A portion has become enough
to follow now; as stuff of promise:
and to you therefore I tender here my hand
inviting a touch; as proper,
and due of friendship

For dangerous royalties your eyes white smart; and storms
protestant loom anon, a cross, indignant zeal
forced, over-strenuous, vigils anxious watching briefs
belabour in near-regard, and wheel a summersault in toils;
they break the spine and stomach of felicity

Your reasoned disbelief,
suits tight the oppressive moment, whereon running-through
reprisal recitals, trifling, safe, you root,
soliloquise; I demure:
smile out loud, suborned, you make it war! –
this roaring knowledge overmatches a malfeasant grace;
face-set, admonishments pursue; unslaked, intent


A portion has become enough

to follow now; as stuff of promise:

and to you therefore I tender here my hand

inviting a touch; as proper,

and due of friendship


For dangerous royalties your eyes white smart; and storms

protestant loom anon, a cross, indignant zeal

forced, over-strenuous, vigils anxious watching briefs

belabour in near-regard, and wheel a summersault in toils;

they break the spine and stomach of felicity


Your reasoned disbelief,

suits tight the oppressive moment, whereon running-through

reprisal recitals, trifling, safe, you root,

soliloquise; I demure:

smile out loud, suborned, you make it war! –

this roaring knowledge overmatches a malfeasant grace;

face-set, admonishments pursue; unslaked, intent

The West has Gone West

There are too many optimal bloggers
Because all we all want is to feel as if it mattered
Too many gods to follow; hopelessly ensigned oracles

One puts himself forward, over another’s line
I put my gods before yours
And press-out sour grounds in flaky two-bit preferences

In a timeshare convergence of difference
Assertion by combat; same difference, stands judge over others;
A stolid indifferent verdict on stoical God

Stood as judge upon others stands to judge every quantum
Thy words patter loudly: ‘Thou shalt not….thou shalt not….’
Closing down all things, collateral worlds rolled back;
They shut down the whole damn cosmos; a consensus under polity

Every judgement then is come down upon the Philistines
Every judgement then is emergent of the Philistines –
And you tell us your gods are our betters?

Let me stand by my own god, though my own god looms beyond me –
But maybe it’s better we heed no more this navel self awareness?
The conspicuousness of the straight road steep in verity

Collates and drives me, through highways of blithesome rises
Out of the shadows where thankless opinions burden every drone;
Heed not the ogre Moguls settled on their mighty chairs

Their grandstanding vacuuming great I AM’s most-honoured pelf
Let us bring in the God of effacements, take his toils upon us,
In grievance and troubles of evil times; let turn us over
Breaking their rowdy instance, the spoils that trophy on mens rea

It is our wealth and our freedoms which corrupt us
We can’t know them, their gems manhandle friends,
Greatly, our gifts so make us rifts whereon we fall through
All in good case, for the sake and the leisure to act so smart

Placed to misuse ease we plunge into bathos of excess
Sad faculties jostle us, stamped with our names, determine
Whom we might yet authenticate so to be, establish,
A straitened and sightless flock of not-fussed sheep come by-ways

And a thousand times could have plumped for, called it, differently,
But the flat and one-note samba hopelessly moonlights vain somatas
Like the bequest of the drive-time homewards radio shows
Ta-ra rumping up brothers, sisters, with their happenstance and mojos

Kings in a parallel world are, signing us over to virulent pretext,
Selling us corn-fed fillips to eke and cherish
But let us stay limber, boxing clever, assembling some guide, take a lover?
Sisters, brothers, wherefore ye marginalise your God?
Who is laudamus honoraram in each of a thousand names,

The great God and good, the full root, who makes all happen,
Continue to be; who is, the good shoot supporting all:
Destination of all directions;

Yet still and regardless we stand-ups fare counterfactually
Ape apes who would window a helplessly faking madness
Devolved on us, stony, the hardest of hearts embedding

Running-on notwithstanding, sheer, in brutal strength of will,
Auto-ego thrusts, goes splat, on the world’s high altar
Repeatedly messing up; dense, undiscerning ingénues:

But the finger of God, bedazzling, hangs here, holding rings of peace

What’s it About?

It’s not about morality
It’s about love
It’s not standing on principle
It’s about love

It is not that thou shalt not
Nor is it limitation
It is life to live, given you to live, abundantly

It is the liberation of your mind
The body, soul, your spirit freed
Freed up from fear
Freed up to care

Freed up by love to love
Freed up to share
Riches of love which never run away

Rivers of living waters welling up in streams
That never shall run dry

Love’s life’s great liberator
Love is the ruler
Love is of beauty’s beautifier
Love is his flame of fire

Keeping the dark nights
From all desolation
And holding hope alive

Not by commandment are you sent
Nor as a slave to follow on
But in willing service to take on life
Find freedom in it

To lose that clog
To become a life augmented
To serve your people
And complete, make whole your person

As to give is your best privilege
And to receive with grace your honour
To do all well in what you find to do
You then fulfil all you are able to

Do all of what you do
In name and will and might
For love, and do it well, do all things well
For this is love, your master

Say well the things you say
In fair intention speak; speak up
Love’s truth, proffer with mercy
Whatever you might do, and so be kind

Don’t heed hurts if you are able
Put hurt out of your heart
Replacing pain with better care
Speaking patiently in peace

This is the fight
This the delight
To be an agency for love’s great charge
To let change happen and through you
Covering another’s heartaches over,
And then: a new land entered in upon

Deny all self-importance
Don’t even be important to yourself
Rebuff all principles
Tear down your high morality
That stands on self-esteem
And not on love

Forget accomplishment
Ambitious jealousies
Pass up smart opportunities to shine
Before your fellows’ eyes

The elite compete
But you must disavow
The chase of proud endeavour
A selfish self that thinks it’s clever

Be happy, be a fool
And be content to be so thought
Bear what is placed upon you
And don’t protest you’re put upon

The wilderness grows contentment
After worldliness’s tears
Have emptied out your soul’s full cup
And scorns once lived as real
In disregard evaporate

See you hang on to life’s substance
See you let go of its shows
See you find in love contentments
See you smile

The diadem of life is yours
To sell or give up gladly
For money or to lose to righteousness
(You’ll give up more for money)

Brave freedoms that you forfeit in the workplace
Are mere spent duties hire earns from the man
Anon there’s nothing left inside you standing up
Where a pledge once flowered established

Since work hire for the man gives no returns
No bastion to see you through
The best with worst clashing together
Without a sign or compass

There is a charge can see you through
(It shall not see through you)
It is love’s work; love is the man
A man he is, one wholly fair,
The Man: whose word is true


These pieces were written during a mood of disenchantment, and so perhaps reflect the more negative sides of life as we have it in the present. I thought they were worth keeping and putting online here so as maybe to allow sympathetic support to any reader of them who finds him/herself in a like pit of despair from time to time. Also, they show to me that aligning oneself with the Lord Jesus is not for sunny days and days of enjoyment only; but that in dark moments there is a substance in his being which sustains; and which never leaves a person nor ever strands him/her high and dry. Make of them what you will. I hope that at the least they might provide good food for thought about the doubtful quality of parts of our daily lives in advanced consumer societies, and I hope they offer a perspective about our lives showing that in exchange for our material well-being and great financial prosperity; for our technical wizardry and our exponential trajectory of scientific discovery; there remain certain things ‘which (as Gandalf says) should not have been forgotten and which have been lost’ to us?/Peter


I’m trying to tell myself the truth
I’m trying to make a record of the truth
Some things I just don’t want to tell
Some things unspoken do not hurt so much
There’s great disaster, disappointment in me
My life has beached on endless scepticism
It is as though all days are hollow now
Not me – objectively
Except God made all things so they are good
But our age has forgotten this and so
All things are hollow there’s nowhere to go


I’m happier when I’m working I find purpose
The passing by of things looks like momentum
I know it’s an illusion but the busyness helps
I see so many of us on this hamster wheel
Not knowing its futility, and too scared to think it
Too scared to stop and dare the darkness in
Inside and so confront my thoughts with God
Whose property always is to have mercy
And counts the hairs on every person’s head
This life of busy hectic is the battlefield


I want to exorcise my discontents
Place my passion on the page
Just get it all down in one sweep
And have somebody listen to me
As if I could get recognition
Make contact and be understood
And so by sympathy obtain release
By acceptance, stamp my motives
Count and matter, even though
I know that here is no continuing city
And it is God I need and not renown


I want to scintillate to carry someone off
Maybe it’s just myself I want to impress?
To do something I’m satisfied with, even
Delighted? So
I keep on trying, it’s now forty years
I’m still depressed unhappy and still
Feel alone
I have my kids, their love, though
Not their inexperience
They cannot get where I am in their heads
And maybe that is good; maybe it isn’t?


Our television has a hundred channels
Each one in competition to affront
The most the thoughtful viewer who can find
No place to rest his head among the havoc
They wreak a freakish beggaring-my-neighbour
In the next extremer outrage, then the next
The mad thrash metal on the US shows
Flash, action, bang, no space to hear your heart
The low appalling squalour of the British stuff
The pious lamentations in the current news
Where egos indulge views they should not speak
And show their shallow natures to the world


We have high hopes for children brought
Into the world
Our own especially but we’ve made of it
A snare entrapment for them where our
Better selves
Are groomed to archness; smart practice best
Because they grow up are no longer children
Join us in our conditions of disgrace
We give our children books, an education
And send them to academies for music,
And totally unrealistic aspirations
Considering when their schooling’s out they’ll get
A job
Bow out of everything but booze and sex and drugs


Maybe someday someone might just read these
Confessor notes that are for me to clear
The air and lay out my perceived condition
Though God knows this and for that I am glad
If I had not my Bible and devotion books
Which give me comfort and sustain my hope
I would be crucified with nothingness
The madness of the world would amplify
The million million voices all at once protesting
Not listening, only peddling one’s own thing,
To empty heads in galleries


BBC news is comfort for the huddle
Talks down to us informing what to think
Making sure a mix of news is interspersed
Inconsequently dashed with trivia
So we don’t get too down or too impassioned
Or dwell too deeply on the import of
What’s been agreed, achieved, or what has faltered
That where we’re heading has a lighter side
Their holiness on foreign wars, the spite and hate
We sublimate and purge as our abhorred designs
Our national feeling keeping tethered home farm flocks


This sense of pat checkmate all thinking blanks
At the gates of explanation; tends ten hundred ways
Half-certain; get to that gate, get it open
And discover there to meet you sweet Despair
Here stands no forward and no back, but
Blanked, checkmated by their games of rules
Stands thwarted expectation
Then in your heart your soul cries out
Lays your heart down and under God because
God’s there, in your despair, in His Divine Person
There in your care and hope and destitution:
To give a name and sense to make all things
Chime with clear reason: The sole I AM who quietens.


So much of life is broken
The long tail of the past continues; lingers

The training trail of empty misconstructions
Never resolved to fact, in your remembrance,
Wooden ghost re-enactors who can get the period
Act out the parts we left half-mast unfinished

From the wardrobes of our past we make ourselves
And there is more the same to come ahead
Tomorrows of bad yesterdays, rehashing and reprise,
It will not change


Call it your character or fate, or what you want
Which way you cut the cake it tastes the same
And so we’re placed back to where we could have been
A faerie land where no-one’s ever travelled
Only imagined that they had imagined

And next we’re dead, the folks who knew us most
Will mostly walk away, their imprints in the soil
Muddied by sullen rains, fading away
Those ways become as if no-one had trodden
And lone residual resonances, half-thought
Quirk events throw up coincident and vagrant
Bring memories surrendering certain fragments
A life’s loose ends in straggling question marks

There might be more: but there is no more here
Just maybe all our tears are washed away
Our broken hearts configured and refashioned
The pieces pieced together carefully
Slotted in, to proper shape, and so made poetry
The lifeline of deliberate notions realised?

A Few Christian Notes on Christopher Marlowe’s Drama: The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus

A Few Christian Notes on Christopher Marlowe’s Drama:

The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus

This play has been called a Christian Tragedy. The discussed scene is from Act 1 scene 1:

FAUSTUS in his Study.
Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin
To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess;
Having commenced, be a divine in show,
Yet level at the end of every art,
And live and die in Aristotle’s works.(5)
Sweet Analytics, ’tis thou hast ravished me! [Reads.]
Bene disserere est finis logices.
Is, to dispute well, logic’s chiefest end?
Affords this art no greater miracle?
Then read no more; thou hast attained that end;(10)
A greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit:
Bid Oncaymaeon farewell, Galen come,
Seeing, Ubi desinit Philosophus, ibi incipit Medicus:
Be a physician, Faustus; heap up gold,
And be eternised for some wondrous cure. [Reads.](15)
Summum bonum medicinae sanitas,
The end of physic is our body’s health.
Why, Faustus, hast thou not attained that end?
Is not thy common talk sound aphorisms?
Are not thy bills hung up as monuments,(20)
Whereby whole cities have escaped the plague,
And thousand desperate maladies been eased?
Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.
Wouldst thou make men to live eternally,
Or, being dead, raise them to life again,(25)
Then this profession were to be esteemed.
Physic, farewell!—Where is Justinian? [Reads.]
Si una eademque res legatur duobus, alter rem,
alter valorem rei, &c.
A pretty case of paltry legacies! [Reads.](30)
Exhaereditare filium non potest pater, nisi, &c.
Such is the subject of the institute,
And universal body of the law:
This study fits a mercenary drudge,
Who aims at nothing but external trash;(35)
Too servile and illiberal for me.
When all is done, divinity is best:
Jerome’s Bible, Faustus; view it well. [Reads.]
Stipendium peccati mors est. Ha! Stipendium, &c.
The reward of sin is death. That’s hard. [Reads.](40)
Si peccasse negamus fallimur et nulla est in nobis
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,
and there’s no truth in us. Why then, belike we
must sin, and so consequently die.(45)
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
What will be shall be? Divinity, adieu!
These metaphysics of magicians
And necromantic books are heavenly:(50)
Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters:
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,
Is promised to the studious artisan!(55)
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command. Emperors and kings
Are but obeyed in their several provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind, or rend the clouds;
But his dominion that exceeds in this,(60)
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man;
A sound magician is a mighty god:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.

(The numbers (60) above are line numbers to help me reference lines in my words)

Paraphrase: Faustus is considering what subject he shall study. He is person enamoured of ideas, in love with learning, to the point where he is ambitious for himself to excel. This passage is about the seductive allure of intellectual endeavour then. ‘Sweet analytics, thou hast ravished me’

‘To live and die in Aristotle’s works’ Faustus says this is what he will devote his life to – poring over Aristotle’s writings and eliciting fine distinctions and close inferences from them, and never get bored or tired. There is enough of the ‘drug’ of intellectual endeavour in Aristotle to last him a lifetime.

The foreign language quotations that Faustus speaks are Latin, the international language of his day (just as English is in ours). The quotations are well-known ones and would be familiar to educated men hearing the actor playing Faustus speak them. They are from famous people in the various fields of learning which Faustus considers in turn whether to pursue as his life work. These authors and disciplines are: (in sequence) Aristotle (Philosopher); Oncaymaeon (Orator); Galen (Medicine); Justinian (Lawyer); and Jerome (Bible Theologian). It’s important that Theology is seen by Faustus as the ultimate study to study in the normal course of things.

Faustus ‘translates’ or gives the meaning of each Latin quote in English after he has spoken the Latin of each. He goes through the learning options and is dissatisfied with each in turn and dismisses them in turn. The pinnacle of dismissal is again Jerome’s Theology studies.

Faustus does a little bit of sophistry next, twisting the meaning of Jerome’s words that

‘The reward of sin is death.
That’s hard.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,
and there’s no truth in us’.

Faustus construes them into this understanding in his mind,

‘Why then, belike we
must sin, and so consequently die.(45)
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
What will be shall be? Divinity, adieu!’

And so Faustus ditches what reasonable men consider(ed) the ultimate legitimate study for people: theology.

Now it’s very important what comes next. Faustus has dismissed systematically the lawful studies of man, even to the ultimate available. (By lawful I mean ordained by God as lawful). Two important things come out of this, and from this point onwards we begin to see clearly the transgression of Faustus. And his transgression is not his study of the Dark Arts and Necromancy, nor is it his selling of his soul to Mephistopheles which this passage is leading up to in the drama. He has two Cardinal sins:


‘These metaphysics of magicians
And necromantic books are heavenly:(50)
Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters:
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires’

Faustus is tempted by his besotted desire for ultimate learning by what he sees is the ultimate study: Black Magic. He loves learning above and beyond his love for God. Remember the First Commandment in Leviticus:

‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart
and all thy soul and all thy being; and have no other
gods but me’

Faustus has another god than The Lord: Necromancy


‘O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,
Is promised to the studious artisan!’ (55)

Faustus longs for power, ultimate power, like a James Bond villain, it’s world domination Renaissance style. Together, his besotted desire for forbidden knowledge and his gross ambition to power are his faults and lead to transgression.

Behind all this, then, some background to Christopher Marlowe, the poet dramatist and author of Faustus (The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus) – He was a riotous liver. He died in a brawl in a tavern (pub) in Deptford in theLondon suburbs in the late 1590’s. He was 29 years old.

He was stabbed in the eye, and died a day later. Reputed to be a wild liver and sacrilegious but not an aggressively evangelical atheist in today’s mold, he was considered merely one who rejected the idea of there being a God.

He was said to be a spy for the British Government and some think he was assassinated in Deptford. He was said to be homosexual.

His poetic gifts were extraordinary. He can pile exotic and sumptuous images and words onto one another without pause and so overwhelm the senses with opulence. He can be extraordinarily tender at times too. He can do pomp, power and pride and glory in great speeches and sentences that conjure before the eyes the real images of mighty and proud rulers speaking.

Unlike Shakespeare he was a University wit, like John Donne: Hence the fluidity with Latin and with Classical imagery and mythology in his works. Shakespeare himself acknowledges his eminence as a poet and dramatist and praises him lavishly (after his death) him in the play ‘As You Like It’. Shakespeare owed a lot to him.

Now back to the play Faustus. The fear of learning portrayed in this drama is Marlowe’s exploitation of the unlearned person’s awe and distrust of cleverness and of much knowledge. Unlearned people feel at a disadvantage and vulnerable before clever learned people. Learned people generally govern them as politicians and belong to a very different social class of person – as now, so as then. There lies behind this fear of learning too the idea, found in Genesis and in many primitive stories and outlooks of ‘forbidden knowledge’ All these anxieties are played upon by Marlowe. His educated audience would recognize this and applaud; his unlearned audience would sense this and tremble.

Marlowe himself has been called an ‘overreacher’ just as Faustus himself is, and how far this is us as readers writing in as Marlowe’s views the plot of Faustus is hard to say, since not a lot is known about Marlowe compared to what we know of many other famous writers. It may be just our romantic imaginations wishing it to be so – or there may be something to the idea?

Like Jesus who was ‘driven by the Spirit into the wilderness’ to be tempted by Satan; Faustus is the mirror image of the Biblical episode. His desire and ambition seek temptation out and temptations in the form of Fallen Angels egging him on are not long absent. Jesus does not solicit temptation and Satan is defeated on three counts by him, and goes away till a later opportunity (in Gethsemane before Jesus’ arrest).

Faustus falls clearly by way of his own character deficiencies. Like a child he is unable to curb his appetites and control his desires. The Mediaeval concern with the cupidity that overpowers people as an idle curiosity is also present as an idea in this drama. For along with this disapproval of curiosity came the idea that learning could be vain and fruitless and it even goes back to St Paul, who castigates those who eagerly chase ‘vain philosophy’ and ‘arcane’ knowledge and who frown upon the simple knowledge of God and his commandments. Again, it is the setting up of graven images of learning and of the self as narcissistic idol that are the sins St Paul nails.

And this other issue too is important – the connection of knowledge with power, worldly power. Faustus, like many clever persons, is very enamouredof himself and of his own abilities. He thinks well of himself; too well, and is seduced by his own self-love into sin where he becomes a slave to ambition and to a vain thirst for ultimate knowledge.

A great deal of the learning of the Greek and Roman worlds, as well as the Hebrew and New Testament worlds is packed into the drama of Faustus. This includes the issues on proper role and uses of learning; the self control one should exert over appetite and desire; the weaker argument defeating the stronger – which is sophistry; the idea that ‘might is right’; the idea of temperance and of The Golden Mean in ethics and behaviour; and much more.

Pretty soon after this speech is spoken by Faustus’ which we are discussing and which is printed above, and that I have selected to comment on, Good Angels and Evil Angels appear on stage and vie for the soul of Faustus. They appear from time to time in the drama to give a Cosmic Significance to Faustus’ petty follies. They fight out the Cosmic Battle always going on between Good and Evil and do this through the medium of Faustus’ frivolous actions and behaviour.

Of very great importance is what Faustus does with the forbidden knowledge he accesses once he has signed away his soul to Mephistopheles in blood and on a contractual document.

It’s important that Faustus has to sign this document, since the Lord Jesus requires no similar signed pledge of fealty from his people, who adhere because of love and veneration to his Person. Whereas Mephistopheles knows that Faustus’ bargain with him will bring Faustus only hollow fruit, and frustrate his every expectation, and eventually will damn him to everlasting perdition. So Mephistopheles has Faustus sign a binding contract, so as to hold him to the empty bargain.

And so it transpires that Faustus can only use his powers to do cheap circus tricks and pantomime clowning; like going to St Peter’s and tweaking the nose of The Pope, and doing petty practical jokes on unwitting people. Really sad and bathetic stuff

Faustus asks questions about man and origins of things to Mephistopheles and finds out merely what he knew before, and absolutely nothing that he could not have got from The Bible; everything s ordered in every way all as the Testaments lay it out, and Faustus is deeply disappointed.

He begins to realise the emptiness of the bargain he has made. All he has then is riotous living and the prospect of death and damnation after the 25 years contract. He does some vanity projects like calling up the Spirit of Helen of Troy (and spurring the famous line ‘Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?’) She is beautiful, but unattainable; she feeds the appetite but cannot slake it.

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet he soon grows to understand that:

‘Fie, why unto me are all the uses of this world
Dull, stale, flat, and unprofitable?’’

and then knows that there is also good practical reason indeed why Jesus refused the offer from Satan of dominion over all the nations of the world, and chose to be no earthly king of an earthly kingdom.

A telling episode in the Faustus drama is when Faustus questions Mephistopheles why he is not in Hell by with him: Mephistopheles replies:

‘Why this is Hell; nor am I out of it’

meaning that Mephistopheles carries his Hell with him wherever he goes, and never has ease or respite. This discovery, as it should, perturbs Faustus enormously.

On a knockabout comedy level the Faustus drama is vaudeville and farce and the common man’s entertainment. On a metaphysical and spiritual level it is a deep discussion of the ‘vanity of the world’ and of the ultimate soundness and truth of Biblical teaching and its recommendations.

The approach of an audience should be not to take the action and plot and dialogue of the play as literally true in any way, as like history works claim to be, but to see into the work’s semblances and use of symbols, images, allegories, parodies, metaphors, similes, personifications and enjoy the sheer verve and dynamism of the play’s action and ideas. The play when looked at in this figurative way turns the key to many human and divine truths, incontrovertible and necessary, whether one is Christian or not, whether one likes it or not. It’s about the way the world is set up (I believe by God) to work and to operate.

The weakness of men and women is exposed. Their sense of their own worths; their insatiable appetites, their lust for power and for knowledge for power’s sake, and their intellectual pride, make us all the slaves of evil desires and not our own masters, who would otherwise be our own persons but voluntarily and willingly and joyously following the Way of our Lord andSaviour in love and truth and grace.

But this has all been exposition of the content and subject matter of the drama. Look and read over Faustus’ speech, and then go to the full drama at the link below, and as you read listen in your mind’s ear to the sumptuous poetry; the power of what John Milton called ‘Marlowe’s mighty line’, and the tenderness and poignancy of his pitiful art.

Another Grand Master of the world of words

John Donne – Hymn to God the Father: written circa 1630

John Donne – Hymn to God the Father: written circa 1630

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun
Which is my sin though it were done before
Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run
And do them still though still I do deplore
When thou hast done
Thou hast not done
For I have more

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I won
Others to sin and made my sin their door
With thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two but wallowed in a score
When thou hast done
Thou hast not done
For I have more

I have a sin of fear that when I have spun
My last thread I shall perish on the shore
Swear by thyself that at my death thy sun
Shall shine as it shines now and heretofore
And having done that
Thou hast done
I have no more

What can a person say? Where abouts to begin? Is there enough text to sing the glories of this astonishing poem? Maybe a bit of background on the poet?

John Donne (pronounced ‘dun’) lived a contemporary of Shakespeare in London England between 1570 and 1640. He was renowned in his time as a ‘wit’, a brilliant university educated member of the lower gentry classes. He was a cut above Shakespeare who had no university education and whose father was a glovemaker.

John Donne had expectations as a young man and attached himself to James I royal court in the hope of ‘advancement’. He blew any prospects he might have had when he married, against her parents’ wills, a lady called Ann Moore. She was his darling dear and sweetheart, whereas in those days a person of any pretension married always by stratagem to enhanced the family fortunes. But not for love.

Donne had been a profligate in his earlier youth; a playboy, we might have called him these days. His poetry of his youth reflects this amorous and lascivious character. His attachment to Ann Moore brought him into line; but ruined his finances and outlook.

Ann died quite early in life, and Donne was devastated. Now a widower his attachment to Ann began to mature into a devout devotion to God. His career picked up again a little and over time he rose in the Anglican Church to occupy the position of Dean of St Pauls’ Cathedral in London (not the Wren building but the previous building before it was destroyed by fire).
During this development and elevation to Dean, his poetry moves rapidly away from his early rakish lasciviousness and heads towards the devotional poetry of his later years. This ‘Hymn to God the Father’ is thus a late poem of his; one of his final few.

Donne also wrote prose sermons and was called to preach before the king, who was renowned as a ‘connoisseur’ of theology and devotionals. Donne preached to him very regularly.

Donne’s prose and his poems alike are remarkable for their directness; the way they hit a person who hears or reads them ‘right between the eyes’. They have an immediacy of emotion and a personality of engagement that is hard to mistake. His religious poems for the most part are ‘confessional’ poems.

Donne can weave arguments in threads throughout his poems; and uses old alchemy and scholastic beliefs as well as the bang up to date navigational and empirical scientific understanding emerging during his lifetime. So magic and monastic learning; the New World and figures from mathematical studies are all found as commonplace items in his works

His poems are always conversational, despite all their convolutions of argument, and peppering of arcane knowledge, and he is a wonder how he keeps the flow of speech going in such tight and disciplined forms like the sonnet and in works like the ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He can be audacious, and tender, and fierce and brilliant in the space of two lines. He was a remark able and astoundingly versatile and intelligent, emotionally virile marvel.

In’ Hymn to God the Father’ we see Donne divesting himself of showiness and flashiness in ideas and in the sentence constructions of his poems. It is a poem much more likely in its apparent simplicity of statement to have been thought to have come from the pen of his great contemporary George Herbert, who is renowned for unostentatious holy thought in his poems.

Donne in this poem is baring his heart and soul before God, not using smart tropes and fancy rhetoric, no trendy ideas; and has relinquished what Samuel Johnson called his ‘ransacking’ of knowledge and images and cleverness.

Now let us begin with the poem in particular: Hymn to God the Father.

It’s a series of questions; with each verse ending with a resolution to the questions being raised. The first two verses are only partially resolved by means of pointers that, for all this gone before, there is matter yet to come.

Read the poem out loud to get the forceful rhythmic drive it builds and maintains; to see how the lines end each naturally as speech, but are carried on nonetheless by their subsequent lines. The conversational flow, addressed directly to God, is unmistakeable; as a penitent asking for absolution.

The poem builds, verse by verse, to a firm and confirmed surrender of himself: ‘I have no more’.

Not just ‘no more sin to confess’ but ‘no more objections to make about why he should not be brought into God’s fold and arms and be made assured. But he fears God might have his own objections; hence the audacity of Donne’s almost-demand beginning ‘Swear by thyself…’ as if that is the only reassurance that will set Donne’s mind at peace, and allow him rest from his self castigations. Donne has said to God, to paraphrase the drift of the poem: ‘I confess everything, but I keep finding in myself more to confess; I cannot confess anymore, I am throwing everything I can at you to forgive me. I have nothing more I feel I can offer, please show me in some way I have done enough, for you to take me into your Kingdom’

At this level then the poem is a personal plea to his Maker, ending with Donne resigning everything to God, throwing himself upon God, for mercy and acceptance. The poem ends because there is nothing further Donne can do; he has done his utmost, and the emotional sense one senses seems to be that, yes, he has done enough by having done all he can. (In fact Donne’s definition of charity was ‘To do what one can: all one can’)

So where lies the art in this heartfelt and colloquial plea for forgiveness? What makes it a poetic masterpiece? Besides its emotional power? A scream has emotional power, but a scream is not a poem a work of art.

Remember Donne’s name is pronounced ‘dun’ (‘done’)

‘When thou hast Donne
Thou hast not Donne
For I have more’

Remember his wife’s name was Ann Moore:

When thou hast done
Thou hast not done
For I have Moore’

Remember that the ‘Thy sun’ asked to ‘shine thereafter as heretofore’ is ‘God’s Son’ shining in glory.

‘Swear by thyself..’ brings to mind Jesus’s words: ‘Swear not by the Great King, nor by thy own head, let your yea be yea and your no be no; all else is from the Evil One’. Donne with some poetic license is ‘out of line’ here, in asking God to swear by himself; but gloriously so; his abject needing to be sure of God being accentuated by his asking God to swear on Himself.

And the smallness Donne feels himself to be before God is caught exactly when the poem says:

‘I have a sin of fear that when I have spun
My last thread I shall perish in the shore’

Could this have inspired TS Eliot’s:

‘I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’?

The image is of a spider or worm spinning a web or a skein of silk. A barely considered creature, dwelling among the lower orders of creation; an insignificant object; which shall perish on the shore; that is, will be washed up half dead to pass away stranded on the sand and out of its native element. His last thread is his final deeds which Donne figures in God’s eyes to be less than trivial, and likewise his expiration he fears will go unnoticed.

The pain and agony and sense of worthlessness, but not hopelessness, just fear, are clearly brought out in these lines – like Crashaw in our last piece Donne senses he is ‘A thing of nought’ into which inexplicably ‘God has overbought’.

Let’s look a little at the rhymes. ‘Begun’ ‘run’ ’shun’ ‘spun’ ‘ won’ ‘done’ and ‘before’, ‘door’, deplore’ ‘shore’ ‘more’ – rhyme runs like a silken thread through the verses holding the thought and themes together. It is the cement of the rhetoric, the links of chain in the motor of the poem’s momentum.

The rhymes drive the poem forward, are staging posts on the way to the final rest at its ending.

There is the rhythm of the lines also which carry you with them as they proceed. Smoothly, fluidly, at first with ‘Da-daah, da-daah, da-dahh, da-daah, da-daah’ until the end verse lines when the rhythm changes abruptly; ‘da-daah-da-daah (pause) da-daah-da-daah (pause) da-daah-da-daah’

The final verse has rhythms which vary from the earlier two verses. In the first line here there’s an almost tripping up stumble at the words ‘that when I have spun’ which is not present in the earlier verses; and which suits perfectly the sense of the poet being unsettled by and reluctant to face having come to his last ‘thread’ – the end of his tether.  And the next line and the words beginning it, ‘My last thread’ have a variant rhythm also, with a natural pause after ‘thread’, signifying ending and maybe death.  When the line picks up its momentum again with ‘and perish on the shore’, Donne’s desperation to the point of despair is palpable. The pushes of breath in saying the words ‘perish’ and ‘shore’ when one reads them is like a last gasp and a plaintive whimper.

And miraculously, with all this going on in the verse of the poem, the conversational and intimate, in-confidence personal plea and appeal to God goes on undisturbed by a hint of out of place diction or sense to shatter the mood and the emotional engagement we are absorbed in. To read through the poem seems so easy to us; the language so natural, the flow of thought so even and tight; and the effects so powerfully moving; that we can easily be kidded that the poem is a simple and plain and unadorned piece put together by a person not so gifted and in the space of a few minutes.

This seems an assessment, once we see what the poem does and how it does it, to be a reflection of our own poverty of discernment as readers, when we are set beside the like of John Donne for comparison. As Milton wrote about Shakespeare, we might say also of Donne:

‘Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a livelong monument
And thus by fancy of ourselves bereaving
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving…’

Truly one of the wonders of the Golden Age of English verse; one of the finest of the fine; a man wrestling with his art and weaving into it the struggles of his life and his tempestuous quest for personal rightness before God; whose work was relatively fallen into neglect until the 20th century: whose fine and acute sensibility coupled with superb intelligence and a fervid devotion, and who will be valued and remembered as long as men and women speak and hear the cadence of English language.

The Dear Bargain

The Dear Bargain
By Richard Crashaw (1612?–1650?)

I have decided to run a few of these great poems of religious faith by you people who might read on this blog; adding also a few things of my own which might go towards interpreting the poems and maybe also make the re-reading of the poems more enjoyable and lucid for you, especially having people new to poetry in mind?

This first poem is a little known one; a favourite of mine from my long-gone student days where I first encountered it and was won over wholeheartedly by its ‘rough magic’.

Have a read through of it, and then see whether you agree with me about its power and grace; and then, after having borne with me and my peregrinations around its themes and ideas, read it again and see whether you enjoy it more?./Peter

The Dear Bargain

LORD! what is man? why should he cost you
So dear? what had his ruin lost you?
Lord! what is man, that Thou hast overbought
So much a thing of nought?
Love is too kind, I see, and can 5
Make but a simple merchant man;
’Twas for such sorry merchandise,
Bold painters have put out his eyes.
Alas! sweet Lord, what wer’t to Thee,
If there were no such worms as we? 10
Heaven ne’er the less still heav’n would be
Should mankind dwell
In the deep hell,
What have his woes to do with Thee?
Let him go weep 15
O’er his own wounds,
Seraphims will not sleep,
Nor spheres let fall their faithful rounds:
Still would the youthful spirits sing,
And still the spacious palace ring: 20
Still would those beauteous ministers of light
Burn all as bright,
And bow their flaming heads before Thee,
Still thrones and dominations would adore Thee,
Still would those wakeful sons of fire 25
Keep warm Thy praise
Both nights and days,
And teach Thy loved name to their noble lyre.
Let froward dust then do its kind,
And give itself as sport to the proud wind; 30
Why should a piece of peevish clay plead shares
In the eternity of Thy old cares?
Why should’st Thou bow Thy awful breast to see
What mine own madnesses have done with me?
Should not the king still keep his throne, 35
Because some desperate fool’s undone?
Or will the world’s illustrious eyes
Weep for every worm that dies?
Will the gallant sun
E’er the less glorious run? 40
Will he hang down his golden head,
Or e’er the sooner seek his western bed,
Because some foolish fly
Grows wanton, and will die?
If I was lost in misery, 45
What was it to Thy heav’n and Thee?
What was it to the precious blood,
If my foul heart call’d for a flood?
What if my faithless soul and I
Would needs fall in 50
With guilt and sin?
What did the Lamb that He should die?
What did the Lamb that He should need,
When the wolf sins, Himself to bleed?
If my base lust 55
Bargain’d with death and well-beseeming dust,
Why should the white
Lamb’s bosom write
The purple name
Of my sin’s shame? 60
Why should His unstain’d breast make good
My blushes with His own heart-blood?

O my Saviour, make me see,
How dearly Thou hast paid for me,
That lost again my life may prove, 65
As then in death, so now in love.

Peter’s Notes on: The Dear Bargain:

The first thing I noticed I remember, after reading this poem for the first time, was the ways the pulsing and strong rhythms had got to me. It’s a rhetorical masterpiece and the rhythms which carry it along are geared up to reinforce the rhetorical tour de force within the use of language by the poet. Like a good rock song has an enticing melody reinforced by an infectious driving rhythm; a guitar and percussion lifting you out of yourself with animation and joy; that’s how this thing grabs me. First a little history.

Richard Crashaw was the son of Puritan parents and was born and raised in the years immediately before the English Civil War (of 1642 – 1648). He went to University at Oxford and so was very privileged to become educated. Oxford was always on the King’s side before and during The Civil War (against The Parliamentarians) and so Oxford was Established High Church Anglican (whilst the Parliamentarians were the Puritan Non-conformists).

Richard Crashaw was won over to High Church Anglicanism at Oxford; and later, when The Parliamentarians has defeated the Royalists (during the late 1640’s) he moved further over to become a Roman Catholic.

In those days to be a Catholic was dangerous and not conducive to a career or progression in life within the UK. A number of Catholic priests were caught and executed for preaching in the UK at this time. Crashaw then, we can take it, was a man of principle, willing to put his heart and spiritual persuasion ‘on the line’ at a time of a very antagonistic environment.

Late in his relatively short life of 37 years, he published a (final) series of poems in English titled ‘Steps to the Temple’, which represents his mature religious outlook and final settlement of mind.

This poem ‘The Dear Bargain’ is from that final collection.

Before I write about the poem itself it’s worth pointing out, I think, that Richard Crashaw was not hostile to others of other denominations. One of the very major poets of his times was George Herbert, a priest of the Established English Church; and Richard Crashaw’s final collection of poems was in large part a conscious homage dedicated to George Herbert and so it echoes the title of George Herbert’s great sequence of poems which he called ‘The Temple’. (George Herbert will follow in this my series, I hope)

Now that’s the potted history done with; we get on with some talk about the poem.

Richard Crashaw uses a lot of very physical descriptions in his poems. Some people find these a bit unsavoury; the more Puritan readers generally do; and a lot of secular people do too. He talks a lot about items like blood and milk, in a theological context of human suffering and motherly relationships for instance.

You might remember Jesus saying to his followers that they must ‘eat my body and drink my blood’ if they are sincerely to follow him? – and that ‘many left him when they heard these words’, because they ‘could not accept them’. We can assume this implies the followers who left him were a little disturbed and offended at these ideas? Even appalled?

I believe Richard Crashaw was in tune with this aspect of Jesus’ expectations of us, it is built into the Eucharistic rite; and as a Catholic of course Richard Crashaw would subscribe to belief in a Transubstantiation of the Host at the Altar. Regardless however, it seems to me without doubt that any Resurrection promised to us by Jesus in the Gospels, and after the model of his own; should we experience one, will be a physical and a visceral and a hard empirical and factual Resurrection.

It’s hard to deny that this was the Gospel experience of Jesus’s disciple on and after the first Easter Sunday. (See, for instance, Doubting Thomas and his awed adoration; the fish on Galilee shore Jesus cooks for Peter and co.; and the fish Jesus himself eats to show his continued physicality)

So in this way, Richard Crashaw, who would have known the Bible very, very, well, was adhering to an acknowledged Gospel tradition, notwithstanding differences held in particular denominations or sects.

Likewise, ‘the milk of a mother’ is a very Old Testament theme; the Old Testament being in its use of images and descriptions perhaps considerably more ‘bodily’ and visceral than the New? Throughout The Psalms, The Prophets, and The Pentateuch this bodily visceral physicality is emphatically borne out. Richard Crashaw was bigtime ‘into’ actual Biblical imagery.

So that’s the ‘difficult to stomach’ bit dealt with and made a bit clearer I hope?

The physicality and physiological nature of Richard Crayshaw’s images and descriptions are normally connected to religious, even theological, ideas, and he works hard to highlight these ideas, and how they impact as real consequences of belief and of living out The Way (in as far as we can do so). His are the theological implications, if you like, that we need to take notice of if we are serious about our religion, and how these pan out in real life, are not as they are perhaps often managed ‘under the carpet’ by us in our practice?

Thus our status as men and women before God; which in this poem and in his later work generally, were it without an elaborate, baroque, colourful, use of images, could be taken to have been written by a Calvinist:

‘If my base lust 55
Bargain’d with death and well-beseeming dust,
Why should the white
Lamb’s bosom write
The purple name
Of my sin’s shame? 60
Why should His unstain’d breast make good
My blushes with His own heart-blood?’

We are ‘dust’ we practice ‘lust’ we are ‘shamed’ by our ‘sins’; of which our deaths are the wages. This is a heavy indictment of the Human Race, very solemn, very abased and contrite. Richard Crashaw, like Job before him, was wholly humbled and mortified by the idea of the presence of God before him.

The implication here is that indeed we can do little good before God; that we are wholly at God’s loving mercy; and that our Salvations are great and unearned Gracious favours of God towards us. Throughout this poem this is the attitude of Richard Crashaw about the general relationship between man and God.

The use of questions to us from the poet; who piles up question after question at us, is his speciality. None of the questions are ostensibly answered – except by us by our understanding that, yes, this is me, these are my faults listed, and my dependency laid bare. The continuous ‘Why shoulds…?’ he uses, spoken almost in a child’s impetuosity; these big up to the hilt the utter preposterousness of our presumption to expect anything good as a result of our behaviour per se.

The ‘Why shoulds…?’ repeat rhythmically, like the rest of the excerpt does here. Richard Crashaw’s questions are answered, but are answered implicitly by the couplings of their images in their contexts. The ‘white bosom ‘of the Lamb, Christ, answers to the ‘purple name of our sins’ shame; Jesus’s ‘unstained breast’ answers to our ‘blushes’ of shame. There’s absolutely no question what the answers are here. The questions are as we say rhetorical ones.

The long lines of verse are punctuated with shorter and pithy couplets of lines which, like a song’s middle eight, thump a refrain that drums their sense into our ears and hearts. The longer lines sort of tee us up for the short couplets; setting us up for a haymaker as it were. And Richard Crashaw is not afraid of using rhyme. He uses rhyme as emphasis, like a punch line in a tall story, or a halter on a horse used to pull us up most abruptly.

Look at the stresses on the words and syllables in the lines of the extract. There’s a hammer blow given us at every occurrence of the word ‘Should’; and other blows hit us with the words ‘lust’ and ‘dust’ spoken or read. ‘Good’ rhymes with ‘Should’ in the next to last line, and for Richard Crashaw both words would have rhymed with the word ‘Blood’ in the last line, and together these rhyming words take on a powerful emphasis of their own which echoes the thump of the ‘Should’ just given to us.

I think I’ve said enough about how the poem works for now, for you to get the drift of things, and to see how very complex and effective Richard Crashaw’s use of English is here in the poem ‘The Dear Bargain’.

Why not try reading it again? This time aloud? When the poem was written people, even when reading in private for their own amusement only, spoke the lines they read out, unlike our modern silent way. If you feel awkward reading it again and aloud to yourself, then get you wife or husband or child to be your audience. Remember, hit the rhythm, the rhyme, the stresses, the emphases, use the short/long lines in teeing things up, make plain the power of the images and descriptions used, and remember the theology behind them, its Biblical nature. But most importantly, keep the meaning and the feelings that this poem raises in your heart, and so enliven this your rendition, so as to convince your audience of the integral authenticity of this marvelous poem and of the sincerity and genius of its creator – Richard Crashaw.

At World’s End

Memorable quotes for: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Jack Sparrow: Where does your allegiance lie?
Tai Huang: With the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: I have a ship.
Tai Huang: That makes you the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: Good man. ‘Weigh anchor all hands. Prepare to make sail.

The question is: Why is this quote memorable? I want to write a few thoughts about this question, maybe answering it in part, and from a point of view as a follower of Jesus.

In the first place it is witty – in a cheeky Jack Sparrow way – sharp smart talk. It’s pithy, to the point, no bones about it stuff. And what makes it memorable for me is this repartee quality which lays bare in a few exchanges a whole ethic for life based on hard empirical circumstance.

It a is funny typical Jack Sparrow exchange, the wide-boy, who lives by the skin of his teeth, by the seat of his pants, on his wits and on opportunity as opportunity arises. Remember his loveable bathetic boast;

‘This is the day you will always remember as the day you nearly caught Captain Jack Sparrow’

He’s the type of a character whom, in common wisdom, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get an advantage over. He can turn things round in an instant, from put down and offence received to riposte in joyous rebuttal, just thrown off the tongue as light and airy as a spring morning. And this refreshes us; we joy in it along with Jack, and recognize truth of a sort in his outlook and modus operandi:

Captain Norrington: ‘You are just about the worst pirate I have ever heard of’.

Jack Sparrow: ‘Ah! But you have heard of me!’

Weaselling and a little bit deferential; but also there is defiance here and the salvage and recovery of a dented self-esteem

Jack then is the Loveable Rogue. Not completely loveable; some things he does are beyond the pale, unacceptable, as humour, wit, or by conscience. His marvellous draw on our continued attention is carried by the way the unconscionable things in Jack Sparrow’s repertoire of tricks and wheezes are made to redound upon him, to chastise him, to knock him back, and as the US citizens say, bring him back into line (in as far as he ever gets completely ‘in line’).

We see then by giving attention to Jack, and it is there for us to learn from, there is quite a bit about life, and how it operates on people in general; how people are ‘kept in line’ by the machinery or maybe the Providential direction that subsists our in living out human life.

This direction of Providence (let’s just call it that, it’s the choice I favour) is not merely or even exactly present in social life; in the changing and dynamic relations between people in any form that will approximate to simple cause and effect.

Although it is true that many of us in a social sense ‘get away with’ trespasses a hundredfold that are done by us among our acquaintance; and true also that conversely many insinuating social trespasses we do are ‘paid back’ by our acquaintance. Notwithstanding it’s all still a bit pot luck, because, nonetheless, ‘paybacks’ can begin feuding and grudges, and pan out as disproportionate to the peccadillo they serve their rough justice on, and these harsh responses to affronts are socially destructive and chronically so in many instances.

How many of you know of an auntie or nephew who ‘doesn’t talk to’ and hasn’t talked to a relative any more for over the past X many years?

So social remedies for stepping out of order, when these are directed directly by the wills and intents of men and women upon those acquaintance who have offended them; these remedies are not adequate to the Providential task of chastisement with a view to reformation of the person.

Experience tells me that ‘pay backs’ like revenges generally lead to more deep and more permanent social dysfunction between injured parties, so that ‘pay backs’ are working, at least as often as not, contrariwise to the tendency a benevolent chastisement might be expected to lead: i.e. towards reformation.

Socially and institutionally the case of prison sentences, and of how far these punish for attrition’s sake, or at the other extreme, correct for rehabilitation’s sake, continues to be a plaything cast about so as to accord with the expediencies of politicians

Many, maybe most, people want to deliver punishments for attrition’s sake, especially when the victim of the crime is themselves, or a person close to them; although there are many besides who wish attrition in principle, (or should I say, by nature?)

Few people are in earnest about wanting prison sentences to turn prisoners around. Our motives are never pure of course but maybe there are some few whose uppermost desire is to want to make offenders good citizens; and who put this motivation above any lesser reason or outcome?

As for the law courts, these are in existence exactly because human justice cannot be left to personal action, and because our social fabric benefits from, or rather does not receive harm from, the appointed persons of judges being our umpires and referees in our commonplace disputes and offences. In general everyone accepts the sentences of the courts, and thereafter matters lie more or less settled.

Even so, human justice is not remarkably efficacious in handing down appropriate ‘readjustments’ to the lives of the persons it ‘puts away’. It’s not that judges don’t get their sentencing right, or that juries make mistakes now and then; they do, generally speaking. It is because a judge sentences using a very different set of criteria than Providential chastisement tends to use.

A judge is considering ideas like harm to a victim, to society, the gravity of the offence, the knock-on consequences including deterrence value, and making an example to others; even the temper of the day enters into sentencing, according to what we believe as nations to be right, wrong, punishable, understandable, and so forth. The focus of a judge then is on a) the victim’s injury and pain, and b) the requirements of society as embodied in (up-to-date) statute law and relevant case histories.

So in social relations, even in those formalised within a nation, the correction, the justice, the punishment meted out to transgressors is markedly not suited to, – what shall I call it? – maybe ‘old fashioned character-building’?

Now words move house from time to time, and some are evicted onto the streets where they die shortly afterwards and are heard of no more. ‘Character’ has moved house from a stately residence downmarket into a semi-detached small flat which tenants low income residents.

When do we hear the word nowadays? ‘He’s a character!’ ‘A character part acted in a drama’. ‘That character there knocked over my coffee!’ Rarely otherwise nowadays, not even ‘He is a man of character’, or ‘she has developed character since I knew here at school’. Maybe, just seldom, a judge might use the phrase ‘She is of previous good character’, although I doubt many of us understand well what this statement ought to be telling us?

Character is something beers and wines have these days, and maybe cheeses? Character is not what makes an individual distinctive any more; and this is ironical in an age that would be an age of individualists.

A casual remark from usual individualists these days is said when they are challenged; it is said as an attempt to distance themselves from rebuke; when they normally claim something like:

‘It’s my life. I can do what I like.’

It is as if being an individual and showing individualism is found in shrugging off burdens which often in fact are social graces; burdens embodying acting responsibly and contributing towards supplying others’ needs and their legitimate desires. The bolthole ‘It’s my life’ is perceived by those who run to it as liberational for them; as ‘breaking free’. It is somewhere near being ‘free from’, but nowhere near being ‘free to’.

Perhaps uncomfortably for too many, character, when defined as a willingness and ability to bear burdens, is burdensome; especially when it vitally includes actually bearing with gladness such burdens. This looks like the contrary to what individualism looks like to many people today, who make very little or nothing of an idea that character as such is a defining mark of an individual.

The trend and consensus has been for perhaps 30 or more years now that shedding your burdensome loads frees-up a person, to be him/herself. It is as if being most-fully human is to be achieved when one most disassociates oneself, almost in laboratory-like distance, and rejects and denies connection with needy others, or caring for them, as if they are persona non grata.

This understanding of life is common, and it says:

‘This is my world (substitute ‘car’, ‘business’, ‘life’,) and I can invite into it just whom I want and choose to; and have a right to keep out of it just whom I don’t want and don’t wish to come into it’

Being human is primarily experienced in our living relationships with one another, in social organisation, and in an affirmative engagement with current issues and concerns

‘Character’ has a first cousin, which is the word ‘duty’. This word too has also come down in the world in a rapid decline. ‘Duty’s’ once-honourable station has sunk and is more or less derelict.

‘Duty’ is what you pay on shopping trips to Paris and New York. Policemen and officials still have duties, although the word’s usage in this context is a technical one with little concept of honouring obligation by self-giving for no pecuniary reward.

Duty, as a burden a person voluntarily takes upon herself with all good will and joy; and without looking to recompense or congratulation; is not really part of a modern mindset. I suspect there are persons here and there who work with a passion to do their duty with joy, commitment, vigour and goodwill. And to do this demonstrates their character.

Having written this digression on words, I want to go back to Jack Sparrow and how he fits into the workings, ‘seen through a glass darkly’ by fragile humanity, of that chastisement sent to reform us by Providence.

I have claimed that society because of its temper and its institutions cannot normally supply correction for the sake of reformation to us. Not by means of society’s directly collective and conscious intentions.

Neither tit-for-tat vengeances nor statute law can supply the conditions which lead to regeneration for prisoners or by means of feuding or vendetta-like relationships.

What might be a clear example of a Providential chastisement at work and which displays some of the means by which it is effectual? Maybe that wonderful portion of John’s Gospel which is omitted too often from Bibles as being supposed apocryphal: John Chapter 8 verses 1 to 11 – The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery.

She has been seized by the holy men of Jerusalem and brought before Jesus for him to pronounce punishment upon her. It is a trap. As the KJV has it, there is a plan to ‘catch him in his words’ hatched and plotted by the same holy men.

For Jesus to forgive her outright is for him to dismiss and to deny Mosaic Law; thus undercutting his claim to be in the line of Moses and the prophets; the Anointed One who was to come.

For Jesus to order her stoned to death, the Mosaic punishment for adultery, brings into conflict his teaching of the cardinal sanctity of forgiveness, mercy and love. No way out, then?

But he answers his enemies and pronounces on the woman with that astounding sentence:

‘He who is without sin among you; let him cast the first stone’

Jesus then sitting quietly looking down, writing in the sand with a finger, until the consciences of the mob surrounding him, aroused and pricked by an arm of Providence, sends them away slowly, and a little at a time. First the eldest leave, those who most have worked to live the Law longest, and who have the greater life experience. Then follow others down to the youngest who also at the last disperse; because the youngest lack the ballast of sufficient inner-conviction and have no support in the older ones (the assurance of the authority in the elders) and have small life experience. And Jesus says to the woman now alone:

‘Has no-one condemned you? Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.’

There is no supernatural miraculous intervention, sign, act, done here; Jesus has allowed life, in that vital temper of experience we accrue with years, naturally to work itself out; and so it did. Our consciences and understandings are enough to enable us envisaging the only route of integrity to us – we must walk away.

The tables have been turned on the holy men; who have been hoist on their own petard; the trickery they were planning to force Jesus into a corner has redounded on themselves. ‘Those who dig a pit for others shall fall into it’

Therein lay Jesus’s absolute trust and certainty in the action of Divine Providence; one that is embedded, dynamically, in all things. I say it has been put there and is sustained there by the God in heaven.

There’s no aery metaphysic in what I’m saying, no giant leap for mankind; but instead there is nature, if you like, including our sometimes savage and heartless human nature, carrying a superscription within it; a spark, a breath, an image, a vestige, a token, of the Divine heritage planted as seed in us and originating out of God’s Love towards us.

Such a Providence is not exhausted by the work of conscience in us; but has a direction and chastisement of a much broader extension.

Let’s get back to Jack Sparrow: I believe it is a Spanish proverb which says:

‘God said; ‘you can take what you like; but you have to pay for it.’’

Jack Sparrow hears this sentiment in the advice given him by his father in a scene in the fourth movie.

‘It’s not about life, and living forever; but the trick is, if you know what I mean, it’s living with yourself.’

Jesus says with simplicity, before the crowd that is wanting the blood of the adulterous woman, and he speaks not in a spirit of inquisitive searching after faults in us, but out of the tenderness that there resides in God’s love for each of us.

Such is the lesson that even hard-headed economists acknowledge the costs to the self seated within all experience; as the late Milton Friedman was quoted as contending:

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.

Jack Sparrow insolently accepts thanks from Barbossa, for a deed done which he did not intend as assistance or benefit to others. Barbossa counters, ‘Not you, we called the monkey Jack’. Jack Sparrow is silenced and mortified. He is towed back into line again.

Of course, like life in the real world, all the power-hungry, audacious and unscrupulous characters in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ saga step in and out of line as opportunity permits and as the world knocks them back again; except that the movies are entertaining.
The movie characters are pitched one against another in a loose and plastic anarchy of wills for supremacy; building alliances and making betrayals as quickly and as conveniently as is expedient. Jack is the gem in the story, with the wittiest lines and the smartest ripostes; but all are at it, carving out a destiny from hard fortune and a total absence of fidelity.

Jack Sparrow: Where does your allegiance lie?
Tai Huang: With the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: I have a ship.
Tai Huang: That makes you the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: Good man. ‘Weigh anchor all hands. Prepare to make sail.

In the real world things go on just the same; things that we call corruption, insensitivity, malice, greed, avarice, pride, the whole seven sins for the whole nine yards. It’s ugly though and not at all photogenic.

But where do we see in this real world the workings of God’s Providence to reform and regenerate men and women on this dreadful, sinful, calloused earth we mourn for daily upon each hour of news bulletining graphic images displaying so much wrong and pain and needless rapaciousness?

Where? Where?

Take Mali – in the north rebels, said to be loyal to Al Qaeda; recently have taken large areas and towns and cities. Timbuktu’s ancient libraries have been burnt and looted. Ordinary people have been displaced, and reports say some have been massacred by the rebels.

The French flew in troops and gained back some ground; and the bulletins reported rumours of reprisals and burnings by Malians against their own who had collaborated with the rebels – maybe to save their own necks? Ugly, harsh, real life.

What can be said of this terrible mess? What hope can come from this despair? How can God work here?

Only the baddies get their comeuppance in the movies; in real life comeuppance is democratic and a leveller.

Mali, as with much of Africa, is enormously rich in natural resources; and the men and women who love wealth and sway have a presence in legion, extracting minerals and wealth from the land and from the populace; that bounty which God planted under their feet.

Local people are generally poor to the point of subsistence living; live off the land, a few crops; or employment at a mine or quarry. Wages and returns are meagre – a dollar a day economy.

So young men of initiative form bands and look for a highest bidder to sell their allegiance to; and become militias, guns for hire, guns for survival, serving, say, Al Qaeda?

Perhaps some few believe in Al Qaeda; for most, Al Qaeda pays the bills and serves up the dinners.

Look now to Afghanistan. The Taliban is another plastic and moveable feast of an enemy. One year one tribe is with the UN allies; next, when the deal goes sour or the terms pick up, the same tribe is with the Taliban. One of the chief weapons in the armoury of the UN allies has been the commercialisation and economic development of Afghanistan; which policy in the ‘noughties’ was highly instrumental in bringing and keeping the peace in place in Northern Ireland.

Give people something to lose and you get their affiliation. Provide for people and you kill the violence.

The reverse is also true. Keep them poor, as in much of Africa, like Mali, and you keep them forming militias and fighting. Remember the repartee between Jack and Mr Gibbs at the close of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie:

Jack Sparrow: ‘Take what you can!’

Jack and Gibbs in Chorus: ‘Give nothing back!!’

A sour philosophy; and one for the unregenerate and nearsighted

Compare and contrast the Anglican Liturgical response at the Eucharist:

Priest: ‘All things come of Thee’

Response: ‘And of Thine own do we give Thee’

Here if anywhere is expressed succinctly the vast and abrupt chasm between the sacred and the secular outlook in men and women of the world.

There is irony here too. By us looking after ourselves firstly and exclusively, by us taking and not giving, by us exploiting and not sharing, we bring down on our heads the consequent maladies due from primarily looking after ourselves.

Were we to offer from our great store in the West just some substantive amount to the peoples of Mali, of Afghanistan, and the dollar a day economies; not just money, which for us is easy to give away and is an easy give away extricating a more engaged commitment; not our culture and our ways, which are the causes of many of the maladies and deprivations; not just technology and know-how and capital projects, aid and direction; but LOVE – we would come alive by the giving of life – and the dollar a day people would come alive also.

When a man or woman can get enough to feed and shelter and clothe and gain respect for his or her family, and tribe and town and city and friends and acquaintance; without having to carry a gun and earn bread by way of giving death and oppression; he and she will do so. The greatest power of the militias is the power of our reputations in their world outlooks. It’s hard to kill someone, or think ill of them, when you know they are kind and loving and that they try to love you.

I am going to say something now which is highly controversial – but true. The criticism of the West by its enemies has too much in it that is near the bone for us here to rest comfortable with our own complacencies.

We revel in Dickens, and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt, the loveable poor; set on high moral ground against the rich and reprobate Scrooge and Marley. We especially revel at Christmastime. How outraged and maybe piously-so we are when Tiny Tim, in prospect, dies, and how vaingloriously self-satisfied we are when Scrooge, in prospect, meets his own gravestone.

And how marvellous it is that this happened in fiction a hundred and fifty years ago: and how we have moved on and progressed and are beyond this nowadays.

‘Thou hast committed fornication
But that was in another country
and besides the wench is dead’

The relation between us and the Malians in the bush whose militias are carrying guns in the name of Al Qaeda; this relation is as the one between Scrooge and Tiny Tim; between Marley and Mali.

It is my conviction that were the will there, then the peoples of the world can be fed, housed, clothed, cared for, and that resources can be found to do this, and that finding these; and we being instrumentally contributory would do us no end of good and bring us back to life from the brink of a stale and dying culture and society.

But God’s will is not for enlightened self-interest – it is not a bargain made on eBay, a bid or a gamble or a comfortable compromise. God’s will has no compromise. God’s love is unconstrained and unlike scare commodities is boundless to overflowing – enough and more for everyone.

To realise this, to make it so, as Captain Picard says, is no less than to build the Kingdom here.

William Blake’s – Jerusalem
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon this land’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On this land’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this land’s green and pleasant land.

I declare that all this I have written here is true and accurate, and that I have a good faith belief that the postulations made here are ‘reasonably practicable’, as the statute law has it.

I declare that I am assured in myself by long reflection upon and consideration of my and others’ life experiences, that God has so made things, as for things in motion to ensure without exception, that we are always acting to cheat ourselves when we seek to cheat others; and that we are always harming ourselves when we seek to harm others, and that we are always denigrating ourselves when we seek to denigrate others.

Newton’s Law of Motion states that ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. Simply put, this law applies every bit as succinctly and as scrupulously in matters of living human life, and applies in life every bit as broadly and forcefully as Newton’s Law applies in the world of physics – or, the study, as it was once called, of Natural Philosophy.

This Divine law of reciprocation, of swings and roundabouts, of GIGO, of ‘give is to receive’ and ‘lose oneself is to find oneself’ in the area of human conduct may sometimes work itself out in human terms inadvertently; and yet still nonetheless through the course of human agency; but I say absolutely over the course of time and by way of life choices made by us in the course of nature – it ALWAYS works out.

By means of fixing on a single choice as a course of action we inevitably create for ourselves those multitudes of cul-de-sac alleys where there is for us no return to and no returns from; and which in the act of choosing we leave behind us as we close off their routes to what could have been, might have been, maybe sometimes what should have been; and which as alternatives might have developed into maybe more amenable and appropriate choices of direction for us?

Right now, as I look backwards, all such turnings and ‘roads less travelled’ which I opted against taking are wholly gone to me, into ‘the dark backward and abysm of time’.

As an empirical argument it remains impossible to anyone to verify the truth of many of these, my postulations. They are held on a precept of faith that goodness reigns and that life is directed as by a kindly hand.

I believe also that our lives are not unalloyed equal and opposite reactions to forces that are applying themselves to us. These reactions are, I contend, confusingly and mazedly mixed and intermixed with, what I guess to be an awful lot of ‘time and chance’ as The Preacher has it.

Nonetheless, I am convinced that a principle of nurture via Providential chastisement is strongly at work on men ands women in all things, and is even discernible by us in part, as it sits within and works among the tares and chaff of chance events. I believe moreover, it has an upper hand and is working over and above the world’s apparent confusion, so as to mould and confer on you the substantive person and character you have chosen to make yourself become.

‘Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, said the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness’.

Where Three Dreams Cross

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
The age of Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation

“The 1967 musical Hair, with its opening song “Aquarius” and the memorable line “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” brought the Aquarian Age concept to the attention of audiences worldwide. These lines are considered by many to be merely poetic licence, though some people take them literally. An example is the identification of Valentine’s Day 2009 as the “perfect alignment to support our collective manifestation of love and peace and dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

The musical ‘Hair’ may be considered commercial mush; the ‘Age of Aquarius’ may be considered fantasy tosh; but you can’t get away from what they represent historically and psychologically.

This is that: THERE WAS A LONGING FOR BETTER THINGS when ‘Hair’ was a Broadway smash; and furthermore that: SOME PEOPLE CONTINUE TO LONG SO HARD FOR BETTER THINGS, THAT IMAGINATIONS TAKE THEIR HOPES OVER and so they look for the dawning of a Golden Age of Aquarius in human affairs.

Just like 1967 we have the politically engaged who long for better things; we have still astrology and astrologers; we have communities here and there attempting as hard as they can to live kind, honest lives and with a goodwill towards others. Many people give charitable donations. There are lots of ways of expressing this human need still being used now by people.

The hope has diminished considerably though; the sense of movement and optimism in those heady days; that just around the next bend (in that generation then growing towards leadership in the world) was an earnest with a dedication and a faith and a determination that the Age a-coming was to be BETTER than the one it was to replace.

Bob Dylan sang that:
‘The blind men make the rules
For the wise men, and the fools’

And insisted that this order was coming to an end, and that

‘The times they are a-changing’

They did and they didn’t. The times changed, but not in the way which so many post-war Baby Boomers had hoped for; if you’re considering only what they hoped for before they got in the driving seats themselves.

Rock n Roll liberated us. Affluence pampered us. Harsh and hard times quickly dropped away for many in the West, and we enjoyed it and indulged it, because we had found it all so fun and exciting – inspirational even.

As the meek, we inherited the earth. We spoke of, and many of us believed in, ‘Make Love; Not War’, ‘Tune in, Turn on, Drop Out’ and ‘Wear some Flowers in your Hair’. Many of us had seen enough of war, even though in UK where I was there was no draft and no war we were directly engaged in.

I am old now and can yet remember vividly at home, after work, every evening, sitting down to rest and seeing the gorgeous Technicolor TV of bombing runs and plumes arising from dense jungles; flights of, not angels, but fighter jets, or helicopters, or bombers, almost in formation pulling away from these pyrotechnic feasts and the saturation devastation of a whole rainforest.

We got the casualty numbers too, listed and emphasized each day; not as grim for us as for USA because the guys (and gals) were not British. We got the propaganda, the upbeat cheerleading of the media companies; and like the news from Iraq day after day some 40 years later, the rhetoric did not do justice to the carnage.

So we knew pretty well what war was, what it was about and how it was waged. We in UK, like our compeers in USA, saw it with our own eyes and grieved likewise on our own souls. Those newsreels of flame and vivid colour did much more than they get credit for in rousing the massed UK youth presence over the course of years daily outside the US Embassy in Trafalgar Square London, in vigil and protest and frequently in a disturbance. The newsreels were on our side; they did our work and helped us immensely.

And for those of us who were not there in the Square, or who did not keep vigil religiously there; the newsreels kept awake our sense of outrage and horror and sadness at the events in South East Asia. Oddly enough, these were thought acceptable viewing at early evening broadcasting back then!

No other war before or since has been covered by the same immense an intense detailed recording on public media of so much horror and murder and sheer human madness. The Generals and Governments must have learned from their huge mistake of showing the war as a Soap Opera at peak viewing nightly to the ordinary folk whom they expected to take it all lying down.

Nowadays, and since Vietnam, TV news and coverage of our wars has been in comparison severely muted; there were no embedded reporters then, who nowadays get the access on terms of military censorship.

We were all good. Life was good. Except to enjoy a good life with such hell and conflagration nightly on the box seemed really, and not just synthetically, unacceptable and obscene. That was a general feeling, a prevalent reaction to our newfound liberties and affluence and joie de vivre.

Tell Me Lies About Vietnam

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I’ve walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn’t find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames.
Made a marble phone book and I carved out all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it’s just my brains.
They’re only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
So stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph drinking slime
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

— Adrian Mitchell

Of course we could not sustain all this. While we were young yes, and unmarried, or single, without children or mortgages; although some of us did. They went to live in Teepees in the hills on the rolling pastures of central Wales and are there to this day living working the land, educating their children, keeping the faith.

But mere mortals like most of us succumbed to what looked like necessity and buckled down to jobs, careers, power, and orthodoxy. Not before we had achieved – or had helped achieve – one of the most stupendous turnarounds in any history anywhere in the world. Sennacherib at the gates of Jerusalem compares.

The war ended – victory was conceded – and as much by homeland distress and pain as by valiance in arms, the Vietnam War just stopped, quite suddenly.

Maybe we had no other cross to bear, of equal magnitude, and so we just drifted away into a nowhere land and made our peace with our angry shamed rulers? Maybe we needed Vietnam like Vietnam needed us? But as the seventies wore on and rock n roll became either pop or marginalized, so too did our Movement. The groups became bands and the decline that began with ‘glam-rock’ set in, and the commercial hands grabbed those now unfocussed ideals and principles and turned them more and more into hard cash.

I knew people who set up their own schools; who tried hard not to depend on MD doctors, and who were committed to bringing up families with a truly alternative outlook and aspiration. The watchword for these was ‘self-sufficiency’ and they eschewed even State handouts to low income families.

If a child was very sick, they were pragmatic enough to bring an MD in, they were human and sensible. They were very largely the spur for the commercial book publishing companies to begin the health and fitness ranges that thrive so well today. Health food shops were almost their sole creation and became an industry. Grow-your-own; candles, incense, learn guitar or harmonica, wholefood cooking; and a host of other ‘lifestyle choices’ of today ,were given their initial thrust into the laps of the wealth generating machinery by these kind of people being determined to hack it out on their own, in their own way, for so long.

As I say, some are still there in Teepees, but in the public consciousness they might be in oblivion these days. We’ve lost that lovin’ feelin.

It’s trite and easy to point out that commercial hands grab and bring in from the cold and the fringes anything seen to be worth half a buck. It’s true though.

But is it just commercialism that has adulterated many of our ideals and principles by its Midas Touch? Or did we sell ourselves when we lost focus and moved mainstream? Or is it that the aftermath of a compassion binge is compassion fatigue? Have the foreign lands we fight on become more remote for many of us? Are we more insular, less cosmopolitan nowadays? Has our acclimatization to undreamed of goods and services in over-liberal quantities; our ring fenced harvest provender we seem still to enjoy even in these days of austerity; all just dulled our senses to the harder edges of basic subsistence living?

Have PCs and the geeky techie stuff hauled us even further from, dislocated and fractured our connections with raw living? People said so about TV, they probably said it about movies and radio when they first came in big time; but our dependence on IT is entire and blind and vital to us these days. If the TV busts we get a baby boom a few months down the line, but if the clouds burst and the acres of banks of servers in California blow, we are back in a state of primal chaos.

But what has happened to us; or am I just getting old? The ambience seems to be that there’s nothing much to believe in these days. Little aspiration because little hope. Little hope because – why? Everything is laid on? We have snailed back into our shells, our shelters, no need for tin hats though, there’s just no place worth going to for water and refreshment of the soul anymore. There’s little recognition of a need to refresh the soul, of a soul itself, for too many of us.

Like the Wandering Jew, or Dr Frankenstein’s monster, we are present on earth but have no home no direction. No Direction Home: Like a Rolling Stone. We are buried by the very solid presence of earth, imbedded in it, because that is all we conceive, all that we accept as real. Without question, without question, we accept the earth. Without question, without question, we do not look for other, different, else.

Defeated by our own successes; quelled by our own achievements; depressed by our own aggregations; limited by our own liberations. There’s always a moment when you sense you have chosen the money before the beauty; the gain before the conscience; the tangible before the feeling; the satisfaction before the true. We all have moments we can recall we did this.

‘Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him?
All the perfumes of Arabia cannot cleanse this tiny hand.’

Whether we have lied, or injured, or smeared, or tempted others, we all of us know our wrong choices. We all of us know what it is like to have fallen:

‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame is lust in action’

Each lie, each injury, each smear, each temptation, like each man’s death, diminishes us as perpetrators, takes away from us, crushes us, and we become less alive, less human, less expansive, and more constrained, more bestial, more carnal, more beyond hope and we sense we are further out of reach of a true sense of freedom and liberation.

Missing Dates
by William Empson

Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is not your system or clear sight that mills
Down small to the consequence a life requires;
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
Of young dog blood gave but a month’s desires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the Chinese tombs and the slag hills
Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

This is our lies and our misdemeanors murdering us. This is life not wreaking a revenge but calling us back, from a great distance calling, over vast journeys and long time, calling us back to that air that was free and electric and charged with meaning, purpose and direction before we died to it.

I remember saying to a doctor I had visited to get some help with depression: I said, I remember: ‘I feel that if my brain, my mind, just had a latch, a hook, a small clip or grip to catch hold on; that somehow, I could feel well again. That a little primer, or a mental leg up, or a kickstart, would be enough to begin my rehabilitation.’ I was looking for a germ, a seed, an idea, a thought, a firm thing I could without fear of collapse and relapse, base my entire recovery on.

‘The card that is so high and wild you’ll never need another’

This card was not to be drawn by me that day, or for many days and years after this conversation. The way up was difficult, slow, and filled with pain and distress, fear and uncertainty, and arduous to the point of misery. I never got that leg-up, that germ seeded; not before I had been tested and sifted and put through the wringer backwards and forwards, and I had remained unsure why I was allowing myself to carry on what seemed pointless and of no avail. I remember reciting:

‘Come what come may
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day’

I was in a small museum for Rural Life in Usk in East Wales one day with my wife and my first child in her belly. The museum was given over to much rusty and ancient farm equipment and strange shapes and implements which farmers today would be bemused and put to it to explain. Rooms of  stuff, along with some more familiar domestic hearth implements and stoves, pots and pans, bellows, a tea service, and a table laid with an antique cloth.

On the wall, almost to be missed among the vast store of memorable junk, was a Victorian Sampler, a woolen picture with a saying embroidered on it:

‘To THY Cross I Cling’

Mine was no Damascene affair, no bolt from the blue, but an awakening from a buried desperation in which hope had been incarcerated. It was slow, uncertain, wavering, fearful, worrying, and almost invisibly drawing me on. The Sampler struck me. It moved me. Almost surprised and unexpected it made me stop and realize I was feeling a response I had never felt for such a message ever before. So I was confused but attracted.

Even though I was very much better in my mind than when years back I’d visited the Doctor, I see looking back there was a very long way ahead for me to come to where I am today:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

Here was my germ, my latch, given to me at the time when I didn’t expect anything; a time when I considered I had made the upward journey out of my depression largely on my own by way of my own efforts. I was not prepared. I was not even a novitiate to this business: it was the smallest beginnings of a realization that the pompous pride of life stands (for us all) the single obstacle preventing me or you from becoming real and whole.

It wasn’t Rapunzel letting down her hair; it wasn’t Escape from Alcatraz; it began small for me that this wasn’t a fiction; that it might be worth pursuing (even then I was thinking myself behind the driving wheel) and that almost against my will I was going to pursue it.

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim goes a fair way on his journey and meets a good handful of dreadful creatures and misguided people before his author narrates that his pack on his back drops away and the weight gone from his soul. That Jesus is our Hope, and our Life and our Guide is my confirmed understanding drawn from life. He is the Liberator, the Giver of Abundant Life; the Person behind the door with the light, waiting on us to ask Him in. Do it.

The song of Master Valiant-for-Truth     by John Bunyan (1618-1688)

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avow’d intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round,
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul friend,
Can daunt his spirit:
He knows, he at the end
Shall Life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.