Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day Didst make thy triumph over death and sin, And having harrowed hell, didst bring away Captivity thence captive, us to win: This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin, And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die, Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin, May live forever in felicity: And that thy love we weighing worthily, May likewise love thee for the same again; And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy, May love with one another entertain. So let us love, dear love, like as we ought, Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
Holy Sonnets: Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?
What watch are we keeping these days? It feels like not being able to look out far or in deep is the curse of the collective human condition. Yet, it’s too easy to say that this is more so today than in the past. Actual facts would say the modern world is continuously improving and our ability to deal with complex problems, like poverty is working and we should be back-slapping each other giving each other credit for the fact things are getting better. We aren’t to the point we can say we are globally great, but we are a darn sight better than we were 40 years ago by nearly every economic and meaningful measure that is vital to the health and well-being of our fellow global citizens. The problem is that optimism doesn’t make headlines. Disasters make headlines, so if you are a consumer of any kind of news, whether that’s on-line, TV, radio or news print, you are bombarded with a daily barrage of murder, mayhem, disaster and stupidity, until you are worn down believing everything is getting worse not better.
The writer Johan Norberg, a Swedish historian, published a book titled Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future in 2016. In it he makes the case that if we look at statistics like number of people living in extreme poverty, number of people with access to education, number of people who are illiterate, number of active global conflicts, number of countries controlled by repressive regimes and dictators, number of woman with access to health care, etc, etc. that by every measure that we can look at that measures our collective global well-being, the statistic has improved since 40 years ago. If you are interested in the topic of optimism, check out the link to the Guardian article on Norberg and check out the podcast that is available.
On the topic of optimism, I believe that poetry, particularly poetry about love, in which sonnets play a central role in the history of poetry, are at their core optimistic. Poetry is about capturing a tiny sliver of the human condition that is timeless and immortal, and by that very definition the poems that stand the test of time and live on in literature are those that hold up the best of what we can be. Poetry’s central role in our lives is to keep optimism’s lamp lit, for generations of readers.
By Edmund Spenser
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’
‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.’
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.
Amoretti XXX: My Love is like to ice, and I to fire
BY EDMUND SPENSER
My Love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.
I have an obscure interest in first person accounts of arctic exploration from about 1880 to 1930. This was a period when men and women still traveled and explored for the sheer adventure of being the first to go some where. My favorite writers are Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen, two college friends, who established the Thule trading station in Greenland as a way to support their real goals, which was to accomplish many firsts exploring the uncharted territory of Greenland and northern Canada and along the way record the ethnography and history of the people of the frozen North. Rasmussen and Freuchen had no interest in going to the North Pole, for it lacked the one thing that fascinated them the most – the Intuit people.
Rasmussen was a anthropologist who was collecting the stories and oral history of the Intuit. Rasmussen and Freuchen both embraced the Intuit way of life, the people and their culture and were uniquely suited for this task. Rasmussen was the son of Missionary and an Intuit woman, who was raised in a traditional village in Greenland, but returned to Denmark for his college education where he met Fruechen. His tales of Greenland and its rugged spirit, inspired the two friends to set out on a life long series of adventures that stand to this day as some of the most remarkable journeys in arctic history.
The two of them accomplished what I consider to be the most incredible arctic feat of exploration ever – the unsupported Fifth Thule expedition. The expedition set out to scientifically prove the origin of the Inuit people, and collect the evidence to help the rest of the world have a broader understanding of this remarkable culture. In a completely self sufficient, unsupported and unresupplied expedition, 7 people on dogsled set out from Greenland to cross over the ice to Canada. After a year of careful documentation of the people and ancient sites of Eastern northernmost Canada, several of the members of the expedition were physically unable to continue, including Freuchen, who suffered extreme frost bite on one leg, eventually resulting in its amputation below the knee. Rasmussen was undeterred and would continue with one man and one woman for 2 and half more years. The three of them would cover 18,000 miles over the course of three years of traversing and criss-crossing all of Northern Canada, across the bearing straight into Russia, only to be denied further passage by Russian authorities, and then back to Alaska, to catch passage and sail back to Greenland. Rasmussen published his journey and scientific findings in a seven volume set and proves what Rasmussen himself accomplished, which is the Intuit people settled the entire top of the world by their ingenuity, athleticism and complete adaptation to the arctic environment. He proved that even in the most isolated areas of the arctic there was a common language, common stories, common religion, common technologies that tied these people together into one society of origin.
Global warming has made the type of expeditions that Rasmussen and Fruechen accomplished impossible, because there is too much unstable ice and open water during the winter in areas that they crossed safely with dog sleds 100 years ago.
The arctic cold has been a natural barrier of protection for the amazing ecosystems of the far north. An environment that was until recently, only experienced by the native people and few adventurers that had the ability to overcome the austerity of the conditions to thrive in extreme elements. I fear that with that barrier of ice and cold diminishing, there will be a renewed fervor by governments and business interests to send expeditions to the North in coming years, not to chart its lands and waters for the sake of pure knowledge and adventure, but to extract samples and create outposts that can facilitate the extraction and exploitation of oil, minerals and natural resources waiting beneath the ice that will be more accessible in the future to a world greedy to strip the arctic of whatever can be exploited to make a buck.
The Northwest Passage, an elusive dream for hundreds of years, is about to become a normalized shipped lane, open to a wide variety of vessels for long periods during the summer months. And with the sudden increase in shipping traffic to this fragile ecosystem, bring a whole new level of pressure with unknowable consequences to our planet. I am sure that neither Peter Freuchen or Knud Rasmussen ever conceived of a reality where their beloved Greenland would be threatened by the melting of the very ice cap that makes Greenland unique.
By T. A. Fry
I should like to go to Greenland Where ice calves along blue bays. I would like to go to Greenland Before it’s glaciers melt away.
I am in wonder of a Greenland Where all the green is white. I ponder what I’ve done Dear To protect the arctic night.
Can we conceive the sky is warming? Imagine all that sinks beneath? Sixty meters of rising water Our modernity will bequeath.
Do we honestly think we’ll build Dykes strong enough to hold? Do we honestly think we’ve willed A future worthy to behold?
It’ll take a thousand years To melt every single drop. Will future Pioneers Have the will to make it stop?
I should like to go to Greenland. Just not the Greenland of today. I’d like to go to the Greenland Where the ice was borne to stay.