Seek Him In The Kingdom of Anxiety

Auden
W. H. Auden

If the muscle can feel repugnance, there is still a false move to be made;
If the mind can imagine tomorrow, there is still a defeat to remember.

For The Time Being by W. H. Auden


It’s New Year’s eve and all over the world will be celebrations welcoming 2019. Generally I let the poetry speak first and then follow with any commentary. I’ve mixed things up today as the poetry below by Auden is not easy stuff and I thought a little explanation was in order.

Auden wrote For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratario during the darkest days of World War II. It is a remarkable piece of writing, a retelling and interpretation of the Christmas story that is meant to be savored in some ways well after the marketing hype of Christmas has died down and the serious business of living in a new year has begun.  I will offer up a couple of pieces of the oratario in the next week along with a link to a digital version if you care to read the entire poem.  This is one of those poems that can’t be absorbed in one reading, there is too much to think about, too much dense material to wade through.

None of us truly understand another’s spiritual beliefs.  Auden’s poetry is filled with sign posts of his beliefs, his Anglican faith a center in his life. Auden was a gay man at a time when you could still go to prison in England for homosexuality and the Anglican church viewed homosexuality as deviant and wicked. Auden’s poetry is filled with discordance that may have its roots in the obstacles of aligning his strong sense of being a good citizen of the world and the isolation that being different can fester in Christianity. The greatest hypocrisy that can be at the core of Christianity, when it is used as a weapon to justify the actions of discrimination.

The sense I get in reading Auden is that he and I share something in common in our relationship with the Church; it is the foundation for our moral code and at the same time a source of discomfort in attempting to reconcile the entirety of Christianity’s contradictions with our own.  Auden was a bundle of contradictions. He was a moralist who drank heavily, punctual but in a continual state of dishelvement, a homosexual who never appeared to be fully at ease with his sexuality and in many ways a subversive, avant garde writer who choose to write in traditional forms.

What is remarkable about the Oratorio is how succinctly he gets to the contradictions that are the holidays for so many people.  It is a time of excitement, hope, love and joy for the fortunate who feel those uplifting sentiments in their lives.  For many others it is a time of loneliness, isolation and unhappiness. Auden impecably sews together both realities in his version of the Christmas story.  For The Time Being is not light reading. But if you choose to serve yourself up more intellectually challenging fair in digesting your holiday experience, I recommend finding a couple of hours sometime in the new year and sit down and read it.  In Auden’s work you my find a companion to help you on your way.  As he says below, “The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.”  In Auden’s version of the Christmas story some of us may more clearly see ourselves then the sanitized versions of Christmas that have surrounded us for the past weeks.


For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio

by W. H. Auden
Short Excerpt

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this…

The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

IV
Chorus

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Being Rich In Will Add To Thy Will

NYE
Ring Out The Old, Ring In The Ne

 

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?   Are they motivations for change?  Are they wishes unlikely to be kept? Does it matter whether we keep them or not if they signal an awareness for the possibility of change? Ben Franklin said of New Year’s; “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man (or woman).” Ben, that sounds like you are taking all the fun out of NYE celebrations.  Let’s make that our goal on January 2 and dabble in vice for a couple more days.

I always have one or two New Year’s resolutions. They are usually modest nudges towards change of something that I know that I can achieve, something I am already trending towards but want to strengthen my commitment. I don’t set resolutions with expectations of something unrealistic.  I purposefully dream small on New Year’s eve, the New Year still a shimmer of possibility, the past year something more substantial of accomplishments to be savored and celebrated.

William Shakespeare’s sense of humor is in full display in the sonnet below. Is the capitalized “Will” referring only to himself, or the greater mass of our collective wills? The word “will” is included twelve times in fourteen lines, making it the most willful sonnet I have ever come across, but as he says; “The sea, all water, yet receives rain still.”  One simply can’t have too much will or William.  Enjoy.


 

Sonnet 135

by William Shakespeare

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou being rich in Will add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
   Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
   Think all but one, and me in that one Will

If It’s Darkness We’re Having, Let it Be Extravagant

tree
Christmas tree carcass waiting for the garbage man.

Taking Down The Tree

by Jane Kenyon

“Give me some light!” cries Hamlet’s
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. “Light! Light!” cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it’s dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother’s childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.


What a difference there is between putting up the tree and taking it down.  In my experience, we usher in the grand festival of the Christmas season with the annual family ceremony of selecting, transporting and then decorating the Christmas tree, eggnog in hand, Christmas carols playing on Spotify.  Then several weeks later, generally only one person finds themselves with the solitary task of taking the ornaments off, boxing them up and kicking the tree to the curb like an ugly sweater some relative gave you on Christmas Day.

A much more pleasurable final resting place for your Christmas tree, if you are fortunate enough to live in a place where you can have a fire in your back yard, is to put your tree out in the burn pit and let it get good and dry to become a natural inferno for next year’s first bonfire in the spring. That’s a sure-fire one match fire.  It’s also a reminder why our great grandparents before electricity took their lives in their own hands in lighting candles on the Christmas tree.  No wonder prohibition was passed in the 1920s!

My Mother always waited until 12th night to take down her Christmas tree. The twelve days of Christmas begins on Christmas day and ends on January 5. I like the term Christmastide to describe this period, as it creates an image of being swept away by the spirit of good tidings.

This year I am awash in pears, having been gifted several boxes of fruit. Trying to eat them all up before twelfth night is my challenge as pears go from perfect to putrid in about 3 days. I am making pear tatin, pear-blue cheese salad, pear sauce and would you care for a pear if I left it outside your door as I am playing ding dong ditch with my neighbors with pears in about 3 days. Please, next year, send me oranges.  At least I can turn them into screwdrivers on New Years day.


Sonnet

by Jane Tyson Clement (1917 – 2000)

Seeking the fact that lies behind the flower
the soul will break its own mortality;
searching the time that lies beyond the hour
the soul will yield its blind serenity;
that is but briefly to be ill at ease
and then forever to be tranquil-eyed,
stirring the wrath of temporal deities
who hurl pale lightning when they are defied.
The least fine sheaf of millet will repay
the soul’s slow contemplation, and the still
ages of starlight between day and day;
the climb is steep to mount a sudden hill;
but if man, fearless, follows stars, he’ll find –
lo, he is more than stars, and more than mind.


“Taking Down the Tree” by Jane Kenyon from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005.  Graywolf Press, http://www.graywolfpress.org.

May This Season Make You Blessed

 

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My Inner Boy, 1967

 

Merry Christmas

By T. A. Fry

May this season make you blessed,
Every day with tenderness;
Renew our dampened spirits in its sway.
Rejoice in twinkling candlelight,
Young and old all spry this night,
Cheerful with renewal New Year’s Day.
Hark our dear one’s joy
Rally our inner girl and boy,
Inside our hearts’ a tiny silver sleigh.
Santa’s not gifts beneath a tree,
The true gifts are family,
May each flourish in both industry and play.  
And so I’ve devised a simple plan
Spelled it out in anagram,

Merry Christmas one and all this holiday.


 

Is it naive to want to want the world to be a better place this time of year? Then let’s be naive together in wishing each other the sentiments:  “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.” The words nativity and naivety are french and come from the same Latin root that means just born. Every year, we need to birth anew our understanding of peace. Peace that is an outpouring of compassion, the capacity to empathize with even those we disagree. Peace arises from the certainty that there can never be peace for me, until there is justice for everyone else. Justice is not a means to retribution.  Justice has to be a road to peace, for Justice = Just Us.

May this world find real solutions to the most intractable of conflicts in 2019 and forge a brighter future for us all.

Peace on Earth,

 .          .  Goodwill to All.

 

 

Wonder Upon Wonder

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“I will try and honor Christmas in my heart, and try and keep it all the year.”

Charles Dickens

Before The Ice Is In The Pools

by Emily Dickinson

Before the ice is in the pools—
Before the skaters go,
Or any check at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow—

Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me!

 


 

A few years ago, I took the same concept as Tom’s Best of CD and applied it to poetry.  I keep a crude poetry log every year.   It is a google Docs that I add poems as I come across that I like throughout the year. I print it out in early December and read through it,  marking my absolute favorites. I then create a little hand bound book of poetry, making covers for it and give it away at Christmas to family and friends.

The first year I made the book it took a little figuring out. I make it the size of a 1/2 sheet of paper folded over, and I had to come up with a template on where to place each poem so that it worked out.  This is the fifth edition of Tom’s Best of… Poetry and I have it down to a science, being able to use the prior year’s as a template.  It consists of 10 sheets of paper – which when folded provides 40 pages.  I include a title page and table of contents which takes up two pages so that I am left with 37 pages as canvas with which to work. I have found over time that long poems don’t lend itself to this format, so a poem has to fit on no more than two pages to make the cut and be included.  I typically include two to four poems of my own.

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Several of my favorite poems from 2018 that I have included in my poetry book are listed below.  I have provided a link if you would like to read them. What was your favorite poem that you came across in 2018?  Do you keep a poem diary?  Have you ever made your own hand bound book?

1).  Aging by Randall Jarrell

2).  Professor’s Song by John Berryman

3).  Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant by Emily Dickinson

4). Corruption by Srikanth Reddy

5).  Stung by Heid E. Erdrich 

Moonless Darkness Stands Between

Kestrel.jpg
A Kestrel or Windhover

Moonless Darkness Stands Between

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.


Today is the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice. Religious holidays Hanukkah and Christmas are purported to be based on documented historical events and just coincidence that they fall so close to the pagan celebration of the return of the light. Funny then that’s it is just another coincidence that light plays such an important part of these Jewish and Christian celebrations. Regardless of our beliefs – we all need a candle this time of year and a little faith that spring is coming.

I have spent this fall editing a chap book of poetry, mostly sonnets, written over the past 4.5 years.  It is largely finished and now I have to make several decisions about what to do with it.  Those decisions are more complicated because of the personal nature of the poetry – centering prayers for a non-believer in the form of sonnets which I have titled, The Canticle of Divine Doubt. I have shared several of the poems contained in the chapbook on earlier posts;  Simple Praise and In The Hand of Heaven. 

In Latin, Nomen es omen means roughly a name is one’s destiny.  In Aramaic Thomas means twin, so it’s possible my doubt comes to me from a name sake, doubting Thomas, a relatively minor character in the new testament and I have always felt a metaphor for the doubt of the apostles and less a real person.  A play on words of this Latin phrase is Ars omnia vincent – art conquers all.  The canticle is my attempt to put to words what cannot be explained and in that incompleteness that poetry allows, find invitations and a commitment to kindness and justice as life’s guiding principles.

The phrase art conquers all suggests that the highest art is the art of living beautifully – or feng shui.  The art of living beautifully an expression of our gratitude for our good lives.  The art of being in the moment a directive to use our talents towards kindness and love. Many artists have felt their genius, their personal illuminations and inspiration are directed by a hidden hand, which some call their muse and others call spiritual enlightenment from their God.   Today, on the darkest of days, may art penetrate the darkness and be a candle for our souls.


The Windhover

by Gerard Manley Hopkins
To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

 

 

Taking Such With Thankfulness

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The World’s Best Peanut Brittle

The Reminder

by Thomas Hardy

While I watch the Christmas blaze
Paint the room with ruddy rays,
Something makes my vision glide
To the frosty scene outside.

There, to reach a rotting berry,
Toils a thrush, – constrained to very
Dregs of food by sharp distress,
Taking such with thankfulness.

Why, O starving bird, when I
One day’s joy would justify,
And put misery out of view,
Do you make me notice you!


 

Thankfulness is my theme for Christmas every year.  Fortunately I don’t have to find it in dregs of food, rather in indulgence with family and friends. Christmas for me has become about traditions. One of those traditions is the magic of making peanut brittle with my Dad.  My Dad is a great cook and a chemical engineer, which comes in handy in the art and science of making the best peanut brittle in the world. Commercial peanut brittle that you buy in a store is a monstrous thing invented by dentists to suck filings out of teeth and break old molars in half. The peanut brittle tradition in my family is an aromatic caramel peanutty confection, wonderfully crunchy and filled with a million air bubbles to make it brittle but light.

There’s three keys to making the world’s best peanut brittle.

1).   Buy a good heavy duty candy thermometer that can clip on the side of your sauce pan.

2).   If at all possible, don’t make it alone – four hands come in handy at several key steps in the process and besides its more fun to share in this with someone else.

3).   Don’t stop stirring, its how you stir in all the love that makes it taste good.

Here’s the ingredients to make one batch:

(You will make more than one batch when you realize how fantastic this stuff tastes so have extra of everything on hand.  By the way Trader Joe’s peanuts come in 1 lb bags and are a good deal).

  • 1 1/2 cups of white sugar
  • 1 cup of corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 1 lb of roasted peanuts – salted or unsalted is your preference.  I like salted. Don’t scrimp a little over a lb works even better.
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of water

Directions:

1).   Prepare a typical full size cookie sheet with edges by spraying it with PAM, covering it with confectionery paper or covering it in non-stick aluminum foil.   (We actually have sheets of silicon rubber that we line the cookie sheet with for the pour, but not many of you probably have access to salvage rolls of silicon sheeting.)

2).  Lay out all your ingredients and proportions or have your helper do it while you start the first step.  Be sure to have a good hot pad glove to cover your stirring hand to prevent getting burned, particularly on the last step.  Be safe – this is going to be 300 degrees of burning hot brittle at the end, be careful.

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3).  In a typical 4 quart sauce pan with a sturdy handle add the 1 1/2 cups of sugar, the 1 cup of corn syrup and the 3/4 cup of water. On high heat, stir a bit. Fix your candy thermometer on the side of your sauce pan. It will start out milky and turn clear as the water evaporates off. Stir slowly to stay engaged at this point, but don’t be trying to do two things at once while making brittle or you will screw it up.

4).  Let this clear mixture rise to 240 degrees F.  It will go slowly up to about 220  and then fairly quickly the last 20 degrees so pay attention. At 240 degrees add your butter, stirring for 30 seconds and then your peanuts. The temperature is going to go back down, that’s normal. Keep stirring slowly but mixing all the time so that peanuts don’t burn on the bottom or behind your thermometer. This is when the rich caramel flavors are going to form with the butter. Inhale deeply. Throw a party, fill up your kitchen, let your friends in on these smells, have them bring a bottle of wine, set out some crackers and cheese. Make it an event. This is what your kitchen is supposed to be like during the holidays, smelling great and filled with people.

5).   Either measure out ahead of time or have your helper in a small dish or measuring cup measure out the vanilla, the baking soda and the teaspoon of water.  Don’t skimp on the baking soda a heaping tablespoon.  Stir this mixture together and have a little spoon or rubber spatula handy for your helper to mix it up again right at the end and be ready to add it to your sauce pan for you.

6).   Now is when you are going to be glad you bought a good candy thermometer.  You want one that is sturdy enough to stay engaged with this thick peanut sugar mess you are heating up to 300 degrees.  Cooking it to only 290 is going to make the final result soft and gooey and not a pleasing texture. Cooking it to 305 degrees is going to begin to introduce off flavors and make the end result darker. Cook it to exactly 300 degrees. This is chemistry.  It will go very slowly from about 220 to 270 and that’s where you can get a little tired of this, but then it goes pretty quick the last 30 degrees.   Like real fast, so pay attention.

7).  As soon as it hits 300 degrees, turn off your burner.  Remove your thermometer using your hot pad. Wearing your gloved hot pad in the hand that is going to stir, have your helper quickly stir up the baking soda/vanilla concoction with a few whips of the spoon and spoon it all into your pan.  Stir it into the brittle mixture vigorously. It is going to shoot up steam and if you aren’t wearing your hot pad glove you are going to burn your hand. Mix for about 20 seconds and then stop mixing or slow down mixing.  The baking soda and water/vanilla is going to react in the heat to create millions of tiny air bubbles.  Begin walking over to where your cookie sheet is waiting with your spoon.  Let the mixture rise right up to the top of the sauce pan, it will only take a few seconds. Using your spoon to suspend the peanuts more evenly begin pouring it out on the cookie sheet.  Start on one edge and poor back and forth moving down the sheet coaxing out peanuts uniformly. Spoon out all the peanuts that are at the bottom, going back to where you started with this last bit, because it is probably a little light on peanuts where you first poured.

8).  This next step is the hardest.  Over come your urge to take your spoon and spread the mixture out on the cookie sheet. LEAVE IT ALONE Spreading it pops the air bubbles that are the key to making this the world’s best peanut brittle. Let gravity do its thing. It will spread out all on its own to a relatively uniform level as it cools.  Do not leave this cookie sheet on a surface that can be damaged by heat. Either have it on a wood cutting board or a cooling rack. Remember it’s still close to 300 degrees as you do the pour. We take ours outside after about 5 minutes and put it on our metal patio table to cool in the 20 degree December air.

9).   It is going to need to cool for 30 to 40 minutes.   It’s ready to break apart when its cool to the point that it will fracture easily in chunks by just breaking it apart with your hands.  Take a bite and enjoy the magic.  Be careful who you give this stuff to.  They will be asking for more next year.