The Gospel According to H. L. Hix

My review of The Gospel According to H. L. Hix appears in the current issue of The Christian Century. Hix teaches philosophy and writing at the University of Wyoming. His book is a translation for our time of the gospel of Jesus. A poet and translator, Hix synthesizes ancient Jesus stories, translates them bravely into contemporary language, and composes his own seamless Gospel.

Image result for h. l. hix

The Song of the Wandering Aengus

The Song of Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Monet’s Haystacks by Robert Bly

Monet’s Haystacks

It’s strange that our love of beauty should lead us to hell.
I caught one glimpse of you, and a moment later
my house and books were all thrown into the fire.
Plato wrote by the light from sharks’ teeth.
There is always terror near the Quiet Garden.
If we have come to a bad end, let’s blame beauty.
The horses of sorrow are always restless, breaking
out of fences, trampling the neighbors’ garden.
The best odes are written by pirates in the moonlight.
When Monet glimpsed the haystack shining in fall dawn,
knowing that despair and reason live in the same house,
he cried out: “I have loved God!” And he had.
I walked down the aisles of the grocery, weeping.
Gleams of light came off my hair when I saw you,
and I found myself instantly under the horses’ hooves.
My improvidence was to have been too hopeful.
My improvidence was not to see the fall.
I apologize to those in hell for my disturbances. 

The Light of Claude Monet at the MFA

It turns out that Claude Monet (1840-1926) has been a favorite of Boston art collectors and therefore of the Museum of Fine Arts since Monet’s landscapes first appeared in the late 19th century. I think the attraction had to do with the way Monet captured light.

Light blessing ordinary and unspectacular natural scenes, reflecting on water of a bay, playing in trees and fields, blanketing a city street as commuters go home in the snow, highlighting hay mounds in costumes that make them shine with importance. Boston art collectors, their feet in slush half the year, were drawn to the European shimmers of Monet’s paintings.

Hills and rivers of unremarkable beauty come to life in the textures of Monet’s work. From a distance, snow scenes and harbor views dance with the spirit of creation. There are domestic gardens, foot bridges, flower gardens and water lilies, but the wider views, the monuments of nature and the monument of faith, like Rouen Cathedral, stand out as testimonies to Monet’s genius and hard-won achievements.

Up close, paint is layered thick on Rouen Cathedral. One can hardly make out the outlines. From a few steps away the grand tower appears in celestial blue.

White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia by Kiki Petrosino

Time Travel

The only way is through Old Master
along his row of chinaberries

behind the ruined smokehouse
in unmarked tracts, under field stones

with no carvings, no monuments,
with a few leaves shadowing the mulch

near scattered weeds, in sunken lines
while the sun walks in the day

at the end of the day
in an oval of brushed earth

just as the soft path finishes
under branches

where the dead are always saying
what they always say:

Write about me.

Essays by Mark Jarman and Paul Mariani

My reviews of essays by Mark Jarman (Vanderbilt University) and Paul Mariani (Boston University) appear in the latest issue of The Christian Century.

Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shibab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.    Notes friends tied to the doorknob,    transparent scarlet paper, sizzle like moth wings, marry the air. So much of any year is flammable,    lists of vegetables, partial poems.    Orange swirling flame of days,    so little is a stone. Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,    an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.    I begin again with the smallest numbers. Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,    only the things I didn’t do    crackle after the blazing dies. Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words:
Selected Poems
 (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995).
Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Christmas Books 2020

Christmas Books 2020

Strangers By Night: Poems by Edward Hirsch

The Task

You never expected
to spend so many hours
staring down an empty sheet
of lined paper
in the harsh inner light
of an all-night diner,
ruining your heart
over mug after mug
of bitter coffee
and reading Meister Eckhart
or Saint John of the Cross
or some other mystic
of nothingness
in a brightly colored booth
next to a window
looking out
at a deserted off-ramp
or unfinished bridge
or garishly lit parking lot
backing up
on Detroit or Houston
or some other city
forsaken at three a.m.
with loners
and insomniacs
facing the darkness
of an interminable night
that stretched into months
and years.


The Waking by Theodore Roethke 1908-1963

Theodore Roethke won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. This is the title poem from the collection that won the prize. He grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. His parents ran a green house. His vision returns to those plants and his child’s perceptions of it all, the smell and the feel of plants and how they die and turn back to soil, and back into plants. This seems like an encouraging poem. The rhythms and repetitions sound like Robert Frost, another farmer poet. The two died in the same year.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

November by John Clare

Rural poet, son of a farm laborer, John Clare was at home among people who did not know what he was up to. A poet of the weather and of the small creatures that inhabit the gardens and fields, he noted the “…the checker’d moods” of November.

The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
And, if the sun looks through, ’tis with a face
Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,
When done the journey of her nightly race,
Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place.
For days the shepherds in the fields may be,
Nor mark a patch of sky – blindfold they trace,
The plains, that seem without a bush or tree,
Whistling aloud by guess, to flocks they cannot see.

The timid hare seems half its fears to lose,
Crouching and sleeping ‘neath its grassy lair,
And scarcely startles, tho’ the shepherd goes
Close by its home, and dogs are barking there;
The wild colt only turns around to stare
At passer by, then knaps his hide again;
And moody crows beside the road forbear
To fly, tho’ pelted by the passing swain;
Thus day seems turn’d to night, and tries to wake in vain.

The owlet leaves her hiding-place at noon,
And flaps her grey wings in the doubling light;
The hoarse jay screams to see her out so soon,
And small birds chirp and startle with affright;
Much doth it scare the superstitious wight,
Who dreams of sorry luck, and sore dismay;
While cow-boys think the day a dream of night,
And oft grow fearful on their lonely way,
Fancying that ghosts may wake, and leave their graves by day.

Yet but awhile the slumbering weather flings
Its murky prison round – then winds wake loud;
With sudden stir the startled forest sings
Winter’s returning song – cloud races cloud,
And the horizon throws away its shroud,
Sweeping a stretching circle from the eye;
Storms upon storms in quick succession crowd,
And o’er the sameness of the purple sky
Heaven paints, with hurried hand, wild hues of every dye.

At length it comes along the forest oaks,
With sobbing ebbs, and uproar gathering high;
The scared, hoarse raven on its cradle croaks,
And stockdove-flocks in hurried terrors fly,
While the blue hawk hangs o’er them in the sky.-
The hedger hastens from the storm begun,
To seek a shelter that may keep him dry;
And foresters low bent, the wind to shun,
Scarce hear amid the strife the poacher’s muttering gun.

The ploughman hears its humming rage begin,
And hies for shelter from his naked toil;
Buttoning his doublet closer to his chin,
He bends and scampers o’er the elting soil,
While clouds above him in wild fury boil,
And winds drive heavily the beating rain;
He turns his back to catch his breath awhile,
Then ekes his speed and faces it again,
To seek the shepherd’s hut beside the rushy plain.

The boy, that scareth from the spiry wheat
The melancholy crow – in hurry weaves,
Beneath an ivied tree, his sheltering seat,
Of rushy flags and sedges tied in sheaves,
Or from the field a shock of stubble thieves.
There he doth dithering sit, and entertain
His eyes with marking the storm-driven leaves;
Oft spying nests where he spring eggs had ta’en,
And wishing in his heart ’twas summer-time again.

Thus wears the month along, in checker’d moods,
Sunshine and shadows, tempests loud, and calms;
One hour dies silent o’er the sleepy woods,
The next wakes loud with unexpected storms;
A dreary nakedness the field deforms –
Yet many a rural sound, and rural sight,
Lives in the village still about the farms,
Where toil’s rude uproar hums from morn till night
Noises, in which the ears of Industry delight.

At length the stir of rural labour’s still,
And Industry her care awhile forgoes;
When Winter comes in earnest to fulfil
His yearly task, at bleak November’s close,
And stops the plough, and hides the field in snows;
When frost locks up the stream in chill delay,
And mellows on the hedge the jetty sloes,
For little birds – then Toil hath time for play,
And nought but threshers’ flails awake the dreary day.

John Clare