here’s John Keats’ “To Autumn:”

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

‘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:

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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