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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wartime poetry....

from one of my all-time favorite poets. I love Alfred Noyes because he was oh-so English and because he loved America. I love him because he had the perfect knack for the story and the melody of poetry. I love him because he was a Catholic convert. Oh, gosh, there are so many reasons I love him! I hope you enjoy the following pieces on suffering in victory and consolation and defeat. I know they inspired me. Have a blessed Memorial/Decoration/Victoria Day!


Victory

I.
Before those golden altar-lights we stood,
Each one of us remembering his own dead.
A more than earthly beauty seemed to brood
On that hushed throng, and bless each bending head.


Beautiful on that gold, the deep-sea blue

Of those young seamen, ranked on either side,
Blent with the khaki, while the silence grew
Deep, as for wings--Oh, deep as England's pride.



Beautiful on that gold, two banners rose--

Two flags that told how Freedom's realm was made,
One fair with stars of hope, and one that shows
The glorious cross of England's long crusade;



Two flags, now joined, till that high will be done

Which sent them forth to make the whole world one.




II.



There were no signs of joy that eyes could see.

Our hearts were all three thousand miles away.
There were no trumpets blown for victory.
A million dead were calling us that day.



And eyes grew blind, at times; but grief was deep,

Deeper than any foes or friends have known;
For Oh, my country's lips are locked to keep
Her bitterest loss her own, and all her own.



Only the music told what else was dumb,

The funeral march to which our pulses beat;
For all our dead went by, to a muffled drum
We heard the tread of all those phantom feet.



Yes. There was victory! Deep in every soul.

We heard them marching to their unseen goal.




III.



There, once again, we saw the Cross go by,

The Cross that fell with all those glorious towers,
Burnt black in France or mocked on Calvary,
Till--in one night--the crosses rose like flowers,
Legions of small white crosses, mile on mile,
Pencilled with names that had outfought all pain,
Where every shell-torn acre seems to smile--
_Who shall destroy the cross that rose again?_



Out of the world's Walpurgis, where hope perished,

Where all the forms of faith in ruin fell,
Where every sign of heaven that earth had cherished
Shrivelled among the lava-floods of hell,



The eternal Cross that conquers might with right

Rose like a star to lead us through the night.




IV.



How shall the world remember? Men forget:

Our dead are all too many even for Fame!
Man's justice kneels to kings, and pays no debt
To those who never courted her acclaim.



Cheat not your heart with promises to pay

For gifts beyond all price so freely given.
Where is the heart so rich that it can say
To those who mourn, 'I will restore your heaven'?



But these, with their own hands, laid up their treasure

Where never an emperor can break in and steal,
Treasure for those that loved them past all measure
In those high griefs that earth can never heal,



Proud griefs, that walk on earth, yet gaze above,

Knowing that sorrow is but remembered love.




V.



Love that still holds us with immortal power,

Yet cannot lift us to His realm of light;
Love that still shows us heaven for one brief hour
Only to daunt the heart with that sheer height;



Love that is made of loveliness entire

In form and thought and act; and still must shame us
Because we ever acknowledge and aspire,
And yet let slip the shining hands that claim us.



O, if this Love might cloak with rags His glory,

Laugh, eat and drink, and dwell with suffering men,
Sit with us at our hearth, and hear our story,
This world--we thought--might be transfigured then.



'But Oh,' Love answered, with swift human tears,

'All these things have I done, these many years.'




VI.



'This day,' Love said, 'if ye will hear my voice;

I mount and sing with birds in all your skies.
I am the soul that calls you to rejoice.
And every wayside flower is my disguise.



'Look closely. Are the wings too wide for pity?

Look closely. Do these tender hues betray?
How often have I sought my Holy City?
How often have ye turned your hearts away?



'Is there not healing in the beauty I bring you?

Am I not whispering in green leaves and rain,
Singing in all that woods and seas can sing you?
Look, once, on Love, and earth is heaven again.



'O, did your Spring but once a century waken,

The heaven of heavens for this would be forsaken.'




VII.



There's but one gift that all our dead desire,

One gift that men can give, and that's a dream,
Unless we, too, can burn with that same fire
Of sacrifice; die to the things that seem;



Die to the little hatreds; die to greed;

Die to the old ignoble selves we knew;
Die to the base contempts of sect and creed,
And rise again, like these, with souls as true.



Nay (since these died before their task was finished)

Attempt new heights, bring even their dreams to birth:--
Build us that better world, Oh, not diminished
By one true splendor that they planned on earth.



And that's not done by sword, or tongue, or pen,

There's but one way. God make us better men.

The Lost Battle

It is not over yet-the fight
Where those immortal dreamers failed.
They stormed the citadels of night,
And the night praised them-and prevailed.
So long ago the cause was lost
We scarce distinguish friend from foe;
But-if the dead can help it most-
The armies of the dead will grow.


The world has all our banners now,

And filched our watchwords for its own.
The world has crowned the ' rebel's ' brow
And millions crowd his lordly throne.
The masks have altered. Names are names.
They praise the 'truth' that is not true.
The ' rebel' that the world acclaims
Is not the rebel Shelley knew.



We may not build that Commonweal,

We may not reach the goal we set;
But there's a flag they dare not steal.
Forward! It is not over yet.
We shall be dust and under dust,
Before we end that ancient wrong;
But there's a sword that cannot rust,
And where's the death can touch a song?



So, when our bodies rot in earth,

The singing souls that once were ours,
Weaponed with light and helmed with mirth,
Shall front the kingdoms and the powers.
The ancient lie is on its throne,
And half the living still forget;
But, since the dead are all our own,

Courage, it is not over yet. 




"Courage, it is not over yet....."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

History.....

is replete with “wars and rumors of wars”. Paradoxically, in a world so obsessed with material success, lost causes usually generate the most intense fascination. The Royal House of Stuart that shaped the political and social landscape of the British Isles for much of the 17th and 18th centuries serves as a case in point. Fighting alternately to retain or regain the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, they inspired an impressive following through a combination of rashness and resolve. Even though they were eventually forced into permanent exile from their realms, they left behind a legacy of romantic nostalgia that continues to touch a chord with many today.

     For some high church traditionalists, this borders on a form of pseudo-religious devotion. An antique dealer from Virginia told me a story about a Professor from Christendom College who visited his home and, spying a portrait of King Charles I hanging above the mantelpiece, fell down on his knees in melodramatic awe. Having taken place in an area of America commonly associated with “Cracker Culture”, Cavalier etiquette, and the lost cause of the Confederacy, the mindset behind the genuflecting seems almost to have come full circle from days of yore.

    While this may be dismissed as nothing more than theatrics by an exclusive clique, it also illustrates the enduring victory that that the Stuarts have achieved in their conquest of the imagination. The virtues and vices that proved their undoing and made them larger than life also assured that they would transcend death, and their doomed heroism became enshrined in the trappings of martyrdom. Nothing epitomizes this more than the standard of King Charles I, which appeared to “bleed” during a ferocious storm following his rally at Nottingham on the eve of The English Civil War.

     Since it is a human need to embrace suffering as redemptive, martyrs never fail to penetrate the national consciousness. Just as the Confederates are now viewed as a part of the American experience, so the Royalists and Jacobites have quietly come to represent the very crux of Britishness. In striving so valiantly against their ill-starred destiny, they earned the admiration of the People as representatives of the “old religion” and the “old ways” coming up against the logical and illogical hurdles of the modern age. Ironically, their failure as rebels also assured that they could be subsumed into the story of the establishment they worked so hard to disrupt and which crushed them so mercilessly.

   They became one with Robin Hood shooting his final arrow, and King Arthur casting Excalibur into the lake, and the Catholic Priest hurling his rosary into a crowd gathered to watch him die. They proved that when there seemingly nothing left to be gained nor lost, the rawest form of courage stands out like a diamond in the rough. And that, in the end, that is the ultimate gain. It is the greatness borne out of sorrow that reflects Christ’s Passion on the Cross and that paves the way for the Resurrection to come.

    In the “story after the story”, there is also a message of resilience and regeneration often overlooked. Ever so slowly, in spite of savage governmental reprisals and a deep sectarian divide, a united People emerged on the island of Britain in the aftermath of the wars, just as a united People would emerge on the Continent of America after North and South were nearly split apart over a hundred years afterwards. Both nations would find their strength and common bonds invaluable when they faced off tyrants who threatened to enslave the world. The ground would not be barren forever. Purple flowers would bloom in the bloodied ash.

    These are the things that make the Stuart heritage timeless, even if some of the lore is fanciful in nature, exaggerated or distorted in the process of the telling. The grim determination of some scholarly circles to strip the embroidery and extract only the cold, hard statistics denies the necessity of romance to the human psyche. Spinning yarns is as instinctive as the will to live and is written in the natural law of our species. It teaches us about ourselves. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man while fable tells us about a million men.”

    J.R.R. Tolkien elaborated, “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
 
   C.S. Lewis concurred: “He accuses all myth and fantasy and romance of wishful thinking: the way to silence him is to be more realistic than he – to lay our ears closer to the murmur of life as it actually flows through us at every moment and to discovery there all that quivering and wonder and (in a sense) infinity which the literature that he calls realistic omits.”   

    Stories must have flexibility and fluidity, a pulse and a passion like the rush of river that brooks no quelling. Perhaps it all a matter of finding “the middle way” between the spice of realism and sugar of romance that is the most fulfilling, capturing accuracy of spirit without diminishing the mystical. An appropriate allusion would be to the ancient bards, who served as the collective memories of their clans and could walk between warring factions unharmed because of their power as keepers of the law and tellers of tales. For fulfilling both of these necessities, viewed as equally important, they were feared and revered.

    It is with this in mind that I embark on my search for the Cavaliers, Jacobites, Roundheads, and Hanoverians, real and imagined, seeking to share my discoveries and occasional insights with fellow time-travelers looking for unusual brushstrokes to add to the big picture. For those who believe in the workings of Providence and the beauty of mystery and everlasting nature of the soul, historical studies are a unique opportunity to grow in spiritual awareness and connect with those who have gone before us. As an old Celtic prayer for the departed reads:

    “May God bless all the company of souls here. May God and Mary bless you. You too were here as we are now, and we hope to join you soon. May we all be adorned in the bright King of Heaven.”
    Through my interaction with the living and my prayers for the deceased in the process of my literary adventure, I have come to see the wisdom in the Celtic belief that the journey is ultimately as important as the destination. It is a form of travel from which no one returns the same.




King Charles I plants "The Bleeding Standard" at Nottingham
 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

This February....

I wavered on whether or not to reenter Hanover Has Talent. The auditions and rehearsals tended to be too early or too late or simply too long. I didn’t have the musical assistance of Maestro Pat this year, since his wife’s passing. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to sing. My dad and I experimented with premise of doing a medley of “English Recusant” songs, such as Newman’s “Lead Kindly Light”, “Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”, with a tune written by Loreena McKennitt, and Tolkien’s “Edge of Night,” from the LotR Trilogy performed by Billy Boyd. I was also tempted to toss in Chesterton’s rollicking “Rolling English Road.” But all threads didn’t’ sew together very well, and we had zero background instrumentals, so I was tempted to quite.
    
    Then, late on the night before the audition, my dad convinced me to stick it out and perform my personal composition, “Our Lady of Britannia.” I agreed it was appropriate, as I feel that song is very much my personal mission statement and validation of the love that I have for Britain’s Catholic heritage. Hence, next morning, we headed down to the local UCC church to audition, and I was accepted. We were also informed that this year the contest would be held at the Eichelberger Performing Arts Center and that the sound systems were splendiferous. Why do these thing never live up to the legend, I wonder???

    On rehearsal night, I met up with my friend from church, Aubryana, who was going to be singing “Memories” from the musical Cats. We watched the panoply of performances from our seats in the bleachers, waiting for our turns. One elderly gentleman named Glen stood out in particular as he did a soft shoe dance and lip-sung Sammy Davis’ “One.” There were a lot of other dancers whose talented presentation was only dimmed by their skimpy choice in costuming, exposing as much as possible even in the winter cold.

    All this time, it was becoming increasingly evident that the mics were not quite as marvelous as foretold. When my turn came to sing, the tin-can reverb rattled in my head and prevented me from hearing myself properly. In addition to this, I was worried that my pre-recorded keyboard harp instrumental lacked the right zooph, and had previously attempted get a synthesizer added to the track by Ken, heir to Pat’s Studio Empire. But it was in vain at such a late date without offering him quite a fee for his services! Hence I was feeling just a tad uncomfortable with the whole set-up. I was slightly tempted to bow out the night before, but then felt obligated to go through with it since I did sign up.

    The next morning was frigid, and the nip in the air easily penetrated my Renaissance-style dress. I met with my fellow female contestants in the ladies’ dressing room, complete with a star on the door and broad mirrors inside. There we got to talking about varied topics, such as Disney Pixar films, school, elderly relatives, musicals, etc. Then as the show began, we moved up to the back-stage area. I once again encountered Derik, big-voice-YAM extraordinaire, who paced about doing vocal exercise to prepare himself to sing “You Raise Me Up.” Since there was an award of free studio recording time to whoever got the most claps, he was also quite keen to hear how everyone else was faring!

    The overall feeling that I took away from the contest was that I was experiencing a tapestry of stories being sewn together. From the unrequited love of Les Miserables sung by Tory in the her revolutionary beret and scarf, to the pulse-pounding guitar chords of “Grenade” by Taylor in her blue jeans, to the painful nostalgia of “Memories” sung by Aubryana in her dazzling White evening gown, to the merry antics of Cameron playing “Wipe-Out” on his drum and Ms. Linda having to keep her bargain to dance with it, to Glen dancing and Mr. Mummert sitting astride his cello and plucking it enthusiastically, to Paul the venerable country guitarist. It was all a colorful display, fully of artistic energy.

    When my turn came, I must much more nervous than I thought I would be. I suppose performers begin to nurture the false belief that they have somehow “outgrown” stage-fright at a certain point. It doesn’t really hold water, especially confronted with tinny mics! Sitting in the chair just beyond the curtain and listing to Ms. Linda announce me, I started to feel rather ill. When I finally came out on the stage, though, I actually felt a lot better that I thought I would since the lights were so bright I couldn’t really see much of the audience and found myself gesturing naturally as I sang and getting the real feel of it. My ever-so-wonderful papa managed to get up to the top of the balcony and ask the soundman to cut down on the reverb, so the tin-can-effect was greatly diluted.

    At the end of the contest, we all marched out on stage to find out who came out on top this year. To my amazement, I was the first one called on to step forward as a finalist! I honestly didn’t expect this, as my music paled in comparison to some of the others. But then perhaps in some strange way, the simplicity of it highlighted my voice better. Next up was Derik, then Cameron, then Paul, then, amazingly, Glen. Paul won the most claps and got free studio time. Aubryana little sister wound up winning audience favorite. The rest of us received bouquets of roses and waited for the judges’ final decision. I was standing next to Derik, and could tell he assumed he had it in the bag.

   Then wonder of wonders…..they chose Glen!!! Derik had the most amusing strained smirk I have ever seen as Glen burst into tears and the audience erupted in chants of “Glen!! Glen!! Glen!!” The fact is that Glen had been a beloved teacher and his students had come out to support him. Also, the judges knew he needed the win most, emotionally and financially. His mom, with whom he had been very close, and the two of them had consistently gone to shows together. He may not have done the best act in the world, and grumblers might have cause to say it was not blind judgment. But the subsequent turn of events proved that he was, indeed, the fittest man to be winner.

    Several weeks afterwards, I got a letter in the mail from Glen and a check for $50. He had split the rest of his winnings between a needed car repair, a former student who had terminal cancer, and the rest of the finalists. With the money, I purchased a bodhran drum which is now my heart’s delight since I love the feeling of almost riding within a piece of music and becoming an intrinsic part of it. Perhaps Glen’s winning was a lesson for everyone. It brings to mind a Bible verse: “The Lord judges not by appearances, but by the heart.”

    Per my participation in Hanover Has Talent, I was signed up to take part in a radio broadcast at the local WHBR Real Country station for their Shelter the Homeless Marathon. However, things on the home front became a bit travailing due to the huge ice storm that struck the east coast and conked out our power. And when the electricity goes out around here, it means no running water either! ‘Tis one of the downsides of country living. Hence, my mother and father and I had to lug up water bottles from down in the basement, light lots of candles and battery-operated lanterns, huddle around the wood-burning stove, and get used to a really depressing few days without warm food, TV, internet, CD player, etc.

    In spite of these obstacles, we managed to make it out for the radio show where I was interviewed about the story behind the writing of “Our Lady of Britannia” and my personal interests. I explained how the song was very much of a tribute to Catholicism in Britain and the trials of the Catholic martyrs. It is also a prayer for The United Kingdom, and, as the final stanza says that she should “stand united, a stronghold for the free.” Also, first and foremost, it contains the hope that Britain will return to both their worship of Jesus Christ and devotion to His Blessed Mother. Then I sang the song.

    When we returned home that evening, the lights were still out and life still on hold, I decided to crack open G.K. Chesterton’s epic “The Ballad of the White Horse”. Reading it by candlelight added to the impression of timelessness the piece exudes. With regards to a story blending history and legend with timeless philosophy and theology, it stands among the literary masterpieces of all time. I would love to hear some of it put to music and sung. Well, actually, a little piece has been, in “Our Lady of Britannia”:

When Alfred led his warriors to battle for the land
Within the White Horse Valley, thou gave him strength to stand
Seven Swords were pierced through thy heart, and one was in thy hand
Our Lady of Britannia, Ora Pro Nobis!

   

Reading by Candlight


Thursday, May 1, 2014

"United"......

is a poem I've written in honor of the UK's 307th "birthday", the day on which the Acts of Union between Scotland and England were signed on May 1, 1707. May she celebrate many more! 

P.S. Also, blessed feast of St. Joseph the Worker!

United

United by breaking waves
And surging blood
And the same paths paved
In the same sod

United by tattered cloth
And winds that whip
And the same high cost
And the same ship

United by hot blue steel
And cold gray clouds
And the same strange seal
And the same vow

United by summer storms
And winds that tear
And the fight that looms
With a harsh glare

United by broken bones
And Covenants kept
And the same deep groans
And tears wept

United by shameful wrongs
And a righteous fire
And the same lilting song
And the same lyre

United by ancient crown
And a rebel streak
And the same victories won
By the same sweat

United – why break cords?
Why sever the ties?
Why strike with the sword
And, silent, die?

Unity – running fast
Like the sand on the shore
If it slips through your grasp....

It is no more


"Unity -- running fast like the sand on the shore...."