Chesterton’s St. George

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“Saint George and the Dragon,” Paolo Uccello, c. 1459 (Source)

The Englishman

G.K. Chesterton

St George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn’t safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.

St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.

St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn’t safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

Elsewhere: A ‘First Things’ Debut

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One of Blake’s illustrations of the Paradiso. (Source)

I have to thank Elliot Milco for soliciting, editing, and publishing a short review I wrote in the April 2018 edition of First Things. It is my first appearance in that great publication. I have the privilege of sharing the page with a few other really stellar pieces; among others, Mr. Joshua Kenz and Ms. Emily Sammon have written particularly outstanding reviews of very different books. My own work covers a recent Taschen publication that examines the William Blake illustrations of Dante. Go give it (and the book in question) a read!

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Go buy this book. You won’t regret it! (Source)

“A Vacuum He May Not Abhor”

RS Thomas Obituary

R.S. Thomas in a typical pose. One does wonder if he ever smiled. (Source)

R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), the Welsh nationalist, Anglican minister, and consummate poet belief and doubt has recently become a favorite. Here is a poem of his that, I think, is worth pondering in Lent.

The Absence

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

“The Ardour of Red Flame is Thine”

Jean Delville La Meduse 1893

La Meduse, Jean Delville, 1893. (Source)

Since multiple friends have told me how much they enjoyed the Ernest Dowson I posted earlier this week, I thought I’d furnish them (and all of you, dear readers) with a remarkable Decadent poem by Lionel Johnson which I have recommended as follow-up reading. It strikes a rather different spiritual vein. If Dowson’s spiritual theme is the retreat into silence and ascesis in the face of the world’s vanity, Johnson’s is the lure of temptation. Like Dowson, Johnson was a Catholic convert.

Dark Angel

DARK Angel, with thine aching lust
To rid the world of penitence:
Malicious Angel, who still dost
My soul such subtile violence!

Because of thee, no thought, no thing,
Abides for me undesecrate:
Dark Angel, ever on the wing,
Who never reachest me too late!

When music sounds, then changest thou
Its silvery to a sultry fire:
Nor will thine envious heart allow
Delight untortured by desire.

Through thee, the gracious Muses turn,
To Furies, O mine Enemy!
And all the things of beauty burn
With flames of evil ecstasy.

Because of thee, the land of dreams
Becomes a gathering place of fears:
Until tormented slumber seems
One vehemence of useless tears.

When sunlight glows upon the flowers,
Or ripples down the dancing sea:
Thou, with thy troop of passionate powers,
Beleaguerest, bewilderest, me.

Within the breath of autumn woods,
Within the winter silences:
Thy venomous spirit stirs and broods,
O Master of impieties!

The ardour of red flame is thine,
And thine the steely soul of ice:
Thou poisonest the fair design
Of nature, with unfair device.

Apples of ashes, golden bright;
Waters of bitterness, how sweet!
O banquet of a foul delight,
Prepared by thee, dark Paraclete!

Thou art the whisper in the gloom,
The hinting tone, the haunting laugh:
Thou art the adorner of my tomb,
The minstrel of mine epitaph.

I fight thee, in the Holy Name!
Yet, what thou dost, is what God saith:
Tempter! should I escape thy flame,
Thou wilt have helped my soul from Death:

The second Death, that never dies,
That cannot die, when time is dead:
Live Death, wherein the lost soul cries,
Eternally uncomforted.

Dark Angel, with thine aching lust!
Of two defeats, of two despairs:
Less dread, a change to drifting dust,
Than thine eternity of cares.

Do what thou wilt, thou shalt not so,
Dark Angel! triumph over me:
Lonely, unto the Lone I go;
Divine, to the Divinity.

“But There, Besides the Altar, There, is Rest”

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Ernest Dowson – a frail, unhappy poet driven by wild passions. Also a Roman Catholic. (Source)

Recently, I have discovered the work of the poet Ernest Dowson (1867-1900). He has swiftly become a favourite. His Decadent verse originated the phrases “gone with the wind” and “the days of wine and roses.” He was also a Catholic convert. His poetry often explores the contrast between the perishable delights of the world and the undying realm of the supernatural. In Dowson, we see the forked path that comes with the recognition of the world’s vanity: the choice lies between hedonistic decadence and the rigors of ascesis and contemplation. These two monastic poems express precisely that tension in his sad life as well as his powerful artistic vision.

Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration

Calm, sad, secure; behind high convent walls,
These watch the sacred lamp, these watch and pray:
And it is one with them when evening falls,
And one with them the cold return of day.

These heed not time; their nights and days they make
Into a long, returning rosary,
Whereon their lives are threaded for Christ’s sake;
Meekness and vigilance and chastity.

A vowed patrol, in silent companies,
Life-long they keep before the living Christ.
In the dim church, their prayers and penances
Are fragrant incense to the Sacrificed.

Outside, the world is wild and passionate;
Man’s weary laughter and his sick despair
Entreat at their impenetrable gate:
They heed no voices in their dream of prayer.

They saw the glory of the world displayed;
They saw the bitter of it, and the sweet;
They knew the roses of the world should fade,
And be trod under by the hurrying feet.

Therefore they rather put away desire,
And crossed their hands and came to sanctuary
And veiled their heads and put on coarse attire:
Because their comeliness was vanity.

And there they rest; they have serene insight
Of the illuminating dawn to be:
Mary’s sweet Star dispels for them the night,
The proper darkness of humanity.

Calm, sad, secure; with faces worn and mild:
Surely their choice of vigil is the best?
Yea! for our roses fade, the world is wild;
But there, beside the altar, there, is rest.

 

Carthusians

Through what long heaviness, assayed in what strange fire,
Have these white monks been brought into the way of peace,
Despising the world’s wisdom and the world’s desire,
Which from the body of this death bring no release?

Within their austere walls no voices penetrate;
A sacred silence only, as of death, obtains;
Nothing finds entry here of loud or passionate;
This quiet is the exceeding profit of their pain:

From many lands they came, in divers fiery ways;
Each knew at last the vanity of earthly joys;
And one was crowned with thorns, and one was crowned with bays,
And each was tired at last of the world’s foolish noise.

It was not theirs with Dominic to preach God’s holy wrath,
They were too stern to bear sweet Francis’ gentle sway;
Theirs was a higher calling and a steeper path,
To dwell alone with Christ, to meditate and pray.

A cloistered company, they are companionless,
None knoweth here the secret of his brother’s heart:
They are but come together for more loneliness,
Whose bond is solitude and silence all their part.

O beatific life! Who is there shall gainsay,
Your great refusal’s victory, your little loss,
Deserting vanity for the more perfect way,
The sweeter service of the most dolorous Cross.

Ye shall prevail at last! Surely ye shall prevail!
Your silence and austerity shall win at last:
Desire and mirth, the world’s ephemeral lights shall fail,
The sweet star of your queen is never overcast.

We fling up flowers and laugh, we laugh across the wine;
With wine we dull our souls and careful strains of art;
Our cups are polished skulls round which the roses twine:
None dares to look at Death who leers and lurks apart.

Move on, white company, whom that has not sufficed!
Our viols cease, our wine is death, our roses fail:
Pray for our heedlessness, O dwellers with the Christ!
Though the world fall apart, surely ye shall prevail.

“The Fair and Fatal King”

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Two heroes, one square: Charles I and Nelson. (Source)

Today may be the anniversary of Louis XVI’s execution, but I just found a wonderful poem about His Majesty Charles I that I wanted to share with my readers. Something to meditate upon before the 30th.

By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross

Lionel Johnson
To William Watson

Sombre and rich, the skies,
Great glooms, and starry plains;
Gently the night wind sighs;
Else a vast silence reigns.

The splendid silence clings
Around me: and around
The saddest of all kings,
Crowned, and again discrowned.

Comely and calm, he rides
Hard by his own Whitehall.
Only the night wind glides:
No crowds, nor rebels, brawl.

Gone too, his Court: and yet,
The stars his courtiers are:
Stars in their stations set;
And every wandering star.

Alone he rides, alone,
The fair and fatal King:
Dark night is all his own,
That strange and solemn thing.

Which are more full of fate:
The stars, or those sad eyes?
Which are more still and great:
Those brows, or the dark skies?

Although his whole heart yearn
In passionate tragedy,
Never was face so stern
With sweet austerity.

Vanquished in life, his death
By beauty made amends:
The passing of his breath
Won his defeated ends.

Brief life, and hapless? Nay:
Through death, life grew sublime.
Speak after sentence? Yea:
And to the end of time.

Armoured he rides, his head
Bare to the stars of doom;
He triumphs now, the dead,
Beholding London’s gloom.

Our wearier spirit faints,
Vexed in the world’s employ:
His soul was of the saints;
And art to him was joy.

King, tried in fires of woe!
Men hunger for thy grace:
And through the night I go,
loving thy mournful face.

Yet, when the city sleeps,
When all the cries are still,
The stars and heavenly deeps
Work out a perfect will.

Five Poems by Clark Ashton Smith

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One of Harry Clarke’s illustrations of Faust. He also produced a celebrated set of illustrations of Poe. (Source)

Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) was most famous for his publications in Weird Tales and his consequent literary association with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. He had a profound talent and produced copious work in the Eldritch School of American Decadence. In Smith’s work one can easily discover similarities with both Lovecraft, his more famous colleague, and greater predecessors like Poe and Baudelaire. The violent inventiveness of his language calls to mind a demon-crazed Hopkins. I have selected five representative poems that all treat a common theme: beauty.

A Dream of Beauty
(1911)

I dreamed that each most lovely, perfect thing
That nature hath, of sound and form and hue—
The winds, the grass, the light-concentering dew,
The gleam and swiftness of the sea-bird’s wing;
Blueness of sea and sky, and gold of storm
Transmuted by the sunset, and the flame
Of autumn-colored leaves, before me carne,
And, meeting, merged to one diviner form.

Incarnate Beauty ’twas, whose spirit thrills
Through glaucous ocean and the greener hills,
And in the cloud-bewildered peaks is pent.
Her face the light of fallen planets wore,
But as I gazed, in doubt and wonderment,
Mine eyes were dazzled, and I saw no more.

 

The Refuge of Beauty
(1918)

From regions of the sun’s half-dreamt decay,
All day the cruel rain strikes darkly down;
And from the night thy fatal stars shall frown—
Beauty, wilt thou abide this night and day ?

Roofless, at portals dark and desperate,
Wilt thou a shelter unrefused implore,
And past the tomb’s too-hospitable door
Evade thy lover in eluding Hate ?

Alas, for what have I to other thee ? —
Chill halls of mind, dank rooms of memory
Where thou shalt dwell with woes and thoughts infirm;

This rumor-throngèd citadel of Sense,
Trembling before some nameless imminence;
And fellow-guestship with the glutless Worm.

 

The Mirrors of Beauty
(1922)

Beauty has many mirrors to ensphere
Her presence or her passing: orbs of dew;
Far-flooding Amazons with margents new;
The narrowing circlet of the desert mere;
Deep wells on which the ruby planets rear;
Blades from Damascus; gems of Xanadu;
And pools that hold a falcon-hovered blue
Or eves whereon the ghostly owlets veer.

Often, upon the solitary sea,
She lieth, ere the wind shall gather breath—
One with the reflex of infinity;
In oriels filled with some conflagrant sky
Her vision dwells, or in the ring-dove’s eye,
Or the black crystal of the eyes of Death.

 

The Orchid of Beauty
(1922)

Beauty, thou orchid of immortal bloom,
Sprung from the fire and dust of perished spheres,
How art thou tall in these autumnal years
With the red rain of immemorial doom,
And fragrant where the lesser suns illume,
For sustenance of Life’s forgotten tears.
Ever thy splendor and thy light appears
Like dawn from out the midnight of the tomb.

Colors, and glints, and glamors unrecalled,
Richly thy petals intricate revive:
Blossom, whose roots are in eternity,
The faithful soul, the sentience darkly thralled,
In dream and wonder evermore shall strive
At Edens lost of time and memory.

 

You are not Beautiful
(1923)

You are not beautiful; but, ah, too long
I sought, and found a slowly growing grace;
Till fairer now than beauty is your face,
And all your silence dearer than a song.

 

 

 

“Awake and Sing and Be All Wing”

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The Most Holy Name of Jesus at the High Altar of the Gesu, Rome. (Source)

To the Name above every Name, the Name of Jesus

By Richard Crashaw

A HYMN

 

I SING the Name which None can say

But touch’t with An interiour Ray:

The Name of our New Peace; our Good:

Our Blisse: and Supernaturall Blood:

The Name of All our Lives and Loves.

Hearken, And Help, ye holy Doves!

The high-born Brood of Day; you bright

Candidates of blissefull Light,

The Heirs Elect of Love; whose Names belong

Unto The everlasting life of Song;

All ye wise Soules, who in the wealthy Brest

Of This unbounded Name build your warm Nest.

Awake, My glory. Soul, (if such thou be,

And That fair Word at all referr to Thee)

Awake and sing

And be All Wing;

Bring hither thy whole Self; and let me see

What of thy Parent Heaven yet speakes in thee,

O thou art Poore

Of noble Powres, I see,

And full of nothing else but empty Me,

Narrow, and low, and infinitely lesse

Then this Great mornings mighty Busynes.

One little World or two

(Alas) will never doe.

We must have store.

Goe, Soul, out of thy Self, and seek for More.

Goe and request

Great Nature for the Key of her huge Chest

Of Heavns, the self involving Sett of Sphears

(Which dull mortality more Feeles then heares)

Then rouse the nest

Of nimble, Art, and traverse round

The Aiery Shop of soul-appeasing Sound:

And beat a summons in the Same

All-soveraign Name

To warn each severall kind

And shape of sweetnes, Be they such

As sigh with supple wind

Or answer Artfull Touch,

That they convene and come away

To wait at the love-crowned Doores of

This Illustrious Day.

Shall we dare This, my Soul? we’l doe’t and bring

No Other note for’t, but the Name we sing.

Wake Lute and Harp

And every sweet-lipp’t Thing

That talkes with tunefull string;

Start into life, And leap with me

Into a hasty Fitt-tun’d Harmony.

Nor must you think it much

T’obey my bolder touch;

I have Authority in Love’s name to take you

And to the worke of Love this morning wake you;

Wake; In the Name

Of Him who never sleeps, All Things that Are,

Or, what’s the same,

Are Musicall;

Answer my Call

And come along;

Help me to meditate mine Immortall Song.

Come, ye soft ministers of sweet sad mirth,

Bring All your houshold stuffe of Heavn on earth;

O you, my Soul’s most certain Wings,

Complaining Pipes, and prattling Strings,

Bring All the store

Of Sweets you have; And murmur that you have no more.

Come, né to part,

Nature and Art!

Come; and come strong,

To the conspiracy of our Spatious song.

Bring All the Powres of Praise

Your Provinces of well-united Worlds can raise;

Bring All your Lutes and Harps of Heaven and Earth;

What ére cooperates to The common mirthe

Vessells of vocall Ioyes,

Or You, more noble Architects of Intellectuall Noise,

Cymballs of Heav’n, or Humane sphears,

Solliciters of Soules or Eares;

And when you’are come, with All

That you can bring or we can call;

O may you fix

For ever here, and mix

Your selves into the long

And everlasting series of a deathlesse Song;

Mix All your many Worlds, Above,

And loose them into One of Love.

Chear thee my Heart!

For Thou too hast thy Part

And Place in the Great Throng

Of This unbounded All-imbracing Song.

Powres of my Soul, be Proud!

And speake lowd

To All the dear-bought Nations This Redeeming Name,

And in the wealth of one Rich Word proclaim

New Similes to Nature.

May it be no wrong

Blest Heavns, to you, and your Superiour song,

That we, dark Sons of Dust and Sorrow,

A while Dare borrow

The Name of Your Dilights and our Desires,

And fitt it to so farr inferior Lyres.

Our Murmurs have their Musick too,

Ye mighty Orbes, as well as you,

Nor yields the noblest Nest

Of warbling Seraphim to the eares of Love,

A choicer Lesson then the joyfull Brest

Of a poor panting Turtle-Dove.

And we, low Wormes have leave to doe

The Same bright Busynes (ye Third Heavens) with you.

Gentle Spirits, doe not complain.

We will have care

To keep it fair,

And send it back to you again.

Come, lovely Name! Appeare from forth the Bright

Regions of peacefull Light,

Look from thine own Illustrious Home,

Fair King of Names, and come.

Leave All thy native Glories in their Georgeous Nest,

And give thy Self a while The gracious Guest

Of humble Soules, that seek to find

The hidden Sweets

Which man’s heart meets

When Thou art Master of the Mind.

Come, lovely Name; life of our hope!

Lo we hold our Hearts wide ope!

Unlock thy Cabinet of Day

Dearest Sweet, and come away.

Lo how the thirsty Lands

Gasp for thy Golden Showres! with longstretch’t Hands.

Lo how the laboring Earth

That hopes to be

All Heaven by Thee,

Leapes at thy Birth.

The’ attending World, to wait thy Rise,

First turn’d to eyes;

And then, not knowing what to doe;

Turn’d Them to Teares, and spent Them too.

Come Royall Name, and pay the expence

Of all this Pretious Patience.

O come away

And kill the Death of This Delay.

O see, so many Worlds of barren yeares

Melted and measur’d out is Seas of Teares.

O see, The Weary liddes of wakefull Hope

(Love’s Eastern windowes) All wide ope

With Curtains drawn,

To catch The Day-break of Thy Dawn.

O dawn, at last, long look’t for Day!

Take thine own wings, and come away.

Lo, where Aloft it comes! It comes, Among

The Conduct of Adoring Spirits, that throng

Like diligent Bees, And swarm about it.

O they are wise;

And know what Sweetes are suck’t from out it.

It is the Hive,

By which they thrive,

Where All their Hoard of Hony lyes.

Lo where it comes, upon The snowy Dove’s

Soft Back; And brings a Bosom big with Loves.

Welcome to our dark world, Thou

Womb of Day!

Unfold thy fair Conceptions; And display

The Birth of our Bright Ioyes.

O thou compacted

Body of Blessings: spirit of Soules extracted!

O dissipate thy spicy Powres

(Clowd of condensed sweets) and break upon us

In balmy showrs;

O fill our senses, And take from us

All force of so Prophane a Fallacy

To think ought sweet but that which smells of Thee.

Fair, flowry Name; In none but Thee

And Thy Nectareall Fragrancy,

Hourly there meetes

An universall Synod of All sweets;

By whom it is defined Thus

That no Perfume

For ever shall presume

To passe for Odoriferous,

But such alone whose sacred Pedigree

Can prove it Self some kin (sweet name) to Thee.

Sweet Name, in Thy each Syllable

A Thousand Blest Arabias dwell;

A Thousand Hills of Frankincense;

Mountains of myrrh, and Beds of species,

And ten Thousand Paradises,

The soul that tasts thee takes from thence.

How many unknown Worlds there are

Of Comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!

How many Thousand Mercyes there

In Pitty’s soft lap ly a sleeping!

Happy he who has the art

To awake them,

And to take them

Home, and lodge them in his Heart.

O that it were as it was wont to be!

When thy old Freinds of Fire, All full of Thee,

Fought against Frowns with smiles; gave Glorious chase

To Persecutions; And against the Face

Of Death and feircest Dangers, durst with Brave

And sober pace march on to meet A Grave.

On their Bold Brests about the world they bore thee

And to the Teeth of Hell stood up to teach thee,

In Center of their inmost Soules they wore thee,

Where Rackes and Torments striv’d, in vain, to reach thee.

Little, alas, thought They

Who tore the Fair Brests of thy Freinds,

Their Fury but made way

For Thee; And serv’d them in Thy glorious ends.

What did Their weapons but with wider pores

Inlarge thy flaming-brested Lovers

More freely to transpire

That impatient Fire

The Heart that hides Thee hardly covers.

What did their Weapons but sett wide the Doores

For Thee: Fair, purple Doores, of love’s devising;

The Ruby windowes which inrich’t the East

Of Thy so oft repeated Rising.

Each wound of Theirs was Thy new Morning;

And reinthron’d thee in thy Rosy Nest,

With blush of thine own Blood thy day adorning,

It was the witt of love óreflowd the Bounds

Of Wrath, and made thee way through All Those wounds.

Wellcome dear, All-Adored Name!

For sure there is no Knee

That knowes not Thee.

Or if there be such sonns of shame,

Alas what will they doe

When stubborn Rocks shall bow

And Hills hang down their Heavn-saluting Heads

To seek for humble Beds

Of Dust, where in the Bashfull shades of night

Next to their own low Nothing they may ly,

And couch before the dazeling light of thy dread majesty.

They that by Love’s mild Dictate now

Will not adore thee,

Shall Then with Just Confusion, bow

And break before thee.

A Note of Gratitude at Year’s End

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Happy New Year! (Source)

Here are XVII things for which I am grateful in the year of Our Lord MMXVII.

1. Graduating from the University of Virginia and starting the next phase of my academic career at the University of Oxford, as well as everyone who has helped me along the way.

2. All of the friends I have left behind in Virginia, and all of the friends I have made at Oxfordfrom Staggers, my Ecclesiastical History cohort, and the Companions of Malta. Also my wonderful family who have been there for me throughout the transition.

3. Everyone who has taken the time and effort to read, share, and respond to what I have written at this blog. As of this writing, I’ve gotten 44,127 views.

4. All of the support I received when my grandmother died right before Holy Week.

5. The fact that I have several friends who have started the process of entering or returning to the Church.

6. David Lynch, Paolo Sorrentino, Peter Morgan, and Noah Hawley.

7. Rekindling my love of creating art.

8. The new basset hound my family got this winter and the rabbits we received in the spring. Not to mention the continued good health of our other pets.

9. Gin and Tonics, Whiskey Sours, and St. Germaine.

10. All the museums I have worked in or visited.

11. Discovering the joys of sticky toffee pudding.

12. My Marian consecration. The continued friendship of many saints, including St. Philip Neri and the Blessed John Henry Newman. Also the many beautiful liturgies I had the chance to attend this year.

13. The memory of those warm and golden weeks on the Lawn between the end of Spring exams and the beginning of final exercises.

14. All of the great music I have come across this year (The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, David Lang, a few pieces by John Tavener and Zbgniew Preisner, George Jones and Monteverdi, Bernstein, Gilbert & Sullivan, Chrysta Bell, James Carr and Pokey LaFarge, Gaelynn Lea, Jackson C. Frank, and so much more).

15. A new appreciation for William Blake and an introduction to the poetry of R.S. Thomas.

16. The fact that we haven’t all been nuked to kingdom come yet.

17. The laughter I have happily shared with friends and family.

May the good Lord bless all of us in the coming year of His grace!