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Archive for the ‘Daily Reading’ Category

Albert Herbert, Elijah fed by ravens
in the desert, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Elijah has been considered the model of Christian monasticism since the first monks and nuns lived in the desert, either alone or in communities. In the old testament story, God orders Elijah to live in the desert and be fed by ravens.

God is angry with Ahab, king of the Israelites, for killing his priests. He sends Elijah to tell Ahab that Israel will have no dew or rainfall for three and a half years. Then the Lord says to Elijah:

“Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan river. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.

So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after awhile the brook dried up and there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.

Elijah fed by ravens, artist unknown.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.’ So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, ‘Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?’ As she was going to get it, he called to her, ‘Bring me a bite of bread, too.’

But she said, ‘I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.’

But Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!’

So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” — 1 Kings 17:1-15

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True Learning

“Abba Anthony said, ‘Fear not this goodness as a thing impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien, set a great way off; it hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas . . . But the city of God has its foundations in every seat of human habitation . . . The kingdom of God is within. The goodness that is in us asks only the human mind.'” — Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same spirit; to another faith by the same spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the same spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same spirit works all these things.” — 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

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Baking Bread

Ancient Greek figurine of woman kneading bread
“Abba Theodore of Enaton said, ‘When I was young, I lived in the desert. One day I went to the bakery to make two loaves, and there I found a brother also wanting to make bread, but there was no one to help him. So I put mine on one side to lend him a hand. When the work was done, another brother came, and again I lent him a hand in cooking his food. Then a third came, and I did the same; and similarly one after the other, I baked for each of those who came. I made six batches. Later I made my own two loaves, since no one else came.'”

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True Learning

“One day, Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, ‘Abba Arsenius, how is that you, with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this man about your thoughts?’ He replied, ‘I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not even know the alphabet of this man.’”

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“Going to town one day to sell some small articles, Abba Agathon met a cripple on the roadside, paralysed in his legs, who asked him where he was going. Abba Agathon replied,’To town, to sell some things,’ The other said, ‘Do me the favour of carrying me there.’ So he carried him to the town. The cripple said to him, ‘Put me down where you sell your wares.’ He did so. When he had sold an article, the cripple asked, ‘What did you sell it for?’ And he told him the price. The other said, ‘Buy me a cake,’ and he bought it. When Abba Agathon had sold a second article, the sick man asked, ‘How much did you sell it for?’ And he told him the price of it. Then the other said, ‘Buy me this,’ And he bought it. When Agathon, having sold all his wares, wanted to go, he said to him, ‘Are you going back?’ and he replied, ‘Yes.’ Then said he, ‘Do me the favour of carrying me back to the place where you found me.’ Once more picking him up, he carried him back to that place. Then the cripple said, ‘Agathon, you are filled with divine blessings, in heaven and on earth.’ Raising his eyes, Agathon saw no man; it was an angel of the Lord, come to try him.”

From the The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG

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Leonard Bacon (1887-1954) won the Pulitzer for his book of poetry Sunderland Capture. Here is a stanza from his poem Uleg Beg and sections from his autobiography, Semi-Centennial, written when he turned 50:

My clumsy subtleties and ironies
Die as I write them. After all, why not?
I shall be dead one day, as Byron is.
Little care I! I have a heart as hot,
And though I lack that glorious verve of his,
My cantos are as long, my rhymes as agile,
And the goblet of my thought at least as fragile

On Life

One thing I have learned, and it is this. It is a great deal better to fail attempting a large thing in a large way than to succeed attempting a little thing in a small way. I have proved this inductively by trying to do a large thing in a small way and subsequently by trying to do a small thing in a large way. Success in one case was as annoying as failure in the other. Furthermore, I keep a hatchet for the person of low birth and menial habit of mind who suppose that I utter this with moral purposes of a sentimental order.

Fishing

Fishing, particularly fly-casting for trout or salmon, has of late years come to mean for me a sort of physical extension of poetry. It is a great deal more than a pastime. It carries one into a region wider than sport. It is not a mere recreation or change in the routine mode of things. It is not something vaguely therapeutic, a connection with that nature dimly worshiped by hunters and ski-clubs. It is all these things of course but a great deal more, and it is positive, transcending the weak limits of escape. One goes to it. One does not flee to it. And it combines the virtue of sport, which is the perfecting of one’s-self in practice and theory, with a species of education which began to be lost when they walled the first city on the plains of Mesopotamia. As far as I am concerned it renews the circulation of atrophied parts of my nature. For it takes men back to places they ought never to have left, to abandoned and, it may be, archaic shrines in the mind, which now stand forlornly far away from the four-lane highways, on which our thought so-called goes mechanically up and down.

Defense of Poetry

One point that it seems to me worth making is this. Like all things human, poetry has a body and a soul. I don’t like those words, especially the second because of its odor of unnecessary and second-rate sanctity. But I have to use them, because they are shorter than the phrases I might conjure up in their places. By the body I, of course, mean the actual words uttered in speech or printed on paper. By the soul I mean, not so much the idea or notion, that a poem may or may not convey, as the spirit that informs the words, a hard thing to describe, but something which is felt at once by whoever is sensitive to such radiations. Now with respect to a human, living creature it has been quite generally asserted, if not believed, that body and soul are of about equal importance…. And such ideas are what keep laboring the point, that body and soul are necessary to each other, from being wholly absurd. They connect, they interact, and this connection and interaction is as true of poetry as it is of the living man.

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Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) won the Pulitzer for his book of Collected Poems.

Instead of posting a poem by Van Doren, I’d like to include two snippets from his book John Dryden, A Study of His Poetry:

The Lyric Poet

Dryden owes his excellence as a lyric poet to his abounding metrical energy. The impetuous mind and the scrupulous ear which Wordsworth admired nourished a singing voice that always was powerful and sometimes was mellow and sweet. The songs, the operas, and the odes of Dryden are remarkable first of all for their musical excitement.

The seventeenth century was an age of song…. It was charged that France had corrupted English song with her Damons and Strephons, her “Chlorisses and Phyllisses,” and that the dances with which she was supposed to have vulgarized the drama and the opera had introduced notes of triviality and irresponsibility into all lyric poetry. Dryden for one was fond of dances, and ran them into his plays whenever there was an excuse. In Marriage à la Mode Melantha and Palamede quote two pieces from Molière’s ballet in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Voiture’s airy nothings also had their day in England. The second song in Dryden’s Sir Martin Mar-All, beginning,

Blind love, to this hour,
Had never, like me, a slave under his power.
Then blest be the dart
That he threw at my heart,
For nothing can prove
A joy so great as to be wounded with love,

was adapted from Voiture:

L’Amour sous sa loy
N’a jamais eu d’amant plus heureux que moy;
Benit soit son flambeau,
Son carquois, son bandeau,
Je sui amoreux,
Et le ciel ne voit point d’amant plus heurux.

But the most serious charge against France was brought against her music.

Music had an important place in the education of gentlemen and poets throughout the Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A larger proportion of trained minds than before or since claimed intimate acquaintance with musical technique. The studies of philosophers as well as poets included ecclesiastical and secular song, the uses made of it being various, of course.

The Narrative Poet

The greatest of all poems have been narrative, for the highest function of poetry is to tell a story. The conquest which prose fiction has made in the world of story since Dryden’s day may or may not signify that poetry is beaten; whether the withdrawal by poets into special corners where they cultivate temperament instead of understanding denotes that the poetry of the future will not be important like the poetry of the past, only time will tell. Certain it is that the idea of narration in verse is often now discredited. At any time in the seventeenth century this would have been heresy. Among theorists at least, occasional, journalistic, or lyric verse was seldom if ever taken seriously; the epic was undisputed king. Yet out of the quantities of narrative verse which that age produced little had much or any meaning. The decay of the heroic tradition was already well-nigh complete.

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