Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hopkins, "Spring," and the future of Informal Inquiries

Now, without fanfare, I offer you "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a sublime marriage of Nature and Christianity:

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring—
        When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
        Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
        The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
        The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
        A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
        Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
        Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

And here is a personal postscript: 

Is Hopkins correct about Nature and Christianity? Do you know of any other poem about springtime that measures up to this one?

While you ponder the poem and my questions, consider also this announcement:

I hope to use sensibly my limited opportunities and time for blogging in the future by posting poems, book reviews, miscellaneous commentary, and whatever suits my feckless fancy. Moreover, my previously announced reading plans have been abandoned, and I have no specific reading goals, but I hope to keep this blog and myself going in spite of the odds by taking one day at a time. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Shakespeare & Co. by Stanley Wells (Pantheon, 2007)

As a longtime reader of Shakespeare's plays and poems, I am always looking for new books about William Shakespeare that achieve the important but elusive delicate balance between rigorous scholarship (essential for credibility) and accessibility (indispensable to readers like myself).

Shakespeare & Co., a book by noted Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, achieves that necessary balance and reliability.

By looking at Shakespeare within his professional contexts, Wells gives readers important perspectives that will remain useful for further examination of Shakespeare's works.

First, Wells introduces readers to the theatrical scene in Elizabethan and Jacobean London; then readers are able to more closely examine Shakespeare's involvement in that scene, especially as it relates to his roles as actor, playwright, and investor; from here, Wells moves on to 'sketch the shifting reputations and lasting achievements' of Shakespeare's fellow playwrights (Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, John Webster, and others).

While much of this information is available separately elsewhere, Wells provides a superb service by synthesizing and harmonizing the information in one single volume; more significantly, Wells' insightful and entertaining explorations of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical world give readers an improved insight into just how the poet from Stratford was able to achieve remarkable 'singularity as the greatest writer in the English language.'

Shakespeare & Co. - now having earned a permanent place on my bookshelf - is intriguing, dynamic, and most highly recommended.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Herman Melville, the whale, and God's mercy

The following poem by Herman Melville, quite timely and appropriate, comes to you from me while I sit again in a hospital waiting room; I am, you see, waiting for God's mercy and power.

The ribs and terrors in the whale, 
Arched over me a dismal gloom, 
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by, 
And left me deepening down to doom. 

I saw the opening maw of hell, 
With endless pains and sorrows there; 
Which none but they that feel can tell— 
Oh, I was plunging to despair. 

In black distress, I called my God, 
When I could scarce believe him mine, 
He bowed his ear to my complaints— 
No more the whale did me confine. 

With speed he flew to my relief, 
As on a radiant dolphin borne; 
Awful, yet bright, as lightening shone 
The face of my Deliverer God. 

My song for ever shall record 
That terrible, that joyful hour; 
I give the glory to my God, 
His all the mercy and the power.

Blogging Note

Today is another long torturous adventure at the hospital, so blogging will be limited by time and internet access, neither likely to be very much available.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Emily Dickinson on dying and stumbling

First there is this from Emily Dickinson:

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

And there is this personal postscript:

Birth and death are not difficult. Living and dying, however, are significant challenges. As for my dying, I look forward to hearing that damned fly buzz, but at the same time I prefer not to hear anything else. Honestly, if I do not hear that fly, I will be quite disappointed.

True or False: searching for one and avoiding the other

First there is this from The History Channel:
On this day in 4977 B.C., the universe is created, according to German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, considered a founder of modern science. Kepler is best known for his theories explaining the motion of planets. Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, in Weil der Stadt, Germany. As a university student, he studied the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories of planetary ordering. Copernicus (1473-1543) believed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, a theory that contradicted the prevailing view of the era that the sun revolved around the earth. In 1600, Kepler went to Prague to work for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the imperial mathematician to Rudolf II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Kepler’s main project was to investigate the orbit of Mars. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler took over his job and inherited Brahe’s extensive collection of astronomy data, which had been painstakingly observed by the naked eye. Over the next decade, Kepler learned about the work of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who had invented a telescope with which he discovered lunar mountains and craters, the largest four satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, among other things. Kepler corresponded with Galileo and eventually obtained a telescope of his own and improved upon the design. In 1609, Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion, which held that planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles (as had been widely believed up to that time), and that planets speed up as they approach the sun and slow down as they move away. In 1619, he produced his third law, which used mathematic principles to relate the time a planet takes to orbit the sun to the average distance of the planet from the sun. Kepler’s research was slow to gain widespread traction during his lifetime, but it later served as a key influence on the English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his law of gravitational force. Additionally, Kepler did important work in the fields of optics, including demonstrating how the human eye works, and math. He died on November 15, 1630, in Regensberg, Germany. As for Kepler’s calculation about the universe’s birthday, scientists in the 20th century developed the Big Bang theory, which showed that his calculations were off by about 13.7 billion years.
Personal Postscript: 
Scientists can be quite mistaken sometimes, so be skeptical of scientists; seek and find the most important truths elsewhere.

Paradise Lost sold in 1667 (and lost in 2017)

April 27, 1667: 

Blind, bitter, and poor, Puritan poet John Milton sells for ten pounds the copyright for Paradise Lost—a book that would influence English thought and language nearly as much as the King James Version and the plays of Shakespeare. The theme of the epic appears in its opening lines: "Of man's disobedience, and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world, and all our woe, / With loss of Eden.

Personal Postscript:

I despair when I realize how often Milton and other despised DWM are being purged from the Western canon in university English departments. Yes, even my former schools, both where I studied and taught, have eliminated formerly required English literature courses: Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, except for partial glances in survey courses, are gone. These canonical DWM have been replaced with PC writers chosen not because of literary merit or cultural importance but instead because of race, gender, and sexual preferences. So now a student can get both BA and MA degrees in English without those damned DWM courses. 

Yes, I despair. Tell me if you think I am wrong to feel and think this way. After all, these privileged DWM don't really matter any more in literature. Right? I'm just being insensitive. Right? I need to forget about the past and embrace the future. Right? Dead white men are irrelevant. Right?