Monday, December 24, 2007

And they've been used to profit

Rembrandt's Christ Driving the Moneychangers from the Temple (1626)
(Part II, "They Say it is the Second Coming" (c) Gregory Borse 2007-2008)


In the market they complain
There's noone left to buy their wares:
And they've been used to profit.

From gold, silver, jewels, and pearls,
From purple linen and from silk,
From scarlet, sandalwood, and ivory,
From marble, iron and from bronze.

From cinnamon and from spices,
From ointment, incense, and from myrrh.

I'll keep my money against the cold
And wait for winter to take its hold.
And when I make again the street,
I'll hear them calling, men to mete:

Wine! Oil! Flour! Wheat! We can sell you things to eat!
We have Cattle!
We have Sheep! We have Goats! And Chariots!

I'll check the coins still in my pocket
And wonder at their bitter cry:

We have bodies and souls of men to buy. . .

[see post labeled "Let us go and make our visit" for part I]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Remembering a Friend

Installed at the Gasson Rotunda at Boston College in 1913, this statue of St. Michael the Archangel's victory over Satan was commissioned in 1865 by Gardner Brewer for his Boston Street home. It was sculpted by Scipione Tadolini.

I offer the image today in tribute to a friend who passed away recently. He taught me something about hope and perseverance, faith and conviviality, good humor, courage, love, and wisdom. I will miss him.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


Rest in Peace, friend. I will never forget your voice.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Let us go and make our visit

Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe-Bouguereau (1850).

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.


If I thought my answer were given/ to anyone who would ever return to the world, / this flame would stand still without moving any further. / But since never from this abyss/ has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true, / without fear of infamy I answer you.

Dante's L'Inferno--
(Canto 27, 61-66) Spoken by Guido de Montefeltro (one of Dante's "false counselors"). The above translation, as well as the quote from T.S. Eliot below, from The Norton Anthology of Poetry Shorter 4th Edition (Ferguson, Salter, Stallworthy, eds. Norton and Company, New York, 1997. 767).

Bouguereau's image is of Dante and Virgil's encounter, in the fifth circle, with those who suffer the sin of wrath, just on the edge of the river Styx. The lines quoted are secondarily from Dante's L'inferno, as incorporated into T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Disorienting, perhaps. But T. S. Eliot begins his poem with the quote from Dante, above, in the original Italian. He proceeds with a very curious opening speech--perhaps uttered by a kind of anti-Virgil inviting a wearily post-modern Dante on a tour of a different kind of Hell:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.


Almost as if to say, but not quite yet:
(Here begins "They Say it is the Second Coming" (c) Gregory Borse 2007-2008)


They say it is the Second Coming,
So I hide myself on a side street
And count the coins in my pocket

To fill my flask one last time
And soften steely nerves
For the suffering I know
will surely come.

But it never does.

I go and buy my pint at the corner package store.
The counter-lady knows me there and asks if I'd like more.

I tell her yes but thank-you no
And wander to the street,
Forgetting to prepare my face
For the faces I might meet.

It doesn't matter.

They know me because they do not know me
Nor do I know them.
We simply share a circle
And will meet again.

(for Part II, see post labeled "And they've been used to profit")

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Price Bread?

Ary Scheffer's Temptation of Christ (1854).

The last century proved not to be the deciding contest in the argument between security and freedom. But this century will prove to be so.

The twentieth century will go down for being, among other things, the beginning of a short war between authoritarianism and liberty. The twenty-first century will go down for being, perhaps for nothing else, the century in which that contest was decided. But the questions upon which this contest are founded were raised in the 19th century.

As Betty Burch, in Dictatorship and Totalitarianism (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. 1964) wrote, "The basic issues in the relation of freedom to authority are raised by Dostoyevsky in the dialogue between Christ and the Grand Inquisitor [in The Brothers Karamozov], a dialogue in which Christ remains silent. The aged Inquisitor chides Christ for offering men the freedom they dread instead of the bread they want. The Inquisitor admits that men must have something beyond bread for which to live, but whoever holds authority can guide their conscience, and whoever holds their conscience and gives them bread can rule the world and bring universal peace and happiness. The questions raised by the Grand Inquisitor lie at the heart of social organization. . . . [W]hat price in freedom are men willing to pay for bread . . .?"

Burch notes that in Dostoyevsky's dialogue, Christ "remains silent."

He remains silent, perhaps, because it is our time to speak.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Agrippa's Statement of Faith

There is no more humble signature on a piece of art than Agrippa's on the Pantheon in Rome-- Agrippa: I made this.

I know it's tranlsated: "built during his third consulate." But it means "I made this."

And why I feel it's humble: I know what I've done and what I need to take responsibility for. Agrippa was the God of what he did. I am the God of what I have done.

I am not the God of what I have not done and do not insist that I am the God of everything. And yet there are things I have not done and yet are.

There is a God. And it's not me. . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

3 a.m.

Sometimes at night
I see spirits in flight
In the air, along paths I know not where
Like a breath that leaves a warm mouth
and floats
to wintry air
and disappears
So too, these spirits I fear,
Tread on trails men do not dare--
But must
Sometimes at night.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

(by Frederick Turner April 2003)
Few wars are ever quite as pure as this.
Around the world's round haunch you feel the shriek
Of thousands as their burning souls seek bliss,
The weight of guilt that bends us week by week;
But there's another sense, the cooling ebb
Of fever as the great boil, lanced, begins to shrink,
The lightening that dawns across the web
Of human comradeship, the cold sweet drink
Of liberty that's lifted to their lips,
The first small flowers of truth among the lies,
The lancet of a bright apocalypse,
The gasp of joy as death sheds its disguise.
Out of the sacred dust of Babylon,
The groves of Ur where Jacob once sought wives,
Has come the half-bred monster, half our own,
And half the oppression of a billion lives.
And so it's time the youngest breed of men,
Mixing themselves, as Tocqueville foresaw,
Back to the race of Adam, tried again
To build the Babel-tower on a just law.
And our young soldiers are so quiet and fine!
How did we merit their strange chivalry,
Their truthfulness, their loyalty, their spine,
After our decades of dishonesty?
And will again they save us from our flaws,
Those gentle warriors purged of irony,
As they once did, upon as great a cause,
Amidst the blood-drenched surf of Normandy?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Three Davids

Michelangelo, Bernini, and Donatello tell a story. Michelangelo offers David on the cusp of his coming into his majority--he sees Goliath and salvation history takes a breath as David contemplates the stepping into his role: the boy is about to become the man. Bernini captures David as he enacts the union of intellect and will in perfect action. Donatello shows David over the severed head of the defeated Goliath deliberately fortelling the Archangel Michael's defeat of Satan, even as he establishes the house from which will issue the ultimate sacrifice that will secure the victory of Good over evil . . .

Expensive, delicate ships . . .

Musee des Beaux Arts--W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Last Days First Days

Thomas Kuhn wrote about paradigm shifts as periods in which shifts in culture occur as the result not of an inability to come up with the right answers, but a failure to ask the right questions.

Given the fractal nature of reality, perhaps we should understand overlapping paradigm shifts to account for a kind of biologic seething that forms the shape of a living culture. History is the study of the fossil remains of earlier shifts. And yet, as T.S. Eliot held in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," history as tradition remains part of the present shift, as it continues to exert its force upon the now. William Faulkner once remarked to Malcolm Cowley that his attempt in writing the Prologue to the fourth act of Requiem for a Nun ("The Jail: Not Yet Quite Relinquish") was to capture the sense that "the past was never really past." Hence, the prologue is two sentences long: the first sentence has perhaps thirty eight words; the second is perhaps forty five pages long . . .

This blog will be given over to random ruminations on the nature of reality, to aspects of our present culture--never really cut off from the past and never out of communication with any number of other presents (that are never really absent) that form what we call the "world." It will cover poetry (mostly past, some present), art, religion, culture, literature of the West, politics, philosophy, and current events. It will neither make sense of these things necessarily nor claim or declaim to exhaust them. The attempt here is to participate, to add, to fulminate, to make sense of, and to further.

My hope is that you will join me in a conversation that is actually productive. This sounds like a lot of naval gazing but that's not my inclination or nature. I won't burden readers of this blog with biographical material except as I see imperfectly that it participates in the larger epiphenomenon to which we are all subject--whether we acquiesce, surrender, or deny.