Haikusday Tuesday : The Cool Breeze

The cool breeze
fills the empty vault of heaven
with the voice of the pinetrees.

This haiku, with its initial lack of images, snaps backwards once we hit the last word. We do not see a cool breeze or an empty vault or a voice, it is only when we hit the pinetrees that we can begin to make sense of the haiku. The genius of this haiku is that it enacts the very event it speaks of for just as we are surprised by the sudden and late appearance of the tree so are we surprised by the metaphor of the tree’s voice. Working back we understand the value of this voice as it fills the vault of heaven. Using the word “vault” makes this voice a treasure, using “heaven” instead of “sky” imports a more sacred connotation. In this second backward reading we feel the breeze, we see the open sky, and we hear the voice of the pinetrees rushing into our ears.

The cool breeze
fills the empty vault of heaven
with the voice of the pinetrees.

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Adventure Stories and the Drama of Latin

The word Romance finds it roots in the word Roman. A Roman story to the Medievals was an adventure story, chivalric, preferably with dragons. It was a blessed misunderstanding that these Christians saw venturing as the point of a Roman tale, for to Aeneas his adventure was a grand, perhaps unavoidable, pain in the neck. In the ancient world, evil is a natural element; to the Christian it is an affront to creation.

For the Christian the great adventurer is Jesus Christ. We celebrate his advents annually. And the purpose of his adventure was to redeem the bride, which is why Romance has become our term for love stories: it’s always about the girl.

It is a wonderful misreading for Christians to see Aeneas braving the trials so that he may redeem his bride, but I do not begrudge the Romans their heritage. Those Romans could tell a story.

.   .   .

“Quantus est deorum erga nos amor”

“How great is the love of the gods to us.”

Part of the fun of Latin sentences is the drama built into each one. The sentence above shifts the subject of the sentence, amor, to the end so that to the hearer is left in the dark until its conclusion. The sentence would have been heard: How great is of the gods to us Love.

This idea is expressed biblically in 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”

The Vulgate renders this: “Videte qualem caritatem dedit nobis Pater ut filii Dei nominemur” which falls out this way: “See what manner of charity he gave to us the Father that the sons of God we are called” which is a nice little surprise, but the Vulgate adds a “et sumus” at the end (not found in the Greek) which is “and we are.”

We are called the sons of God and we are. That’s drama.

from Inferno Canto XX : Two Translations

Certo io piangea, poggiato a un de’ rocchi
del duro scoglio, sì che la mia scorta
mi disse: «Ancor se’ tu de li altri sciocchi?

Qui vive la pietà quand’ è ben morta;
chi è più scellerato che colui
che al giudicio divin passion comporta?

-Inferno, XX Ln.25-30


In the 8th circle of hell, in the 4th ditch, where astrologists, seers and are punished, Dante falls into yet another crying jag for the sinners. Vergil, his guide, rebukes him for his impiety  (translation by Anthony Esolen):

I leaned upon an outcrop of the bridge
and surely wept; I wept so, that my guide
said, “Even now, with all the other fools!

Here pity lives the best when it is dead.
Who is more wicked than the man who longs
to make God’s judgment yield to human force?”

My translation:

Truly I wept, leaning upon the rock
of hard stumbling, so that my guide
said, “Are you as foolish as the rest?

Here pieta lives when it is best left dead.
Who is more wicked than the one
who feels compassion at divine judgment?”


1 Peter 2:8 “And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”

Pietà can mean both Pity and Piety and both senses play a role in Dante’s transformation so therefore I favor a transliteration so that the reader must struggle alongside of Dante: piety or pity?

Haikusday Tuesday : Not Knowing

Not knowing
it is a famous place,
a man hoeing the field.

Memory seems to be at the root of this haiku. Some such sin as forgetting the past or a failure to honor the past seems to be our moral, but as we work through the poem we need to ask, how is a field famous?

The answer leads us in altogether different direction, a battlefield. What strikes us at first is the desiccation of a memorial turns into a healing from the past. War has been forgotten, swords have been beaten into plowshares. Instead of blood, seeds will be sown here, instead of death sinking into the dust, life will spring out of it.

Not knowing
it is a famous place,
a man hoeing the field.

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Interpreting the Mountain

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
(Is. 40:4).

What does it mean that every mountain shall be made low? What’s wrong with mountains?

It could be argued that the earth must be leveled so that all can see the glory of the Lord coming at the same time, no valleys or hills obscuring the view. Maybe.

I recently posed this question to my science class, who had just finished reading Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes. At first they answered with some sort of equalizing gesture; we’re all the same before God.

Then I asked them what mountains symbolized. Altars, a meeting place with God, ladders to heaven. I asked again, what do mountains mean? They answered that there will be no need for an altar, no need to ascend into heaven to meet with God, for he will be with us.

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
(Matt. 3:1-3)

Against Avant-Garde Art

Andrei Tarkovsky in his book Sculpting in Time argues that Avant-Garde is an incoherent term when applied to art. He says:

“The whole concept of avant-garde in art is meaningless. I can see what it means as applied to sport, for instance. But to apply it to art would be to accept the idea of progress in art; and though progress has an obvious place in technology -more perfect machines, capable of carrying out their functions better and more accurately- how can anyone be more advance in art?”

To impose a scale of maturation short changes the history of art, to say nothing of the arrogance. Art is not a race, nor is it a technology to be improved upon.

I would add since the Avant-Garde is a military term for the forces that probe the enemy and claim territory that to apply it to Art transforms it into the turgid business of war. The object of Art is shifted to claiming territory and killing the old guard.

To switch this term with Experimental Art does not help the matter. Tarkovsky goes on to argue that since Art is a living organism to experiment with it is “senseless and immoral”. Art cannot be experimental unless it be barbaric for one does not experiment with the living.

And Mary Kept These Things In Her Heart

I continue to groove with the Magnificat, reflecting on Mary as a type of the church. No grand point here, just a neat thing.

After the shepherds visited it is recorded: “and Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The verb for “kept” is the Greek verb syntereo, translated in the gospel of Matthew as “preserved” and “observed”. The only other time Luke uses this verb is in the parable of the new wine and old wine bottles. “But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved” (Luke 5:38).


With Child

It is hard to break out of our education and knowledge, but imagine reading the Gospel of Matthew for the first time. Imagine reading, with no knowledge of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, that Mary, before coming together with Joseph, was found with child of the Holy Spirit. We don’t exactly know what this means, but we expect some foul play by this fellow who calls himself the Holy Spirit. It isn’t until a few verses later that we read:

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child”

Quite a shocker, I bet. But that’s not what I want to note. I’m interested in this term “with child”.

The Greek is actually, transliterated, gaster, from which we get gastronomic and it means: belly, stomach, womb. It appears nine times in the Greek Testament with eight of those in reference to pregnancy. It is paired with the Greek verb “to hold/have” and could therefore be translated “holding in the womb”.

The only other time it is used is in Titus 1:12 “The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies” which is a reference to gluttony.

The only other word I found in reference to pregnancy was enkuos in Luke 2:5 “To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” This is the only use of the word and it appears to be related to “en kuma” or “in the wave”.

Winter Seeds : Freelance Whales

My family breeds
Wild winter seeds
Like me

We all seem to get tossed into the brush

I don’t want to make my case alone
For this lost race
Digging up the ribcage from the snow
Throw me in the tarpits all the same
In a cold black frame
Cradled in the Pterodactyl bones

Overground and frozen in my shell
I can hold my breath well
Over time I will heirloom into
Something gnarled for you