Some time ago, when I tried to argue for the memorization of poetry, one reason I gave was that when we memorize poetry, we can contemplate it and come to understand it better. This weekend, I’d like to illustrate that argument with a brief reflection on three meanings I’ve seen in one simple word in the first line of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur”—meanings I don’t suppose I’d ever have noticed if I hadn’t memorized the poem and thus, almost perforce, reflected on it.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God, the priest-poet writes.
Charged. Like a battery charged full of electricity, the world pulses with God’s energy, by which alone it can have life; for in Him we live and move and have our being.
Charged. Like a heraldic banner charged with the sign of its lord, we and all the world bear the blazonry of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; we who are made in His image and likeness and walk daily under the heavens which proclaim His glory.
Charged. As messengers charged with the greatest mission of all, we are given His glory as a task, sent out to know, love, and serve Him; sent out to be always ready to account for the hope that is in us; sent out to baptize all nations in His name.
For thousands of years—perhaps for as long as the human race has existed—men have loved to tell tales of heroism. But man’s beliefs change concerning good and evil, honor and shame, piety and impiety; and as his ideas about the universe and his place in it shift, so do the stories he tells. So in TheIliad, Homer tells of a world filled with “The mere endless up and down, the constant aimless alternations of glory and misery, which make up the terrible phenomenon called a Heroic Age.” (Lewis 29-30.) But Virgil, seeing the rise of Augustus and the order of the young Empire, can write a poem in which the world moves from disorder to order, and his hero is filled with more purpose than Achilles could ever have known. Beowulf, however, is in another Heroic Age. From its beginning, Heorot stands “awaiting / a barbarous burning.” (Beowulf lines 82-3), and on Beowulf’s death his lordless people expect slaughter and slavery. But though Beowulf’s time has less earthly security than Virgil’s, something has changed: Christianity has come. Beowulf can be freer than Achilles, freer even than Aeneas; for Beowulf is an essentially Christian hero, with his actions informed by many circumstances around him, but acting with total free will.
I love memorizing poetry, from Shakespeare to Luci Shaw, from Donne to Chesterton, and so I thought I’d share a post with some of reasons for I love poetry—and, of course, plenty of excerpts from what I’ve memorized!
In a time when we casually associate memorizing things with drudgery, I want to point out first of all that memorizing and reciting worthy poetry can be a joy. I know that memorizing is a tough skill to learn; I used to be very bad at it. It was years before I really appreciated Psalm 23, one of my early memorywork pieces. But my mom persevered and made me keep on working on memorizing, and now I’m memorizing on my own, choosing poetry and working on it. Memorizing and reciting poetry is probably my best consciously-developed habit, and mostly I do it for joy. I just love the words, love reading them and memorizing them and reciting them. It’s truly a wonderful thing to have some of the great heights of the English language kept always with you, almost made a part of you, like having mighty genii ready at your call. It is beautiful and joyful to memorize these words combined by skill and the gift of God into forms that can choke up your throat and make your heart go differently and your eyes feel odd when you recite them.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so… One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Alas, I have moral and rational objections to excuse-making, and so can but apologize for my online indiligence. Having returned, I will tell you that I plan to be more returned, with this summer’s posting plans including, perhaps, some short fiction and excerpts from my 11th grade exam. Yes: 11th grad exam. Good gracious! I have only one more year of homeschool between me and college… oh dear, oh dear, oh dearie dear.
But no more dithering. Here is one of my Literature exam compositions, fruit of probably the most successful forty minutes in my exam, with its prompt:
Write a note to a friend to encourage them to attempt the challenge of reading Les Miserables.
Well, it’s been entirely too long since I posted commonplace quotes! And it appears that I have read entirely too many good books since then: I have collected one hundred and twenty-eight quotes since that post. So, let’s see what if I can pick a favorite dozen… which is like to be a hard task, considering that I picked those hundred and twenty-two as just so many gems of writing, the best things I encountered while reading. First, though, I’d like to share what my physical commonplace book looks like. October’s quotes, as it happens, are not copied into it—I am a hundred and forty-one quotes behind in it—but I’ve been having fun with writing in it, which makes catching up more enjoyable. Instead of page after page of none-too-elegant printing, it now looks more like this:
While the hand-lettering here is very imperfect, I enjoyed doing it. Maybe someday I’ll be good enough that I can write directly with a pen without making mistakes… but on to more recently captured quotes!
As we did last time, let’s start with a little common sense:
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” That’s William Shakespeare, right? Correct. And also, of course, radical relativism. But what I failed to recognize (even as I and my classmates were embracing this relativistic phrase as our personal motto) was that Shakespeare never said that. He wrote it, yes, but Polonius said it. And Polonius is a blithering idiot.
Professor Joseph Pearce in a WCC commencement speech for the class of 2018
Grandpa Gary recently found a newspaper article which he thought might interest me, an article about an essay contest sponsored by the Nevada County Bar Association. The annual contest is open to all Nevada County high school students. This year’s topic is the separation of powers as framework for freedom, with an emphasis on party affairs. They gave some questions to consider, and on Monday (that being the due date), I set to work on some brainstorming. The prompt page gave some questions to guide essay development, and I tried writing down a short answer to each. When I came back after doing math, there seemed to be most promise in the question about whether our political muddle would be assuaged by reallocating senators based on population.
Eliminating the electoral college or reallocating senators by population would decidedly not help. If we did this, the states wouldn’t all be as represented. The large states would be in control of all the government, leaving the small states with little say. Whatever parties were dominant in them would have the power—it wouldn’t really matter what parties were dominant in small states like Rhode Island.
“Come in,” said the Bishop. The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. … “Ah! here you are!” he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, pages 85 and 86
Jean Valjean stole the bishop’s silver while the bishop’s guest. In the morning, he is arrested and brought back to the bishop. And before Valjean is even accused of stealing the silverware, the bishop gives the thief silver candlesticks as well.
This of the bishop’s is assuredly a very unjust act.
True, the Lord says: “But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41). But isn’t this a direction for behavior in the face of adversity—not of restitution?
Most of us who have an idea of God offer thanksgiving to Him occasionally, whether when our blessings are brought unusually to our notice or when a prayer—for an opportunity, for a success, for the recovery of a loved one—is answered. But these thanksgivings can be few and far between; the Lord has told us through Scripture that He is honored by our thanksgiving, and we ought to make thanksgiving often. These frequent thanksgivings should be habitual in two ways—that we often have voluntary-involuntary liftings of the soul toward God in thanksgiving, and that at regular intervals we remember what we are thankful to Him for. We should remember that we all have many, many things to be thankful for: the gift of life and family, the gladness of work, whatever amount of health the Lord has given us, the pleasantness of our clothing. To go outside, even when we are in the city, should always be a joy to us, and we should thank God for it.
Praise, too, we should often offer to God—He has told us that He is pleased and honored by our praise, as the human artisan is honored and pleased by judicious praise of his work. The works of God for which we may offer praise are always before us, from the trees outside my window to the iPad I am writing this narration on—because God designed the world in which the human artisans could discover, the way of making the device. The wonders that the scientists show us of the universe are wonders by seeing which we can see more the wonders that God has wrought; and we should offer Him praise for them.
On Tuesday, Sky Guide, a handbook-to-the-heavens-on-your-screen which our family uses, sent me a notification that early the next morning there would be a lunar eclipse + blood moon + supermoon. I didn’t take action in the evening, but at two-something a.m. I woke up randomly, looked up times, and set an alarm for around the three-something the eclipse was supposed to start at. When the alarm went off, I got some brothers, my nature journal, and the first pencil-stub I could find, and headed outside. The boys went back in pretty soon, but I stayed out to do my conscientious duty as a Charlotte Mason student—something I do more dutifully in interesting or unusual situations—and wrote about the eclipse as best I could. So here’s a transcription of it—slightly edited, because I wrote it in the wee hours of the morning by bad light—as my first post here; a piece of writing influenced both by the education I’m being given and my ongoing attempts to put words to the world.
The visible part of the eclipse is just starting, and I’m sitting on the side of the driveway shivering. In addition to undergoing an eclipse, tonight the moon is an extra-large “supermoon.” It is very large and bright and casts distinct shadows. The pencil lines appear to fade in and out rather, but it’s even possible to write by—but a little hard, so please pardon the handwriting. While writing I am noticing the slice cut off the edge of the moon getting larger when I look up. The night is pretty clear, but there’s a thin cloud layer; you can see the moon through it easily, but not many stars are visible and the moon has a faint white halo at about the distance from stretched thumb-tip to pinky-tip held at arm’s length. The edge of earth’s shadow can now be seen to be curved, but it is not nearly as curved as the moon’s bite from the sun last August. Writing is getting dimmer and harder, but it’s nice to have an eclipse you can stare at without special glasses. Now the moon is almost half obscured. It is possible that it has a ruddy tinge—this is supposed to be a blood moon as well—but the visible part of its disk looks dimmer now we I (the boys went back inside ere I started writing) can’t see the whole thing. This writing is hard.
Note at top of the page: the thermometer out back says 37°
Caption by sketch: even harder to draw than to write by scant moon-light!
~4:50 am—After watching for a while, I went back inside for around half an hour, and now wish I hadn’t! When I went inside the mostly white moon was more than half obscured by a dark, somewhat convex shadow. I was noticing dimmer light and more stars. Coming out again, I expected to see no apparent moon or a slight sliver disappearing behind a shadow. One expectation was met, that there would be much less light; the stars look almost new-moon bright, and I wouldn’t be writing this if not for my headlamp. But the moon did not look as I expected! This, I suppose, is where the prognosticated “blood moon” bit comes in; the disk was lit at the bottom and up the edges, as in my drawing above-right—and the lit part was definitely reddish! The red has now faded, and the moon is somewhat dimmer and less lit, I think, than when I came out. Also, it’s sinking—this time I’m sitting on the asphalt above the driveway to be able to see (cold). I can see and recognize Cassiopeia and the big dipper. Cassiopeia has moved from where I saw her at the beginning of the night. I saw Orion at the beginning of the night, but don’t now; I don’t know if he’s set or I’m just in the wrong spot (on a local level) to see him. I saw a meteor a little bit ago!