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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Matthew Monday: First Day in the Choir

This post gives me so much joy.  I have always felt Matthew has musical talent.  He has always had a talent to pick up a song’s tune and remember the lyrics.  The children’s choir at church is something he has always wanted to do, but he had to wait until third grade to participate.  Well, this year he started third grade and Wednesday night was the first practice.  The musical director thought his voice wonderful, so wonderful that she had him lead the Alleluia at his very first Sunday Mass with the choir.

I was able to film him at yesterday’s Mass.  Here he is leading the Alleluia.

Unfortunately the video is not sharp enough to see Matthew singing.  The first recitation is Matthew solo, and I think you can hear how sweet his voice is.  When the entire congregation responds with the second and third recitations unfortunately you can hear an ugly male voice in the forefront of the voices.  He was near my phone and I’ll have another word on him at the end.

But I also filmed the entire chorus during two of their hymns.  First, the offertory hymn, “Open My Eyes, Lord.”

That’s Matthew with the white shirt with the pink sleeves.  That’s the musical director playing piano, the younger children of the choir toward the front, and the older in the back. 

Here during the recessional hymn, “Though the Mountains May Fall.”

The kids are wonderful, and the music director, Debbie Williams, is great with the kids.  You don’t hear it with the children’s choir, but she has a wonderful voice.  I think she’s opera trained.

Now back to that ugly man’s voice in the Alleluia.  I must confess.  That was me, and I’m very embarrassed about it.  I’ve said, there are two types of Italian men, those that can sing and those that think they can sing.  I’m ashamed to say I’m of the second type obviously.  I don’t realize how bad I actually sound until I hear it played back.  Matthew has been making fun of me ever since we heard the recordings. 

But this was Matthew’s day and he shined.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: Mother Teresa on the Poverty of Abortion

We at the Catholic Thought book club at Goodreads are reading Heart of Joy: The Transforming Power of Self-Giving by Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta.  he book is mostly a collection of her speeches and writing, at least so far, and I’m about a third of the way in.  The book doesn’t lend itself to analysis, so I’m just going to occasionally post a quote, and as you would imagine her quotes fit very nicely to my “Faith Filled Friday” meme. 

I think this is a particularly poignant quote because Mother Teresa is known for aiding the “poorest of the poor.” 

A nation that destroys the life of an unborn child, who has been created for living and loving, who has been created in the image of God, is in a tremendous poverty.  For a child to be destroyed because of the selfishness of those who fear they may not be able to feed one more child, fear they may not be able to educate one more child and so decide the child has to die—that’s poverty.

What makes this quote particularly poignant is that she’s speaking in Philadelphia in the United States (August 6, 1976) at a symposium titled “Freedom and Justice.”  In effect she is speaking to the United States and to other first world, western nations—the richest countries in the world.  The poverty is not a poverty of money, but a poverty of values.  And frankly it’s even worse than Mother Teresa imagines.  Underlying her assumption in the quote is that most abortions happen because of money.  But really they don’t.  They happen because people don’t want the child to interfere with their lives and plans.  That is truly a poverty of values.

By the way, always looking for some new members to the Catholic Thought Book Club.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 4

Part 1 on Twain’s Joan of Arc can be found here.  
Part 2, here.  
Part 3, here.  

This post deals with the last third of Book 2.

Summary to Book 2, Chapters 29-41:

In June Joan, bringing the Constable of France, Richemont, to her side, wins the important Battle of Patay, her most overwhelming victory and a resounding defeat for the English under the leadership of Talbot and Fastolfe.  The victory allowed Charles VII to finally have the courage to claim the French crown and was coroneted at Rheims.  Joan’s father and uncle attend the coronation and are representatives for the great honor given to Joan’s home town of Domremy.  Joan then insisted that they aggressively continue onto Paris for the final victory, but the King’s administrative court, especially La Trémoille, argued against it. Joan does persuade the King and Joan and the army march toward Paris.  But La Trémoille ultimately convinced the King to reduce the size of Joan’s army.  With a reduced army, Joan could not take Paris, and, she also being wounded, finally in May of 1430 was captured and taken prisoner by the Burgundian forces who were aligned with the English. 

The last third of Book 2 shows Joan at the height of her glory with the victory of the Battle of Patay and the crowning of Charles VII as King of France at Rheims. But we also see the treachery that leads to her decline and capture. First, here are a timeline (from the Maid of France website)   of the events that lead to her capture:

1429 September 8       Assault on Paris begins. Joan of Arc is wounded when a bolt from a
                                      crossbow hits her in the thigh near dusk. She refused to quit urging
                                      her soldiers to continue the attack. Against her orders she was carried  from the battlefield and the assault ended.

1429 September 9       Joan plans to resume offensive but Charles intervenes and orders the
                                      army to withdraw.

1429 September 21     After marching back to Gien-sur-Loire Charles VII disbands the army.

1429 November 4       With smaller army Joan of Arc captures the town of Saint-Pierre-le-                                                   Moûtier.

1429 November 9       Joan sends letter to the people of Riom.

1429 Late Novem       Joan of Arc begins siege of La Charité-sur-Loire.

1429 December 25     Siege of La Charité-sur-Loire fails and Joan returns to Jargeau for

1429 December 29               Joan and her family elevated to nobility and given the name du Lys.

1430 Jan-March         Joan stays with Charles at his court as an unwilling but honored guest.

1430 March 16           Joan sends letter to the people of Reims.

1430 March 28           Joan sends her final letter to the people of Reims.

1430 March 29           Joan leaves the court at Sully to join French fighting at Lagny.

1430 April                   Joan prays for dead child at Lagny that makes miraculous recovery.

1430 April 17 ?           Joan of Arc liberates the town of Melun.

1430 May 15               Joan of Arc goes to the aid of the town of Compiègne

1430 May 23               Captured by Burgundians when the drawbridge at Compiègne is raised.

Twain's novel really consolidates the events, but shows the vacillation of the King (Charles VII) and the treachery of his court toward Joan that leads to Joan's capture. Where I think Twain fails is in rendering the full dynamics of what is going one behind the scenes. The French King's administration is trying to negotiate peace with the English crown, John of Lancaster the Duke of Bedford, who was in charge of the infant King Henry VI. Bedford uses the Burgundians as go between with the French King's court with the false promise of positive terms for the French in a treaty. So the French King's administration pulls the rug from under Joan by having her army reduced while Bedford quietly strengthens his army and position for the Battle of Paris. This was the treachery that went on behind Joan's back. 

Here is a passage from chapter 31, “The Red Field of Patay,” with Joan at the end of her greatest victory.

The Battle of Patay was won.

Joan of Arc dismounted, and stood surveying that awful field, lost in thought. Presently she said:

"The praise is to God. He has smitten with a heavy hand this day." After a little she lifted her face, and looking afar off, said, with the manner of one who is thinking aloud, "In a thousand years—a thousand years—the English power in France will not rise up from this blow." She stood again a time thinking, then she turned toward her grouped generals, and there was a glory in her face and a noble light in her eye; and she said:

"Oh, friends, friends, do you know?—do you comprehend? France is on the way to be free!"

"And had never been, but for Joan of Arc!" said La Hire, passing before her and bowing low, the other following and doing likewise; he muttering as he went, "I will say it though I be damned for it." Then battalion after battalion of our victorious army swung by, wildly cheering. And they shouted, "Live forever, Maid of Orleans, live forever!" while Joan, smiling, stood at the salute with her sword.

This was not the last time I saw the Maid of Orleans on the red field of Patay. Toward the end of the day I came upon her where the dead and dying lay stretched all about in heaps and winrows; our men had mortally wounded an English prisoner who was too poor to pay a ransom, and from a distance she had seen that cruel thing done; and had galloped to the place and sent for a priest, and now she was holding the head of her dying enemy in her lap, and easing him to his death with comforting soft words, just as his sister might have done; and the womanly tears running down her face all the time

A discussion also ensued at the book club (Goodreads, Catholic Thought) on how Twain presents an idealized, saintly Joan.  Irene stated how she enjoyed the more realistic, modern saints biographies that show saints’ imperfections as well.

Irene states:
“Manny, doesn't everyone of us, born with Original Sin, have imperfections? Seventeen would be far from truly young at a time when girls would have been likely married and starting their families in their mid-teens and the average life span was not much more than 40 given the number of deaths due to disease, war, childbirth, poor nutrition and farming injuries at that time. I would not expect that Joan's recorded life would not include any imperfections. The way we now approach history and biography is a very contemporary style. In Joan's era, the lives of heros and saints were recounted in a way that maximized the virtue they were admired for and any short-coming was omitted.”

Manny replies:
Other than venial sins, which I'm sure Joan committed, I can't think of any mortal sins she might have done. She was kind, loved her parents, I assume she went to Mass more than once a week, she wasn't the stealing type. Jealousy? Pride? Greed?
I don't think she would have had those. Other than a sexual indiscretion, and I don't think it applied to Joan either, I don't know what mortal sin she could have committed. Perhaps we might have caught her in a moment of hating the English? Is that mortal or venial?

Irene, I have never read a modern biography of a saint. Which ones have you read and what kind of sins did they commit? 

Manny, I have read biographical pieces on a number of canonized individuals from Teresa of Calcutta to John XXIII. Flaws are not necessarily mortal sins. Various holy people are revealed to have been impatient, headstrong to the point of not being able to hear what others had to tell them, had moments of intolerance, anger, unwise reactions to situations, and so on. In the older style of recounting heroic lives, if an individual is admired for courage, moments of doubt, fear, cowardly cruelty are left out of the story. If an individual is compassionate, thoughts of critical judgmentalism, resentment, selfishness are left out of the account. Joan is flawlessly wise, compassionate to friend and foe alike, only displaying righteous anger similar to Jesus with the sadducees, perfectly humble, etc. I am not saying that such a depiction of heroic figures is wrong or bad. I just find it very difficult to enter into such an account. 

Irene, I think you’ve hit on a difference on all biography—not just saints lives—between that of the modern world, starting with the age of enlightenment, and prior.  Biography in the ancient and medieval world did not think that capturing the historical figure in a full realistic sense was beneficial.  They did not see the point of such detail.  The intent of biography was to make a thematic point, not bringing that person “to life” for the reader.  The biographical figure stood more as a symbol, say virtue or honor or devotion, than as a three dimensional figure.  This wasn’t just in biography or literature, but the graphic arts as well.  For instance you might have a painting of the crucifixion with St. Francis of Assisi at the foot of the cross.  Well obviously that wasn’t realistic since Christ and St. Francis were separated by 1200 years.  Somewhere during the Age of Enlightenment an impulse for realism took over art, and the drive was to show as the biographical figure with all their warts, whether they have any significance or not. 

On the positive side, those warts are means for many of us to identify with the saint.  On the negative side, those warts can lead to undermining of faith.  Yes, the venial sins of saints you mention would not do so, but something like the controversy in Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel The Last Temptation of Christ where Christ is portrayed with many human failings would do so.  Now that’s an extreme example, but you can see how such a portrayal can undermine faith.

Now back to Twain’s Joan.  As has been pointed out, there is lots of documentation on Joan’s life, but it appears to all be in the pre-modern sense.  Twain was constrained to follow it or he would have had to invent human failings for Joan, and that would have come across as trite since we know that those failings were not documented.  But more important, I believe Twain intentionally strove to idealize Joan because it suited his artistic purposes.  The deeper you get into the novel, the more Twain is bitter with the treachery Joan suffered.  Twain’s misanthropic theme comes to the forefront, and having Joan as the pure, saintly youth serves as a contrast to the treacherous figures that betray her.  Twain really is in love with Joan of Arc because she transcended human malice and corruption.

I know there is a place for “realistic saints” but personally for me I prefer a portrayal of saints as transcendent.  Instead of identifying with them I want them to be something for me to strive for, no matter how impossible. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 3

Part 1 on Twain’s Joan of Arc can be found here.  
Part 2, here.  

This post deals with Book 2 of the novel, and the following are summaries of the first two thirds of Book 2.

Summary to Book 2, Chapters 1-13:

Joan, now seventeen years old, is escorted to Vaucouleurs, a nearby town, where the local governor and nobility investigate Joan’s claims and conclude she divinely sent.  They gather a group to take her to the King, and she leads the way through enemy territory.  The King too becomes convinced, as is his leading inquisitor, the Dominican Brother Séguin, and the King gives her command of his army for the Battle of Orleans.  Along the way we meet several of the characters that will have rank in her leadership: The Paladin, Sire de Retz, La Hire, and we see how her virtue and charm inspires devotion in her person. 

Summary to Book 2, Chapters 14-28:

Joan takes command of the army and her first order of business is to dictate a letter to the English to depart from France.  Of course they refuse.  She then moves into action and marches toward Orleans, along the way encountering skirmishes.  She wins a major victory in Orleans and advices the King to rush to Reims to claim the crown. 

A couple of points were made at the Goodreads discussion concerning Twain’s characterization of Joan.  Both in a way deal with Joan as an idealized person.  Kerstin hit upon Joan as an authentic leader.

Kerstin wrote:
“There are so many snake-oil salesmen one has a natural skepticism to hold back even if others follow blindly. Yet when face to face with people who have a true charisma, and aura of sincerity that is hard to ignore we recognize we are in the company of somebody truly special. Think of St. John Paul II or St. Mother Teresa, two people within living memory, who had this kind of effect on people. Joan strikes me as that kind of person.”

Manny’s Response:
That is a good point Kerstin, and I think we see her "charisma and aura of sanctity" in the way she deals with underlings: The Paladin, Sire de Retz, and La Hire.  She takes a different tact to win over each one of them.  I don't know how much of this is Twain filling in the details and how much is historically known.  Look at how she wins over The Paladin, who was really a braggart and a bit of a doofus, and first gives him encouragement and then the highest responsibility, that of carrying the army's banner.  From the end of Book II, Chapter 10:

"The Paladin entered humbly enough. He ventured no farther than just within the door. He stopped there, looking embarrassed and afraid. Then Joan spoke pleasantly, and said-

"I watched you on the road. You began badly, but improved. Of old you were a fantastic talker, but there is a man in you, and I will bring it out." It was fine to see the Paladin's face light up when she said that. "Will you follow where I lead?"

"Into the fire!" he said; and I said to myself, "By the ring of that, I think she has turned this braggart into a hero. It is another of her miracles, I make no doubt of it."

"I believe you," said Joan. "Here-take my banner. You will ride with me in every field, and when France is saved, you will give it me back."

He took the banner, which is now the most precious of the memorials that remain of Joan of Arc, and his voice was unsteady with emotion when he said-

"If I ever disgrace this trust, my comrades here will know how to do a friend's office upon my body, and this charge I lay upon them, as knowing they will not fail me."  (Book II, Chapter 12)

Then in the next chapter in a conversation between Sieur Louis and Noël Rainguesson, Louis mentions a conversation he had with "the chief knight."  I'm not sure which one is the chief knight but he makes a tremendous observation to Louis.  This is Louis speaking:

"You have noticed that our chief knight says a good many wise things and has a thoughtful head on his shoulders. One day, riding along, we were talking about Joan's great talents, and he said, 'But, greatest of all her gifts, she has the seeing eye.' I said, like an unthinking fool, 'The seeing eye?-I shouldn't count on that for much-I suppose we all have it.' 'No,' he said; 'very few have it.' Then he explained, and made his meaning clear. He said the common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind of eye couldn't detect. He said the mightiest military genius must fail and come to nothing if it have not the seeing eye-that is to say, if it cannot read men and select its subordinates with an infallible judgment. It sees as by intuition that this man is good for strategy, that one for dash and daredevil assault, the other for patient bull-dog persistence, and it appoints each to his right place and wins, while the commander without the seeing eye would give to each the other's place and lose. He was right about Joan, and I saw it. When she was a child and the tramp came one night, her father and all of us took him for a rascal, but she saw the honest man through the rags. When I dined with the governor of Vaucouleurs so long ago, I saw nothing in our two knights, though I sat with them and talked with them two hours; Joan was there five minutes, and neither spoke with them nor heard them speak, yet she marked them for men of worth and fidelity, and they have confirmed her judgment. Whom has she sent for to take charge of this thundering rabble of new recruits at Blois, made up of old disbanded Armagnac raiders, unspeakable hellions, every one? Why, she has sent for Satan himself-that is to say, La Hire-that military hurricane, that godless swashbuckler, that lurid conflagration of blasphemy, that Vesuvius of profanity, forever in eruption.  (Book II, Chapter 11)

Joan has this "seeing eye" to know who to place in commend.  And shockingly she takes La Hire, described as "Satan himself," to an important command.  Notice later in the conversation Louis makes another observation about Joan:

"Well, we shall see. Joan probably knows what is in him [The paladin] better than we do. And I'll give you another idea. When a person in Joan of Arc's position tells a man he is brave, he believes it; and believing it is enough; in fact, to believe yourself brave is to be brave; it is the one only essential thing."

"Now you've hit it!" cried Noël. "She's got the creating mouth as well as the seeing eye! Ah, yes, that is the thing. France was cowed and a coward; Joan of Arc has spoken, and France is marching, with her head up!"

So the generals have been converted by her seeing eye and creating mouth, and so have the French people.  It's hard for a novelist to capture all that with just a couple of scenes, but Twain does the best he can.  Notice then in chapter 12 how she converts the gruff and sinful old soldier La Hire to be rectitude:

"The visit of ceremony was soon over, and the others went away; but La Hire stayed, and he and Joan sat there, and he sipped her wine, and they talked and laughed together like old friends. And presently she gave him some instructions, in his quality as master of the camp, which made his breath stand still. For, to begin with, she said that all those loose women must pack out of the place at once, she wouldn't allow one of them to remain. Next, the rough carousing must stop, drinking must be brought within proper and strictly defined limits, and discipline must take the place of disorder. And finally she climaxed the list of surprises with this-which nearly lifted him out of his armor:

"Every man who joins my standard must confess before the priest and absolve himself from sin; and all accepted recruits must be present at divine service twice a day."

La Hire could not say a word for a good part of a minute, then he said, in deep dejection:

"Oh, sweet child, they were littered in hell, these poor darlings of mine! Attend mass? Why, dear heart, they'll see us both damned first!"

And he went on, pouring out a most pathetic stream of arguments and blasphemy, which broke Joan all up, and made her laugh as she had not laughed since she played in the Domremy pastures. It was good to hear.

But she stuck to her point; so the soldier yielded, and said all right, if such were the orders he must obey, and would do the best that was in him; then he refreshed himself with a lurid explosion of oaths, and said that if any man in the camp refused to renounce sin and lead a pious life, he would knock his head off. That started Joan off again; she was really having a good time, you see. But she would not consent to that form of conversions. She said they must be voluntary." (Book II Chapter 12)

And she makes the whole army attend mass and confession.  You would think that such forced obligations to the riffraff of society would bring about scorn and cynicism.  No.  Just the opposite.  I think they were looking for a reason to elevate their souls.  They had lost to the English for generations, and now they could only turn to God.  Later in the chapter Louis describes the change, first concerning La hire and then the rest of the army:

"That tough old lion went away from there a good deal tamed and civilized-not to say softened and sweetened, for perhaps those expressions would hardly fit him. Noël and I believed that when he was away from Joan's influence his old aversions would come up so strong in him that he could not master them, and so wouldn't go to mass. But we got up early in the morning to see.

Satan was converted, you see. Well, the rest followed. Joan rode up and down that camp, and wherever that fair young form appeared in its shining armor, with that sweet face to grace the vision and perfect it, the rude host seemed to think they saw the god of war in person, descended out of the clouds; and first they wondered, then they worshipped. After that, she could do with them what she would.

In three days it was a clean camp and orderly, and those barbarians were herding to divine service twice a day like good children. The women were gone. La Hire was stunned by these marvels; he could not understand them. He went outside the camp when he wanted to swear. He was that sort of a man-sinful by nature and habit, but full of superstitious respect for holy places.

The enthusiasm of the reformed army for Joan, its devotion to her, and the hot desire had aroused in it to be led against the enemy, exceeded any manifestations of this sort which La Hire had ever seen before in his long career. His admiration of it all, and his wonder over the mystery and miracle of it, were beyond his power to put into words. He had held this army cheap before, but his pride and confidence in it knew no limits now. He said-

"Two or three days ago it was afraid of a hen-roost; one could storm the gates of hell with it now."

And so as the army marches toward Orleans for the great battle, the French people too are won over:

"What a picture it was! Such black seas of people, such a starry firmament of torches, such roaring whirlwinds of welcome, such booming of bells and thundering of cannon! It was as if the world was come to an end. Everywhere in the glare of the torches one saw rank upon rank of upturned white faces, the mouths wide open, shouting, and the unchecked tears running down; Joan forged her slow way through the solid masses, her mailed form projecting above the pavement of heads like a silver statue. The people about her struggled along, gazing up at her through their tears with the rapt look of men and women who believe they are seeing one who is divine; and always her feet were being kissed by grateful folk, and such as failed of that privilege touched her horse and then kissed their fingers.

Nothing that Joan did escaped notice; everything she did was commented upon and applauded. You could hear the remarks going all the time.

"There-she's smiling-see!"

"Now she's taking her little plumed cap off to somebody-ah, it's fine and graceful!"

"She's patting that woman on the head with her gauntlet."

"Oh, she was born on a horse-see her turn in her saddle, and kiss the hilt of her sword to the ladies in the window that threw the flowers down."

"Now there's a poor woman lifting up a child-she's kissed it-oh, she's divine!"

"What a dainty little figure it is, and what a lovely face-and such color and animation!"

Joan's slender long banner streaming backward had an accident-the fringe caught fire from a torch. She leaned forward and crushed the flame in her hand.

"She's not afraid of fire nor anything!" they shouted, and delivered a storm of admiring applause that made everything quake.

She rode to the cathedral and gave thanks to God, and the people crammed the place and added their devotions to hers; then she took up her march again and picked her slow way through the crowds and the wilderness of torches to the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, where she was to be the guest of his wife as long as she stayed in the city, and have his young daughter for comrade and room-mate. The delirium of the people went on the rest of the night, and with it the clamor of the joy-bells and the welcoming cannon."  (Book II Chapter 13)

This winning over of the King, the generals, the army, and the French people is the central point of these early chapters of Book II.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Music Tuesday: Deacon Blues by Steely Dan

The music of the group Steely Dan has always intrigued me.  Some of their songs are so overwhelmingly enticing that I get mesmerized: “Do It Again,” “Reelin' In the Years,” “Rikki Don't Lose That Number,” “FM (No Static at All),” “Hey Nineteen.” Those are probably their most played songs on the radio, and I bet most have heard of them.  I’ll embed my two favorites below that are not as well known. 

But first I want to make this an “In Memoriam” post as well.  A few days ago, founding member and guitarist for the band, Walter Becker, passed away.  Though I have enjoyed their music over the years, I have to admit I know very little about the band themselves.  I’ve heard of the longtime duo of Don Fagan and Becker, but that is it.  I never even had a clue as to what their band name referred to.  I just Googled it and unfortunately it’s not for polite company; you can if you want to but I’d advise against it, and the band never seemed to publicize it.  Perhaps they regretted, I don’t know.  However, it doesn’t surprise me since they always had a Beat Generation association.  They were hippies in the core sense of it, and anyone that knows me knows that’s not my affinity.  But I do appreciate good music, and Steely Dan’s jazzy/bluesy rock was something I really enjoyed. 

Since I’m not qualified to give a eulogizing appreciation of Becker’s life, I’ll let this Rock History do it for me.  

Now the two songs which I absolutely adore.  First, “Here at the Western World.”

And for their greatest in my opinion, “Deacon Blues.”

So many songs are about winning and triumph, but this has to be the ultimate loser’s song.  Many a depressing moment I’ve put up this song and had my own pity party.  That saxophone solo is perfection.  The chorus is worth quoting.

Learn to work the saxophone
I, I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I, I wanna name when I lose
They call Alabama, The Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

Monday, September 4, 2017

Matthew Monday: Eighth Birthday

My goodness, the little one turned another year the other day, now eight years old.  Time is going so fast. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Music Tuesday: Sicut Cervus by Palestrina

I haven’t had a Music Tuesday entry in a while and I came across this wonderful composition by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the 16th century Italian composer.  This is his wonderful arrangement of the opening lines of Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for the flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.”  It is sung in Latin:   

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

The artist in this rendition is the choral group, The Cambridge Singers.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Photo Essay: Pictures from Yesterday’s Solar Eclipse

Yesterday was the great Solar Eclipse of 2017 across the United States.  here were others who took much better pictures, but I did capture these.  The first is holding the Solar Eclipse Sun glasses over the lens, filtering out the ultra-violet and infrared light.  The second is using just natural, unobscured, unfiltered lens.  I think these were snapped about 20 to 30 minutes before max obscuration, which was only about 70% here.  I tried to take it at max obscuration but my hand kept shaking every time I snapped.  These two were the best pictures I took.

If you want to see some professional pictures, you can go to NASA’s website.    

Monday, August 21, 2017

Poetry: “An Eclipse” by Dora Sigerson Shorter

I’ve never heard of Dora Sigerson Shorter, but I came across this little poem which makes good reading for today, the day of the Solar Eclipse of 2017.  I came across it at American Literature.Com, which also features an essay by James Fenimore Cooper, “The Eclipse,” on his experience witnessing the June 16, 1806 solar eclipse. 

It’s actually a nice little poem and I think it’s referencing all the anxiety that come with eclipses over the end of the earth.

An Eclipse
by Dora Sigerson Shorter

Let there be an end
And all be done;
Pass over, fair eclipse,
That hides the sun.

Dear face that shades the light
And shadows me,
Begone, and give me peace,
And set me free.

Interersting she titles it, An and not The Eclipse.  Perhaps she is suggesting more than just the solar event.

Well, I’m going to try to watch the eclipse this afternoon.  We are only get about a 70% eclipse in the New York area.  Be careful and follow the safety precautions if you will be outside.  It happens between two and three o’clock this afternoon here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this series, here.  

You can also find the entire Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain on line here.  

This post deals with thoughts concerning Book 1 of Twain’s novel.  I’ve divided the post into three parts: one concerning the Faëry tree of chapter two, one concerning some unusual tidbits concerning the narrator of the work, Sieur Louis de Conte, and one concerning Joan’s interaction with the Archangel Michael in chapter six.  If some of my language suggest I’m speaking to someone, it’s likely I am.  These comments were generated as part of my Goodreads book club discussion on the novel.

1. On Chapter 2:

Let me give my thoughts on this chapter 2, "The Faëry Tree of Domremy." It starts as a description of the little town, and moves to beyond the forest and river, and then Louis talks about dragons that spout fire that once lived there and perhaps one still do. He talks about "evidence" for the dragon and he uses the word "evidence" a number of times throughout the chapter. Now evidence is a loaded word when you project ahead in the story. Joan will face a trial and evidence will be presented and falsified to condemn her. That we know from the raw facts of her life. Louis makes a point that knights killed the dragons at one time, but more recently priests have exorcised them out. This has the sense of an allegory, but of what? Does the dragon represent Joan or her enemies? Unless you've completed the novel (and I haven't yet) I'm not sure we can tell what this is an allegory for.

The faery tree, this five hundred year old "majestic beech tree,' stood on high ground and children went there to play on summer days. Children play around this tree with wild flowers and the fairies drove away serpents and insects and other dangers. This is a very Romanticized image of an Edenic setting. A sense of innocence is emphasized. Even in death that innocence is maintained:

Now from time immemorial all children reared in Domremy were called the Children of the Tree; and they loved that name, for it carried with it a mystic privilege not granted to any others of the children of this world. Which was this: whenever one of these came to die, then beyond the vague and formless images drifting through his darkening mind rose soft and rich and fair a vision of the Tree-if all was well with his soul. That was what some said. Others said the vision came in two ways: once as a warning, one or two years in advance of death, when the soul was the captive of sin, and then the Tree appeared in its desolate winter aspect-then that soul was smitten with an awful fear. If repentance came, and purity of life, the vision came again, this time summer-clad and beautiful; but if it were otherwise with that soul the vision was withheld, and it passed from life knowing its doom. Still others said that the vision came but once, and then only to the sinless dying forlorn in distant lands and pitifully longing for some last dear reminder of their home. And what reminder of it could go to their hearts like the picture of the Tree that was the darling of their love and the comrade of their joys and comforter of their small griefs all through the divine days of their vanished youth?

In death, the children of the tree are granted a vision of this tree before they die, and there are two theories as to what the vision means: either as a warning for those with sin ("once as a warning...") for repentance or as a reminder for those sinless (Still others…") of their home, which embraces love, joy, and comfort. So the tree has a dual meaning, which could be a consolidation of the two trees in paradise. There is the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve eat the apple, and there is the Tree of Life, a tree that leads to sin and a tree that brings redemption. I think Twain has consolidated the two. But he has Louis say he has personal experience to know the second to be true, that of the sinless children. Louis writes:

I know that when the Children of the Tree die in a far land, then-if they be at peace with God-they turn their longing eyes toward home, and there, far-shining, as through a rift in a cloud that curtains heaven, they see the soft picture of the Fairy Tree, clothed in a dream of golden light; and they see the bloomy mead sloping away to the river, and to their perishing nostrils is blown faint and sweet the fragrance of the flowers of home. And then the vision fades and passes-but they know, they know! and by their transfigured faces you know also, you who stand looking on; yes, you know the message that has come, and that it has come from heaven.

Well, who is he talking about either directly or indirectly of an innocent child dying in a far off land with a transfigured face and with a message from heaven? Joan, of course.

This is such a rich chapter. I'm glad whoever started the question on it brought it up. The Tree of Life in heaven, among other things, is supposed to prefigure the cross on which Christ is crucified. This ancient tree, I think, here prefigures Joan's innocent life, her trial, and her burning at the stake. This chapter is a consolidation of Joan's story in summary and allegory.

2. Tidbits Concerning the Narrator:

There are a couple of tidbits that I came across or noticed in the early chapters that others might find interesting. The first, the one I came across in a search, is probably not that significant, while the second is something that caught my eye may be significant, and I request some thoughts on it.

On the tidbit that's not significant, I came across that the initials of the supposed author, Sieur Louis de Conte, SLC, match that of Mark Twain's real name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or SLC. That is rather interesting, especially when one realizes the real Louis de Conte-who was Jaon's real life page-did not have a title. Twain gave him the title "Sieur," which he did presumably to have the initials match. I did not know this until now, "Sieur" is the French equivalent to the English title of "Sir" given to a knight. Fordham University's website on the novel makes this note:  

"Important Note: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is a work of fiction by Samuel Langhorne Clemens (i.e. Mark Twain). The pseudonymous author's name - Sieur Louis de Conte [initials SLC] derives from Samuel Langhorne Clemens [initials SLC]. Joan of Arc did have a servant named Louis and the French word for "tale" is conte, hence the name adopted for this story by Clemens."

So the word "conte" has the fortunate translation of "tale," which must have made Twain smile.

The other tidbit that I think carries more significance is the Sieur de Conte's dedication at the beginning. Here are his first two sentences: "This is the year 1492. I am eighty-two years of age." Now Twain is very faithful to the historical facts of Joan's life, but given this is fiction he does take liberties with Louis de Conte. Obviously in that other tidbit above, he gave him a title, and he makes him a childhood friend of Joan. We can see why he does that. If he was to employ a first person narrator who is an eyewitness requires that narrator to be by Joan's side from the beginning until the end. From what I gathered, the real de Conte was not a childhood friend, and it's not clear to me if he was present at her trial and execution. But Twain employs this fiction and has Sieur Louis de Conte write this narrative many years later as an old man of eighty-two, in the year 1492, some sixty-one years after Joan was executed. Now he could have had de Conte write this narrative at any point in the sixty years, but Twain consciously chose 1492, a very curious year.

Why 1492? Of course that is the famous year of Columbus discovering the Americas. What significance could that have to this story? I open that up for everyone.

There are two thoughts that come to mind for me, but I can't say either are completely convincing. One is that it's a way to emphasize what I stated earlier, that Twain is not just speaking about Joan's era and country, but his own time and country. The "1492" detail isn't a strong connection to Twain's time, but perhaps loosely that's what he's suggesting.

The other thought is that 1492 is sometimes regarded as the year the medieval world ended, and the seed of the modern world started to germinate. Of course you have the discovery of the new world, shortly after you have the Protestant reformation, and within a short time you have the codification of national identities rather than more local identities. Is this what Twain is trying to highlight with this detail? Perhaps, but why so?

3.0 Scene with the Archangel

I loved that scene too with the Archangel. And a very important one. Let me just quote it and give you a couple of thoughts on it:

I was coming from over the ridge, one day-it was the 15th of May, '28-and when I got to the edge of the oak forest and was about to step out of it upon the turfy open space in which the haunted beech tree stood, I happened to cast a glance from cover, first-then I took a step backward, and stood in the shelter and concealment of the foliage. For I had caught sight of Joan, and thought I would devise some sort of playful surprise for her. Think of it-that trivial conceit was neighbor, with but a scarcely measurable interval of time between, to an event destined to endure forever in histories and songs.

The day was overcast, and all that grassy space wherein the Tree stood lay in a soft rich shadow. Joan sat on a natural seat formed by gnarled great roots of the Tree. Her hands lay loosely, one reposing in the other, in her lap. Her head was bent a little toward the ground, and her air was that of one who is lost to thought, steeped in dreams, and not conscious of herself or of the world. And now I saw a most strange thing, for I saw a white shadow come slowly gliding along the grass toward the Tree. It was of grand proportions-a robed form, with wings-and the whiteness of this shadow was not like any other whiteness that we know of, except it be the whiteness of lightnings, but even the lightnings are not so intense as it was, for one can look at them without hurt, whereas this brilliancy was so blinding that it pained my eyes and brought the water into them. I uncovered my head, perceiving that I was in the presence of something not of this world. My breath grew faint and difficult, because of the terror and the awe that possessed me.

Another strange thing. The wood had been silent-smitten with that deep stillness which comes when a storm-cloud darkens a forest, and the wild creatures lose heart and are afraid; but now all the birds burst forth into song, and the joy, the rapture, the ecstasy of it was beyond belief; and was so eloquent and so moving, withal, that it was plain it was an act of worship. With the first note of those birds Joan cast herself upon her knees, and bent her head low and crossed her hands upon her breast.

She had not seen the shadow yet. Had the song of the birds told her it was coming? It had that look to me. Then the like of this must have happened before. Yes, there might be no doubt of that.

The shadow approached Joan slowly; the extremity of it reached her, flowed over her, clothed her in its awful splendor. In that immortal light her face, only humanly beautiful before, became divine; flooded with that transforming glory her mean peasant habit was become like to the raiment of the sun-clothed children of God as we see them thronging the terraces of the Throne in our dreams and imaginings.

Presently she rose and stood, with her head still bowed a little, and with her arms down and the ends of her fingers lightly laced together in front of her; and standing so, all drenched with that wonderful light, and yet apparently not knowing it, she seemed to listen-but I heard nothing. After a little she raised her head, and looked up as one might look up toward the face of a giant, and then clasped her hands and lifted them high, imploringly, and began to plead. I heard some of the words. I heard her say-

"But I am so young! oh, so young to leave my mother and my home and go out into the strange world to undertake a thing so great! Ah, how can I talk with men, be comrade with men?-soldiers! It would give me over to insult, and rude usage, and contempt. How can I go to the great wars, and lead armies?-I a girl, and ignorant of such things, knowing nothing of arms, nor how to mount a horse, nor ride it… Yet-if it is commanded-"

Her voice sank a little, and was broken by sobs, and I made out no more of her words. Then I came to myself. I reflected that I had been intruding upon a mystery of God-and what might my punishment be? I was afraid, and went deeper into the wood. Then I carved a mark in the bark of a tree, saying to myself, it may be that I am dreaming and have not seen this vision at all. I will come again, when I know that I am awake and not dreaming, and see if this mark is still here; then I shall know.

 Notice how detailed it is. Louis states the actual date, the location in detail, the weather, the birds acting in unison with Joan. Twain is making sure that the visions and voices Joan hears are true. There is no ambiguity for at least two reason I can think of.

First, Twain is telling us the complete divinity of Joan's claims are true. A modern writer would probably couch her visions and voices in ambiguity because the secular modernist couldn't quite believe it. He has to attribute it to psychology or coincidence or misunderstood science, if not to outright lies. And those secular modernists were already there in Twain's time. But Twain is clearly separating himself from them here. For all of Twain's personal antipathy toward organized religion, he is clearly separating himself here from the secular enlightenment. He is saying that Joan of Arc really communicated with the divine.

Second, and perhaps more important to the logic of the novel, Twain is showing us the truth against the falsified evidence against Joan at her trial. When she goes on trial later in the novel, we will know the truth, and we will feel the villainy of her accusers. Not only will we know the truth of her visions, but we will have her endeared in our hearts because she is clearly acting on behalf of God.