Oil Lamp

Burning the midnight oil tonight, listening to “Sailing By” on Classic FM.  That means it’s definitely time for bed.  That was always the music they played on Radio 4 just before the late shipping forecast.  How many nights have I spent in Glénans, standing beside the Radio after getting back from the pub hoping to get the right data down on the weather sheet!  Those soothing tones listing out Fair Isle, Cromarty, Forth, Dogger and German Bight.

Back in the day they had a special verb for working by candlelight, to elucubrate.  I’ve had enough elucubrating for one night.  Night night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

First Fig; by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

Gaudete Sunday

Advent wreath

Gaudete Sunday is the mid point of the Advent fasting season.  In the Catholic Church every Sunday is a Feast day and you are not allowed to fast on a feast day.  This is why Lent is 46 days rather than 40 days.

For Advent the mid-point Sunday is taken a step further and is a day of rejoicing.  Advent is about the anticipation of Christmas, building the excitement, like a queue for a ride in Disneyworld.  Gaudete is the latin for “rejoice”.  To symbolise the lighter atmosphere the rose coloured candle in the Advent wreath is lit in the church on this day.  Next week it goes back to the violet candles of discipline.

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est.

Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum.

Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand;

have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.

Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1

Candle in the Wind


If I mention “Candle in the Wind” I will get lots of people telling me about Elton John, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.  What is interesting is how the meaning of ‘Candle in the Wind’ came to this association.

I like tracking the origin and changes of meaning over time.  Candles are a symbol of many things.  Mostly of good.  A Candle is a light in the darkness, representing Hope, Truth, Education, Goodness and so on.  The darkness beyond the light carries meanings of ignorance, evil, fear.  A force that seeks to extinguish a candle must therefore be a force of evil.  The image of a candle resisting an evil wind is a powerful one.  It needs little explanation.  Everyone gets it.

The earliest usage of the phrase “Candle in the Wind” that I can find is the title of the fourth book in T.H White’s novel “The Once and Future King”.  It is an Arthurian romance, pulling together all previous versions of the tale of Arthur, Camelot, Lancelot, Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table.  The novel was published in 1958 to an audience who had seen the rise and fall of Fascism.  The Central theme of White’s novel is the attempt by Arthur to replace naked force with a better form of rule.  Arthur is the force for good in a world where might is right.  He is the candle in the wind.

In 1960 J.F. Kennedy became the youngest candidate to win a presidential election.  On Dec 3rd 1960 Lerner and Loewe launched their musical “Camelot” on Broadway.  Based on the T.H. White novel it was a fantastic success.  The LP became the best selling record in the USA for the first 60 weeks of the new Kennedy administration.  The two became intertwined with some of the Broadway glamour rubbing off onto politics and the Kennedy Administration gained the nickname of Camelot.

Then Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and this particular candle in the wind was extinguished.

Some years later a journalist pulled up the metaphor when he wrote an obituary for Janis Joplin in 1970.  She died at only 27 and it seemed that she was the candle and the commercial interests of the music industry were the evil wind.

Bernie Taupin, lyricist partner of Elton John, read the obituary and liked the phrase.  He said it was about “the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison … how we glamorize death, how we immortalize people.

The song he wrote was about Marilyn Monroe and it appeared on the 1973 album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.  Released as a single in the UK it only reached number 11.  Possibly as a result of this poor performance it was not released at the time in the USA, and “Bennie and the Jets” was.  But it achieved a kind of background recognition and was always playing away in the wings.

When Diana, Princess of Wales, died in 1997 the song was remixed by Elton as “Goodbye English Rose” and became the best selling single of all time.

This first Wednesday in Advent there is a candle in the wind for Diana Spencer, Marilyn Monroe, Janice Joplin, Jack Kennedy and all beacons of hope against the terrible dark.

A candle for hope.

1st Sunday

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of discipline preceding the Celebration of Christmas in the Christian calendar.  Traditionally this is marked by the lighting of the first of the purple candles on the advent wreath.  There are four purple candles and one white.  Four weeks of discipline leading to Christmas celebration.

Advent is a time of reflection, introspection, self examination.  But it should never be a time of misery.  Discipline should never be seen as denial – and all too often it is.  The tradition I was raised with in the Catholic church was to deny yourself something you like for Lent.  Give up chocolate!  And so it was generally seen as a time of misery.  But that is simply weak teaching.

Yoga is a discipline, one which makes us stronger, more supple, healthier.  It is an expansive form of discipline.  Learning is another discipline.  When we learn it requires the discipline of time and mind, but the result is to accumulate knowledge and broaden the mind.  Sporting exercise is a discipline that can make you faster, stronger, better.  Charitable acts are a discipline that improves the lives of others.

Don’t see Advent as a time of less.  See it as a time of more.  More of the right kind of thing.

Purple is the colour of discipline in the Catholic church.  The first purple candle is called Hope.  So today we light a beacon for hope.  First poem that came to mind was “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson, but I have used that in my blog before.  So here is a poem about another beacon.  It is also a poem of the sea and the mind, so it belongs on Mindship.

Burning Drift-Wood; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Before my drift-wood fire I sit,
And see, with every waif I burn,
Old dreams and fancies coloring it,
And folly’s unlaid ghosts return.

O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft
The enchanted sea on which they sailed,
Are these poor fragments only left
Of vain desires and hopes that failed?

Did I not watch from them the light
Of sunset on my towers in Spain,
And see, far off, uploom in sight
The Fortunate Isles I might not gain?

Did sudden lift of fog reveal
Arcadia’s vales of song and spring,
And did I pass, with grazing keel,
The rocks whereon the sirens sing?

Have I not drifted hard upon
The unmapped regions lost to man,
The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John,
The palace domes of Kubla Khan?

Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,
Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?
Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,
And gold from Eldorado’s hills?

Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed
On blind Adventure’s errand sent,
Howe’er they laid their courses, failed
To reach the haven of Content.

And of my ventures, those alone
Which Love had freighted, safely sped,
Seeking a good beyond my own,
By clear-eyed Duty piloted.

O mariners, hoping still to meet
The luck Arabian voyagers met,
And find in Bagdad’s moonlit street,
Haroun al Raschid walking yet,

Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,
The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.
I turn from all that only seems,
And seek the sober grounds of truth.

What matter that it is not May,
That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
That darker grows the shortening day,
And colder blows the wintry air!

The wrecks of passion and desire,
The castles I no more rebuild,
May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
And warm the hands that age has chilled.

Whatever perished with my ships,
I only know the best remains;
A song of praise is on my lips
For losses which are now my gains.

Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;
No wisdom with the folly dies.
Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust
Shall be my evening sacrifice!

Far more than all I dared to dream,
Unsought before my door I see;
On wings of fire and steeds of steam
The world’s great wonders come to me,

And holier signs, unmarked before,
Of Love to seek and Power to save,—
The righting of the wronged and poor,
The man evolving from the slave;

And life, no longer chance or fate,
Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.
I fold o’er-wearied hands and wait,
In full assurance of the good.

And well the waiting time must be,
Though brief or long its granted days,
If Faith and Hope and Charity
Sit by my evening hearth-fire’s blaze.

And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,
Whose love my heart has comforted,
And, sharing all my joys, has shared
My tender memories of the dead,—

Dear souls who left us lonely here,
Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom
We, day by day, are drawing near,
Where every bark has sailing room.

I know the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown
That whisper of the Eternal Sea.

As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
I hear that sea’s deep sounds increase,
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.