Chapter & Verse

Catholics don’t quote scripture.

I was watching Designated Survivor Series 2 Episode 10, Line of Fire.  Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) is in hospital with the mother of a baby who is undergoing an operation but her church does not permit blood transfusions.  The mother spits out the beginning of a bible quote and Rhodes completes it.  She then goes on to tell the mother that she went to Catholic school.

Carrie: Are you devout?
Emily: No. Nine years of Catholic School and I never saw God there.
Carrie: I’m sorry.
Emily: Don’t be. I see it other places, like in a Mother’s love.

Immediately all my alarm bells went off.  The writer got this scene so wrong.  Catholics don’t quote scripture.  Chapter and Verse is a mark of the protestant religion.  It is just not a Catholic thing.

The foundation stone of the Protestant religions is the vernacular bible.  When Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517 he was challenging the elements of church dogma that departed from the teachings of the bible.  The Catholic church was perfectly happy to continue with Latin mass and have the faithful rattle out their pater nosters and ave marias in ignorance of the meaning of their words.

It was not until the 1960’s following Vatican II that the Catholic church moved to mass in vernacular languages.  Even today Catholic children do not read the bible in lessons.  They learn prayers and catechism. Many Catholic families do not even own a bible.

At the core of the Protestant religions is the need for the faithful to read the word of God directly, without the clouding effect of interpretation through filters imposed by men such as the Pope, Bishops and Priests.

It is no accident that the timing of the Protestant reformation followed the invention of the moveable type printing press.  In order to become a Protestant you had to have access to a bible, and you had to be able to read it.  The vernacular bible was born.

It then became the mark of a good Protestant to reference the Bible on any point of faith.  If you could back up an action with a quote directly from the Bible that supported the validity of the action.  If you could place your quote precisely in the Bible, by quoting the relevant Chapter & Verse that made the point even more forcefully.

This focus on the word of God bleeds into all aspects of church design.  Catholic churches are gloriously decorated architectural wonders filled with images of saints, Holy Mary, angels, martyrs, votive candles, icons, side chapels, expensive ornamentation.  They are designed to be palaces fit to house the Lord.  You don’t speak directly to God though, you work through intermediaries.  You pray to saints to intercede on your behalf.  You then pay a priest to put in a good word for you too.  The economy of the Catholic church is founded upon the concept that you buy influence.

The most fundamental protestant churches are the plainest.  The focus is on the word.  The only object you need to commune with God is the Word of God and that is in the Bible.

In this regard the most fundamentalist Protestant religions share a great deal of common ground with the most fundamentalist Islamic sects.  Islam also focuses on the word, albeit in the Koran.  Islamic art avoids images of people in case they be interpreted as the image of God, a graven image and an object of idolatrous worship.

Below is the Sancaklar Mosque outside Istanbul.  It is a modernist Islamic space.  The design emulates the cave in which the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran from God.  The only decoration in this Mosque is a piece of calligraphy, the Word of God.  This is a space that would work well for any hard line Presbyterian.  It is a long distance away from the splendorous excess of the Vatican.

Sancaklar.jpg

Happy Birthday Gary Whitehead

Chickens

These hens are mostly Blackrocks, a first generation cross between Plymouth Rock Barred and Rhode Island Reds, so they half come from the same state as Gary Whitehead.  When you spend time with chickens you can see what a good poet Whitehead is.  He captures them well.

 

A Glossary of Chickens; by Gary Whitehead

There should be a word for the way
they look with just one eye, neck bent,
for beetle or worm or strewn grain.
“Gleaning,” maybe, between “gizzard”
and “grit.” And for the way they run
toward someone they trust, their skirts
hiked, their plump bodies wobbling:
“bobbling,” let’s call it, inserted
after “blowout” and before “bloom.”
There should be terms, too, for things
they do not do—like urinate or chew—
but perhaps there already are.
I’d want a word for the way they drink,
head thrown back, throat wriggling,
like an old woman swallowing
a pill; a word beginning with “S,”
coming after “sex feather” and before “shank.”
And one for the sweetness of hens
but not roosters. We think
that by naming we can understand,
as if the tongue were more than muscle.

Leaving Cert Poetry in a poem

BillyCollins

Look at that smile, those eyes, you just know he is all about trouble.  But in a good way.  Billy Collins, happy birthday today, born in 1941, is a poet, a professor of poetry and former Poet Laureate of the USA.

We Irish can claim a stake in him through his father’s people.  He is that rarest of creatures, a well loved, and well read poet.  In 1997 he recorded 34 of his poems on “The Best Cigarette” and it became a best seller.  In 2005 it was released into public domain, so you can listen for free.

I love this poem below.  For me it sums up generation after generation of secondary school and university students who are introduced to poetry as a form of verbal torture.  Sadly there are many of them who leave poems tied to the chair and never get the pleasure of waterskiing over one.

 

Introduction to Poetry; by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Calendar Wars III

Nizar

Nizar Qabbani : Syrian Poet

Last night was the spring, or vernal equinox.  In astrological terms that makes today the first day of the new astrological year.  The first month of the Zodiac calendar is Aries, the Ram.  We all love to make fun of horoscopes and the notion that you can predict your future from the rotation of the planet and the precession of the stars.

At the same time the human brain is pre-programmed to seek patterns in nature.  Random chance is a frightening threat, so we seek solace in order and causality.  Reading horoscopes is simply a manifestation of the real human need to make sense of our world.

Today is also the first day of the new year in the Bahá’í calendar, a religion from Iran.  Year 1 of this calendar begins in 1844 CE making this year 175BE.  Though it originates in Iran it is most heavily persecuted there.  It is sad that Islam, which was once renowned for its tolerance of other faiths, has become so prohibitive of other peoples beliefs.

So to poetry and today I have a poem from one of the most famous and best loved Syrian poets.  Nizar Qabbani was born on March 21st 1923 in Damascus which he described in his will as “the womb that taught me poetry, taught me creativity and granted me the alphabet of Jasmine“.

The suicide of his older sister when he was aged 15 had a profound influence on the young Qabbani.  She made the ultimate refusal to an arranged marriage.  All his life he advocated feminism and an examination of the relationship between men and women in Arabic society.

The defeat of Syria and the Arab allies in the 6 day war by Israel also had a profound effect on his work and shifted his focus from the poetry of love to the poetry of politics.

A lesson in Drawing; by Nizar Qabbani

My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
‘… But this is a prison, Father,
Don’t you know, how to draw a bird?’
And I tell him: ‘Son, forgive me.
I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.’

My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
demanding,
‘Don’t you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?’
I tell him, ‘Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
armed birds
armed culture
and armed religion
you can’t buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can’t pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can’t buy a book
that doesn’t explode between your fingers.’

My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
‘But this is a tear, father, not a poem!’
And I tell him:
‘When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you’ll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.’

My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping.

Ovid on Abortion

Ovid

Publius Ovidius Naso, better known to us today as the Latin poet Ovid, was born March 20th 43 BC and died in 17 or 18 AD in exile from Rome in Scythia Minor which today is Constanta on the Romanian Black Sea coast.  The Emperor Augustus banished Ovid to this dark, remote backwater for “a poem and a mistake” and that is just enough to fuel speculation.  If there is any truth to the exploits detailed in his love poetry we may guess what his mistake was.

Historians point to the exile of Julia the Younger and Agrippa Postumus, grandchildren of Augustus, at around this time.  Julia’s husband was executed for conspiracy against Augustus.

Ovid was born in the year after the assassination of Julius Caesar.  He grew up in a Rome torn asunder by one Civil War after another.  First the republicans under Brutus and Cassius fought Anthony and Octavian.  Then war with Sextus Pompeius, the Sicilian Revolt.  Then the conflict between Anthony and Octavian.  Ovid came to maturity in the early days of the Roman Empire, where imperial favour was a pre-requisite for success.

Often ranked alongside the older pair, Virgil and Horace, as one of the big 3 of Roman poetry.  I found this elegy interesting because of the relevance of the topic to the big political hot potato in Ireland this year, the 8th Amendment.  In Ireland we do not permit abortion.  So we have an Irish solution, the outsourcing of our abortions to the UK.

Because the right to life of a foetus is enshrined in our constitution the government cannot pass sensible laws without a constitutional referendum.  Without sensible laws doctors are unable to make rational medical decisions.  They are bound instead by Catholic Dogma.  As a result we get situations like the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.

Ovid was against abortion, and abortion was a far more dangerous procedure in Roman times.  Dangerous or not it was still practiced, and that is as true today as it was then.  You cannot prevent abortion, but you can strive to ensure that it is practiced as safely as possible.

Verses 4 and 5 refer to Priam (King of Troy) and Aeneas, in a nod to the ancestral lineage of the Emperor Augustus.  As you can see, in the Rome of that day every topic had the potential to be political.

Book II Elegy XIV: Against Abortion; by Publius Ovidius Naso

Where’s the joy in a girl being free from fighting wars,
unwilling to follow the army and their shields,
if without battle she suffers wounds from her own weapons,
and arms unsure hands to her own doom?

Whoever first taught the destruction of a tender foetus,
deserved to die by her own warlike methods.
No doubt you’d chance your arm in that dismal arena
just to keep your belly free of wrinkles with your crime?

If the same practice had pleased mothers of old,
Humanity would have been destroyed by that violation.
and we’d need a creator again for each of our peoples
to throw the stones that made us onto the empty earth.

Who would have shattered the wealth of Priam, if Thetis,
the sea goddess, had refused to carry her rightful burden?
If Ilia had murdered the twins in her swollen womb,
the founder of my mistress’s City would have been lost.

If Venus had desecrated her belly, pregnant with Aeneas,
Earth would have been bereft of future Caesars.
You too, with your beauty still to be born, would have died,
if your mother had tried what you have done.

I myself would be better to die making love
than have been denied the light of day by my mother.
Why rob the loaded vine of burgeoning grapes,
or pluck the unripe apple with cruel hand?

Let things mature themselves – grow without being forced:
life is a prize that’s worth a little waiting.
Why submit your womb to probing instruments,
or give lethal poison to what is not yet born?

Medea is blamed for sprinkling the blood of her children,
and Itys, slain by his mother, is lamented with tears:
both cruel parents, yet both had bitter reason
to shed blood, revenge on a husband.

Say, what Tereus, what Jason incites you
to pierce your troubled body with your hand?
No tiger in its Armenian lair would do it,
no lioness would dare destroy her foetus.

But tender girls do it, though not un-punished:
often she who kills her child, dies herself.
She dies, and is carried to the pyre with loosened hair,
and whoever looks on cries out: ‘She deserved it!’

But let these words vanish on the ethereal breeze,
and let my imprecations have no weight!
You gods, prosper her: let her first sin go, in safety,
and be satisfied: you can punish her second crime!

William Allingham’s Birthday

Sprout

Born 19th March 1924, not 19th of May as I previously mistook for his birthday.  That is why he has two birthday entries.  I think the fairies were fooling with him.

 

A Seed ; by William Allingham

See how a seed, which Autumn flung down,
and through the Winter neglected lay,
uncoils two little green leaves and two brown,
with tiny root taking hold on the clay
as, lifting and strengthening day by day,
it pushes red branchless, sprouts new leaves,
and cell after cell the power in it weaves
out of the storehouse of soil and clime,
to fashion a tree in due course of time;
tree with rough bark and boughs’ expansion,
where the crow can build his mansion,
or a man, in some new May,
lie under whispering leaves and say,
“are the ills of one’s life so very bad
when a green tree makes me deliciously glad?”
As I do now. But where shall I be
when this little Seed is a tall green tree?

Happy Birthday Wilfred Owen

Owen

Born on this day in 1893 Wilfred Owen died aged 25, on November 4th 1918, one week before the end of the Great War.  This is his 125th birthday.

A thoughtful poet before the war Owen was denied a proper education by his family poverty.  He did not attain sufficient marks to win a scholarship.  When the war began he was a reluctant participant, but saw it as his duty to enlist which he did in October 1915.

He was commissioned as an officer in June 1916 and spend the months when the Battle of the Somme was raging in a training camp at Étaples.  He was brought up to active duty on the Somme in January 1917.  He underwent heavy shelling in January, was injured in March from a fall into a cellar.  Returned to duty in April, was hit by a shell in May.

Suffering from shell shock he was repatriated to Edinburgh to recuperate.  It was in Craiglockhart War Hospital that he met Siegfried Sassoon who became his mentor.  The pair went on to write some of the best anti-war poetry in history.  They saw it as their duty to expose the awful reality of war.  For me the poem below achieves this better than any other.

Dulce Et Decorum Est ; by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

St Patrick by Harry Clarke

St Patrick

St Patrick depicted on Stained Glass Window by Harry Clarke.  Commissioned for St Michaels Church Ballinasloe.  Harry Clarke was born on St Patrick’s Day in 1889. He was a leading figure in the Irish Arts & Crafts movement, an illustrator but best remembered for his work in stained glass.

He worked on illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

Plagued by ill health he moved to Davos in Switzerland seeking a cure for TB.  He died, aged only 41.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Excerpt) : by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.
And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Earworm: Big River

Mark & Jimmy

Mark Knopfler & Jimmy Nail

From Jimmy Nail and Mark Knopfler:  Big River on Youtube

Jimmy Nail, born James Michael Aloysius Bradford on this day in 1954, actor, singer and successful song writer.  A native of Newcastle upon Tyne his song, Big River, has become an unofficial anthem of that city.  Happy Birthday Jimmy.

Big River: by Jimmy Nail
Walking on cobble stone, little bits of skin and bone
jumping on a tram car for a ride.
I can remember then, I was just a boy of ten
hanging around the old quayside.
Now all the capstans and the cargo boats
and stevedores are gone
to where all the old ships go
but memories just like the seas live on
 ’cause that was when coal was king
the river a living thing
And I was just a boy, but it was mine
The coaly Tyne.
 –
(Chorus)
For this was a big river
I want you all to know that I was proud.
This was a big river, but that was long ago
that’s not now, that’s not now.
My father was a working man
he earned our living with his hands
he had to cross the river every day.
He picked up a union card out of the Neptune yard
mouths to feed and the bills to pay.
Then came a time for him to sail across the seas
and far away
finally when the war was won
you brought him home and home he stayed
and when his days were done, under a golden sun
you took him back to where he longed to be
back to the sea
(Chorus)
For this was a big river
I want you all to know that I was proud
This was a big river, but that was long ago
that’s not now, that’s not now
that’s not now.
The Neptune was the last to go,
I heard it on my radio
and then they played the latest number one.
But what do they do all day?
What are they supposed to say?
What does a father tell his son?
If you believe that there’s a bond between our future
and our past
try to hold on to what we had
we build them strong, we built to last
 ’cause this is a mighty town
built upon solid ground
and everything they tried so hard to kill
we will rebuild
(Chorus)
For this was a big river
I want you all to know I’m so very proud.
This was a big river, but that was long ago
That’s not now
and this is a big river
and in my heart I know it will rise again
the river will rise again.

Lady Gregory’s Birthday

Lady_gregory

March 15th the Ides of March and that fateful day for one Julius Caesar in the year 44 BC.  After the death of Caesar his adopted nephew, Octavian, rose to power in Rome and became the first Emperor.   The senate awarded him the title “Augustus” in 27 BC, meaning “The illustrious one”.

In 1852 on Roxborough Estate in Galway a young girl was born to to Frances Persse and was named Isabella Augusta Persse.  She grew up and married Sir William Henry Gregory and became Lady Gregory.  She Co-founded and Managed the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre with William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, John Millington Synge etc.

Lady Gregory was a prolific playwright but her greatest legacy to Ireland was as a folklorist.  She learned the Irish language and established a school on her estate.  Then she collected and published a huge body of folk material.  She was the Irish version of the Brothers Grimm.

Here is one of her translations, a sinful, sexual and blasphemous piece of beauty:

Donal Óg; Anonymous 8th Century Irish poem.

Translation by Isabella Augusta (Lady Gregory)

 

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!