Troll Bridge

DE26BC4A-B02E-45E6-B1B2-9C89E7AD5039

Illustration By John Bauer (Public Domain)

I am the troll of icy fells,
My hole beneath the bells.
What bells disturb my nest?
You ask and seem to jest.
Yet I trow I know your quest,
So I will tell of hellish test
I failed and fell to frozen rest.

I tried to cross that bridge,
A ridge wrapped in mist.
No easy path, I tripped and roared
In wrath and plunged to
Fires cold, not soared
To spires above the blue,
Shores of heaven hue.
But alas, would this tale were true.

The final wall that we
Would scale at last,
I climbed but was too fast
And slipped and missed my grasp,
Slid down to under pass.
A river pouring fast
Lashed and beached me
On this bank at last,
To scrape rank hole,
And roll and roll amid my
Pile of gold, pale and cold.

And now I smell the putrid air
Of self-regard that taints my lair.
Shallow pride I would ascribe
To callow member of your tribe.
Trust much in vestus virum facit?
There is no treasure in your pocket.

Do you think your ore so rare,
A priceless earth without compare?
Mere slag and dross I see,
Not free of flaw, no loss if lost
Among these crags and hoar.

So go from this stronghold
And take your precious quest
Away from here. No bells
Will tell me what to fear.
As if a brass hourglass
Were creeping near, to ware
Me of some ending year,
When shadows no more linger
And even ice despairs

And would that cold could crack
Those bells. No chimes will
Drive me from these fells,
Or twist my will by spells.
Nor would dread foe come near,
For I hold this hoard so dear,
And yet these words I hear …
I whisper, lean here.

See, I would not pay the toll,
This gold we clutch so bold.
Merits of old we hold as if
To seize a feast we long
To eat, us least who chose
To fast from love, not soar
By trust above, light as sands
That slide from empty hands.

One must let go to pay the toll,
And see fool’s gold slip below,
Down to darken cold so vast,
No concern for first or last.
An old troll swallows whole
The truth that wealth won’t ask:
Two open palms grip the grasp.

Those reaching hands you seek
Wait there the poor and meek.
So go. Leave tarnished gold,
Dull and cold, in this bowl
For sinner low and weak.

No fear? Stand there, before that door,
A bloody badge the bridge of gold
To kingdom last, where bells adore
That master of the silver shore
Who calls to severed souls: Amor

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

A Poem for Robert Hubert

Great_Fire_London

The Great Fire of London (artist unknown)

 

No one carved you an epitaph,

For a grave you will never have,

Just a pale pillar raised to the sky,

Until 1830 a bone trophy for a lie.

 

Fair Eden’s breeze did not reach Rouen, 

Where the Maid of Orleans met her end,

For you were a Huguenot, and dare not

Honor her or dream of you her Lancelot.

 

For the watchmaker had a watch for a son.

Slow ticking and from nature’s bag of tricks

Two arms, a big one and a little one,

One moving, the other stuck at six.

 

Your uneven legs were no better,

Left straight and thick, the right a stick.

A watchmaker, a clockmaker?  Never

would Robert be more than ever sick.

 

Nor could you play or run with the other boys

In the lanes. Your mind imbued in a grace

That lay in the sublime ticking of papa’s toys

And the plain charm of your mother’s face.

 

And she died when you were young,

The shield against the city’s scorn and din

of insults that you bore your parent’s sin.

She the patient one that loved so strong.

 

What do we do with a simpleton?

The family mused on their child like son.

Our lame boy is easy prey for a city’s hate,

Do we pay and pray he meets a better fate?

 

Thus sent away to his future dungeon

The target, the joke, and the Huguenot.

Robert Hubert, the unlikely Argonaut,

Seeking a fleece in the City of London.

 

It was said that there you were laborer,

More likely you were just a neighbor.

Our Robert, slow of mind with body tremor,

You never worked, but always labored.

 

They were not seven, your daily needs,

But what a struggle, these mighty deeds,

To dress, eat and pray with only one arm,

To hide ears and tears from worldly harm.

 

In 1666, you changed your fortune,

seeking treasure, you sailed for Sweden.

What you hoped to gain we do not know,

No fleece or gold in this land of snow.

 

A good soul took pity there on your woe,

And paid your passage to Rouen your home.

You called her “Skipper”, the Maid of Sweden,

A name too long for you long to know.

 

A happy reunion was not to be,

For your passage was blocked by war,

You encountered there upon the sea,

A dreaded English Man-Of-War.

 

The Maid was forced to London,

to stay at port a while. For trade

with hostile France and Holland

was by royal order stayed.

 

And standing there on wooden deck

You saw flames begin and spread.

The fire soared and sky turned red,

A glowing oven for the dead.

 

It was the strangest thing you had seen,

This curling, crackling pyre.

But did no one share that children

Should stay far away from fire?

 

Your body fluttered toward the flame,

To those who sought someone to blame,

The mob took you there upon the wharf,

A Frenchman, a fool, a limping dwarf.

 

Good Captain Petersen later swore,

That then and there he washed his hands.

Your keeper no more with you ashore,

The Maid of Sweden left for France.

 

Into the darkness you were cast,

With no friends but fleas and rats.

In filth and slime a month you stayed,

And to our blessed Lord you prayed.

 

The only miracle that did occur,

Your confession to an act of war,

“I, Robert”, set the flames you swore.

(Please do not hit me any more)

 

From France you came with ill intent,

One of twenty three confederates,

No, on further thought it was a trio,

And you of course the lead commando.

 

For but a single coin of gold,

You would set the town aflame,

A plot of cunning by one so bold,

So true to those with no shame.

 

I must admit that most did doubt

the tale of this sad and lonely youth,

But what prevailed were those who spout,

That old line, “What is truth?”

 

Though the great flame had died,

A cloud of hate had spread,

It was best that some had lied,

For a king might lose his head.

 

It was October twenty seven,

Climb the cart, does your stomach churn?

Who knows? (Today you will be in Heaven).

So off you roll to Tyburn.

 

The mob blew you stony kisses,

Some flew true, some were misses.

The red ran down onto the rope,

Coiled round one without a hope.

 

They saluted you with jeers and cheers,

That stung your ears and fed your fears.

For the final ride you were all alone,

You knew at last you would not see home.

 

The wagon reached the triple tree,

At Tyburn where the gallows rise.

The seats are filled though none were free,

All pay when a doomed man dies.

 

And from the hills the shades looked down,

With them the Maid and Thomas More,

Martyrs, scapegoats and many more,

Who drain this drink for strange renown.

 

They stand you up and set the noose,

You have no words to spare them,

The whip is cracked and horse is loose,

It flees the sin and mayhem.

 

You are too light to break your twig,

So you swing your legs about,

The children prance and do a jig,

The adults sneer and shout.

 

When at last your dance is done,

Your face is black and still,

It is a race we all must run,

May our end be not so ill.

 

Jack Ketch laid you out upon the ground,

And stripped your body bare,

Your noose and clothes worth half a pound,

To those who know no prayer.

 

The surgeons came to take you then,

But the final sale was broken.

The mob surged forward in revenge,

To claim a meager token.

 

Hands and knives went to work,

And tore your form asunder.

Your heard came free with a jerk,

Your heart was someone’s plunder.

 

This reddened patch of ugly ground,

With bloody bits spread all around,

Was Robert Hubert’s only grave,

Made by those whom sin make brave.

 

And far away a dream is broken

By knocking hands, a father woken,

Hears the words that drowns his joy:

“The English hanged your boy.”

 


Robert Hubert (those are silent “t”s in French) was a French Protestant who was made the scapegoat for the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Little is known of him, or why spent much of his adult life in England and Sweden.  He most likely was not a watchmaker, despite what Wikipedia might say, though his family included many.

Late 17th century France was a place of rising tension between French Protestants and Catholics.  Many French Protestants emigrated to England, Scandinavia and North America.  My theory is that Robert was sent away by his wealthy family to live among those communities.  A number of French Protestant witnesses participated in his trial, and tried to save him, suggesting he was known to them. One of the many ironies of this scandal was that, though a Protestant, he was accused of being a Catholic spy and received his final absolution at his hanging by a Catholic priest, the Queen’s own confessor.

Based on the recorded descriptions of his appearance and behavior, it seems he was born with cerebral palsy, and had severe motor (hemiplegia) and cognitive deficits. All those in power knew he was innocent, but post-fire, wartime London was boiling cauldron of violence and unrest. Somebody needed to be held accountable for what scholars generally believe was just a tragic accident.

What happened to Hubert was a textbook illustration of the scapegoat concept that French philosopher Rene Girard explored  in his study of mythology, religion and literature.  During a time of an intense cultural or political crisis, some individual becomes the focus of hate and anxiety of the crowd. After his death, the cloud of anxiety dissipates, and society returns to a measure of equilibrium (until the next crisis and scapegoat).  Girard, a believer, wrote that Christ was the ultimate scapegoat since he was completely without blame, and his death was in part intended to point the way for breaking this cycle, which Girard implied was a system of control by the Prince of this World.

Hubert’s family was quite good at watchmaking, and you can find images on the internet of what are either his father or uncle’s watches still present in various museum collections.

I am in a bit of a rut, so say a prayer for me if you have the time.  There may not be any posts for a while.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Knowing God

For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.

For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Do They Love Us?

Muses_sarcophagus_Louvre_MR880

The Nine Muses

 

Thinking on Hesperides, Muses

and Graces,

A growing doubt put me through my paces:

Do they love us,

And our pretty faces?

 

For we men are prone to idolatry,

And of that they ask no apology.

See any array of feminine statuary,

They seem content with their mythology.

 

And I would remind the men that marry,

That our brides make no sculptuary,

For the tribe of Tom, Dick or Harry.

Nor do they personify, the virtues masculine

of Guy or guy, in figures legendary.

 

There are no Gracos, Musers or Hesperados,

Our sisters sing no hymns to such desperados.

And while they have many talents to discover,

When will they paint the Mona Lisa’s brother?

 

I wonder.

And why no verse and oratory

To the universe of our glory?

What’s the story,

are we so ordinary?

My reply is negatory.

 

There is no need to bronze a paragon like Ron,

To carve a steed named Hugh into a statue,

Or marble Dave, already suave in his man-cave,

And launch a thousand ships, to bring back Skip.

 

Our poetesses need no such excesses.

For every man is grand,

and when a woman takes his hand,

She is flown to Shang-Ri-Land,

His well earned reward are her caresses.

 

So dear women, do not apologize,

For your failure to mythologize.

For in our natural state,

There is nothing much to hate.

‘Tis your fate to be tongued-tied,

When you contemplate your mate.

 

And so I close this song of Orpheus,

For fear of an approaching chorus,

Some reproach by a throng of Maenads,

Who appear to be quite mad … Egad!

 


Yes, this does rely on some made up words, and incorrect pronunciations. “Guy” should be the French version too.

Here lies my poor homage to Robert Herrick. And my apologies for departing from poems about a more worthy Subject. However, when I read a poet, I find I want to write a poem like they did. When I read Peguy, I tried writing poems like Peguy … And now I am reading Herrick.  And I can’t move onto my next poem until I get an idea out of my system.

Herrick was very witty, and though a minister, he liked to write about the battle of the sexes. So I wrote a poem he might like, if he was around now. I agree with the advice of the poetry teachers I am reading that you shoud read from a great variety of poets. Imitation is a good learning method.

Herrick is very readable, and his entire output, over 1000 poems, is collected in Hesperides and Noble Numbers. They are available in ebook form on Kindle or at iBooks. I would recommend the 1898 combined edition, Volume 1 and 2, with the preface by Swinburne at the iBooks store. That one is free, and has notes to explain archaic words.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

For a Child Receiving Their First Communion This Weekend

Louis_Janmot_-_Poème_de_l'âme_10_-_Première_Communion

Louis Janmot, Première Communion (public domain)

 

Now the time for First Communion,

Join in Eucharistic union.

Bow down low before you greet him,

Then say Amen when you eat him.

On the tongue or on the throne,

In your heart he makes his home.

When you kneel down in your pew,

Thank the one who died for you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Eyelids

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Parisina's_Sleep_-_Study_for_Head_of_Parisina_-_Google_Art_Project

Ford Madox Brown, Parisina’s SleepStudy of a Head for Parisina’s Sleep (Public Domain)

 

Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

A Short Biography Of Robert Herrick

IMG_0271

Version 2

Robert
Herrick,
Scholar
Cleric.
Cromwell’s
England,
London
Stoic.
Carpe
Diem,
Lyric
Moment.
Gather
Rosebuds,
Master
Poet.
Noble
Numbers,
Golden
Vespers.
Vision
Jesus:
MONO
METER.

Version 1

Robert

Herrick,

Was a

Cleric.

Cromwell’s

England,

Could not,

Bear it.

Carpe Diem,

Lyric Poet.

“Gather Rosebuds?”

Yes he

wrote it.

Went to

Heaven.

Met Saint

Peter.

Then saw

Jesus:

MONO

METER.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Putting on Christ

 

I got this outfit,

It was a gift,

Charity.

The coat sleeves are long,

Like they were stretched.

Can I make it fit?

Or do I grow into it?

The shoes have holes

in their soles.

Don’t ask about the shirt.

No wonder it was free.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

fr_louis_bouyer1000.jpg

Father Louis Bouyer

This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After.  Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004.   They were not published until 2014.

I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.

This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.

About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies.  He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.

Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar:  Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was.  Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.

The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes.  He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.

The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.

The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better.  He also covers some friendships and favorite places.

Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante.  The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.

Now, the themes:

The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders

It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.

It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure.  The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.

Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail.  Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).

Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics

These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic.  The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.

On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness.  And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.

In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.   They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity

These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.

What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent.  It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends.  Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.

One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist.  When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.

Bridges between Catholics and Protestants

Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels.  Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).

Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books.  I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

An Ode for the Rhapsode

IMG_0267

The Muse, Gabriel De Cool

Here bloomed a rare poet
I groomed for no deceit.
I would play him like a cello,
And sway him to sing
Of the rage of Achilles,
While there calmly sitting
With unfair, wily Socrates,
Ensnared under an olive tree
Already lost in some debate.

You thought to put him to the test,
This child my mind had blessed.
He waited patient on your con
And played along without protest.
Your method led to trouble later on,
But you were gentle with my friend, Ion.

Yes, I am the guilty one.
He was a pretty Grecian urn
Into which I’d pour my wine.
Then I would let poor Ion burn
And turn his song to Helen.
Her pure form alone was fair
As the towers of topless Ilium.

For a poet is a winged being
That flies in proper season.
The spirit starts them singing,
In rhythm to my breathing,
And any hidden, lyric purpose,
You may not parse or reason.

And when you shake and start
Then reach for pen or lyre
It is done by my desire.
There is no shame in that.
For I undress your heart
And set your soul afire.

So be a son like wise Ion,
Who as a guileless child
Enjoys full pardon
Heaven and this smile.
Now he sings of glory,
Not of kings or rage,
With his friend Socrates,
On the eternal stage.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry