Archives for May 2014

“Death comes to the feast.”

beowulf-02I’ve given JOB long enough to post this; for some reason, he refuses, though his duty is clear. Oh, well. Ye Olde New Yorker has a fun piece on some guy named Tolkien who went and translated Beowulf and then never published it…

“…Spoilers proliferate. When Beowulf goes to meet the dragon, the poet tells us fully four times that the hero is going to die. As in Greek tragedy, the audience for the poem knew the ending. It knew the middle, too, which is a good thing, since the events of Beowulf’s fifty-year reign are barely mentioned until the dragon appears. This bothered many early commentators. It did not bother Tolkien. The three fights were enough. Beowulf, Tolkien writes in his essay, was just a man:

And that for him and many is sufficient tragedy. It is not an irritating accident that the tone of the poem is so high and its theme so low. It is the theme in its deadly seriousness that begets the dignity of tone: lif is læne: eal scæceð leoht and lif somod (life is transitory: light and life together hasten away). So deadly and ineluctable is the underlying thought, that those who in the circle of light, within the besieged hall, are absorbed in work or talk and do not look to the battlements, either do not regard it or recoil. Death comes to the feast.

According to Tolkien, ‘Beowulf’ was not an epic or a heroic lay, which might need narrative thrust. It was just a poem—an elegy. Light and life hasten away.”

Be sure to follow the link for a throwdown between J.R.R. and some clown named Seamus!

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: ‘Ave Maria’ by Giulio Caccini Vladimir Vavilov

You’ve heard this lovely aria before, haven’t you? I’d probably heard it first in the movie Donnie Darko. Haunting, though it hadn’t really haunted me as much as it might have. (That could be said of the movie as well as the music.)

But one morning this week, during my commute, the DJ for the local classical station gave this piece a memorable introduction: This ‘Ave Maria’, though commonly attributed to the 16th-/17th-century Italian composer Giulio Caccini, is almost certainly a hoax. In fact (said the DJ), this piece was most likely composed around 1970 by a Russian who rejoiced in the name of Vladimir Vavilov… and who had a habit of publishing his original compositions as ‘Anonymous’, or under false attributions. Vavilov — a lutenist as well as a composer — evidently recorded his ‘Ave Maria’ for a Soviet state-owned record label, presenting it as some anonymous Baroque composition he had uncovered. After his death, it somehow picked up the Caccini attribution, and has been widely recorded since. (The fact that the aria’s only text consists of the two words ‘ave Maria’, rather than the full text of the prayer, seems to be a sign that it was written somewhere outside the spatio-temporal bounds of Latin Christendom — bogus as a three-rouble note.)

But the DJ, before he spun the record, gave this particular screw still another turn: He suggested that Vavilov might have borrowed the melody for his ‘anonymous’ aria from Jerome Kern’s 1939 standard ‘All the Things You Are’ — making this ‘Ave Maria’ not just a hoax, but a joke.

Credible? Judge for yourself:


  • Text by Archangel Gabriel
    • addressing mother of God Incarnate
  • Latin
    • translation from divinely-inspired Greek text of Saint Luke
      • presumably translated from Gabriel’s Aramaic (Hebrew?) original
  • Composed and recorded by Russian lutenist circa 1970
  • Published as anonymous work
  • Distributed by Soviet state-owned record company
    • Communist
      • godless
  • Wrongly attributed to Baroque-era Italian composer
  • Likely adapted from 1939 Broadway show-tune

Today in Porn: Ground-floor offices edition

IMG_20140502_120820Walking through Little Italy, passed this lil’ artist-type place. I like papier mache as much as the next man, but not, perhaps, if this fellow is the next man.


A profile on the face of quirkily hyper-sexualized, unconnectedly earlobed (and, of course, Catholicish) American poetry, or How I learned to stop projecting and love Sharon Olds


Lockwood was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was raised, as her author blurb states, in “all the worst cities of the Midwest.” What it does not say is that her father is a married Catholic priest, currently in a diocese of Kansas City, Mo. This requires a bit of explanation….

As a child Lockwood was intensely pious. “Catholicism is very beautiful,” she told me. “When your father is a priest, it’s invested with extra authority, and your father is invested with extra authority.” As a teenager, she had a strict dress code and a very limited range of after-school activities, which included a youth group called God’s Gang. “There was a lot of talk about gangs at the time,” she recalled, “and the idea was, what if there was a gang but it was a cool gang — for the Lord?” In God’s Gang they spoke in tongues, and the leaders would outline “all the sex you can’t do.”

Gas chambers in the Althouse

gas house

In which the esteemed law prof and perspicacious culture critic ponders an interesting O’Connor-Percy connection.

New Dante Canto found! von Balthasar (partially) vindicated! Unitarian Universalists enter Catholic Church in droves! Poor (in spirit) hardest hit!

Sort of.

‘A Darwin and a Catholic?’

“That I freely chose to be a Catholic after much thought and analysis, and wasn’t brainwashed into it, baffle my friends and family alike,” she writes. “I overheard one comment: ‘But she seemed like such an intelligent girl.’ So when people ask ‘A Darwin and a Catholic?’ what they’re saying is that I confound expectations.”

And more of her own words here.

h/t CTIL

Angel Three Oh

potter air pic1

-For Potter, somewhere six miles above Wisconsin

You traded angels for the altitude
That ventures guesses at horizon’s curve;
Exchanged the earth for nimbostratus cloud
Imbued with sherbet hues that ripple, carve
And veil existence. Dancing on the wing,
The sunlight spreads its own, a swan in song
Reminding you that destinations bring
Their own departures. Time and space belong
To speed, a fleeting moment’s vista, caught
On film, by minds afloat in fluted planes
And amber waves of whiskey. Not for naught
Do clocks and maps contract for cars and trains;
But flight elaborates with immanence
As man transcends his grounded transience.

Anecdote of the Painting


Blogging live from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Title for my eventual volumne of collected poetry

Caterwauls & Doggerels

Which reminds me, I need to finish the poem I started for the Lansing Priest’s ordination:

A priest makes men uneasy – how dare he what he does?/Standing in the breach ‘tween God and man…

And also the poem I started for the Confirmation of my two sons and godson last Thursday:

When the Spirit first descended/ When the reign of death was ended/ He came/ As flame/ That burned and rested all at once/ Consuming all but what Christ sought to save/ The wheat within the chaffy shell/ Since chaff is all that’s bound for hell/ And only wheat may live beyond the grave…

You know, because only jazz criticism sells better than poetry.

Outside another yellow moon/ has punched a hole in the nighttime…

Lousy telephone camera. This thing was amazing. And yellow.

IMG_20140516_222514How bright and big and yellow was it? Bright and yellow and big enough to stopper my usual reaction of, “There’s that same damn moon that so many people who are dead and dust now looked up and wondered at, that gently lies to each of us that it is for us.” That bright and big and yellow. Anyway.

A Catholic call to liberate America from liberalism’s false ‘Liberty’*

liberty cover

“Liberty, the God that Failed: Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, From Locke to Obama” is a big book with a big title and even bigger ideas.

Written by Christopher Ferrara, a pro-life lawyer who has argued on behalf of the civil rights of the unborn and Catholics in a lifetime’s worth of cases before state and federal courts, “Liberty, the God that Failed” lays out its case with a lawyerly combination of cool reason and spirited rhetoric.

When Ferrara speaks of Liberty with a capital “L,” though, he is not speaking of true freedom, which our Lord promised when he said that “the Truth will set you free,” but the liberty which, time and again, has proven to be the false mask of unbridled political power.

“In sum…Liberty has not made men free,” Ferrara asserts in his thesis, “but rather it has relentlessly opposed and driven from the life of the State the very Truth that makes men free.”

An expansive and intensive overview of U.S. history, from its beginnings as a British colony up to the present day, held hostage to a bloated and tyrannical bureaucracy, “Liberty, the God That Failed” serves as an excellent touchstone for Catholic social teaching set against the familiar yet complex ebb and flow of America’s fortunes.

But before examining the familiar narrative of American independence, Ferrara returns to the cradle of Western Civilization, ancient Greece, which established the traditional understanding of politics as a way to lead men not to modern notions of “Liberty,” but to the moral virtues and transcendent truths which offer true liberty.

“Given man’s very nature as an ensouled creature whose end is the life of virtue and the encounter with God, both Plato and Aristotle teach that man’s perfection requires life in the State, originating in the society of families with its organ s of government,” he writes. “The state is a ‘creation of nature’ and ‘man is by nature a political animal’ as Aristotle so famously observed. Hence the Greeks, as for the Christian statesmen who will follow them centuries later, the good State is the one whose laws and institutions take care of the soul by promoting and protecting both virtue and religion over and above mere security in person and property.”

Over and against what he calls this “Graeco-Catholic synthesis” of political thought, Ferrara argues that the modern state – which holds neither virtue nor religion as the highest attainments of its citizens – is really a secularized version of the Protestant Revolt which first sought to do away with the cooperation of “altar and throne.” It was under this cooperation of Church and state that Christendom flourished from the day that Constantine embraced the crucifix to the day that Martin Luther’s 95 Theses served as a declaration of independence from Church authority.

But it was not Protestantism per se which led to the overthrow of virtue and religion as matters of government but rather, Ferrara argues, a sort of secularized Protestantism which we now know to be liberalism – the belief that, through private judgment and without the teachings of Jesus Christ, as handed down through His holy Church, mankind could make its own way. Leading the charge in this second revolt against the Church were two Englishmen who influenced the Founding Fathers – Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

“By the time Hobbes and Locke were done, the Christian story had been rewritten and a new story had begun,” Ferrara writes. “[T]he world of secular governments unrestrained by any religion; the absolute rule of the majority; the consequent growth of government beyond all limits hitherto known; the rise of a commercial civilization in which anything can be bought and sold without restraint by Christian morality, and human affairs, including marriage and family, become contractual arrangements; the world in which religion, if one has a religion, is reduced to a purely private affair. In short, the world of Liberty.”

So in his analysis of the American history and in particular the American Revolution and what he calls “the Second Revolution,” that is, the American Civil War, Ferrara sees the same spirit of “Liberty” at work – one which demands of the common folk a sacrifice at the altar of “Liberty” which far outweighs the benefits received in return.

A little further on in his same analysis, Ferrara intones the great theme of his work – that a liberty without God (despite the lip service the Founders had paid to God, Ferrara claims – and supports with proof – most of them were either deists or nominally Christian) is merely a synonym for unbridled will to power.

“Another lesson learned [from the Civil War] is that when sovereign power is said to rest on nothing more than an illusory ‘consent of the governed,’ rather than God and fear of His justice on the part of both ruler and subject, the ultimate support for the government devolves into raw power – the essence of Liberty under its political aspect, as both the Union and the Confederacy had revealed to the hapless masses who were subjected to their authority.”

It might seem that Ferrara’s thesis seeks to dismantle everything we’ve been taught about American history and American political thought. His ideas might also seem a bit pie-in-the-sky and seek to “turn back the clock,” but as one who has seen the destruction of innocent life being defended as the law of the land (in much the same way that the enslavement of human life in the antebellum South was ratified by the country’s leaders) Ferrara urges Catholics and Christians everywhere to recognize that Christian civilization has more to offer the world than the liberalism and “the first practical realization of the Lockean vision of Liberty” does.

So powerful a case does Ferrara make for a Catholic understanding of liberty that “Liberty, the God That Failed” would be a felicitous addition to any Catholic high school or college curriculum seeking a truly Catholic view of American history.

In his conclusion, then, Ferrara does not seek to turn back the clock but to seek true progress through a common cause in prayer and personal sacrifice, to move with true liberty beyond the secular state which has dominated the 20th and early 21st century, and to recapture those same vital principles which first built Western Civilization.

“A civilizational return to the sociopolitical recognition of man’s true nature and destiny,” he writes, “is as near as the God who has endowed us with infinitely more than ‘unalienable rights’: a rational soul, an intellect governing our free wills, the law written on our hearts, reason perfect by the supernatural gift of faith, the capacity for regeneration in grace, the promise of life eternal. The divine dispensation Plato anticipated so many centuries ago in his quest for the good State that would foster the good man has always been ours for the asking. ‘Excita Domine potentiam tuam et veni ut salvos facias nos – Stir up your power O Lord and come that you may save us.’ We need only call upon the Word Incarnate as one people and then watch the world begin to change again.”

*This review originally appeared in the May 15, 2014 issue of The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse.

Broken Bow, Oklahoma*

red river
Prologue: Red River
The ríver bóy síngs in his síngulár wáy, and síngs sóngs
To hímself of tólling bélls on ríver cúrrents.
Each tóngue intónes, coúnts off the lógs that dríft dówn where stónes plásh
And súck at the swírling éddy’s édge. Inspécting
The snág that floóds treásured up hígh on límbs, cúl-de-sács clót
With wáter’s múrmur at élbow’s bénd – the beáver
And múskrat dáms loók like abándoned tówns. Tórqued, his fáce queérs
An éye in a loók acróss the ríver, lístless;
With sproúting greén sáplings for límbs, he’s héld fást at piér’s édge:
The cúrve of a wáterwheél breáks and pívots
For mýsterý’s rúin – Octóber’s  ówn bróken ártifácts
And Índian súmmer’s gólden ínnovátions.

Crossing Over
Soóner, láter, thát dáy, when the seásons’ ánswers coúnter
The estáte of thíngs – and as treés declíne their sháde,
Góldenród that gílds roád and ravíne survíves to pláy the míddle
In amóng the pínes and the chéwed up weéds now góne
Aútumn, álmost bóne-báre as the fraíl and twíggy dígits
Of a córpse. The scrólling of chéckered súnlight kníts
Out acróss the dénse crówn of the fórest, blúrry
As a cínemá – its degráding fócus yiélds
Ský to speéch: when sún bróke, it aróse, aféll in wárter
And so rísing, fálling, the rhýthm séttled súre-
Footed, breáthing back, mánly and féminíne, the púlse that
All the coúntry speáks: A cróssin’ wind, it too’s afell.


*Why should the Romans have all the fun? These two stanzas are a reworking of an old poem I wrote after taking a trip once  to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, a small town on the apron between the Red River and Ouchita Mountains in Oklahoma’s southeasternmost corner (on the business end of the state’s “meat cleaver” shape).  In the first draft I tried to write a strophe/antistrophe pattern in which masculine and feminine endings alternate between lines – and then as a sort of pattern within the pattern, I reversed the stanza pattern from the first stanza (masucline ending-feminine ending, etc.) in the second stanza (feminine ending-masculine ending, etc.) as a sort of answering stanza for stanza. In dusting it off, I attempted in the second draft of these two stanzas to standardize the rest of the line – based loosely (I mean really loosely) on a sort of Ovidian elegiac couplet. Instead of a 6/5 ft. couplet, though, I have an 8/5 – to allow for more exposition and, frankly, to keep the poem from spilling out of its original bounds. .

Regarding the form of the stanza, WordPress apparently doesn’t allow for indentation – so provide in your mind the indent on every second line. Also, I included the scansion marks for these two stanzas, but in future postings, I may leave them out. The poem is a humble attempt to write like the Latins – although in a qualitative rather than quantitative meter, of course!  Keep in mind that qualitative meter is much more subjective than quantitative meter – although Timothy Steele has a great work on the subject by which he demonstrates quite convincingly that with the proper application of Ockham’s Razor, all English prosody is reduced to iambs and trochees – although I believe he also allows for the rare spondee and pyrrhic. If for no other reasons, I’m convinced of Steele’s thesis because, well, the thing is, spondees and pyrrhics are ball-bustingly difficult to sustain in qualitative meter.

At any rate, enjoy….


The books are flying off the shelves.

IMG_20140512_190625“For the moment we may remind ourselves simply that in a continued irony several different attitudes are kept in balance to produce a meaning that is larger and in a sense more precise than that produced by a narrowly direct statement. Before continuing with this discussion, it will be useful to review the development of Erasmus as a thinker and writer in order to show the growing complexity of his mind, and to suggest the possibility that irony was finally the most adequate mode of expression for a man of his diverse interests and attitudes.” – from Leonard F. Dean’s introduction to his translation of Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly

Anecdote of the Storage Cubby


Insert Trite but Incisive Point about Whupping the Yankees

N.b. NASA’s Goal for 2023

Oh, New Yorker

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 12.29.11 PM…what’s next? Fetuses?