Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Quoth Stephen Booth

"It's not saying anything interesting; poems rarely do." – Professor Stephen Booth

“Alliterating all around” by Sam Urfer

Saints and soothsayers have this in common,

Crass crowds crucify them for their message.

Many a martyr has been made this way,

Withholding no wisdom or wit to live

Longer, lest they be found liars in death.

Do not doubt that destiny has a time

To test any temperament, a season

To search out souls and see what lies beneath.

Be bold, then, and believe, for the prophets

Provide perfectly pleasant company.

"An Emo Confession of Faith"

Fear consumes me, doubt plagues my every step;

By this sign, I know that I am alive.

I don’t know what I want to be when I

Grow up; the right path to take eludes me.

I don’t know what the future holds for me,

And the darkness of the future scares me.

All I can do is trust in providence.

I have a hope that I hold in my heart,

A faith that drives me forever forward,

A love that lasts through all of life’s sorrows.

I do not understand the universe

Or what my place in the grand scheme of things

Will be, but I know that there is a plan.

Now we see as in a mirror, darkly,

But in the end, we will see, face to face,

And the Truth shall set us free from ourselves.

Monday, January 14, 2008

So, I took this test at beliefnet about how my beliefs match up with various religions. Interesting results, I recommend checking it out.

1. Orthodox Quaker (100%)
2. Eastern Orthodox (94%)
3. Roman Catholic (94%)
4. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (90%)
5. Seventh Day Adventist (85%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (71%)
7. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (65%)
8. Orthodox Judaism (65%)
9. Islam (57%)
10. Liberal Quakers (55%)
11. Jehovah's Witness (54%)
12. Hinduism (53%)
13. Bahá'í Faith (52%)
14. Sikhism (51%)
15. Unitarian Universalism (43%)
16. Reform Judaism (41%)
17. Jainism (33%)
18. Neo-Pagan (30%)
19. Mahayana Buddhism (26%)
20. New Age (24%)
21. Theravada Buddhism (24%)
22. Secular Humanism (22%)
23. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (19%)
24. Nontheist (17%)
25. Taoism (17%)
26. Scientology (16%)
27. New Thought (15%)

Friday, January 11, 2008

“And Lucifer Fell" - a Poetic response to "A Canticle for Leibowitz"

It came to pass in those days, as it did

In the days of Jonah, Prophet of old,

That the nations of the Earth grew wicked.

Minimizing pain and maximizing

Safety became the sole obsessions

Of the princes and magistrates of Earth.

In seeking their security, they found

Only conflict, and in seeking to end

Suffering, they piled new woes on the world.

They strutted like peacocks, trying to hide

Their fears, using brave faces for shelter,

For they said in their hearts, “There is no God.”

Therefore, God left them to their own devices,

After they scoffed at his Saints and Prophets.

This time no Jonah arose, no savior

To prevent proud fools from pushing buttons.

And so we lost our green garden again,

As the mushroom clouds rose, and Lucifer fell.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Vulgar, yet true....

Monday, January 7, 2008

Life bleeds over into poetry...

"Prayer for Guidance" by Sam Urfer

Set the truth in my heart, that I may find

My way to the Promised Land at long last.

My soul is stuck in the wastes of Sinai,

My faith urges me to an unexpected

Destination, my compass is retuned.

Long have I been wandering these trails,

With no end in sight. Now I hear the call,

What choice do I have but to follow it?

Behind me, all the history of the Saints

Before me, the glory of Your name.

I have tasted Your blood, eaten Your flesh,

Now I shall love You and honor your name.

Implicit faith and cold reason clouded

My view of Your vast Mysteries till now.

The flaw of Ephesus, the sin of Milton,

And all its ways, I reject utterly.

Show me the truth, wherever it may lead.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Chaos and Order in W. B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”

William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming” is an emotional diatribe on the chaotic state of the world as he saw it, as part of a dystrophic whole threatening to consume civilization wholesale. This weighty subject matter is conveyed through the way he uses seemingly confused language to paint a picture of despair in the face of the modern worlds increasing propensity for self-destruction and malevolence. Every word he uses is chosen specifically to invoke this feeling of palpable desolation that the poet sees engulfing the world around him, suggesting throughout that in all likelihood things will get worse before they get better. It seems at first that there is no discernable pattern to the way the lines are formed in the poem, and the language looks disordered, but the poem is carefully constructed so as to appear without order. The lines go back and forth in length, like a roller coaster of syntax, and a close analysis reveals a startlingly regular metrical pattern that is by no means apparent at first glance. Through, his choice of words and syntax, Yeats succeeds in setting up a frantic atmosphere of anxiety and even horror in the poem using an orderly system to set up a seemingly chaotic poem.

In terms of vocabulary, every word in this poem is specifically chosen to elicit the feeling of eminent doom and gloom in the reader. Negative words are featured prominently from the beginning, when “The falcon cannot hear the falconer” (line 2) and “the centre cannot hold” (3), setting up the highly pessimistic tone of the whole poem through negation. He uses words such as ‘lack’ and ‘worst’ to set put the reader in a negative frame of mind so as to see that there is in fact little hope in the current age of the world. Yeats is able to convey his feeling thatthe present order is doomed to fail because it’s run out of steam and “lacks all conviction” (7).

When he speaks of the chaos, he calls it “mere anarchy” (4). This choice to say ‘mere’ is interesting, as the poem is generally playing up the chaos Yeats sees around him, but this one line he undermines this purpose by suggesting that anarchy is in fact not so dangerous or bad, but more a petty nuisance. Or perhaps the way he means the word is to suggest that the anarchy entering the world is pure, unadorned by any superfluous pretext of order. The fact that ‘mere’ has this double meaning adds to the complexity of this line and the whole poem, throwing the meaning of the poem subtly into question.

Yeats chooses to repeat the word ‘loosed’ in line 5, putting special emphasis on it’s meaning. This word suggests a sort of letting go, of traditional moral behavior and order, as well as the idea of an outside force worming it’s way into society to destroy it. It sets up the enemy as being simultaneously part of and not part of the world as he sees it, something that is set on from outside, but that achieves it’s victories due to the loosening of standards in the world at large.

The last line of the first stanza rings true, more than ever in light of the later events of the twentieth century, such as the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, and other genocidal maniacs:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats had seen the beginning of this trend in 1919 when he wrote this poem, with radicals committing acts of terrorism in Ireland to get it’s independence, as well as the horrors that permeated the recently ended Great War. The method that Britain and France were later to use to initially “combat” Hitler through appeasement, designed to keep the German dictator happy by giving into his demands. This falls neatly into the theme of Yeats poem here, as they lacked all conviction, and few human being in all history have been more full of raw passion than Hitler, and perhaps no person could be described as being worse than him. In these two lines, the poem assumes an almost prophetic nature by setting up one of the central themes of the entire twentieth century.

The second stanza begins with the beginning of the hopeful beseeching of ‘Surely’. From here on out, the poem starts to take up an apocalyptic religious symbolism, such as when he uses the Biblical word ‘surely’ followed by the even more loaded ‘revelation’, which is the common English name of the Apocalypse of St. John of Patmos, the final book in the Christian Bible which describes the end of the world with cryptic symbolism. He follows this with a reference to the Second Coming, the point where Christ returns to the world to judge the living and the dead, twice in a row. The word choice throughout is reminiscent of the bible: ‘is at hand’ (11), the use of desert imagery, “A shape with lion body and the head of a man A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun” (14) which is evocative of the biblical book of and Ezekiel, a prophetic book of the end times filled with strange chimerical creatures of supernatural origin. Yeats speaks of the Christian Era this way:

but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle

This seemed to be at first reading to be a reference to the desert beast he sees, but on further reflection, this is referring to all 2000 years of preceding history, which was defined by life and death of a Palestinian carpenter, and his use of ‘vexed to nightmare’ is a reference to many things, from the Dark Ages, to the Crusades, to the Inquisition, all in a short few lines. The birth and like of one individual in a humble manger had ramifications that affect Yeats and the whole world in the 20th century, two millennia later, and not always in ways pleasing to Yeats.

It is then that he ends the poem on a strange note, “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” (21-22). This seems to be Yeats imagining of the dawn of a new, post-Christian Era, one that is in some indescribable way the horrifying repercussion of all past history, possibly even the end of all things. The phrasing is morbid, as he describes the movement towards this new birth as being ‘slouching,’ which is a sinister word, associated usually not with movement but with laziness, decay, and sitting. How can anything slouch its way anywhere, if slouch means to slump down? The visual image, of a knuckle-dragging ape shuffling towards birth, is not an encouraging view of the future.

The syntactical structure of the poem is indeed complex from beginning to end. While visually the lines appear to be of many various lengths, counting the syllables in each line reveals that most of them are ten syllables long, with a few exceptions being eleven or twelve. The first stanza in fact consists entirely of ten syllable lines, while the longer exceptions don’t occur until the middle of the second stanza when Yeats begins to speak of the strange beast he imagines slowly waking from an ancient slumber to herald a new age. It is then that he goes over his apparent line length standards in order to describe this leonine being, and then he promptly returns to his previous pattern to finish the poem.

He uses enjambment for dramatic effect, for example in lines 5-6, when he ends with “and everywhere” before proceeding on to “The ceremony of innocence is drowned,” leaving the reader to wonder what is going on everywhere until one reaches the next line. This creates engagement for the reader, as one wishes to find out what happens on the next line. This technique is as old as written poetry itself, but Yeats proves himself a master of it here.

The syntax and vocabulary of the poem were chosen carefully by Yeats to convey a particular emotional state of anguish he found himself in at the time as he surveyed the ‘Spritus Mundi’ that was just beginning to take hold. The poem seems to be a chaotic rant on first read, but in truth it is a methodical piece of work set up so as to appear to not have a pattern. The syntax is strictly kept throughout, with only a couple exceptions for emphasis in the middle. The word choice is erudite and deliberate, leading to a pleasing sounding poem, and one with various and complex meanings to be found by repeated readings and contemplation.