"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Music Tuesday: Beast of Burden by the Rolling Stones

I guess readers here remember I’m a Rolling Stones fan when it comes to rock music.  I decided to play the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls album on my ipod, a truly great album, but one of the album songs is “Beast of Burden.”

Wikipedia has an interesting background to the song.

Jagger says, "Lyrically, this wasn't particularly heartfelt in a personal way. It's a soul begging song, an attitude song. It was one of those where you get one melodic lick, break it down and work it up; there are two parts here which are basically the same." The song can be seen as allegorical, with Richards saying in 2003, "When I returned to the fold after closing down the laboratory [referring to his drug problems throughout the 1970s], I came back into the studio with Mick... to say, 'Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden' - that's why I wrote "Beast of Burden" for him, I realise in retrospect."

Man, if this isn’t perfection when it comes to rock and roll, I don’t know what is.  The bluesy melody, the wonderful interweaving guitars, the lyrics of song of male insecurity, and Mick Jagger’s lamentation filled vocals.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about the composition.

"Beast of Burden" was recorded from October–December 1977. Although basic lyrics were written before the Stones entered the studio, many of the lyrics on the recording were improvised by Jagger to fit with the smooth running guitars of Richards and Ronnie Wood. Characteristically, Richards and Wood trade off rolling, fluid licks. Neither is really playing lead or rhythm guitar; they both slip in and out, one playing high while the other is low. The song is another famed Some Girls song that features each band member playing his respective instrument without any outside performers; both Richards and Wood play acoustic and electric guitars, with Wood performing the solo.

You just cannot beat this.

Here are the lyrics, with credit to Keno’s Rolling Stones Web Site. 

(M. Jagger/K. Richards)

I'll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad but it's a hurting
All I want is for you to make love to me
I'll never be your beast of burden
I've walked for miles my feet are hurting
All I want is for you to make love to me

Am I hard enough
Am I rough enough
Am I rich enough
I'm not too blind to see

I'll never be your beast of burden
So let's go home and draw the curtains
Music on the radio
Come on baby make sweet love to me

Am I hard enough
Am I rough enough
Am I rich enough
I'm not too blind to see

Oh little sister
Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, girl
You're a pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty girl
Pretty, pretty
Such a pretty, pretty, pretty girl
Come on baby please, please, please

I'll tell ya
You can put me out
On the street
Put me out
With no shoes on my feet
But, put me out, put me out
Put me out of misery

Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me
I can shrug it off
There's one thing baby
That I don't understand
You keep on telling me
I ain't your kind of man

Ain't I rough enough, ooh baby
Ain't I tough enough
Ain't I rich enough, in love enough
Ooh! Ooh! Please

I'll never be your beast of burden
I'll never be your beast of burden
Never, never, never, never, never, never, never be

I don't need no beast of burden
I need no fussing
I need no nursing

Never, never, never, never, never, never, never be

Monday, November 13, 2017

Notable Quote: God was there to Guide by St. Augustine

There are so many great quotes in the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo, but I did want to highlight this wonderful few sentences from Book VI.  To set the scene, Augustine is losing his faith in the heretical religion of Manicheanism, and is starting to believe in a Christian God.  In looking back, he sees God’s guiding hand as Augustine travails through various vicissitudes of intellectual exploration.

I sighed and you heard me; I was tossed on the waves, and you guided me; I was walking along the world’s broad path, and you did not desert me.
        -St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book VI, from paragraph 6.5.8, Phillip Burton translation, Everyman’s Library Edition.

St. Augustine’s Confessions is a great read.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Poetry: “On Passing the New Menin Gate” by Siegfried Sassoon

And so “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918” an armistice went into effect bringing the cessation of hostilities to what would become known as The Great War.  It is from that event that our Veterans Day is commemorated. Today is the 99th anniversary of that armistice.

I have now completed the collection of World War I poems titled Some Desperate Glory: The First World War The Poets Knew by Max Egremont, which I have been posting on for almost two years now.  Each post on my blog highlighted a poem from one of the war years.  You can access these posts here:

As I explained in that last post, I tried to highlight a different poet for each year, but Wilfred Owen’s poetry was so superior in the last two years of the war I just had to highlight him twice.  So why am I highlighting another poem from the book?  Well, the book doesn’t stop with the end of the war (1918) but continues with one more chapter on the post war, titled, “Aftermath.”  The poets who were not killed in the war went on to write poetry on the war for their remaining years.  So intense is the war experience that one can only say the soul is forever traumatized. 

Of the eleven poets whose work are collected in the book, five survived the war.  It only occurred to me recently that Egremont’s book is a book on British poets of the First World War.  All eleven are British, and frankly I can’t think of any poets from any of the other countries that fought, even the United States, though it is incredulous to think there weren’t any poets other than British.  I’m not even sure if the eleven poets constitute all the British poets who served.  I can’t recall if Egremont ever gives his criteria for the selection.  I should also provide the list of poets Egremont selects.  Each deserves that honor. 

The six who were killed in action:

The five who survived the war:

Of the poets who survived, Siegfried Sassoon arguably went on to have the most impact as an ex-war poet.  Graves may have had a more celebrated literary career, but even he acknowledge his work after the war focused on other themes.  I’m selecting Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” as the highlighted poem of the war’s aftermath.

Before getting to the poem, two issues concerning Sassoon’s post war years should be considered.  First is his personal life which culminated with his conversion to Roman Catholicism and second is his refrain from and renouncing of modernist poetic form.  Egremont describes the split in the aesthetic divergence as rooted between the war poets and the younger literary generation.

A gap opened between those who’d fought and those who didn’t.  Before 1914, Britain and the new art of continental Europe had been getting closer; now, for many, the Continent meant death, obliteration and, even in peace, rumours of chaos.  Some—mostly non-combatants like [T.S.] Eliot, James Joyce, and [Ezra] Pound—still looked to modernism, to abstract art, to writing without clear narrative, whereas Sassoon and Blunden, even the more adventurous Graves, stuck to tradition, often yearning for an imagined, calm past.  They had tried to tell the war’s reality, Wilfred Owen writing that ‘every word, every figure of speech must be a matter of experience’ and ‘I don’t want to write anything to which a soldier would say No compris’.  Owen had known nothing of Eliot and Pound.  (p. 241)

Sassoon felt a particular loss from Owen’s death.  He went on to opine that if Owen “had lived, they could together have made an alternative to modernism, to Eliot’s fragmented world” (p. 256).  This decision to split with the modernist forms isolated the war poets, especially Sassoon, characterizing them as outdated. 

The second issue of Sassoon post war years was his tumultuous life.  “Propelled by his fame…Sassoon began a decade of guilt-ridden socializing and sex, briefly at Oxford before becoming editor of the Daily Herald and, billed as a hero poet…on a lecture tour of the United States” (p. 240).  The sex was filled with a series of homosexual affairs, which filled the whole decade following the war.  In 1931 he married, had a child, who he loved deeply, while he kept his homosexuality indiscreet.  He wrote throughout his life, poetry, satires, novels with mixed results.  Toward the end of his life he had a conversion experience to Roman Catholicism, which affected him greatly. 

In 1927, Siegfried Sassoon went back to Flanders.  He drove across the battlefields with Glen Byam Shaw, the young actor whom he loved, weeping at the memories.  He wrote ‘On Passing the New Menin Gate’ about the pompous memorial designed by the imperial architect Sir Reginald Bloomfield for Ypres and inscribed with the names of the dead.

Sassoon had tried politics and lecture tours; he discovered sex, fooling himself that he could reform his decadent lovers, all the time feeling a bit lost.  Thomas Hardy became an idol and Edmund Blunden an essential friend; to see the two together at Max Gate, Hardy’s home at Dorset, allowed Sassoon to imagine a world that might respond to his increasingly traditionalist style.  When, in 1924, Blunden went to teach in Japan, Sassoon missed him badly; and nostalgia became more intense as he became less inspired by the present.  ‘On Passing the New Menin Gate’ evoked the bitterness and anger of the war.  (p. 250).

Later, through the turmoil of the Second World War, Egremont tells us Sassoon “longed for a more purposeful and ordered life, for spiritual rest.  In 1957, [he] converted to Roman Catholicism, welcoming its clear answers and its discipline” (p. 256).  He would live for another ten years and apparently his new found faith was the only thing that could put his war-torn, dislocated soul at rest.

As mentioned in the quote above, New Menin Gate was a war memorial at Ypres, Belgium dedicated to the British and Commonwealth dead who’s grave went unidentified.  Apparently Sassoon was not pleased with it.  Here is the poem he wrote. 

On Passing the New Menin Gate
By Siegfried Sassoon

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,-
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

    Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
    Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
    Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
    The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world's worst wound. And here with pride
'Their name liveth for ever', the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
as these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.

There’s not much to analyze, a rather straightforward poem.  In the first stanza, the speaker is passing this new memorial at Ypres, questioning whether this self-conscious monument actually addresses those who it’s supposed to memorialize.  The second stanza shifts the focus to those who are supposed to be memorialized, and the third ridicules the monument for not displaying the reality of war’s struggle and death.  “Here was the world's worst wound” is truly a great and memorable line.  You can hear the entire poem read here.

With the conclusion of these war poets, I want to announce that in 2018 I will be continuing with Sassoon by reading a play by Joseph Pierce on Owen and Sassoon, Pierce using the two poet’s own words to form the drama.  I will also be going through T. S. Eliot’s post WWI poem, “The Wasteland,” and so we can compare the modernist and the traditionalist’s styles.  Stay tuned for that.

Finally, for Veteran’s Day, say a prayer for those that fought in wars.  As you can see with Sassoon, the experience of war is not pleasant and life-long traumatizing. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

2017 Reads, Update #3

You can read my Plans for 2017, here, my 2017 first quarterly update, here, and my second quarterly update here.  

We are now well into the fourth quarter of the year and we need to take stock and look toward finishing up what we can for the year.  What was accomplished in the third quarter?  The Gospel of Mark, six Epistles from St. Paul, three full books (a travel book, a collection of Mother Teresa’s speeches, and a historical fiction) and five short stories.  I try to aim for a full book and two short stories per month, and if you consider each epistle about a short story and Mark’s Gospel about a novella, then I would say this was an above average read for the month.  I should also add that the epistles were in two different translations, so they could count as double.

Now that I am moderator at the Catholic Thought book club on Goodreads, my personal reading plans take a lower priority and I have to participate with the book club’s selections.  Reading through Paul’s epistles was always part of my plans, and I think I’m down to four left.  Given we are heading into the B liturgical year, which means Gospel readings will predominantly be from Mark at Mass, we decided to read Mark’s Gospel in its entirety at the book club.  We had a lively discussion, and I’ll post on the blog my part of the back and forth.  One definitely gets a different perspective in reading a Gospel through straight rather than the fragments one gets at Mass.

The 101 Places to Pray Before You Die is a book listing of the best places for Catholics to pilgrimage to in the United States.  It’s subtitled, A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide, which is kind of clever.  The book lists by states, and each state has at least one such place, and of course it describes the place and tells you something about it.  I will try to write up a post on it.  I bet a number of people would be interested.  The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain was not a book on my original plans to read, but it got selected in the book club, and I didn’t mind actually.  I think I nominated it.  It fit with my overall plans of reading some French literature this year, and while Mark Twain is most definitely not French, Joan of Arc was and it helps understanding the French by reading on their most revered saint.  Heart of Joy: The Transforming Power of Self-Giving by Mother Teresa was completely not in my plans but it turned into a good devotional read.  I posted a number of excerpts.

The five short stories were varied.  “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner was head and shoulders above them all, Mavis Gallant and Saki both had fine stories.  I never heard of Edith Pearlman before, and her story (“Assisted Living”) wasn’t one to remember.  I had never read Ring Lardner before, and his story, “Zone of Quiet” wasn’t one for the short story hall of fame.  But it was entertaining.

There are also two books that I’m currently reading and nearly finished: Some Desperate Glory, an anthology of poetry from the First World War, and A Room with a View, a novel by E. M. Forster.

So, if I look back on the year, I’m at ten books (four of which are fiction), eleven books from the Bible, and eleven short stories.  How would I asses that?  With the books nearly complete, I would say I’m ahead of my normal book pace, but eleven short stories is well below my two per month.  Still the eleven books from the Bible is well above average.  Overall, I’m probably on my normal track.

So where do I go from here?

Certainly finish the Paul epistles, Augustine’s Confessions, and the two unfinished reads, Some Desperate Glory and A Room with a View.  I should be able to squeeze in one Shakespeare play, Henry VI, Part 1 and hopefully read one more major work.  If I do get to another major read, it will probably be Ford’s A Man Could Stand Up.  And of course try to cram in as many short stories as possible. 

That would make for a successful 2017.

Completed Third Quarter:

Letter to the Galatians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Letter to the Ephesians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Letter to the Philippians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Letter to the Colossians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
“Assisted Living,” a short story by Edith Pearlman.
“The Chosen Husband,” a short story by Mavis Gallant.
101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roman Catholic’s Guide, a non-fictional travel guide by Thomas J. Craughwell.
“Barn Burning,” a short story by William Faulkner.
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, a historical novel by Mark Twain.
Heart of Joy: The Transforming Power of Self-Giving, a collection of speeches from Mother Teresa, edited by José Luis González-Balado. 
First Letter to the Thessalonians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
“The Music on the Hill,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
Gospel According to Mark, a book of the New Testament, Ignatius RSV translation.
“Zone of Quiet,” a short story by Ring Larsen.
Second Letter to the Thessalonians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.

Completed First Quarter:

The Book of Ecclesiastes, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
The Book of Song of Songs, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
The Iman’s Daughter: My Desperate Flight to Freedom, a confessional memoir by Hannah Shah.
The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, a non-fiction book by John L. Allen Jr.
The Book of Proverbs, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
Compassionate Blood: Catherine of Siena on the Passion, a non-fiction devotional by Romanus Cessario, O.P.
What Jesus Saw from the Cross, a non-fiction devotional by Antonin Gilbert Sertillanges, O.P.
The Wife of Pilate, a short novel by Gertrude von Le Fort.

Completed Second Quarter:

“The Magic Barrel,” a short story by Bernard Malamud.
The Book of Wisdom, a book of the Old Testament, Ignatius Translation.
“The Secret Sharer,” a short story by Joseph Conrad.
The Hunger Angel, a novel by Herta Müller.
The Book of Sirach, a book of the Old Testament, Ignatius Translation.
Vision of Fatima, a non-fiction book on his sculptures of Our Lady of Fatima by Fr. Thomas McGlynn.
“God’s World,” a short story by Najib Mahfuz. 
“Vitamins,” a short story by Raymond Carver.
“Bobcat,” a short story by Rebecca Lee.
Vol 3 of Les Misérables, “Marius,” a novel by Victor Hugo.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.

Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew, a book of history and collected poetry by Max Egremont.
The Virgin and the Gipsy, a short novel by D. H. Lawrence.
A Room with a View, a novel by E. M. Forster.
Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, a collection translated and edited by Mark Atherton.
The Confessions, an autobiography by St. Augustine of Hippo, translated by Phillip Burton.

Upcoming Plans:

 “Gods,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
First Letter to the Timothy, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Second Letter to the Timothy, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Letter to Titus, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Letter to Philemon, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul, KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Henry VI, Part 1, a play by William Shakespeare.
A Man Could Stand Up, the 3rd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Matthew Monday: Halloween 2017

Here are some pictures from last week’s Halloween.  This year Matthew went as a zombie convict…lol.  Yes, I guess they make a costume called a zombie convict.  It was horrible, if you ask me.  But I didn’t select it.

Now I think I’ve captured every Halloween Matthew has experienced and he has never had a costume of a villain until now.  Here are the costumes from the last four years.

2016: Knight
2015: Superman
2014: Batman
2013: Captain America

The zombie convict was a big departure in character.  It took some people back.  Actually it scared the dickens out of his maternal grandmother.

That was a live shot…lol.  And here he is with my mother, after she got over being startled.

While trick or treating we met up with a handful of his school friends. 

They are all so cute.  And finally here’s the real Matthew with his natural, sweet face.

I told him next year he goes back to being a hero.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lines I Wished I’d Written: On the Passing of a Friend, by St. Augustine from The Confessions.

At Goodreads Catholic Thought Book Club we are currently reading The Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo, and given today is All Souls Day, I thought this passage from Chapter Four was very fitting to commemorate today’s feast day.  The passage consists of three chapters, identified as 4.3.7-9. 

To set the context, Augustine is in his early twenties, a teacher of rhetoric in his home town of Thagaste, where he had made a friend of approximate age and who dies.  If you haven’t read The Confessions before, it is an autobiographical work where Augustine confesses to God the various parts of his sinful life.  He is still here a pagan, and you can see how he ridicules the ritual of baptism.

It was during those years, when I had first begun to teach in my home town, that I made a friendship.  My friend shared in my studies, and was very dear to me; we were contemporaries, both blooming in the flower of youth.  He had grown up with me as a boy; we had been to school together, and played together.  But at that time he was not such a friend of mine—although not even at that time I am speaking of was he a friend in the true sense, for it is only true friendship when you glue together those who cleave to you by diffusing your love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5.5), which you have given us.  Nevertheless, it was indeed a sweet friendship, fired in the heart of our shared studies.  While he was still a schoolboy, I had turned him away from true faith, which by reason of his years he did not cling to truly or with any depth, and towards the superstitious and pernicious tales which made my mother weep for me.  Now, as a man, he strayed in spirit with me, and my soul could not be without him.  And behold, you stood over the backs of these fugitives from you, O God of vengeance (Ps. 94.1 [Ps. 93.1]) and fount of mercy alike, who turn who turn us again to you (Ps. 51.15 [Ps. 50.15]) in wondrous ways; and behold, when he had reached manhood you took him from this life, when he had been my friend for barely a year—a friendship sweeter to me than all the sweetness of my life, as it then was.

Who can alone tell all your praises (Ps. 106.2 [Ps. 105.2]), all the works of yours that he has known in himself alone?  What did you do then for me, my God, and how unsearchable are the depths of your judgements (Ps. 36.6 [Ps. 35.7]; cf Rom. 11.13)?  My friend fell ill with a fever, and for a long time lay unconscious in a mortal sweating fit.  When those around him had abandoned hope of his recovery, he was baptized without his knowing.  I was indifferent to this, confident that his soul would retain what he had learnt from me, not what was done to his body without his knowing.  But the truth was far different.  My friend rallied and recovered, and as soon as I could talk to him—and that was not long, no longer than it took for him to be able to talk to me, since I would not leave his side, and we were inseparable from one another—I tried to tease him about it, thinking that he would join me in laughing at a baptism he had received while wholly unconscious and insensible.  He, however, had learnt beforehand of the baptism he had received, and shrank from me as if from an enemy.  In a remarkable and sudden burst of plain speaking he warned me that if I wanted to be his friend, I would have to stop talking to him like that.  For my part, I was astonished and upset at this, and put all my own feelings on one side until he had recovered and had regained full vigour of health; then, I thought, I would be able to deal with him as I wished.  But he was rescued from my madness, so that in you he might be reserved for my consolation; a few days later, when I was away, the fever struck again, and he died.

What pain darkened my heart! (Lam. 5.17).  All that I saw was death.  My home town was a torment to me, my home strangely cursed; all the things I had shared with him were, without him, transformed into grievous tortures.  My eyes looked expectantly for him everywhere, but he was denied to their sight.  I hated everything, because it did not contain him; nor could anything now say to me, ‘Look, he is coming,’ as they could when he had been absent during his life.  I became the object of my own investigation, and asked my soul repeatedly why it was sorrowful, and why did it trouble me so deeply; and it did not know what to say in return.  And if I said, Hope in God (Ps. 42.05, 11, Ps. 43.5 [Ps. 41.6, 12, Ps. 42.5]), it would not obey, and rightly; for the friend I had lost, though a man, a thing more real and better than the illusion in which I bade my soul trust.  Weeping alone was sweet to me, and took the place of my friend among the pleasure of my mind.
            -Translation and quote identification by Philip Burton from the Everyman’s Library edition, p. 69-70.

Troubled by his grief, Augustine goes on to leave his home town and move to the big city of Carthage.  I think one here sees the seeds of the importance and vitality of baptism being planted in him.  But I’m struck with how skillfully Augustine tells us in three paragraphs of his friendship, the death of his friend, and the grief over it. 

Say a prayer for you beloved departed on this All Souls Day.