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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dylan Thomas' Poetic Manifesto

During my junior year of college, several of my classmates started a creative writing group. While I was delighted to join in the bi-weekly critical sessions (it felt like we were the next generation Inklings), I must confess that I thought the name of the chapbook we put out each semester was a little pretentious: The Irving Renaissance: Do Not Go Gentle. The inspiration for the name is Dylan Thomas' villanelle in which the speaker vehemently urges his father not to fade quietly away without putting up a good fight. Dylan Thomas was then, for obvious reasons, subconsciously very present to me, as I realized after having a vivid dream about wandering the misty, cold moors of Great Britain, being invited by the poet himself to come in out of the damp, and sitting before a warm fire in deep wing chairs while he smoked a pipe, I drank hot tea, and we talked for hours about writing and poetry. I was a little confused when I woke up, and thought, "Huh, Dylan Thomas, eh? Never really gave him much thought before..." I'm a firm believer in the importance of dreams, so I dutifully went to the bookstore and bought his biography and some of his poetry. I am sorry to say I ended up being disgusted by his personal life, and deeming him entirely mediocre, not at all measuring up to his dream-self.


All of that being said, I still love some of what he says. The following is excerpted from his responses to five questions that a student asked him while he was on tour in the United States. It was recorded and published posthumously under the name Poetic Manifesto. While this is not complete, it not only gives great insight to what Dylan Thomas thought of poetry, but is representative of the thoughts of many poets and scholars. Many, but not all, as I'm sure there are some who disagree with the almost reckless passion with which he throws away the meanings of words for the sake of their sounds. Beyond this introduction, I'll let you all form your own opinions of what he has to say. I've italicized my favorite parts, if you just want to read the quick version. Enjoy!

You want to know why and how I first began to write poetry, and which poets or kind of poetry I was first moved and influenced by. 

To answer the first part of this question, I should say I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words...What the words stood for, symbolised, or meant, was of very secondary importance; what mattered was the sound of them as I heard them for the first time on the lips of the remote and incomprehensible grown-ups who seemed, for some reason, to be living in my world. And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milkcarts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane, might be to someone, deaf from birth, who has miraculously found his hearing. I did not care what the words said, overmuch, nor what happened to Jack & Jill & the Mother Goose rest of them; I cared for the shapes of sound that their names, and the words describing their actions, made in my ears; I cared for the colours the words cast on my eyes...I fell in love – that is the only expression I can think of – at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behaviour very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have even learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy... There they were, seemingly lifeless, made only of black and white, but out of their own being, came love and terror and pity and pain and wonder and all the other vague abstractions that make our ephemeral lives dangerous, great and bearable. Out of them came the gusts and grunts and hiccups and heehaws of the common fun of the earth; and though what the words meant was, in its own way, often deliciously funny enough, so much funnier seemed to me, at that almost forgotten time, the shape and shade and size and noise of the words as they hummed, strummed, jigged and galloped along... And as I read more and more, and it was not all verse, by any means, my love for the real life of words increased until I knew that I must live with them and in them, always. I knew, in fact, that I must be a writer of words and nothing else... I knew I had to know them most intimately in all their forms and moods, their ups and downs, their chops and changes, their needs and demands. (Here, I am afraid, I am beginning to talk too vaguely. I do not like writing about words, because then I often use bad and wrong and stale and wooly words. What I like to do is to treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mould, coil, polish and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly realized truth I must try to reach and realize.) It was when I was very young...I wrote endless imitations, though I never thought them to be imitations but, rather, wonderfully original things, like eggs laid by tigers. They were imitations of anything I happened to be reading at the time...

The writers, then, who influenced my earliest poems and stories were, quite simply, and truthfully, all the writers I was reading at the time...They ranged from writers of school-boy adventure yarns to incomparable and inimitable masters like Blake. That is, when I began, bad writing had as much influence on my stuff as good. The bad influences I tried to remove and renounce bit by bit, shadow by shadow, echo by echo, through trial and error, thought delight and disgust and misgiving, as I came to love word more and to hate the heavy hands that knocked them about, the thick tongues that had not feel for their multitudinous tastes, the dull and botching hacks who flattened them out into a colourless and insipid paste, the pedants who made them moribund and pompous as themselves. Let me say that the things that first made me love language and want to work in it and for it were nursery rhymes and folk tales, the Scottish Ballads, a few lines of hymns, the most famous Bible stories and the rhythms of the Bible, Blake's Songs of Innocence, and the quite incomprehensible magical majesty and nonsense of Shakespeare heard, read, and near-murdered in the first forms of my school....

To your third question – Do I deliberately utilise devices of rhyme, rhythm, and word-formation in my writing – I must, of course, answer with an immediate, Yes. I am a painstaking, conscientious, involved and devious craftsman in all words, however unsuccessful the result so often appears, and to whatever wrong uses I may apply my technical paraphernalia, I use everything and anything to make my poems work and move in the directions I want them to: old tricks, new tricks, puns, portmanteau-words, paradox, allusion, paranomasia, paragram, catachresis, slang, assonantal rhymes, vowel rhymes, sprung rhythm. Every device there is in language is there to be used if you will. Poets have got to enjoy themselves sometimes, and the twistings and convolutions of words, the inventions and contrivances, are all part of the joy that is part of the painful, voluntary work.

Your next question asks whether my use of combinations of words to create something new, 'in the Surrealist way', is according to a set formula or is spontaneous.... [ I profoundly disagree with the Credo of the Surrealists ]. I do not mind from where the images of a poem are dragged up: drag them up, if you like, from the nethermost sea of the hidden self; but before they reach paper, they must go through all the rational processes of the intellect. The Surrealists, on the other hand, put their words down together on paper exactly as they emerge from chaos; they do not shape these words or put them in order; to them, chaos is the shape and order. This seems to me to be exceedingly presumptuous; the Surrealists imagine that whatever the dredge from their subconscious selves and put down in paint or in words must, essentially, be of some interest or value. I deny this. One of the arts of the poet is to make comprehensible and articulate what might emerge from subconscious sources; one of the great main uses of the intellect is to select from the amorphous mass of subconscious images, those that will best further his imaginative purpose, which is to write the best poem he can.

And question five is, God help us, what is my definition of poetry?

I, myself, do not read poetry for anything but pleasure. I read only the poems I like. This means, of course, that I have to read a lot of poems I don't like before I find the ones I do, but, when I do find the one I do, then all I can say is “Here they are”, and read them to myself for pleasure. Read the poems you like reading. Don't bother whether they're important or if they'll live. What does it matter what poetry is, after all? If you want a definition of poetry, say: “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing”, and let it go at that...

You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it technically tick, and say to yourself, when the works are laid out before you, the vowels, the consonants, the rhymes or rhythms, “Yes, this is it. This is why the poem moves me so. It is because of the craftsmanship.”... You're back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in. 
 
The joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars


Given that yesterday was Memorial Day, this seems like an appropriate time to share with all of you one of my all-time favorite poems. If you are already poetry readers, I imagine you know and love this one well, and, if not, prepare yourself for beauty, courtesy of Richard Lovelace:.

Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
the first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.


This is one of very few poems I actually have committed, in its entirety, to memory (I have a deplorable memory, and I'm also shamefully bad at spelling. Ok, good -- it's out in the open now, so everyone can just relax already, alright?). It helps, of course, that it is so short, but really it is the last line that does it for me, that makes it so worth the remembering. When I read A Tale of Two Cities with my sophomores last year, a surprising number of them were critical of Charles Darnay when, facing almost certain death, he returned to France to save a man who was only in danger because he had served as custodian of Charles' property in France. What about his wife and child, they all protested. How could he leave them behind? He was being irresponsible, and should have stayed at home and taken care of them. Perhaps I'm wrong on this, and my students' initial convictions lead me to believe I might have been, but I thought it was obvious that he should go. A Tale of Two Cities aside, let's look at Lucasta.

The rebuke of the speaker in the first line is undeniable, and yet so tender and mild, perhaps more understanding than the Lady's words have merited. He wouldn't be asking her not to be unkind if she hadn't already said some awful things to him, and the direct imperative with which the poem begins leaves us in no doubt of the firmness of the speaker's position on the subject. Next, the contrast of lines 2 and 3 with line 4 is striking; words like chaste, nunnery, quiet, when held in juxtaposition with flying off to war and arms, help us to understand the change he's about to undergo, and how little this lady he loves can understand and relate to a world that is about to take her place in enveloping him.

The idea of his being enveloped is an image further intensified with the words arms, embrace, mistress, chase, and his clear analogy of moving from the close physical union of one woman to the personified "woman" of the battlefield. No wonder Lucasta is angry! She's being replaced in his affections, and he's going to embrace not only a sword, but even a horse rather than her!

Luckily for her, she has it all wrong, as her valiant warrior soon makes clear. When he uses the word inconstancy, he is not saying what he actually thinks (this is my interpretation -- feel free to argue this point with me): he is using a word that he has heard Lucasta use, a word that this woman he loves has used unkindly against him. He is not running in pursuit of a new mistress, the enemy of the battlefield, because he is unhappy and restless at home, or because he is shiftless and trying to come up with a good rationale for shirking his manly responsibilities on the home front. He is running because he loves her: I could not love thee, Dear, so much, loved I not Honour more. Ultimately, if he did not go where he was in honor bound to go, he would not be capable of giving her all the love that he wants to give her. Putting honor first makes him enough of a man that he is not only capable, but eligible and worthy of loving his Dear. If Lucasta's warrior was instead a chap who would sit at home and not go to the war when the country needed defending, when duty and honor called him, I imagine she would soon find herself regretting she had ever become attached to such a sorry fellow. Ultimately, the speaker's pursuit of honor is not in competition with his love of Lucasta. Rather, the former enables the latter -- the man's love of honor allows him to love the woman.

So yes, Charles Darnay should have gone to France, as he did, and Lucie, his wife, being the paragon of virtue that she is, would, I am sure, have reprimanded him justly and severely if he had left his custodian to fend for himself. 

My wonderful big brother, Lt Philip Turner, USMC, and his beautiful wife, Rosie
Pray for God's blessing on all of our veterans, and on everyone currently serving in the military. And God bless their families, too. Being Lucasta isn't easy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wedding Festivities

Today's post will be short (I promise!). I'm heading down to MA tonight to begin a party that will last through Sunday, as one of my out-laws is getting married. (Definition of an out-law: My older brother's wife's brothers and sisters.) In honor of the occasion, and also to keep your Richard Wilbur appetites whetted for June 2nd, let me share with you this lovely poem one of my fellow-teachers showed me yesterday:

 

Wedding Toast

St. John tells how, at Cana's wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world's fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana's wine.

The second stanza is my favorite. Wonderful enjambment, beautiful imagery, smooth sweet sounds. And stanza three is so true. Anyway, time for some last minute shopping. Have a good weekend, and congratulations to Sukie and John!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Don Quixote DOES Have a Point


I've been reading Don Quixote with my junior English class since late March. I often feel unqualified to teach what I am supposed to, but wow, not only do I not know enough about this book, I am so unbelievably tired of it. Yes, I read it in college, but listen, it was at the end of my senior year, and I certainly wasn't giving it my undivided attention. Also, can I just say, Cervantes needed an editor. This story should have ended 400 pages ago. Lest you all run away from me in horror and disgust, with loud proclamations of the importance of this work in the development of the novel, the enduring quality of Quixote's ideals, and the simply lovable little Sancho Panza, please understand that I do actually agree with you. I love the chivalrous Don Quixote, as I am quite an idealist romantic melancholic optimist myself. I even make my students memorize the Code of Chivalry (taken from Howard Pyle). And I've been marvelously rewarded by the sight of teenage boys hotly debating the particulars of the loss of chivalry in modernity, arguing passionately on the cause and nature of its decline, and what needs to happen to bring it back. One of my favorite quotes of the week (imagine a gangly enthusiastic 17 year old gesticulating wildly): "She loves him because she is BOUND to him!" Yes!! Good... So, thank you, Cervantes, for that.

Let's just do a favor for our friend, The Knight of the Sorrowful Face, and say that he's pictured here with Lady Dulcinea.
 
All of that being said, I stand fast by my earlier statement -- the length of this book is out of control.

One of the chapters I read today, however, seemed particularly noteworthy. Cervantes likes to talk about writing as much as any author, and in chapter 47, he does just that in a discussion between a Canon and a priest. If you haven't read the book, you should know that this priest is a scandalous hypocritical moron who reads the 16th century equivalent of Nora Roberts and generally behaves without dignity, so if you look up the whole chapter, take what he says with a grain of salt. And maybe a shot of tequila while you're at it. The following rather lengthy passage is the Canon's presentation to this priest of his views on chivalric novels, his criticism of their common weaknesses, and his idea of what well-written fiction actually contains (from Edith Grossman's translation, emphasis added):

"Truly, Senor Priest, it seems to me that the books called novels of chivalry are prejudicial to the nation, and though I, moved by a false and idle taste, have read the beginning of almost every one that has ever been published, I have never been able to read any from beginning to end, because it seems to me they are all essentially the same, and one is no different from another. In my opinion, this kind of writing and composition belongs to the genre called Milesian tales (footnote: A kind of sensual, supposedly decadent writing associated with the ancient Ionian city of Miletus), which are foolish stories meant only to delight and not to teach, unlike moral tales, which delight and teach at the same time. Although the principal aim of these books is to delight, I do not know how they can, being so full of so many excessively foolish elements; for delight conceived in the soul must arise from the beauty and harmony it sees or contemplates in the things that the eyes or the imagination place before it, and nothing that possesses ugliness and disorder can please us... What beauty, what proportion between parts and the whole, or the whole and its parts, can there be in a book or tale in which a boy of sixteen, with one thrust of his sword, fells a giant as big as a tower and splits him in two as if he were marzipan...? What mind, unless it is completely barbaric or untutored, can be pleased to read that a great tower filled with knights sails the seas like a ship before a favorable wind, and is in Lombardy at nightfall, and by dawn the next day it is in the lands of Prester John of the Indies, or in others never described by Ptolemy or seen by Marco Polo? If one were to reply that those who compose these books write them as fictions, and therefore are not obliged to consider the fine points of truth, I should respond that the more truthful the fiction, the better it is, and the more probable and possible, the more pleasing. Fictional tales must engage the minds of those who read them, and by restraining exaggeration and moderating impossibility, they enthrall the spirit and thereby astonish, captivate, delight, and entertain, allowing wonder and joy to move together at the same pace; none of these things can be accomplished by fleeing verisimilitude and mimesis, which together constitute perfection in writing. I have seen no book of chivalry that creates a complete tale, a body with all its members intact, so that the middle corresponds to the beginning, and the end to the beginning and the middle; instead, they are composed with so many members that the intention seems to be to shape a chimera or a monster rather than to create a well-proportioned figure. Furthermore, the style is fatiguing, the action incredible, the love lascivious, the courtesies clumsy, the battles long, the language foolish, the journeys nonsensical, and finally, since they are totally lacking intelligent artifice, they deserve to be banished, like unproductive people, from Christian nations."

On rereading that just now, I realize I have more to say than I thought. My first reaction is to nod enthusiastically, agreeing with everything he says, and give him a congratulatory pat on the back for "fleeing verisimilitude and mimesis". Amazing, right?? His last sentence is pretty wonderfully caustic as well, and that, together with the fact that I must be "completely barbaric or untutored" to disagree with him, makes me initially certain that I'm on his side. But wait, hang on. What about Beowulf? The particulars of that story are the definition of unrestrained exaggeration and immoderate impossibility. And who can help but cheer at the strength of SIXTY men in Beowulf's two hands? Who can help being joyfully astounded at his feat of swimming with THIRTY suits of armor in tow? How about that time he swam underwater in full chain mail for a whole day so that he could battle Grendel's mother, after having ripped Grendel's arm from its shoulder with his bare hands ("Sinews split and the bone-lappings burst...")? And as far as the Canon's first example of impossibility is concerned, the young boy felling a giant, what about David and Goliath?

Yes, we're all supposed to like Michaelangelo's David the most, but Bernini is so my favorite. Look at that angry brow.

Obviously, I agree that writing needs to be intelligent, and anything less is merely an insult to the audience. I also agree, not surprisingly, that nothing ugly or disordered can bring real delight to our souls. The style of the writing needs to be snappy (read Austen, not James Fenimore Cooper!) and the plots need to be strong enough to entice us to suspend our disbelief. But since when has exaggeration been a bad thing? We're HUMANS. We like things to be over-the-top, and guess what? we learn and remember best through big, dramatic, crazy examples. And there's nothing to say that "action incredible" exists to the exclusion of intelligent artistic construction. As I tell my students, time and time again, FICTION IS NOT OPPOSED TO REALITY (Thank you, Fr. Maguire!). Simply because something never factually happened, or because the particulars of a story couldn't happen in real life (Orcs and Hobbits just don't exist and never will), doesn't mean that the truths communicated by the characters are any less real. Of course, based on the wild events that make up the main narrative of Don Quixote, this is exactly what Cervantes thinks himself. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Richard Wilbur

Big news on the street: Pulitzer Prize winning poet Richard Wilbur will be speaking at 7 pm on Saturday, June 2, in Connecticut. Details here: http://www.hillstead.org/activities/poetry_performseries.html#one . While I haven't read as much of him as I wish, I'm always delighted when I do actually take the time. This is one of my favorites:

The Reader
She is going back, these days, to the great stories
That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light
Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls,
And a page turns now with a scuffing sound.
Onward they come again, the orphans reaching
For a first handhold in a stony world,
The young provincials who at last look down
On the city’s maze, and will descend into it,
The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly,
The sly one who aspires to marry so,
The young man bent on glory, and that other
Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does
What will become of them in bloody field
Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times
She sees their first and final selves at once,
As a god might to whom all time is now.
Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps
She meets them this time with a wiser eye,
Noting that Julien’s calculating head
Is from the first too severed from his heart.
But the true wonder of it is that she,
For all that she may know of consequences,
Still turns enchanted to the next bright page
Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—
Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,
The blind delight of being, ready still
To enter life on life and see them through.

 And if that didn't do it for you, probably his best known poem is Love Calls Us to the Things of This World. I tend to disagree with his impulsive cry in support of laundry, and imagine his wife has done his for him for decades. Anyway, you should read it. And then, come to Connecticut on June 2nd.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Purpose of this Endeavor


O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.
—William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203—6[3]

I imagine I'm not the only one that often wishes I could remember almost every line of each book and poem I'm reading. And so, as a long-time appreciator of beautiful words, and sadly aware of my own inability to adequately add to them, I've decided it's time for me to start a blog about wonderful writing. This might be as simple as putting up favorite quotations from whatever I'm reading, perhaps commenting on it when the need presents itself, and hopefully generating at least a little discussion with other readers who need somebody to talk to about their latest literary escapades. Just as a warning, I might occasionally throw in links to The Onion, comic commentaries bemoaning the decline of language in modernity, or share some really awful jokes on grammar. Also, as there is no formality here, I might get a little rambly here and there - I'll try to avoid it, so just bear with me!

Before we get started, I have to share with you a bit of my philosophy on the power of the written word. While I do think that music is the most unstoppable form of art (Plato's on my side on this issue - we can talk more on this if you want), John the Evangelist didn't call Jesus "The Word" for no reason. We don't say "Word...." to express our very hip appreciation of something (Wait, do we still say that? We did when I was in college, anyway) without cause. Why do people pay the extra fee for vanity license plates on their cars? How long has graffiti been a problem for street cleaners and city officials? "Quintus Flavius hic erat..." It is not without reason that there are so many poems about the immortality of the written word and its ability to influence its readers for centuries, sometimes for millennia. (Sidenote, as long as we're talking about words that have influenced millennia of thought and writing - One of my favorite things is when writers write back and forth at each other or about each other. Keats' On first looking into Chapman's Homer is a great example of this, as is that classic pair of poems, The Passionate Shepherd to his Love and The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd). For a long time I have debated with myself, and occasionally with others, if the writings of the great minds of each day and age shape its people, or if those writings are merely the articulate voice of the already-present thoughts of that people. Recently, I think I decided on the easy answer, which, luckily, I also happen to think is the true answer: it is a combination of the two. The writings of an age are both a reflection of the thought of that age, and therefore an invaluable record of the times, and also help to shape the time that follows. How can we develop and build on what we are if no one has clearly said what that is? The founding fathers had Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence because he was a rhetorical wordsmith. And we all know what that document has come to mean. How many of you memorized the first few lines of it in your junior high history classes? Your teachers didn't make you do that to torture you, despite common belief (talk to my American history students!) -- they did it because they wanted you to know what was in the minds of your forefathers when they were trying to build a nation for you -- they did it to tell you who you are now, to tell you the founding myth that shapes you.

Now, for a look at how this issue plays out in the world of literature, which is much more my realm of expertise than history, read Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. While I certainly do not agree with everything that that man says (to quote one of my favorite youtube videos, "Harold Bloom is a misogynistic narcissist. They gave him his own department of humanities because nobody could frackin stand him"), I cannot deny that he is an invaluable critic of Shakespeare, and I did use him to get the juices going for the SEVEN Shakespeare plays I studied with my high school students this year. In brief, his theory is that Shakespeare is the inventor of modern man's intellectual formation; he says that Shakespeare's works, influential as they have continually been for 400 years, have shaped the thought of man to such a degree that his words, phrases, images and ideas not only occur casually and accidentally in our language and minds -- they have made us what we are. They have invented us. This extreme credit given to Shakespeare makes me understand the term "Bardolotry" better than I had. And while I do not go so far as Bloom in the credit I give to the Bard (I am a Christian theist, and, unlike Bloom, know myself to have been created by God), I do understand what he says and why he is saying it. How many times have we heard it said, or said ourselves, that young children are very maleable, that the words they hear (and, God forbid, sometimes repeat in their innocent voices) stay with them, become a part of them, and help to form them into adulthood? Shakespeare has permeated our language and thought to such a degree that he has shaped us the way we shape our children. (And, sadly for him, like our children, we don't always listen to the whole story. Taylor, I am sorry to inform you, but Romeo and Juliet DIED, ok?) A happy example of words working on an impressionable child, and one of my favorite stories to recount: When I was studying poetry for comps, I read Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening to my little sister, who was then only 4 years old. Several days later, she collapsed by my side with a melodramatic sigh, rolled her eyes heavenward, and wailed, "Oh, Ellie! I wish it would snow again, so we could go outside and listen to the sweep of easy wind and downy flake!" I was utterly delighted by her, as I often still am (she is 9 now.) The words of poetry and stories (Dr. Suess, Charlotte's Webb), become a rhythm to our ears, a part of our heart beat, part of what makes us breath and see the way we do. Did Shakespeare invent me, Mr. Bloom? Well, no, of course not, you crazy man. Why yes, indeed he did, you brilliant soothsayer!! At least, he shaped a part of me. How many words did he add to the English language? I don't remember, but it was well into the thousands."Incarnadine" (Macbeth) is one of my favorites. "Puking" is also one of his, by the way. (We all know he's a lot bawdier and well, "earthier" than we'd like to admit, right?) How many of his phrases indolently slip their way into our conversations, so easily that we don't even know it? Pick up Hamlet one day, and you'll be amazed at how many famous lines come from that play: Get thee to a nunnery! Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Brevity is the soul of wit. Frailty, thy name is woman. To be, or not to be... The list goes on. How many of you ladies feel with Elizabeth Bennet that Mr. Collins should have realized the soul of wit? How many of you gentleman out there agree with Will Shakespeare that frailty is a pretty accurate name for most women (don't answer that)? How many of you wish you had said, "Oh, most pernicious woman!" before Shakespeare did? Well, the fact of the matter is, that's what good writing is, and does. It takes what we're thinking, and puts it better than we can. Sometimes, it even tells us what we were thinking before we knew it, and then goes on to tell us how to continue thinking about it. Talk about power! That's the written word for you. That's why I love it.

Of course, power corrupts, with great power comes great responsibility -- you know the drill. But power is necessary for redemption, too. And I don't mean that immediately in the teleological, cosmological sense that you all might be jumping to. Let me explain. Can you remember back to when you first heard the word "cathartic" or maybe "catharsis?" For me, and I hope for most of you, it doesn't at first bring images of punching bags and smashed plates (but those work, too). Perhaps there are vague bits of memory about a definition of tragedy, and something about pity and fear? The purpose of the story of Oedipus (yes, there is one) is the proper purgation or catharsis of pity and fear, remember? It's the same for any tragedy. Words, stories, and especially music, help us to process something, and, in doing so, they change us. You might have a favorite book that you go back to when you need a bit of comfort, a particular poem that, when you read it, all of the sudden brings into sharp focus a part of the world you realize you've been misunderstanding, or a letter from a dear friend that changes everything, that you hold on to and read over and over. Why are your favorite quotes on your Facebook page there? What is the point of the "Words of Wisdom" in a yearbook? Why do you get some tattoos with text, not just image? Words heal and strengthen you, give you a reason to fight, an explanation for something that has happened. They give us our answers and our reasons, in beautiful form. And if that's not worth talking about, I don't know what is. Last year was a hard year in my life, and then I read G. K. Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse. It certainly didn't change what was making things hard, but these words in particular gave me comfort, scant and irrational though it might have been:

“But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

There's a challenge for you. There's a call to action. There's a reason, a purpose. So go and DO something about it!

I didn't expect this introductory post to go on so long. But, one more thing, before I go. If you don't understand the title of this blog, it is in reference to The Tempest. When Miranda, the lovely lady of the story, sees other people for the first time (she has been raised in isolation on a mostly uninhabited island), she is astounded by their beauty. She is utterly astounded by the world that the fact of their existence has opened up to her naive understanding. That childlike delight in humanity and the surrounding world, particularly as experienced through her phrase "Brave New World", isn't at all, as far as I can tell, what people think of when they hear that phrase. What I would love to see happen, and what I humbly hope I can help to accomplish through this blog, is for this redemptive, clarifying, and spiritually elevating power of words to work towards a transformation of ourselves and the world around us. "Brave New World" is not the title of a dismal novel -- it is the delighted exclamation of a young woman at the glories of the world in which she is suddenly immersed. At least, that's what it used to be. And so, the challenge before us: can we use our language to redeem itself, to redeem ourselves, and so to redeem our love of our world? Let the work begin.