Hence initial and progressive repentance, though the former be the repentance of a sinner, the latter of a saint, are no more different kinds of repentance, than the soul’s . . . faith in its first, and after actings. But as the midday and evening sun are the same with the morning sun, so are these; though the rising morning sun may be most noticed by the traveller, who having travelled in the night, was thereby brought from darkness to light.
The first thing one must deal with, I think, at least for the non-Anglophile reader/hearer of this hymn, is the title. It’s simple, really—Wikipedia has it that the Celtic word for hill resembles our contemporary word down. So the term “Bethlehem Down” would mean the hillsides of Bethlehem, or, more generally, the countryside near Bethlehem and, in the case of this song, the birthplace of our Christ.
What this lyric, written by Bruce Blunt in 1927, helps the reader, or singer, or hearer, see most immediately is the contrast between the divine plan and the human expectation. The first stanza imagines a hopeful mother and father desiring the best of what has been promised their newborn. The third, however, reveals a decidedly harsher reality. Nevertheless, the final stanza intimates that Mary was given a good 30 years for her little boy, her young man, her Son, to experience the best of a mother’s love before His revelation as the Son.
I’ve decided, for the foreseeable future at least, to take this website in another direction. Since I’m on Facebook now, I’ve got a place to post the family items and the occasional herptile picture, so, fear not, those won’t stop. And The O-files will be my place to concentrate on poetry, literature, and a bit of art.
Accordingly, many of the posts that once occupied these pages have been hidden, or deprecated, as I like to hear it put. They may return many days hence, but for now, just the lit stuff remains.
The best news is that the posts will be more frequent, provided I can induce some fever to occupy my brain.
The lovely Angela and I have a friend for whom the medical prognosis is not good. Our time with her seems ever to be shorter. Of course, this has prompted much prayer and reflection on our part. We have pleaded with God to extend her days for His sake and the sake of her husband and sons. And for our sakes. We have thanked God for the rich ministry she has had in our church and school, specifically in music, both singing in our services and teaching our kids more skillfully to praise their God. We feel we still need her, and desire her to remain.
I must admit that, in these reflections, I have found it difficult to contemplate the mortality of this friend without contemplating to some extent the approach of that calamity to other loved ones as well as myself. I have wept–in addition to weeping for my friend and her family–for my mother, my wife’s parents, my own excellent wife. I have wept for myself.
At first, I found this troubling, not wishing to indulge in any morose self-pity, particularly in light of another’s difficulties. But is this not the purpose of the Preacher’s invitation to the house of mourning, our own instruction? In considering the life and ministries of this friend whom we love, do we not learn to desire to acquit ourselves just as well? And in desiring, do we not seek out the appropriate means so to do? In reassuring ourselves of the confidence we have for our friend’s salvation, do we not again assure ourselves in our own confidence of our Savior?
(Ironically our friend has proclaimed to us the very words with which we would comfort her, having on more than one occasion sung in our congregation Handel’s “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” and Gaul’s “Eye Hath not Seen.”)
And Donne recapitulates the Preacher. Our friend is a part of us; we are a part of her. To think otherwise would be inhumane. It would be a meanness, a shunning of that great treasure affliction, of which “scarce any man hath enough.”
How might I restrain my soul
from touching yours? How could I
raise it beyond you to other things?
How I would secret it
in some far place, dark and
silent as the space between stars,
which is not shaken when you tremble.
But all that touches you and me
unites us, as a bow stroke
calls from separate strings a unison.
On what instrument are we strung?
And what artist handles us?
Ah, sweetest song.
(translated from the German by David Oestreich, sort of)
I was reminded today while reading the blog post of a friend of this favorite poem of mine by Rilke. Easy to be my favorite Rilke, I’ve read so few. But it got me thinking about how translation of poetry might go. I read it as best I could in French (the only foreign tongue of which I have a little) and compared that to several translations. The original German was impenetrable by me, of course.
But I found some notions striking me; some areas of the translations I read seemed somewhat off. And so I devised a scheme I shall not now reveal to get behind the German and try my own hand. Of course, I’d read four or five translations, so I was no tabula rasa, but that might have helped me seek something others had not done.
What do you think? I abandoned any meter and the rhyme that was there, and strove instead for a sparer energy and elegance. I don’t know, though, about the proximity of united and unison. Too close?
This poem is the one that first drew Stevens (born today these 134 years ago) to my attention.
The Emperor of Ice Cream
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Wallace Stevens’ birthday is next Wednesday, one day before mine (note to self: post Amazon wishlist in sidebar), so I’ll be posting a poem each (non-Sabbath) day until then. Happily, many of his works are public domain, so I don’t have to wrest or wrangle in order to claim fair use. Today, let us enjoy a poem which comments upon the titular (of post not poem) condition.
That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.
The going of the glade-boat
Is like water flowing;
Like water flowing
Through the green saw-grass
Under the rainbows;
Under the rainbows
That are like birds,
While the wind still whistles
As kildeer do,
When they rise
At the red turban
Of the boatman.
Things I like about this Wallace Stevens poem:
– It’s all one sentence.
– It includes words outrageous as “bedizened”. Yes, I had to look it up.
– It brazenly repeats the ending of a former clause as the beginning of the next. More than once.
– Its spare luxury.
– It’s a 66.7% endorsement of my theory that the inclusion of a specific and well chosen 1)plant 2)reptile/amphibian and 3)bird automatically gives an authentic sense of location to a poem. It’s the everglades, Wallace, toss in a gator or water snake!
– Oh, almost forgot. The echo of “turning bedizened” in “rise at the red turban”.