Tuesday, October 25, 2016

St. Crispin's Day!

"This day is called the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day and comes safe home with stand a tip-toe when the day is named, and rouse him at the name of Crispian" (King Henry, Shakespeare's Henry V).

October 25th is the anniversary of saints Crispin and Crispian, two brothers who were beheaded under Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians in the late 3rd and early 4th century (they were executed on October 25th 285 or 286, according to the Wikipedia article).

The day is also remembered as the anniversary of the English victory over the French in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Shakespeare memorialized the battle in his play, Henry V, by putting a speech into the mouth of King Henry that roused his outnumbered troops to fight valiantly in the face of the enemy and gain the glory that would assured whether in defeat or victory.

I have for the last three years had my senior rhetoric students memorize and perform the St. Crispin's Day speech and this year it just so happens that Romans Road Media is hosting a contest for anyone who can recite, from memory, the best rendition of St. Crispin's Day speech. Unlike many contests in the classical education sphere, this one is open to adults as well as students!

I will be encouraging my students (current and former) to participate in the contest, as well as some of my colleagues. I'm planning to enter myself, too. I hope the contest gets lots of participants, for several reasons. First, I hope it does well because the speech is magnificent and deserves to be memorized by many. Second, the more folks who hear and gain an interest in Shakespeare, the more folks will come to love his language, which in turn will allow them to love the English language more, too. Finally, I hope it will lead to more recitations of Shakespeare, for the reasons above and because there are so many more beautiful words of the Bard to be committed to memory and performed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sonnet for Calvin's Institutes 1.1-3

Duplex Cognitio Dei

When I consider all the ways of man,

His blesséd pow'rs, or heaven's sun and show'rs,

Or that ill state of ruin that makes him wan,

And call to God for help in lowly hours;

When eye is cast beyond the earthly haze,

And pierces through the starry heights above,

To rest on beauty, burning blind its gaze,

And falters before glory's weighty oeuvre,

Then shall a man, his God and self behold

Aright in truth: that righteousness, so pure;

That wisdom, keen; that virtue, ever bold,

That light in fullest light, none can endure,

Till he undone shall be by doom and death,

And born anew by Holy Spirit's breath.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Analysis of Good Friday. 1613. Riding Westward. By John Donne

John Donne’s poem, “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward,” offers a meditation upon Easter from the perspective of one who is caught up in worldly affairs when he would rather be taken up with heavenly considerations.
Forty-two lines arranged in 21 rhymed couplets comprise a poem of three major sections: lines 1-14 introduce a metaphor of the soul as a heavenly sphere and Christ as the Sun; lines 15-32 meditate upon the crucifixion of Christ; and lines 33-42 meet the gaze of the narrator with the gaze of Christ from the cross; concluding in a prayer for reconciliation wherein Christ and the narrator commune face to face.
The opening ten lines draw the reader to the heavens and the soul. Comparing the soul to a heavenly body matches microcosmic man and macrocosmic cosmos. However, the narrator elides the idea of musical harmony of the spheres for an image of the cosmos as a frustration of self-motion. Each sphere’s own rotation about its axis competes with the pull of the othes, such that a sphere’s self-motion occurs “scarce in a yeare.” This change highlights the soul’s contemplation of the Cross during Easter, which occurs but once a year, but ought to impel the soul’s motion every day. Instead of heavenly bodies, the pleasures and business of earth draws man’s soul away from contemplating the work of Christ. The narrator’s actual bodily movement West contrasts his soul’s desire to go East, the place from whence Christ shall return.
The meter is predominantly iambic, with a few variations that underscore the interpretation above. The poem begins with spondaic substitution, giving the first three monosyllabic words the prominence of a thesis: “Let mans Soule.” But let mans soul be what? The iamb brings the emphasis upon the metaphoric comparison: a sphere. The caesura after “sphere” allows the reader to pause for the briefest of moments to digest the thesis. The trochaic substitution in line four highlights the contrast between the idea of the soul growing—in conjunction with intelligence and devotion—and subjection to foreign motion. The soul’s motion, like the spheres’s motion, is subject to others than itself. The trochaic substitution in line six parallels line four and develops the idea of subjection—not only does the soul not move of itself, self-motion is “scarce in a yeare” obeyed. A final spondaic substitution in line nine (“Hence is’t”) marks the end of the thesis and offers a sense of finality to the claim.
Despite the thesis of the opening ten lines, the narrator nonetheless finds his soul capable of bending East, and begins a mediation upon Christ that occurs through a seamless transition from the heavenly Sun’s rising metaphorically identified with Christ’s taking up flesh, and the Sun’s setting with Christ’s crucifixion. The cosmological Son’s setting begets night, but the theological Son’s setting begets an “endlesse day.” The metaphor complete, line thirteen begins with pyrhrhic and trochaic substitutions (“But that / Christ on”) before returning to iambic feet. The result is to bring two subsequent crescendos upon “Christ” and the “Cross”. Line fourteen’s trochaic substitution in the first foot draws up the contrast contained in the couplet: Had Christ not been raised upon the Cross to fall into death, “Sinne” would have brought eternal night rather than the endlesse day of line twelve.
Line fifteen begins a new unit. There, a spondaic substitution mirrors the pattern from the first line, and a new thesis emerges. Instead of drawing the narrator’s soul into the cosmic realm, his soul transverses time and beholds the crucifixion. Line seventeen follows a chiastic meter: iambic feet enclose spondaic feet with a pyrrhic central foot. The caesura falls after “face” which allows the pyrrhic hinge to swing smoothly into the trochaic comparative claim: God’s face is “selfe life”. The sweeping rhythm of line sixteen brings the thought into relief in line eighteen as the narrator hammers two trochaic feet into an iambic foot that pauses on the caesura before driving home the emphatic contrast on an iambic to spondaic ending to the line (“to see / God dye”). If beholding God’s face, which encompasses both His own self-contained life as well as the life of all His creatures invites death, how much more a death comes from seeing God die on the cross? The scandalous image leads directly to the cosmic effects that occurred in Christ’s death: the Father’s face turned aside, the earth broken, and the sun darkened. The energy of these cataclysms invites a rising tone and pace; brought to rapid conclusion with a penultimate pyrrhic hinge shutting upon the doubly emphatic spondee (“and the / Sunne winke”).
The poet continues his meditation upon the paradoxes of the Crucifixion in lines twenty-one through twenty-eight. The narrator contemplates the four-fold implications of the cross: Christ’s all encompassing latitude pierced, his all encompassing longitude humbled, his all sustaining inner life-blood made dust; his outer fully-man-flesh torn. Line twenty-two substitutes a spondee in the second foot to emphasize the universality of Christ’s latitude: his hands span “all spheares” and then, after pausing at the caesura, a trochaic fourth foot emphasizes the paradox that these hands were “peirc’d” with holes. The twenty-fifth line appears to use a caesura to split a trochaic substitution in the third foot, pausing on the end of the question of whether the narrator could endure the humiliation of Christ, the height and depth of all created things. A spondaic substitution in the third foot of line twenty-six mirrors the one in line twenty-two: Christ’s hands “tune all spheares” and Christ’s blood seats “all our Soules.” Another parallel occurs in lines twenty-three and twenty-seven. A pyrrhic substitution succeeded by a trochee in the third and fourth feet of line twenty-seven leads into the next interrogative (thus _ _ / on “or that flesh”), which matches the introduction of the interrogative in line twenty-five where the trochaic third foot is split by the caesura and followed by an iambic foot (thus _ _ / on “or that blood”).
The narrator moves from the four-fold consequences of the cross to the mother of Christ in lines twenty-nine through thirty-two. The transition draws emphasis from the spondaic substitution at the end of line twenty-nine and the spondaic substitution split by a caesura in the fourth foot of line thirty (“durst I”. . .“mother//cast”). Lines thirty-one and thirty-two use parallel trochaic substitutions in their first lines, emphasizing the person of Mary (“Who”) and her contribution (“Halfe”). A trochee in the second foot of line thirty-one also brings emphasis upon “God” as the partner.

The last unit begins in line thirty-three with the same spondee and trochee substitution pattern as lines one and fifteen contain; the other unit markers. The entire poem plays with the notion of motion and sight: motion in space and time; and sight in terms of contemplation as well as looking upon. Line thirty-four draws the four-fold divisions of motion and sight together in the faculty of memory, through which the narrator looks upon and may be looked upon by Christ. Line thirty-five emphasizes this double-gaze with a trochaic substitution in the second and third feet (“looks towards/them and”). The caesura breaks up the fourth foot in the line, pausing to allow the spondee in the fourth foot to draw into relief the gaze of Christ reflecting back upon the gaze of the narrator. The gaze of Christ stops the narrator in a spondaic exclamation (“O Sav / iour”) in the first foot of line thirty-six that then rushes through a pyrrhic foot into an iambic, highlighting Christ’s location: hanging on the cross. The enjambment at lines thirty-seven and thirty-eight illustrates the double-nature of shame. The reader sees the narrator turning his back upon Christ and cannot tell until the next line whether his shame results in the blows of condemnation, or, as it turns out, the blows of loving chastisement. The caesura after “Corrections” in line thirty-eight allows a breath of relief before returning to the closing prayer’s plea, visible in the trochaic first foot of line thirty-nine (“O thinke”) as well as in the spondaic substitution in the fourth foot (“thine an/ger”)—the narrator calls upon Christ to care enough to be angry with rather than indifferent to his sins. The emphasis upon the chastisement continues in the spondaic substitution in the first foot of line forty (“Burne off”). The ultimate line draws the prayer to its ultimate hope with a trochaic substitution in the third foot, split by the caesura (“/ may’st know / me//and /)—that Christ would know the narrator in righteousness; that through the love of His correcting anger, his purging fire, the narrator might be known, and so look upon Christ face to face.

Update: I've uploaded a video recitation of the poem that attempts to portray the interpretation offered above.

The Loss of Glory

From Harry Blamires's book, The Christian Mind:
Men are less prepared than they were to stub their toes against unpalatable objective truth, to measure their littleness against high objective values, to discipline themselves for a test of strength in a rigorous objective examination. This is because a secular tradition has now fully established itself which teaches that man’s fulfillment and success lie, not in screwing himself up to the demands of a high vocation, but in moulding all that he encounters in service to his needs. As long as man’s destiny is seen in terms of mastery, we shall suffer from this debased tradition.
A world where man's sets the standards of worth at his own comforts is a world without glory.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

One from Donne

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this, 
The intelligence that moves, devotion is, 
And as the other Spheares, by being growne 
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne, 
And being by others hurried every day, 
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey: 
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit 
For their first mover, and are whirld by it. 
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West 
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East. 
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set, 
And by that setting endlesse day beget; 
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall, 
Sinne had eternally benighted all. 
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see 
That spectacle of too much weight for mee. 
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye; 
What a death were it then to see God dye? 
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke, 
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke. 
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles, 
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes? 
Could I behold that endlesse height which is 
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes, 
Humbled below us? or that blood which is 
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his, 
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne 
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne? 
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I 
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye, 
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus 
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us? 
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye, 
They'are present yet unto my memory, 
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee, 
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree; 
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive 
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave. 
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee, 
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity, 
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace, 
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.