Saturday, July 24, 2010

The New Beginning of My First Chapter

I had a small notebook in which I recorded everything that happened. Really, I had several dozen; every two or three weeks I would finish the one I was currently using and go buy a new one. For the first six years I returned home from school at the end of every day, after all the day’s chronicling was done, and wrote it all out again by hand in the form of a story. In the hours when I wasn’t memorizing poetry or reading, I would journal.

Then, in the last trimester of my junior year of high school, I acquired an old computer.

This had the benefit of making my journaling easier, fuller, and faster. But it left me feeling faintly surreal. I could tell you exactly what I had been thinking and feeling and doing on Tuesday, June 24, at five in the afternoon. I could recite an entire conversation I had had with Eric Booth six months earlier during Newspaper as we were walking towards the field house to take a picture of a boy who looked uncannily like Frodo Baggins. I could tell you the immediate reaction of the coaches, who had called him “Frodo” then and ever since. I could list off the names of the stores we had passed on our way to a UIL event in Houston during the last weekend of February, and the puns we had fashioned from each.

I could describe to you the conversation that ended a friendship, long after the friend had forgotten. I could tell you what my parents had said to each other in the week they got divorced.

Being a recorder and preserver of memory brings with it certain unusual, untransferable, and, in any other circumstances, unthinkable pleasures. Chief among them is the tunneling, ever-expanding mental and emotional landscape it creates. There’s something wondrous in it. Indulge me, if you will, for a moment, in a brief experiment. Try and remember a year of your life. Any year will do—your sixteenth, say. Now, what about it in particular do you remember? Certainly a few events of lasting import—the first time you read The Great Gatsby, the death of your mother… But what else? Unless you sit and think about it very probingly and deeply, your entire conception of whole years of your life becomes compressed over time into a few select images, hurried, undeveloped snapshots of the past. You might remember the cookies your uncle made; a certain song that everyone was singing; or the way the sunlight slanted in a schoolroom on the first day of August, but those cookies, that song, and that patch of summer sunlight will usurp the memory of all the other food you ate, and all the other songs you heard, and any other loveliness that God ordained. So that whenever you say, “my sixteenth year,” you’re really picturing that moment in the kitchen or that moment in the classroom, above and beyond all else. They have become a sort of mental shorthand for the year itself.

At least, this was always the case with me.

Yet, once I started chronicling, life lost its blurry edges. I could remember every single day now with untiring vividness. I never lost them. Rather, they accumulated, like beads on a necklace. And memory itself was expanding to accommodate its new possessions, so that my ordinary recollection of a given afternoon surpassed what I could once remember in a year. It was like building a city, house by house and street by street. Except that the city was my life and the expansion never ended. I was always adding on.

But in a world where old days never sank away to make way for new ones, where newer memories never crowded out but merely took their place beside the old ones, time no longer passed. It merely grew. When I awoke in the morning, I immediately recalled not only what had happened on the previous day, but on all the days and in all the weeks and all the months before. All this I recollected with a clarity of detail and acuteness of emotion such as only present circumstances normally accord; and every day would add a new one. The Gnostics of the late Roman Empire maintained a belief that all of us are really living in the year 30 AD, but that an evil demiurge has trapped us in an illusion of time passing; and, while I never held to this doctrine with the same tenacity as others, nevertheless I retain some sympathy for the notion that what we perceive as the passage of time is really nothing more than the aroma created by the disintegration of memory.

And perhaps it is this disintegration which distinguishes the present moment from the timelessness of the eternal in the age to come. For if perfection is not a dream to be scorned, but a reality to be recovered; and if the loss of memory is, in this age, but a dreary reminder of our current human imperfections; then it is not utter folly to suppose that all-remembering, undecaying recollection would be ours in such a state. Were this so, I suggest from my own experience that the desolating and devouring mortal sense of passing time would likewise be extinguished. So that then (as happened with me) the experiences of six years previous would be as near to you as yesterday when it is past [1] . This, by the way, is the answer to the riddle of how a man can live forever and never grow weary of living; for he was born, as it were, only yesterday.

[ 1 - C. f. Psalm 90:4: “A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past.” For those who would go still deeper, this offers at least one explanation for how Jesus could have said, “Behold, I come quickly” over two thousand years ago and meant it. ]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Looks Down With Wonder at the Sudden View of All This World at Once

With that in mind, there are some notable literary attributes whose prominence in Paradise Lost and Moby-Dick require serious and sustained study.

One, mentioned earlier briefly, is the use of unusual compound formations. Of this Pommer writes:

"Neither Milton nor Melville confined himself to the use of compound epithets, but employed also compound nouns, verbs, and adverbs. Melville is probably the bolder of the two in his freak marriages, perhaps because of the prevailing American fondness for compounds; nevertheless, both authors are remarkably similar in this respect. Both added adjectives to adjectives, nouns, and participles, bringing vigorous, fresh words into their narratives. For example, Milton’s ‘timely-happy’ is like Melville’s ‘gloomy-jolly’ [when describing Pip’s tambourine in Chapter 93]. In each of the following pairs, Milton’s member again precedes Melville’s: ‘slow-endeavoring,’ ‘soft-cymballing’; ‘over-laboured,’ ‘over-arboured’; ‘tongue-doughty,’ ‘life-restless’; ‘chamber-ambushes,’ ‘cavern-pagoda’; and ‘coral-paven,’ ‘coral-hung.’ Of particular interest also is the large number of compounds with all which both authors used [an exhaustive list is given in Appendix B]."

The next characteristic which he lists as being common to the style of both writers is the use of adjectives for nouns, as when Milton’s Satan says, “I travel this profound,” or when Melville describes “the bottomless profound of the sea.” Elsewhere Milton describes the “rebel host” being seized, not with amazement, but amaze.

Then he goes on to note the use of nouns as verbs (as when Ishmael beholds “monsters rafting the sea”). I’m already familiar with this trope through my study of Shakespeare: For example, during a particularly moving scene towards the end of King Lear, Edward (disguised as Mad Tom), pretending that they stand upon the top of a high cliff, vividly relates to his blind father how from such a height “the choughs and rooks that wing the midway air grow scarce so gross as beetles.” It’s one of my favorite literary devices, in fact, for establishing character and action—as when I describe Corey flaming during a conversation with Booth in the ninth chapter of my novel. It occurs to me that Emily Dickinson used this conceit with abnormal regularity. I wish the author of our current study had unearthed more examples, but there is no list in the appendix.

However, he does say this:

"A third and final way in which both Milton and Melville transformed familiar words was by fresh uses of familiar prefixes and suffixes. One type of such change involves the use of –est to form unusual superlatives like Milton’s ‘constantest’ or ‘famousest’ [old Samwise Gamgee!], like Melville’s ‘arrantest’ or ‘abstractest.’ Next is their unusual predilection for strange compounds of the prefix un-, such as ‘unhidebound’ and ‘uninterpenetratingly.’"

Here, TWO lists are given:

Maturest Monstrousest
Virtuousest Wonderfullest
Powerfullest Selectest (“ever cullest Thy selectest champions…!”)
Prowest Intensest
Exquisitest Recentest
Discreetest Etherealest
Fleshliest Sacredest

Unvoyageable Unsplinterable
Unsearchable Ungraspable (“the image of the ungraspable phantom”)
Unfear’d Unfearing
Unappeasable Unappeasedly (“the unappeasedly steadfast hunter”)
Unfum’d Uninterpenetratingly
Unbottom’d Uncontinented
Unwithdrawing Unmisgiving
Untractable Untrackably
Unbenighted Undistrusted
Unhide-bound Unrunagate
Unattending Unresounding
Unconniving Unparticipating
Undelighted Undelight

Now we’re really getting to the heart of it. One attribute of Shakespeare’s writing, and of Milton’s, which Melville particularly loved was the employment of long lists in both (“… the church and cloisters, courts and vaults, lanes and passages, banquet-halls, refectories, libraries, terraces, gardens, broad walks, domiciles, and dessert-rooms”). I wrote such a list in two of the profounder moments of my sixteenth chapter, though I was consciously echoing The Waste Land and Prufrock when I did so. This is very helpful. As of now I have written three different versions of Chapter 15, none of them to my full satisfaction, and part of the reason is because I was never able to give a satisfactory sense of what Southwestern is and what it looks and feels like. A list could prove remarkably useful in that respect.

The omission of words is again noted. Shakespeare and the Bible have the market cornered in elisions; thus I say no more.

Far on the other end of the literary spectrum is the use of suspension, of which Pommer notes two uses (of many) in “The Whiteness of the Whale,” but which I remembered from a study of Macbeth in which the writer pointed out that Macbeth places three lines in between the beginning of the sentence and the use of the word “murder,” and even then only in a passive voice which nicely omits his own complicity in the unsanctioned event.

Now o’er the one-half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams
Abuse the curtain’d sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf, whose howl’s his watch,
Thus with his stealthy pace, with Tarquin’s ravishing strides,
Towards his design moves like a ghost.

Notice here, too, how murder itself is suspended, so that we don’t find the verb till the end of the sentence.

There follows a discussion of the Literary Trope Sublime, the postpositional adjective. Marvel and be amazed:

"“Placing the adjective after the substantive” is used by both Milton and Melville when only one adjective is involved, and also, more conspicuously, when two are used, one before and one after the noun. Readers of Paradise Lost should be familiar with such transpositions as ‘voice divine,’ ‘flying steed unrein’d,’ ‘heavenly form angelic,’ and ‘unvoyageable gulf obscure’ [!]. Melville’s usage occurs in such phrases as ‘panoply complete,’ ‘twilight glade, interminable,’ ‘interesting terms contingent,’ and ‘good fare and plenty, fine flip and strong.’ Some of these examples from both authors bear juxtaposition:

Melville: dusky tribes innumerable
Milton: upright beams innumerable

The Blocksburg’s demons dire
Hydras and Chimeraes dire

A hooked, Roman bill sublime
In the dun air sublime

Of some dark hope forlorn
In these wild woods forlorn

"In Melville’s as in Milton’s works are dozens upon dozens of these adjective-noun-adjective locutions. In Clarel [Melville’s attempt at dramatic poetry, which Dr. Herbert once memorably satirized in class] occurs ‘Through twilight of mild evening pale’ [!]; the phrase repeats no precise series of words from Milton, but like many of Melville’s phrases it does repeat a pattern of grammar which casts over numbers of Melville’s pages an almost elusive aura of Miltonism."

Ah, Miltonism… that elusive aura. I’m reminded in reading this of two associations. One is Michiko Kakutani’s 2005 review of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: “As the story proceeds… it grows progressively more somber, eventually becoming positively Miltonian in its darkness.” The other is a favorite passage near the beginning of The Man who was Thursday: “Over the whole landscape lay a luminous and unnatural discoloration, as of that disastrous twilight which Milton spoke of as shed by the sun in eclipse.” (For all his merriment and optimism, there’s a certain element of darkness in the best of Chesterton’s works which has the quality of nightmare.)

At the end of the book, Pommer helpfully lists some of the postpositional adjectives fashioned by Milton and Melville:

Constellations round
Nations round

Influence divine
Lineaments divine

A blast resistless
A power resistless

Pensive face angelic
Heav’nly form angelic

A shock electric

Sweets ineffable
Joy ineffable

A hand profane

In dreams Elysian

His will determinate

Rich banners waving
Orient colours waving

Disastrous necessity inkept

A bony steed and strong
Huge pangs and strong

Frank demeanor kind

Mild evening pale
In bridled imprecations pale
Flocking shadows pale

Curls ambrosial
Flowers ambrosial

Recluse he lives and abstinent

Prolonged captivity profound
Tartarus profound

Vain liberation late
Solemn message, late

Pale, priestly hand and begemmed

In clear terms and concise
With calm aspect and clear

But before we become too excited, we should be aware that “The use of a postpositional adjective is… but one of several Latin transpositions of words found in Milton.” Moreover, “Melville exhibits a like variety of transpositions.” Happily for our present purposes, however, Pommer lists a few of these as well.

Inverted Subject and Predicate
Melville: And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea.
Wisdom is vain, and prophecy.

Milton: Nor stood unmindful Abdiel to annoy / The atheist crew.
Strange horror seize thee, and pangs unfelt before.

Inverted Predicate Adjective (another of my favorite rhetorical conceits)
Pretty sure am I…
Top-heavy was the ship

Displeas’d / All were who heard

Inverted Adverbial Phrase
Palms, alpacas, and volcanoes… are in luxuriant profusion stamped.
But while [the carpenter was] now upon so wide a field that variously accomplished…

O thou, that with surpassing glory crown’d…
She turns, on hospitable thoughts intent.

Inverted Object and Verb
In what time of tempest, to what seagull’s scream, the crowning eddies did their work, knows no mortal man.
We sailed from sea to sea… vast empires explored, and inland valleys to their utmost heads.

Whence thou return’st, and whither went’st, I know.
[Adam and Eve] Firm peace recovered soon, and wonted calm.

Here in the same category we can include Milton and Melville’s frequent use of the Latin ablative absolute, particularly as a means of beginning a sentence. I’m thinking, for example, of the line at the end of the chapter entitled “Moby-Dick”: “Gnawed within, and scorched without, with the infixed, unrelenting fangs of some incurable idea; such a one, could he be found, would seem the very man to dart his iron and lift his lance against the most appalling of all brutes.” The opening clauses of this sentence constitute an English attempt at the ablative absolute. Note also the use of a un- construction, the piling on of unusual adjectives, the twisted inversion of the second half of the line, and the striking elision in the middle (“such a one, could he be found…”) which holds the whole sentence together.

Numerous literary devices of this kind I employed in the writing of the end of Chapter 5. (To a lesser degree, as well, in the previous chapter, but at the time of the writing of the fourth chapter my absorption of Melville hadn’t yet developed to the point where I could write in such a manner freely and without contrivance.) In other places it was less appropriate. And this is the tricky thing that I’m discovering about the writing of my novel. I remember telling Tyler some weeks ago that it was polyphonic. And, curiously, yesterday I read in the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of The Brothers Karamazov that Bakhtin used the same word to describe the Dostoevskian novel. It bewilders me, and I know from the testimony of others that it bewilders them as well. My novel is, necessarily, a work of many styles. There are only one or two places in Chapter 6 where you can readily tell that the writer of that chapter was also the writer of the previous. By the time we arrive at Chapters 15 and 16, it’s like reading the work of a completely different person. Just for the sake of assuring myself that I’m not being egomaniacal, we can make a comparison… the first passage is from Chapter 5, the second from Chapter 6, and the third from Chapter 16:

"So Corey came to believe that he was under attack. To his own mind, at least, and perhaps also to the minds of his more worshipful companions, he had become Galileo, nobly waging the long, intellectual struggle against a world of imprisoning pieties. Thus he enlisted all his defensive self-protection in fortifying his spirit against what he perceived as my continual, unwarranted aggressions. And malevolence amassed all the while, like an obscene pearl, on the small dust of his original sensitivities and hurts."

* * *

"Literature is not the act of writing only; books are carried, nurtured, loved, sustained, and given life through reading. Words unread lie dead upon the page until some reader draws them forth. We all know that. What’s less well-known is what a book becomes through being read. The subtlest, gentlest pulses of the heart are registered within its pages, and remain there, as (some say) a ghostly imprint of a person’s life can linger over his or her possessions after death. A book becomes a storehouse for the silent and at times unutterable longings, fears, despairs, delights, frustrations, and exhilarations of the one who reads.

"And all the ghosts of all these books were roofed together in a single dwelling. And the ghosts had overflowed their hiding-places, spilling onto shelf and staircase; and had made a darkness in the lonely places of the bookstore, deeper than the darkness from without."

* * *

"“Love is an adventure that waits for no man!” said Taylor. “I’m… I’m just loving it! Boze, our life is a novel! It’s insane. My mind is falling apart. I can’t even tell people what I think anymore. I don’t even know what I believe! I love life and it’s all beautiful and it’s all… wow!”

"Clutching at his heart, he staggered backwards and collapsed onto the lower bed. Taylor was one of the only people I had ever met who knew what it was like to be as overwhelmed by life as I was. All the windows were closed, but a wind seemed to be blowing into the room from some hole in the sun. It was as if joy was an actual location you could go and visit—a place where lovers danced, not by moonlight, but song-light, and sailed off towards morning together on a sea of foam and laughter."

Each of the passages just quoted proved successful for the simple reason that I understood the nature of what I was trying to describe and wrote accordingly. Chapter 5, the Corey chapter, needed a style most appropriate to the darkness and grandeur of the depths of Corey’s mind. Chapter 6 needed a light, airy, eerie, and ominous touch. In a sense, it picked up where the end of Chapter 4 left off; and at present it’s the chapter of my novel which I would say owes the most to “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” (Since Chapters 4 and 6 have proven by far my most popular chapters, perhaps I should take this fact into account). Taylor’s favorite novel was On the Road; of course I read On the Road not long after the events of freshman year; and I was alarmed even then by the parallels between the story narrated in the novel and the weird events that culminated at the end of finals week. But I’m not as familiar with the Kerouackian style as I should be, having not read On the Road (until now) since Sophomore year; so I’ve struggled through having to absorb its eccentricities and luminosities and startling, gentle realisms, all of them, in a very short span of time.

In a sense, it’s just another variation on prophetic writing, which I’ve said before is what I’m writing with my novel. Prophecy isn’t just prediction of the future, but a soul-perceptive understanding of the present… and the past. Everything has an essence, and every essence has a style. "... And where the river of bliss through midst of heaven rolls o’er Elysian flowers her amber stream." It is quite odd, though, yet in a way oddly fitting to the circumstances of my life, and my story, that so often I should find myself writing in a voice not mine.

The Dark, Unfathom'd, Infinite Abyss

It has happened. It has finally happened. I found a respectable audio recording of Paradise Lost.

One of my great disappointments in memorizing poetry has been my inability to plumb the palpable obscure of Milton’s writings, a deficiency which I attribute to the lack of a quality recording. The Librivox version is decent: Cori Samuel does an excellent reading of Books II and IV, and the fellow who reads Book I has some kind of voice-altering technology which makes his voice all growly and demonic when he reads the part of Satan. Of the other readers, I will make no mention… Last summer I downloaded an unabridged reading of the whole poem by the same nasally Frenchman who performed my recordings of The Brothers Karamazov and Les Miserables. Being a nasally Frenchman is all very well when you’re reading a novel originally written in French, and set in Paris, but it’s all wrong for Milton. Try to imagine, I don’t know, Christopher Lee reading Huckleberry Finn (“All right then, I’LL GO TO HELL!!”), and you’ll get an idea of how jarring this is. I’ve never listened to it much, and while Melville, and Macbeth, and King Lear, and The Tempest, and The Waste Land, and all the other great epics were committed to memory, Milton remained alone on the bookshelf, solitary, voiceless, and unread.

Happily, my waiting has ended. I have uncovered a recording of the 1992 BBC Radio 4 abridgement of Paradise Lost in 41 episodes, with Dennis Quilley as the narrator and Ian McDiarmid as Satan. You’ll remember Ian McDiarmid as the oily, deceitful, charismatic, malicious, and terrifying Senator Palpatine of the first two movies in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and the emperor in all the rest. His readings are fantastic—full of thunder, lightning, menace, revenge, and a fiery, seeping fog of creeping evil. When he starts going off about the “spacious empire” in Episode 8, the resonances with his famous film-work start to feel a little eerie, as if some men are made to be villains. But the narrator leavens it all with his jovial, rollicking flair. He actually seems to be enjoying reading it. I was reminded of two characters from Pixar movies: the narrating praying mantis in A Bug’s Life, and Mr. Pricklepants, the delightful Shakespearean hedgehog from Toy Story 3.

* * *

During my trip to Southwestern a week and a half ago, I stopped by the library on the day before it closed for the summer and checked out nine books I had been planning to read or reread for a while: All Hallow’s Eve, The Brothers Karamazov, the Confessions of Augustine, The Figure of Beatrice (a study of the life and poetry of Dante by Charles Williams), Coleridge’s Literaria Biographia, Moby-Dick and Calvinism by our beloved Dr. Herbert, Knox’s translation of the Psalms, On the Road, and Milton and Melville, a study of the literary influences of Milton’s work on Melville’s.

It seems that there’s more to writing an epic than a sonorous style, although I was surprised to discover that the sonorous style is a necessary part of it (at least in part). I was also surprised to discover how many of the ingredients that are necessary to writing an epic I had already employed in Chapters 4, 5, and 6 of my novel.

These are what Pommer lists as the functional components of a Milton-style epic, whether in poetry or prose:

"Three characteristics of Paradise Lost Havens considered valueless in determining Milton’s influence on authors who had read pre-Miltonic poetry, but valuable in determining why poetry sounded Miltonic. These three are repetition of words or phrases, cumulations of the same parts of speech, and the use of adjectives ending in –ean or –ian and derived from proper nouns."

I could work on my repetition, but the last one is a go. Remember how in February I noted that I was deliberately weaving in references to other times and places than the setting of my story so that I could give it a sense of grandeur and, whenever necessary, ventilate the closed-in action of the school.

But he goes on:

"Of the nine characteristics more peculiar to Milton’s epic, seven are these: inversions of natural word order, omissions of words not needed to convey the meaning, parenthesis and apposition, the use of one part of speech as another, a vocabulary marked by archaisms and borrowings, generous use of proper nouns, and unusual compound epithets."

The only one of those I’m lacking at the moment is “the use of one part of speech as another.” This is what happens when Shakespeare or Milton or Melville makes what would normally be an adverb into an adjective, for example in the line: “O sleep, thou ape of death, lie dull upon her, and be her sense but as a monument, thus in a chapel lying!” where dull takes the place of dully. I have been working at it earnestly for months, but still have not divined a way of doing this without it sounding forced and awkward.

See, and that’s the trick, because one of the major themes of the first part of this book is that an epic isn’t forced, but that it overflows naturally out of the heart of the writer as he engages with his favorite works (and with the vast, unfathomed, infinite abyss) and drinks them deep in ever-greater measure. That is key. A little further down the page, Pommer writes:

"Iambic rhythm, epic similes, suspensions, compounds of all- and un-, [I have employed all of these, not always consciously] and general epic characteristics are perhaps the most important… but the sum of them must be totaled if one is to grasp the full significance of A. S. W. Rosenbach’s statement that Melville ‘could write with… the grandeur of Milton.’ To repeat, this study does not have to do with a case of conscious imitation, nor with an unconscious, unadulterated assimilation. To some indeterminable extent it does deal with the fact that ‘the books… [which] really spoke to Melville became an immediate part of him to a degree hardly matched by any other of our great writers in their maturity.’ It also deals with that close, attentive reading, whereby ‘one great Genius often catches the flame from another, and writes in his Spirit, without copying servilely after him.’"

But my primary earthly, external calling isn’t even that of a writer; it’s to live a literary life. Therefore, any writing I produce that doesn’t serve as a function of that is no other than vanity.

In other words, there can be no grandeur for its own sake. Everything that I write, and every style I employ, must serve the purposes of the story. The reason Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 16 were so successful is because they did exactly this.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Psalms 1 - 9

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who walks not in the ill counsel of the ungodly,
nor lingers in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and in His law he meditates day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that brings forth its fruit in its season;
His leaf also shall not wither,
and whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
but are like the chaff which the wind sweeps away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment;
Sinners will have no part in the reunion of the just.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous;
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 2

Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples cherish vain dreams?
See how the kings of the earth stand in array,
How its rulers make common cause,
against the Lord, and against the King He has anointed, saying,
‘Let us break their bands asunder,
and cast away their cords from us.’

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath,
and vex them in His sore displeasure:
‘Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.’

I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son;
This day have I begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little—
When the fire of His vengeance blazes out suddenly.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.

Psalm 3

Lord, how are my adversaries increased!
Many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul,
‘There is no hope for him in God.’ Selah.

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me;
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice,
and He heard me from His mountain sanctuary. Selah.

Safe in God’s hand I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God!
For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the fangs of malice.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.

Psalm 4

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
Hear me, and grant redress.
You have given me relief when I was in distress;
Have pity on me now, and hear my prayer.

How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory into shame?
How long will you set your heart on shadows, following a lie?
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself;
The Lord will hear when I call to Him.
Tremble, and sin no more;
Take thought, as you lie awake, in the silence of your hearts. Selah.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many that languish for a sight of better times;
Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O Lord!
Show us the sunshine of Your favour.
You have put more joy in my heart than in the season when their grain and wine increased.
Even as I lie down, sleep comes, and with sleep, tranquility;
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.

Psalm 5

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
Consider my meditation;
Let me not sigh in vain.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God;
For to You will I pray.
My voice [shall] You hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning will I direct my prayer unto You,
and I will watch.

No evil thing claims Your Divine assent;
For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
In Your presence the rebellious cannot endure.
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
You hate the wrongdoer, and will bring the liar to destruction;
The Lord abhors the bloody and deceitful man.

But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
And in Your fear will I worship toward Your holy temple.
O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes;
Make Your way straight before my face.
For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inmost self is destruction;
Their throat is an open sepulcher;
They flatter with their tongue.
O God, pronounce them guilty!
Cheat them of their hopes;
Let them fall by their own counsels.
Cast them out in all their wickedness,
in the multitude of their transgressions,
for they have rebelled against You.

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them.
Spread Your protection over them,
that those who love Your name may exult in You.
For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor will You surround Him as with a shield.

Psalm 6

O Lord, rebuke me not in Your anger,
nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak;
I have no strength left;
Lord, heal me; my limbs tremble; my bones are vexed; my soul also is greatly troubled; my spirits are altogether broken. But You, O Lord—how long?

Return, O Lord, deliver my soul;
Turn back, and grant a wretched soul relief.
Save me for the sake of Your steadfast love.
As You are ever merciful, deliver my life.
For in death there is no remembrance of You;
Who can praise You in the world beneath?

I am weary with my groaning;
Every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of my grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries.

Depart from me, all you that traffic in iniquity;
For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
The Lord will receive my prayer.
Let all my enemies be ashamed and sore vexed;
Taken aback, all in a moment, and put to shame.

Psalm 7

O Lord my God, in You do I put my trust;
Save me from all my pursuers, and grant me deliverance.
Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.

O Lord my God, if I have done this:
If there is iniquity in my hands,
If I have rewarded evil unto him who was at peace with me,
Or have plundered my enemy without cause,
Then indeed let some enemy overtake me with his relentless pursuit,
Trample me to earth, and lay my honor level with the dust! Selah.

Arise, O Lord, in Your anger;
Lift Yourself up because of the rage of my enemies;
And awake for me to the judgment You have appointed.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about You;
For their sakes over it return on high, the Lord judging the nations!
The Lord shall judge the peoples:
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness,
and according to the integrity that is within me.
Surely You will put an end to the wrongdoing of the wicked,
and prosper the innocent;
No thought or desire of ours can escape Your divine justice.
O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the just.
For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
From the Lord, refuge of true hearts, my protection comes.

God is a righteous judge;
Day by day His indignation mounts up;
And He is angry with the wicked every day.
If they repent not, His sword will flash bright;
He has bent His bow in readiness,
and deadly are the weapons He is preparing for them;
He has barbed His arrows with fire.
Behold, the wicked brings forth iniquity:
Here was a heart pregnant with malice,
that conceived only spite, and gave birth only to shame!
Here was one who dug a pit and sunk it deep,
and fell into a snare of his own setting!
His trouble shall return upon His own head;
All his spite will recoil on himself,
and his violent dealing shall come down on his own crown.

I will give the Lord the thanks due to His righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
You have set Your glory above the heavens.
From the mouths of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
because of Your adversaries,
to silence revengeful and malicious tongues.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man, that You are mindful of him?
What is Adam’s breed, that it should claim Your care?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
and have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the work of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet.
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field:
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 9

I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart;
I will recount all of Your marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

See how my enemies turn back, how they melt away at the sight of You!
They shall fall and perish at Your presence.
For You have maintained my right and my cause;
You are there are on Your throne, judging in righteousness.
You have checked the heathen in their course;
You have brought the wicked to nothing, blotting out their name for all time.
The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
Spent is the enemy’s power;
The memory of them has died with the fall of their cities.
Their cities You rooted out;
The very memory of them has perished.

But the Lord shall endure forever;
He has prepared His throne for judgment.
He shall judge the world in righteousness,
And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness,
Still judging the world rightly, still awarding each people its due.
He is a stronghold to the oppressed in time of peril and affliction.
And those who know their name will put their trust in You;
For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion!
Declare among the people His doings.
For He who avenges blood is mindful of them;
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Have mercy upon me, O Lord!
Look upon all that I suffer at my enemies’ hands;
O You who lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may tell of all Your praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion.
I will rejoice in Your salvation.

The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made;
Their feet have been trapped in the very toils they had laid.
In the net which they hid is their own foot taken.

The Lord is known by the judgment He executes;
Now it will be seen how the Lord defends the right, how the wicked contrive their own undoing, snared in the work of their hands. Meditation. Selah.

The wicked shall be turned into hell,
and all the nations that forget God.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
Let the nations be judged in Your sight.
Let the heathen, too, feel Your terrors, and learn they are but men. Selah.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Why is it that idealistic young trios always prate about the stars?

We ascended the hill together in the cool dark of early evening. It was blue and windy. There were no trails to follow, only places here and there where the trees and scrub and brush became less frequent and the grass more trammeled. Surrounding us on every side were high brown rocks. It was like walking amid the pillared ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery where oversized statues of the Buddha lay on ivy pillows dreaming. All the rocks were as big as life, and some were even bigger. They were stony glaciers in the nettled eddies of a vast green sea.

Kyle strode slightly ahead of the rest of us. He was wearing a Mexican poncho and carrying a long staff he had picked up on the ground near the base of the hill. Following shortly behind him was Helen, who seemed heedless of the wind and grass and trees and stones and was speaking animatedly to Kyle with an avidity which suggested that she was ignorant of the rest of us, and of the fact that Kyle had given up listening a long time ago. Suzy, Bonnie, and Anna Beal had formed their own group, although Suzy couldn’t seem to resist pausing every few paces and turning and grinning at me like a shark of the crags. Bonnie was explaining how she had seen an angel earlier that day, but refused to tell anyone about it except to note that she had seen an angel earlier that day who had forbidden her from talking about it.

Taylor and Allison and I were together. It was the greatest day of our lives. It was also the worst. It was everything at once. We didn’t know what it was entirely, but it was soaring. Taylor soared; I soared. No longer were we trekking up the mountain; we were running with the clouds. We had left that little cliff behind a hundred years ago.

Allison was telling us that she thinks life is a puzzle, and that every person she meets in her life is a part of that puzzle, but that she won’t understand it in fullness until she comes to the end of her life and sees the whole thing laid out in front of her, and I was just getting ready to quote a line from the “angel” sequence in It’s a Wonderful Life and see if anyone got the reference when Taylor interrupted with a long story about how he had walked into a room that was nothing but mirrors, and how he had seen his whole self in its totality from every angle, and he said he thought that half his life had been an out-of-body experience. “Existence is a strange thing to me,” he said. “But as a stranger, I give it welcome.” Then I talked about how exciting it is to know that, when everything comes crashing down around you, you have yourself, your resolve, and the strength of your own mind, and then I threw God in for good measure, and I talked about the beauty of life among ruins, and the light that shines in chaos, and the pulse, the fever, the excitement, of even the most horrifying things, and Taylor agreed, but then Allison said that that sounded depressing, and Kyle (who had left Helen in the lead and appeared alongside us, his belled curls beadily sweating), called it “a bunch of random garbage that you just strung together,” so Taylor and I immediately began talking about the unutterable beauty of living, and how everyone needs to embrace the reality of reality, and Taylor made jazz fingers, and I danced around and jumped and jigged out my excitement until Allison laughed so hard that she had to bury her head in the back side of Kyle’s poncho and there was no more to be said.

Night was waiting for us at the summit of the cliff, an elegant blue lady clad in stars. There must have been a thousand of them; I had never seen so many at a single time. It made me think of being in love, and how much I pretended not to want it. Camping trips, pillow fights, late nights, starlight, the Chapel, the Chapel Garden… clich├ęs.

There was a fire pit set in the gravel, and Kyle was running around like Diogenes seeking for someone, anyone, to help him build a fire. But Taylor and I were currently engaged in spinning around in circles like a pair of Oompa Loompas, which rendered us, for the moment, entirely unable to assist him. Bonnie was quoting the Bible in that unnaturally meek and supercilious voice she always used when she wanted to indicate her superiority to the rest of us. Suzy was crouched low in the shadows at the base of a tree in the hopes of watching me when I passed without the indignity of being noticed. Anna was sitting sulkily at the top of a boulder on the margin of a wood to our left like a monk among the enchantments, so that there was no one left to help Kyle but Helen, who had stormed off in a huff after he ordered her (in a voice that echoed through the hills) to take a vow of celibacy.

“SILENCE!” he added, after a remarkably awkward pause during which everyone gawked at him. “I meant, ‘SILENCE!’”

Allison was wrapped in a blanket, standing on the crest of a rock at the mountain’s utmost edge. The night was in her hair and in her eyes and the wind blew around her in whispers and the stars had formed a crown around her head.

“Boze,” she said brightly, as I stole up behind her, “I’ve got that song in my head that you and Taylor were playing in the car on the way here. But I only know the chorus.” She began to sing it. “‘And ain’t that, and ain’t that the way that the wind blows you home?’”

“Here, I’ll help you out,” I told her. I began to sing—timidly at first, and softly, but with mounting emphasis:

Where have you gone?
Did I know anything about you?
Many moons have come and gone
They wane so easily without you

All along I said we’d be
Sorry, sorry, and so we are…”

Suddenly, Taylor was between us. We were all singing together, Allison in a melodious soprano, Taylor in a tenor.

“And ain’t that, and ain’t that the way that the wind blows?
And ain’t that, and ain’t that the way that the wind blows you home?
Sorry, sorry, and so we are.”

I was quiet and sad when we had finished. Taylor took me by the shoulders and shook me with something like paternal affection.

“Your singing is horrible,” he informed me.

“I know,” I answered coolly (throwing off his arms). “I should just stick with quoting poetry. It’s what I’m best at. ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to each a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.”

“The mystery of BEING!” Taylor exclaimed. Allison giggled.

“‘I do not think that they will sing to me.’”

“I think Boze memorizes poetry the way Allison memorizes songs,” said Kyle, strolling over from the flameless pit. “I’m going to laugh when, one of these days, you quote Romantic poetry at a girl and she quotes it right back at you. You would be scared out of your wits!”

“That’s definitely one of the twelve signs of the apocalypse,” I agreed. “I would run.”

“Allison, there’s a bug on you,” said Taylor, reaching over my head towards Allison’s shoulder like a toy crane. “Here, I’ll get it off.”

“No, I like it!” said Allison, grinning at the bug in a manner which intimated the bond they undoubtedly shared. “I read a poem by ee cummings once. I liked it so much, I memorized it. It’s about the spring.

since feeling is first
who pays attention to the syntax of a thing
will never wholly kiss you… ”

“Oh-ooo, that’s my absolute favorite ee cummings poem!” I shouted. “Let me recite it with you.” We recited it together.

“wholly to be a fool
while spring is in the world

lady, i swear by all flowers—don’t cry
the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelid’s flutter
which says, ‘we are for each other’

then laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
(and death, i think, is no parenthesis) ”

“We should all memorize poetry,” I concluded, when we had finished. “Poetry is the most beautiful thing in the world.”

“Everything is the most beautiful thing in the world!” shouted Taylor gaily.

Allison was almost trembling with laughter. Her silhouette shuddered in the darkness.

“That’s true, though!” she yelled. “Let’s try and make every day the best day of our lives!”

“What could go wrong?” I replied.

“Exactly!” cried Taylor. He seemed not to have noticed the thin undercurrent of sarcasm in my voice. “Hell is only one step behind us every moment of our lives, heaven only one step ahead!”

“I’m so glad I finally found you guys,” said Allison quietly. “You don’t know what it was like… all those months of school when I would see you walking around together and wished I was with you. I even told my friends, ‘I know these two guys, and they’re like the funniest people I’ve ever met!’ I seriously just thought about walking right up to you and saying, ‘Let’s be friends!’ But I didn’t know what you would think of me if I did that.”

“We felt the same way,” said Taylor. “We even talked about doing that.”

“It was all we ever talked about, in fact,” I told her.

“And I told my Jewish friend Michael about you, Boze,” she went on. “I told him, ‘I know this guy who is just writing his whole life.’ And he said, ‘Well, there ya go, you oughtta write him a letter. And I was like, ‘No, he’s probably too busy writing his life to write to me…’”

“But we’re friends now!” Taylor shouted again (drawing the subject of the conversation away from me in the process). He folded us up in a hug. “‘Joy, gentle friends!’” he exclaimed. “‘Joy, and fresh days of love accompany your hearts!’”

“Yay!” cried Allison.

“Ah, what joyyy!” he growled. “Ah, the hearts of us all are one! Laughter, flowing through the channels of friendship like a river from its source to the limitless ocean, the cycle that never ends, the beauty that never dims! Every day is more beautiful than the previous, every moment a little closer to celestial perfection and I can’t get enough of LIFE!”