Thou In Our Wonder and Astonishment

black robe in Oxford.jpg
Albert Einstein in Academic Robes at Oxford, England

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

Albert Einstein

A Scholar

Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli

by Don Paterson

The light is dying, and the clock has died;
the page succumbs to the atrocious care
that disinters the things not wholly there
by which your solemn field is justified.
You burnish them until they bear the shine
of common knowledge, knowing one black skill
is yours alone: before the greater will
all text is dream, and takes on the design
of what was sought there.  Thus your word is god.
This grammarie electrifies the gate;
none pass but such as you initiate.
The students hurry by you in the quad
attending to their feet.  What can you say?
You know your Shakespeare would have walked that way.


I could not bear to watch the Kavanaugh hearings.  It didn’t matter the political stripe of the news organization broadcasting the senate chambers, it all was just ugly theater. What little I did see, was like a car wreck – my focus uncontrollably drawn to it before I could avert my eyes. I came away thinking Ford was believable and genuine and Kavanaugh unfit for the Supreme Court in which he is being considered. But I am guessing no one’s mind was swayed that will actually vote on the matter, so ingrained is the political trenches that Republicans and Democrats find themselves today, that actually thinking for oneself no longer occurs in the modern warfare we call democracy.

I instead chose to mostly read about it afterwards, admittedly selecting op-eds that probably leaned towards my liberal bias. I wonder what the great minds of past centuries would think about our modern communication? What would Lincoln have done to deal with the 24/7 news cycle of CNN and Fox news during the civil war? What would Franklin Roosevelt thought about Twitter during the height of the depression? What would Shakespeare have put out on Instagram as a 16 year old that would come back to haunt him professionally? What would John Milton have posted on Facebook? I am guessing the answer in each case is nothing that would have added to their greatness and legacy.


 

On Shakespeare. 1630

by John Milton

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;
And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

A Voice Whose Sound Was Like The Sea

paradise lost
Paradise Lost by Salvador Dali

On His Blindness

by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


Milton wrote Paradise Lost at a time when the power struggle between the Monarchy and Parliament was coming to a head and while the Monarchy still held tightly to the reins of power, Cromwell and his supporters, such as Milton, were turning the tide of public sentiment in favor of the Republic.  Was Milton’s literature as powerful a tool as armies in fomenting rebellion or is it in retrospect given more credit than it deserves and is simply the elegance of history shaped in metaphor?   The bold politics of Paradise Lost amidst its pure literary style is Milton’s genius.  Satan has rarely had such a star turn in literature as Milton provides him in Paradise Lost.  Milton’s Satan is depicted as the most beautiful and intelligent of all the angels, who proclaims; “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven….”

What role does literature play in society in 2018?  Sadly, video games and Netflix have usurped our children’s imagination.  First person shooter games and violent programing have overtaken literature as centers of entertainment, worthy of their time and ingeniuty.

What role does poetry play in shaping the discourse of our nation, of our world? I believe poetry is as vibrant a vehicle for challenging the status quo of lassitude as ever, but we lack the dominant voices in poetry that once were as popular as today’s rock stars or fashion divas.  I wonder, who will be the first rock star poet of the 21st Century and what will be their message that invigorates the public’s imagination?  What poet’s genius is already rousing us from sleepy acceptance of the crude politics of divisiveness that dominate our polarized world?   Whose words inspire you to build a bridge between the political rifts that divide your communities?  It certainly is not the loud blustery voices on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.  So maybe its time we tune out the rabid 24/7 news cycle and take the time to read a book, read a poem, listen to music and find in them, new ideas that stretch us in unexpected ways.  For all of human history, in tension and conflict are sown the seeds of artistic expression.  If I view current conflicts as the incubator of great art, then I awaken to the reality that art is all around me to seek out and enjoy.


On The Pulse of Morning

by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

London, 1802

by William Wordsworth

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.