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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Dorothy Sayers, one of the great Oxford Inklings contemporaneous with C.S. Lewis, Charles Lamb, and J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote marvelous mysteries. My introduction to her was one I will not forget for we still sometimes share whispered mysteries in a haunted corner of the house and her brilliance can change from telling an unraveling mystery to theological insights as in The Mind of the Maker. My favorite lines though come in this keenly insightful witticism from Wimsey on how we never hear “nowadays” of successful marriages–or murders.

Read any newspaper to-day. Read the News of the World, now that the Press has been muzzled, read the divorce court lists. Wouldn’t they give you the idea that marriage is a failure? Isn’t the sillier sort of journalism packed with articles to the same effect? And yet, looking round among the marriages you know of personally, aren’t the majority of them a success, in a hum-drum, undemonstrative sort of way? Only you don’t hear of them. People don’t bother to come into court and explain that they dodder along very comfortably on the whole, thank you. Similarly, if you read all the books on this shelf, you’d come to the conclusion that murder was a failure. But bless you, it’s always the failures that make the noise. Successful murderers don’t write to the papers about it. They don’t even join in imbecile symposia to tell an inquisitive world ‘What Murder means to me,’ or ‘How I became a Successful Poisoner.’ Happy murderers, like happy wives, keep quiet tongues. And they probably bear just about the same proportion to the failures as the divorced couples do to the happily mated.

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The Silmarillion

I recently started to listen to The Silmarillion on CD, Tolkien’s posthumously published mythic work which gives the origins of Middle-Earth. The following quote gave me chills in realizing that my painful sins, the adversaries’ means in my trials, and even death are all a part of accomplishing His purpose. Ponder this:

…thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. 

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I forget which writer was being described by a critic, but s/he used the term “the perfect fit of metaphor,” which I like quite a bit. My suspicion is that the object of the compliment was G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis, but today I thought I’d share one from I.K. Taylor– that’s my daughter. Now, I’m not one of those annoying parents who thinks that everything that my daughter writes is wonderful, and I’m already guilty of posting a violin piece being played on the blog this week. So here’s my rule…I won’t become like the parents who brought their 5 and 7 year-old kids to my Long Island college’s rendition of Brecht’s Antigone and then left thinking the kids were somehow three times smarter. (Kids looked bored and I still think I heard one whisper, I’m a little dumber for that experience). So, before gushing about my kid’s interesting metaphor, I’ll publicly put her down for every subsequent compliment in a 3:1 ratio. Well, not really, but at any rate…

Last night the clock had struck 10:36 (yes, that’s a healthy and normal bedtime as we prefer being on California time here in Sioux City, thank you very much). It was after my son had just informed me that he did not need to flush because “it hadn’t changed colors and he had only gone a few inches,” which leads me to believe the bottle of Powerade before bedtime’s probably not a good idea. And then my seven-year-old daughter looks up from the bed and says, “You know that Satan’s blanket is hard?” I looked sideways with the creeped-out stare that wonders a) how my daughter knows this and b) if I’m trapped in the never-produced sequel of The Shining.

And then she explains: I think his blanket would be full of jewels and so it would look really nice and beautiful but be really hard, but Jesus’ blanket would be really plain but soft and really cozy, like made out of grass and wool.

Sigh. Why is it sometimes that amidst all of our language and learning, our children can humble us by saying it best? Here it is. The deceitful allure of something shiny, bedazzling, disguised as the wonder blanket which leads to pain and discomfort. And then there’s the plain, ol’ dirt and cream colored thing left like the forgotten play bear of yesteryear’s nursery, the reality of something warm, familiar, and of true comfort. And that’s what she was getting at, the life provided by one of two fathers, described in a perfect fit of metaphor.

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FROM ROCHESTER…
Mr. Rochester: Jane, you’re a strange and almost unearthly thing.

Mr. Rochester: This is my wife. Your sister, Mason. Look at her. She is mad! So was her mother. So was her grandmother. Three generations of violent lunacy. I wasn’t told about that, was I, Mason? All I was told about was that my father had made a suitable match, one that would prop up his dwindling fortune and give your family the Rochester name! I did what I was TOLD! And Bertha was kept away from me, until the wedding was cleverly done. Everyone got what they wanted… except me. Even she is better off here than she would be in a lunatic asylum, but I have spent the last fifteen years in TORMENT!
[looks at Jane]
Mr. Rochester: And this what I, what I wished to have. This young girl who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell. Look at the difference. Then judge me, priest on the gospel and man of the law, and remember with what judgment ye judge, ye… Off with you now.

Mr. Rochester: Sometimes I have the strangest feeling about you. Especially when you are near me as you are now. It feels as though I had a string tied here under my left rib where my heart is, tightly knotted to you in a similar fashion. And when you go to Ireland, with all that distance between us, I am afraid that this cord will be snapped, and I shall bleed inwardly.

FROM JANE…

Mr. Rochester: Do you think me handsome?
Jane Eyre: No sir.

Young Jane: I am not deceitful! And I am not a liar. For if I were, I should say that I loved you. I do not love you. I dislike you more than anyone in the world, except your son.

Jane Eyre: Remember, the shadows are just as important as the light.

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For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’

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Seems very much like C.S. Lewis’s line, “Unattainability. The most intense joy lies not in the having, but in the desiring.”

The ripest peach is highest on the tree —
And so her love, beyond the reach of me,
Is dearest in my sight. Sweet breezes, bow
Her heart down to me where I worship now!

She looms aloft where every eye may see
The ripest peach is highest on the tree.
Such fruitage as her love I know, alas!
I may not reach here from the orchard grass.

I drink the sunshine showered past her lips
As roses drain the dewdrop as it drips.
The ripest peach is highest on the tree,
And so mine eyes gaze upward eagerly.

Why — why do I not turn away in wrath
And pluck some heart here hanging in my path? —
Love’s lower boughs bend with them — but, ah me!
The ripest peach is highest on the tree!

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THE CLOCKMAKER

Time should be heard as well as seen,

Says the clockmaker, carving a cuckoo bird.

My wife gives the sick child his medicine.

Who said children should be seen, not heard?

I work all night until my sight is blurred,

At this abandoned craft that now is mine

For all the comfort folly can afford.

Time should be heard as well as seen.

I can’t imagine what life might have been

Without the babies crying, had I preferred

The cloister or the study at nineteen,

Thinks the clockmaker carving a cuckoo bird

In hours stolen from sleep, pleasure deferred

For the sake of this obsession, a daft machine

That never can refund the cost incurred.

My wife gives the sick child his medicine

Praying he’ll sleep soundly and be fine

Tonight or tomorrow night, someday. The third

Time he cried out wrecked my whole design.

Who said children should be seen, not heard?

I dreamed he lay so peaceful that the Lord

Himself believed the stillness was divine

And would not wake him, although my absurd

Clocks froze and went silent for a sign:

Time should be heard.

COPYRIGHT 2008 National Review, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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