Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Merry Happy Candlemas Groundhog Day! (Also, William Blake and Arthur Miller)

I posted about today a few days ago. Today's Office of Readings had this:

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

It was written by St. Sophronius, who died around A.D. 451, so the candlelight procession for this day is older than that. If you want to read the whole excerpt, someone posted it here.

I'm leaving town tomorrow and won't be back on the internet till Monday, so make sure nothing fun happens till then! I'm bummed about missing the rain that's predicted for this weekend. Now here's some randomness I simply must post before I go:

Last night my cat was all cuddled up to me as I lay in bed and I thought, "How comforting." Then this morning I read this!

Want to waste time on a site that's pointless and weird?

I always thought if given the chance I'd wish for more wishes.

You know the Shel Silverstein poem about Noah and the Ark? I think he must have read C.S. Lewis, because I was reading my Lewis poetry book yesterday and found a poem that uses the same idea in a completely different way. "I see one creature more / Belated and unmated there come knocking at the door..."

Incidentally it's ironic that the publisher chose an illustration by William Blake for the cover of Lewis' book, since another of Lewis' books, The Great Divorce, begins by taking him on:

Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant.

But in some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial. The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable "either-or"; that, granted skill and patience and time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain.

This belief I take to be a disastrous error. You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind.... If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

So yeah, it's funny that the publisher uses Blake. But now I have to blather a bit about my first exposure to Blake when I was in college. We studied Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, and pretty soon I had a visceral dislike of his work and I didn't know why. His poems were interesting and evocative; I memorized several of them and I was glad we were learning them. But they seemed to be pushing a worldview antithetical to my own. It was nothing I could put my finger on... until we moved on to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I didn't understand most of it, but at least one scene seemed pretty clear: the one where the bigoted angel explodes because he can't handle the truth uttered by the polite and intelligent demon from Hell. What was interesting to me was that I'd gotten that feeling all along from studying Blake's other work. I sensed that he was preaching something dangerously wrong, even though he was just talking about innocent little lambs and tigers burning bright. In retrospect, I think what I hated was that his Songs of Innocence were songs of ignorance. "So if all do their duty they need not fear harm," sings the little chimney-sweep who's in for a world of abuse. I think that was Blake's idea of Christianity-- either pie in the sky, or else an oppressive force, "binding with briars my joys and desires," and harmful either way. He probably cut sin from his vocabulary and substituted enlightenment. The 60's probably loved him; I'm sure it's no accident that he was relatively obscure in his own time but became very popular a century later.

Actually I also felt a visceral dislike of Arthur Miller after reading his plays (like A Streetcar Named Desire). When the news recently came out that he refused to live with his Down's Syndrome son and forced his wife to give up her child to an institution instead, I was unsurprised. "The man who could write Death of a Salesman is capable of anything," I thought. I'd had zero knowledge of Miller's personal life (except for something about Marilyn Monroe) and no basis for judging him. I was just certain that if he'd written those plays, he couldn't be a pleasant person. There's something so inhuman about Willy Loman and the rest of Miller's characters, like they're just shells of real people. Like Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited, but he was just one of Evelyn Waugh's characters, whereas Miller seems to write everybody that way.

Of course Blake and Miller were great writers. They'd never have gotten such a rise out of me if they weren't. I suppose there must be people who find themselves hating Lewis or Tolkien or other writings I find very congenial. Have any of you ever felt like that about an author or a book? You really disliked it even though you couldn't easily say why? Like you felt the author was wrong on some fundamental level?

Well, I can't ramble forever. See ya'll next week!

I'll have to turn my comments to the moderated setting for now because I get a lot of comment spam on this blog. Although some of the spam I delete is kinda fun. Almost poetic. "Good day, sun shines! There have were times of troubles when I felt unhappy missing knowledge about opportunities. I was a dump and downright stupid person. I have never thought that there weren't any need in large starting capital.
Now, I'm happy and lucky..."


Warren said...

I found Blake, and others like him, an interesting exercise in "outing" the spirit of the age. But also, I found a kindred spirit, in that if he rails at Christianity, or at religion, or at God, or at Society, he does so as a hurting individual.

His considerable literary talent grants him much more serious a reading nowadays than he would otherwise receive for such things.

And yes he is a bit of an anachronism in his own time, as he is a victim of the age, but of a later age than his own it would seem. He is a ... harbinger of modernity. Yeah. That's it.

He was hostile to the Church of England, but probably also to Roman Catholicism. His belief system, whatever it was, was not even conservative congregationalist protestant, but
rather, somewhere between swedenborgian mystic and Behmenist voyageur from innocence, to experience, and back to a renewed innocence that knows better than to repeat the mistakes of the first time.

In short, a perfect poster child for liberal 1960s sensibilities. Although he probably would be shocked to see modernity, and he would reflect, I suspect, that sometimes, nothing is wanted so much as a little briar patch to throw oneself at, rather than to sin.


Rachel Gray said...

Thanks Warren! He does seem to me a harbinger of modernity, though in some ways he'd probably be just as critical of it as we are. Was he a hurting individual? I know almost nothing about his life; maybe I should find out.