Saturday, January 10, 2015

Chimes at Midnight and Columbia Presents Henry IV

It became pretty clear at the beginning of this week that the 'fortnight' for the Fortnightly Book will be three weeks this time around; ten Shakespearean plays is a pretty big chunk to bite off, particularly since I am finishing up other things this week. So that will be up next Saturday. But in the course of my reading I also watched Orson Welles' classic film, Chimes at Midnight (1966), and listened to the Columbia Presents Shakespeare version of Henry IV (1937). So I thought I would say something about them now.

Chimes at Midnight is a mish-mash of Shakespeare, drawing from Holinshead's Chronicles (one of Shakespeare's sources), Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, Henry V, and the Merry Wives of Windsor. It is essentially the story of Falstaff. Orson Welles, who plays Falstaff, regarded the character as Shakespeare's greatest, and he has an interesting take on him. He doesn't regard him, or play him, as a comic character. Witty, yes, merry, yes, but not comic. This seems to have thrown some of the early reviewers of the movie for a loop; they had difficulty making sense of the character. But part of it is that Welles thought of Falstaff as a thoroughly admirable person, with roguish foibles but no harmful failings. That's not an obvious reading of the Shakespearean character at all (indeed, the crimes of Falstaff make a rather serious list that cannot be wiped out by his joking charm), but it makes Welles's version of Falstaff a very good Falstaff: the Falstaff played by Welles is exactly the kind of Falstaff a Falstaff would be. Sir John Falstaff doesn't think of himself as in the wrong. He doesn't see himself as dragging Prince Hal down. He thinks of himself as the partisan of common sense in a crowd of silly people, as the person who sees things as they really are, as the one who knows how to live. And everything that happens confirms this to him: all these noble people with their high sense of honor do little but drag sensible men like himself into a war where he could die, killing people for a word, and what has Sir John done but liberate some coin from people who would not enjoy it as much as he, and spend it prodigally? It's not a sustainable view in the context of the two parts of Henry IV, since he is a symptom of a number of things that are wrong with the England of his day, but it's a view that Falstaff would have of Falstaff.

The result of this larger-than-life and heroic Falstaff, though, is a diminished Prince Hal (played by Keith Baxter), who is moody and unstable, who enjoys the joke but is ashamed of his company, and repudiates Falstaff in the end with something approaching cruelty. The Shakespearean idea that Hal cannot become Henry V except by outgrowing Falstaff is not thrown out. There's an interesting scene in which Falstaff monologues on how honor is but a word. In the movie he's talking to Hal. But Hal is clearly only partly listening: he spends most of the time looking out over the battlefield, because Hal, of course, does not think that honor is only a word. For Hal, honor is his true nature, what he is called to; the Falstaffian life he is leading is one he has always regarded as a dishonorable one, one in which he is not his own proper self, a life to be thrown off eventually. But all of this recedes into the background here; Hal comes across as something of a hypocrite.

Mistress Quickly, played by none other than Margaret Rutherford, is worth mentioning as well; she puts a lot into the character.

Columbia Presents Shakespeare was a summer radio series in 1937 that did about eight plays in total, I think, One of them was a one-hour presentation of Henry IV, combining both parts. What this means is that it is quite condensed; I would guess that only about fifteen minutes of the hour are actually from Part 2. Since this is radio in the 1930s, it has all-star cast: Walter Huston, Dame May Whitty, Brian Aherne, Walter Connolly, and Humphrey Bogart just before his glory years with The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. (Bogart plays Hotspur, in a solid although not stunning performance.) Prince Hal's dabbling in dissolution is played as a boys-will-be-boys, high-spirits-in-need-of-suitable-outlet way, which works as far as it goes.

One of the oddities of the radio performance is that the styles of acting don't mesh all that well. This is a danger in radio: you are usually reading a script, and you have to communicate everything by voice alone, which means that everyone basically does whatever they have to do to articulate and carry the emotion and meaning. This is particularly important with sound quality in the 1930s. It often works -- you can get a much richer range of potential interpretation of a scene than you can in film, where so much is carried visually, and in good 1930s play the sound fuzziness can even add a bit of character -- but the result here is a very traditionally 'Shakesperean' Henry IV and Falstaff interacting with a rather casual Prince Hal and Hotspur. Each part on its own is done well, but it doesn't quite come together as a whole.

Prima Facie Gratuitous Evil

A phrase one often comes across in analytic philosophy of religion is "prima facie gratuitous evil". 'Prima facie', of course, means that we are going on first appearance, 'what things look like at first glance', as we often say. Sometimes instead of "prima facie gratuitous evil" we get "seemingly gratuitous evil"; I take these to be synonymous expressions. 'Gratuitous evil' is usually glossed, when people bother to gloss it at all, as something like 'evil such that even for God there is no adequate reason, based on what good can come from it or what bad can be avoided because of it, for permitting it'.

This is a rather bizarre notion. In talking about "prima facie gratuitous evil" we are talking about evil that appears to be what omniscient omnipotence could find no reason for permitting. How does something that's not intrinsically contradictory appear to be beyond the capacity of omniscient omnipotence to have a reason for? What does 'actual thing too irrational for omniscient omnipotence' actually look like? If we're talking about 'evil that appears to be gratuitous', how would one distinguish that in appearance from 'non-gratuitous evil that appears to require just more intelligence than any human being to have adequate reason for'?

The question here is not whether there is gratuitous evil or not, nor whether gratuitous evil is possible or not, nor whether we can establish that there is gratuitous evil or not. The question is this: What does it even mean in the first place for an evil to seem at first glance to be gratuitous? Perhaps someone somewhere does so, but I have never seen anyone justify describing any evil as appearing this way; the closest one gets is a few gestures that an evil is such that there is no obvious reason for it. But not immediately appearing to have a reason, or appearing in such a way that a reason is not obvious, is not appearing to be such that even omniscient omnipotence could have no reason for it. It is not even clear what the latter would mean.

It seems to me that the 'prima facie' is in this case sheer laziness. When we say that something is 'prima facie' X, this effectively sets the default to X; it can be presumed X unless there is some good reason not to do so. It makes one side of the argument easier. But if 'prima facie' is legitimately used here, there should be precise reasons, based on appearance alone, to take the evil to be apparently beyond the capacity of even omniscient omnipotence to find reason for rather than, say, apparently what nothing less than a being a hundred million tor a trillion times wiser and more powerful than any human being could find reason for. And there is nothing that I can think of that could possibly show up in mere appearance to a human being that would be able to distinguish them. One could perhaps distinguish them by very abstract and difficult metaphysical reasoning involving what is contradictory and what is not, but just prima facie? No. One might as well talk about the prima facie difference between the absolutely impossible and the humanly inconceivable; whatever difference there might be, it's not going to be discernible in the way things look like at first glance, but only at the end of a rather painstaking analysis.

Assuming that someone is not being merely lazy or deliberately trying to rig the argument, the only other cause I can see for this bizarre expression is a confusion between 'evidential' and 'prima facie'; and, indeed, one occasionally finds the 'evidential problem of evil' mischaracterized in terms of 'prima facie gratuitous evil'. But this is not a legitimate conflation; if there is any evidential problem of evil worth taking seriously, it is not going to be based on the 'prima facie' but on serious evidential analysis.

Wish to Believe

"...Suppose there are signs of the existence of a hitherto undiscovered planet. He at once follows up the clue, not with a mere wish to know the truth in the abstract, but with a very strong wish to find more clues, and ultimately to find convincing reasons for believing that the planet exists. His love of truth is directed to a hope for discovery in this particular matter. This it is which stimulates his efforts. And this is, as I say, the wish to believe if reasonable belief is possible—a wish for conviction that what seems probable is true. The only reason why the wish to believe has ever been opposed to the wish for truth is because it is so frequently an insincere wish—a wish to maintain or hold a thing, and not the wish to know it to be true—that we are unaccustomed to think of it in this latter aspect. It is in reality the concrete form which the abstract wish for truth constantly takes."

Wilfrid Philip Ward, "The Wish to Believe", Witnesses to the Unseen, and Other Essays, p. 268. Walton, the character speaking, soon after amends 'wish for truth' to 'wish for knowledge' in the hope that it will be less misleading.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Key to Mill's Utilitarianism

I saw a comment the other day by someone saying that he didn't think a coherent utilitarianism could be derived from John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism. This seems a common sentiment. If it were true, I would say that it's so much the worse for utilitarianism, since my own view is that only Mill-style utilitarians are even serious contenders. But it is not, I think, true. The problem people have with Mill's account is that they read it with false assumptions about utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is often characterized so as to suggest that we have an obligation to take that option which contributes to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The key to understanding the coherence of Mill's utilitarianism is that Mill denies this. On Mill's account, we do not have an obligation to conform to the greatest happiness principle.

There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the simplest to grasp is that Mill is a positivist about obligation: on his account of obligation, obligations have to be created by imposing sanction. If there is no sanction imposed, there is no obligation. Short of affirming a divine command theory, however, which Mill certainly does not, this means that there are no natural obligations at all. We make our own obligations by education (cultivating conscience) or by public opinion or by law.

For Mill, the greatest happiness principle or principle of utility is not primarily concerned with obligation but practical reason. You can fail to conform to the greatest happiness principle without violating any obligations at all. The greatest happiness principle simply determines what is most reasonable. Failures to conform to the greatest happiness principle are less reasonable than they could be. Some such actions are unreasonable (or in the case of things we contemplate aesthetically, ugly, but this isn't discussed much in Utilitarianism), which is to say, there are lots of obvious options that would bring us closer to fulfilling the greatest happiness principle. But, of course, Mill has no interest in saying that stupidity is immoral. The greatest happiness principle is the primary standard for whether any of our plans are any good; but merely following a bad plan doesn't automatically make you morally wrong. In order to get to moral wrongness, he thinks we need to introduce sanction. Those things are morally wrong that are so unreasonable (according to the greatest happiness principle, as far as we can see that it applies) that it would be reasonable (according to the greatest happiness principle, as far as we can see that it applies) for us to punish those who did them, leading us actually to punish those who did them (by guilt, shaming, or legal punishment).

This has a number of implications for Mill's system. It's why our typical moral rules need to be respected (Mill places an immense amount of importance on doing one's duty), but also why they can be improved upon. It's why we can have conflicting duties (since the obligation derives not from the principle of utility itself but from how we go about sanctioning it, and in particular cases, even if we are being purely reasonable, what we are sanctioning in one way might interfere with what we are sanctioning in a different way). It's why he sometimes sounds like a rule utilitarian and sometimes like an act utilitarian -- one of the reasons why, anyway. It's why he thinks the principle of utility hardly needs much defense at all, since he thinks we all implicitly appeal to it whenever we make any plans or decisions at all. It is a significant factor in his divergence from Bentham, and is part of why Mill can hold that Bentham is right as far as he goes and yet also fatally incomplete. It goes part of the way to giving us an answer of why Mill thinks the principle of utility is consistent with the principle of harm he gives in On Liberty. And it is a necessary precondition for the Art of Life that he lays out in System of Logic.

This is not to say that there aren't issues that could be raised when it comes to Mill's utilitarianism. But the basic structure is quite coherent when you realize that we aren't morally required to conform to the greatest happiness principle itself.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Music on My Mind

Kat Krazy ft. Elkka, "Siren (Acoustic Version)".

Shallow and Abstruse

The greater part of mankind may be divided into two classes; that of shallow thinkers, who fall short of the truth; and that of abstruse thinkers, who go beyond it. The latter class are by far the most rare: and I may add, by far the most useful and valuable. They suggest hints, at least, and start difficulties, which they want, perhaps, skill to pursue; but which may produce fine discoveries, when handled by men who have a more just way of thinking. At worst, what they say is uncommon; and if it should cost some pains to comprehend it, one has, however, the pleasure of hearing something that is new. An author is little to be valued, who tells us nothing but what we can learn from every coffee-house conversation.

All people of shallow thought are apt to decry even those of solid understanding, as abstruse thinkers, and metaphysicians, and refiners; and never will allow any thing to be just which is beyond their own weak conceptions.

David Hume, "Of Commerce".

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics IX

The dividing line between Book VIII and Book IX of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics seems to be arbitrary, since it occurs right in the middle of what one can think of as discussion of friendship and dispute. Some commentators have noted, though, that whereas Book VIII seems mostly concerned with friendship as a social phenomenon, Book IX seems mostly concerned with friendship insofar as we find it in the individual.

I have already looked at Book VIII. You can read Nicomachean Ethics Book IX online in English at the Perseus Project.

Asymmetric Friendships

Where A and B are friends, but do not have the same aim in the friendship, preservation of the equality required for friendship depends on being able to maintain some kind of proportion in what people get in the friendship. People fight and break up when they are not getting what they think is important to the friendship. This is why friendships of utility, however pedestrian they may seem in comparison to pleasure-friendships like erotic relationships, tend to work reasonably well despite dissimilarity in aims. A shoemaker and a person buying shoes have dissimilar aims in the friendship (remember, all our social interactions are friendships of one kind or another on Aristotle's account), but there is an objective way to measure whether both sides are getting what they want (namely, contract and money), and, whatever its limits, this often works quite well: I pay you, you give me shoes, and as long as we're both trying to make it work, we both get what we want and neither feels put upon. Contrast this with erotic relationships, in which proportion is extremely difficult to maintain, thus often leading people to complain that they were promised everything and then got nothing, and this can be the case even if both parties are genuinely trying to make things work (i.e., haven't already started dissolving the friendship). This is especially like to happen, Aristotle notes, when friends love each other for their qualities rather than for themselves, which is another reason why virtue-friendships are the most stable friendships of all, since such friendships exist for their own sake.

Aristotle considers the question of whose judgment matters more when deciding the value of a benefit. He uses the example of teaching. Protagoras is said to have taught, and then left it to his students to decide what they thought the teaching worth; but others think it better if everyone pays the same. Sophists in general, on the other hand, take money beforehand on extravagant promises of success and then don't do what they were supposed to do, leading to complaints. But we also see that there are lots of cases where there's no definite contract, and in such cases we tend to think that it's unreasonable to complain about having received a benefit from a person who did not have to give it in the first place, even if it's not the benefit you would have preferred. In cases of piety -- which we have with the gods, or our parents, or people who teach us philosophy -- we are given an extraordinary benefit we cannot repay, and so maintaining equality with your philosophy teacher has to be understood in terms of just returning what you rationally can. In cases of clear contract or conditional benefit, on the other hand, what obviously makes the most sense is for each to give what seems fair to both, which is the standard at which we aim at friendships involving buying and selling. In each case, we have to take into account what is appropriate to the friendship itself.

Breaking Off Friendships

When is it a good idea to break off friendships? It seems clear enough with utility-friendships and pleasure-friendships that they should break up when the grounds for them are gone. But things get a clear complicated when we are dealing with utility-friendships or pleasure-friendships that people treat as if they were virtue-friendships; the single most dangerous thing to a friendship is for people not really to be friends in the way they think they are.

With virtue-friendships, we have situations in which someone actually turns out not to be virtuous at all. We might hold that they can be rehabilitated, and so try to maintain the friendship on those grounds; but we can also see that if this didn't seem possible, a person might reasonably give up on the friendship. What if, however, the difference arises not because of any vice, but because one of the friends turns out to be much more virtuous than the other? This is a trickier issue. Obviously if the gap were small, it wouldn't matter, but the larger the gap, the more difficult it is to maintain the equality of the friendship. Aristotle's example is of a virtue-friendship that begins with childhood. What if one of the friends grows up and the other remains childish in mind? Despite both being virtuous, they will not approve and disapprove the same things, nor be able easily to share in each other's joys and sorrows, nor live together as equals. But Aristotle does not that even when a friendship like this must be dissolved, it makes sense to govern our relations with someone by our prior friendship with them.

Loving One's Friend as Oneself

The section of Aristotle's discussion of friendship that has had the most influence through the ages is that which begins at IX.4, because of its interesting relation to Christian ethics. In this part of the discussion, he argues that in loving a friend we are in some way loving them as we love ourselves, particularly if we are virtuous. In particular:

(1) A virtuous person is not divided of mind but in agreement with himself.
(2) A virtuous person wishes real good for himself.
(3) A virtuous person wishes his life and mind to be preserved.
(4) A virtuous person spends time with himself, in memory and anticipation of the future, and enjoys doing so because he has nothing to regret.

These are the kinds of things we recognize as appropriate to friendship, so even if we want to rule out the idea that you can be friends with yourself, it is still the case that a virtuous person stands to his friend in such a way that his friend is a sort of 'other self'. This, Aristotle notes, emphasizes the importance of virtue for friendship, since the more wicked we are, the less able we are to be genuine friends, not even being able to treat ourselves in a friendly way.

This recognition of the importance of virtue continues as Aristotle goes through several things that in some way pertain to friendship: benevolence, concord, and beneficence. Benevolence or goodwill is not itself friendship because it need not be mutual, loving, or close. But we can think of it as a sort of latent friendship, since friendship can originate from it. However, what kind of friendship most naturally arises from benevolence? Virtue-friendship, because genuine goodwill is more concerned with what is actually good than with being useful or pleasant. Concord has to do with agreement about what is beneficial, and Aristotle argues that it is a kind of civic friendship. But concord is again something that is more properly found rooted in virtue than in anything else, since the virtuous person has a sort of inner concord, and virtue-friendships are therefore more naturally a kind of concord than any other friendship. Beneficence is a bit trickier, because the relationship between benefactor and beneficiary is asymmetrical, thus making it relatively easy for a situation to arise in which the benefactor loves the beneficiary as a sort of extension of himself, while the beneficiary loves the benefactor primarily as a choice of benefits. (As Aristotle often does, he uses the motherhood as a primary example of asymmetric friendship.)

Aristotle passes on to the question of whether you should love yourself or others more. On the one hand, we do not regard in a favorable light people who love themselves more than anything, and we often find that bad people in some way are selfish, whereas good people are often neglecting themselves in favor of friends. But, he argues, this is all highly misleading. If we should love most the person who is most our friend, well, in a sense we are our own best friend, especially if we are virtuous. If the virtuous person treats a friend as 'another self', it follows from this that all the characteristic governing how much you should love a friend are found most in the virtuous person's relation with himself or herself. All the proverbial things we say about friendship have the implication that we should actually love ourselves most of all.

The obvious issue here is what is meant by loving oneself. When we say someone is selfish, we are generally saying that they try to get money, pleasure, and recognition for themselves; we aren't saying that they are trying to get genuine good, like virtue, for themselves. But (as we've already seen) the virtuous person is the person who can most properly be said to love himself or herself. So there is an unselfish self-love, and in this kind of love of self is the root of the kind of love of others that makes for the best kinds of friendships. This kind of person will sacrifice money, honor, and pleasure for a friend. But in doing so he is, in a sense, wishing a greater good for himself than for his friend, since he is giving himself the benefit of being noble, while only giving the friend some other, lesser kind of advantage. Or to put it in other words: the best kind of friends love themselves more than they love their friends, and it is because their self-love is of a noble kind that they are able to love their friends so well. We might also say that for the virtuous person, love of a friend is already a part of -- and therefore in that sense less than -- love of self.

Happiness and Friendship

The aim of all human action, on Aristotle's view, is eudaimonia, the complete good of a rational life. The best translation for this used to be happiness, although the term has shifted enough that it's a difficult fit now. When Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence says that one of our inalienable rights is "pursuit of happiness", he did not mean that we had an inalienable right to try to have fun (which would be a stupid thing to have a bloody revolution over), but that we had an inalienable right to try to achieve a life that was genuinely appropriate to human beings. Unfortunately, we don't really have any words that fit this older idea of happiness well, so translators often flounder a bit on the question, trying things like 'flourishing'. I think I will stick with happiness, as long as it's clear that it is to be understood as 'life we can call blessed' rather than 'feeling of happiness'.

Happy people are self-sufficient on their own, so it might seem that they don't need friends; but, on the other side, it seems absurd to think that the culmination of human life would be having every important kind of good except friendship, or that human beings, who are civic animals, would be fulfilled by becoming solitary. Aristotle suggests that if you think of happiness as being something you can have without friends, it is primarily because you are thinking in terms of utility-friendships; the happy person, qua happy person, would not need these kinds of friendships. And the same is the case if we are thinking in terms of pleasure-friendships, since the happy person is satisfied without having to find pleasures in other people. With virtue-friendships, though, it is entirely different; everything that we can identify as being something suitable to a happy life is something we can identify as being even more appropriate to a happy life with virtue-friendships. For instance, someone with a genuinely happy life will take joy in virtue; but this is more easily done if you have virtuous friends. It likewise seems clear that a virtuous friend is by nature the sort of thing that is worthy of being part of a virtuous life, since a virtuous person loves a virtuous friend as another self.

One might think from this that we should get as many friends as possible. With utility-friendships this is often not true; being as useful to others as they are to you is often hard work. It makes sense that we should have only those utility-friendships that are adequate for living our lives. And, Aristotle says, we should see pleasure-friendships is a similar way, as a sort of seasoning. But virtue-friendships are so good in themselves that it's not obvious that we should restrict ourselves. But Aristotle notes that we can't have room in our lives for endless numbers of friends, because there are only so many people you can genuinely share your life with. Thus in reality the best route is what we naturally tend to do anyway: we keep our profound friendships few, because those who try to be friends with everyone are really not much different from people who are friends with no one, and are not generally regarded as admirable people. (It should perhaps be noted here that Aristotle is not talking about being friendly. Friendliness in Aristotle is the virtue concerned with keeping open the possibility of friendship, and is an admirable quality; this is different from actively trying to be friends with lots and lots of people, and is something people in practice tend to treat with contempt.)

Aristotle then goes on to argue that we need friends more when we are dealing with bad fortune, but that it is more splendid to have them in good fortune. This is partly due to the fact that bad fortune can be alleviated by receiving benefits from friends, but good fortune gives us the means to do good to our friends. Even if our friends can't help us in our bad fortune, however, it is pleasant just to have friends, although this is complicated by the possibility that our being in bad fortune might cause them pain. In particular, Aristotle says, this is true of those who are manly by nature; they will go out of their way to avoid causing their friends distress, even if they themselves are in distress, whereas women and effeminate men in misery get pleasure from the commiseration of others. (There is no question about which Aristotle considers the better way.) There is also the point that good fortune is by nature the kind of thing to be shared with friends, whereas bad fortune is obviously not the kind of thing we are eager to share with friends; this means that in a healthy friendship, we try to make sure that, when in bad fortune, we call on our friends to help only in ways that would do us great good with as little trouble to them as possible. On the other side, though, it's obviously the part of a friend to benefit friends in trouble, even if they haven't demanded it; so in a healthy friendship, one tries to do good to one's friends in such a way that even when in trouble they don't have to demand anything of oneself, because one has already done it. The overall implication is that friendships is something that is appropriate to all conditions of human life.

Aristotle ends his discussion by talking about friendship-activities. All friendship activities in some way have to do with the sharing of life. Because of that, what we want to share with our friends is the kind of thing we want for ourselves -- we want to be able to share with our friends an answer to the question, "Why is it good to be alive?" This is why we tend to associate friendship with certain kinds of social activity that make life good in some way -- drinking, gambling, athletics, hunting, and philosophy are the examples Aristotle gives. We share with friends, and we share the things we like. This is why friendship with bad people is degrading and friendship with good people is improving: bad people are likely to share bad activities, while good people are likely to share good activities.

And that's essentially the end of Aristotle's discussion of friendship, which is one of the most important and influential philosophical discussions in history.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Trouble with Kindness

The real trouble is that "kindness" is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that "his heart's in the right place" and "he wouldn't hurt a fly," though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Collier (New York: 1962) p. 56.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Awkward Knot and Hidden Stronghold

There is another way in which true and false philosophers indirectly witness to the truth and advance its cause. Their intellectual efforts identify the crux of the problem, that is, the awkward knot which they have vainly tried to untie, and which caused many of them, despite their utmost endeavours, to fall into error. Knowing where the problem lies represents an important stage on the way to the attainment of truth, which cannot be assailed in its hidden stronghold unless the fortress defending it has been inspected from all sides.

Bl. Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies, Murphy, tr., Rosmini House (Durham:2004) p. 106. (This is the preface to Rosmini's Introduction to Philosophy.)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Two Poem Drafts

Both rather dark this time around. La llorona (the weeping lady) is a legend about a woman who loved a man so deeply that she drowned her own children in order to be with him; but he repudiated her, so she drowned herself as well, and now roams the world weeping, searching for her children. The legend itself is originally Mexican, but I first came across the story in New Mexican form while in elementary school in New Mexico.

La Llorona

The rain is salt; the roiling sky
with wailing wind is ripped and torn;
the thunder rumbles, earth replies,
and lightning cracks through biting storm.
The desert's grief is hard and worn,
its nights are mournful, dark, forlorn:
as swiftly as each life is born,
so lightning-like it fails and dies,
and weeping takes the roiling sky.


In darkest night the thieves and robbers range;
they violate and murder without fear
until the tyrant Time commands a darker fate
and lets the wolves take wolves, and gnash and tear.

The withered bays beneath the falling stars
like arid bones are framed against the sky;
a pale moon, like water washed with blood,
looks down as weathered prophets prophesy.

The shadows roam the earth; the darkness seeps
and saps the blood; the winter steals the breath;
the rats in houses creep and gnaw the rotting walls.
A sickness gnaws our bones: we are the food of death.

On high no moon is seen. This madness here
is not a madness born of moonlight, but of loss,
and distantly dark blood from torment flows:
the nightshade drips beneath a wooden cross.

Prophet, Priest, and King Supreme

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
by Christopher Wordsworth

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David's stem,
In Thy birth at Bethlehem.
Anthems be to Thee addressed
God in man made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan's stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,
And at Cana, Wedding-guest,
In Thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine.
Anthems be to Thee addressed
God in man made manifest.

Manifest in making whole
Palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight,
Quelling all the devil's might;
Manifest in gracious will,
Ever bringing good from ill.
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.

Sun and moon shall darkened be,
Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see His glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.

Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord,
Mirrored in Thy holy Word;
May we imitate Thee now
And be pure as pure art Thou
That we like to Thee may be
At Thy great Epiphany
And may praise Thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest.

A solid hymn for Epiphany, which is Tuesday, but liturgically celebrated today in many jurisdictions. Christopher Wordsworth, an Anglican who was Bishop of Lincoln, was the nephew of William Wordsworth. He was most famous in his day for his book on the geography and archeology of Greece, which became a sort of standard guide for Englishmen traveling to Greece, and his work in putting together a critical edition of the New Testament in the original Greek. He wrote a book of hymns for every Sunday and Holy Day of the year, The Holy Year; this is actually the hymn for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, where it served as a recapitulation of the ideas found in the readings of the preceding weeks. It is often found in hymnals because it was one of the hymns added to the supplementary Appendix of one of the most influential hymnbooks of the nineteenth century, a book that served as the model for an immense number of hymnals, Hymns Ancient and Modern.