Friday, November 17, 2017

Keeping Jesus in the Foreground

The priest in UCD gave a good homily at Mass today. The gospel reading was from St. Luke, "People were eating and drinking, marrying wives and husbands, right up to the day Noah came into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." He said that we were always in danger of losing sight of the Christian mission, which was "simple, but challenging in its simplicity."

This is the paradox that strikes me again and again when I read the lives of the saints. They were men and women who were focused on Jesus all the time. It sounds so simple.

I'm trying to write this blog post in a way that doesn't resort to platitudes, and I've been hesitating over my words. I mean something very specific here. Everyone would agree that Christians should always be focused on Jesus, but "keep your eye on the ball" is rather trite. I'm trying to convey a particular aspect of this general truth, I suppose.

Here is the best way I can think of putting it: the fall from Christianity, whether in individuals or in societies, always seems to begin by Christianity being pushed in the background and something else taking the foreground. I suppose the example we're all most familiar with is the religious order that becomes so besotted with "social justice", it eventually ceases to be Christian in any meaningful sense. But this is a peril for conservatives as well as liberals. Conservatives are in danger of making an idol of nationalism or some other conservative cause.

(I would insist, however, that there is much, much more danger to Christianity from left-wing politics today, than there is from right-wing politics. I was having this debate on Facebook recently, when someone was posting about the dangers of the Alt Right to Catholicism. I acknowledged the Alt Right were a danger, but that it was dwarfed by the danger of the left. As I said: the Alt Right has not infiltrated bishops' conferences, religious orders, Catholic charities, and Catholic universities. It would be perverse if fear of the Alt Right drove Catholics even further towards the liberal left!)

Funnily enough, this gradual drift from genuine Christian zeal can be well expressed by a passage of poetry I read today, from Idylls of the King. At this stage of the narrative, King Arthur has noticed that the idealism of Camelot has begun to fade, and complains to Sir Lancelot of his knights' increasing apathy:

The foot that loiters, bidden go,—the glance
That only seems half-loyal to command,—
A manner somewhat fall'n from reverence—
Or have I dream'd the bearing of our knights
Tells of a manhood ever less and lower?

I've noticed, myself, that when I'm reading about some (dead) person who was a Catholic, my question is always: "How much did their Catholicism matter to them?". Did they go to Mass? How often? Did they read the Bible? Did they often write or speak about the Faith? Was their Catholicism part of their daily life or something in the background?"

Now, I'm very well aware that someone could go to daily Mass, spend all their time participating in Catholic organisations, read five Catholic papers a week, and still be a terrible Catholic. I'm always haunted by the fear that God will tell me: "I never knew you" on the Day of Judgement.

But the opposite doesn't seem to be true. I've never heard of a saint or a great Christian for whom Jesus was simply something in the background. It always seems to be the case that Jesus is not only their motivation, but their daily and constant preoccupation.

I'm always struck that, when Jesus speaks about the seed that fell on thorny grounds in the parable of the sowers, he says: "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity." That is, he emphasises the pleasures of life even more than its trials.

And this rings true for me. I know from my own experience that enjoyment, giddiness and good humour are even more likely than adversity to drive the thought of Jesus from my mind. Readers of this blog would probably be shocked if they knew just how bitchy, uncharitable and indecent I can be when I'm kidding around. It's one of my besetting temptations. When I get into a giddy mood, or into the right company, I find it very hard to restrain myself (though I'm getting better at it, I think). I understand why Ecclesiastes says it is better to go into the house of mourning than the house of feasting. Or why Newman preached this sermon.

If St. Elizabeth of the Trinity had to go to a party, before she entered the convent, she would spend several hours of prayer in preparation for it. That makes a lot of sense to me.

It's not just giddiness, though. It's intellectual and cultural interests, as well. Ever since I became a Christian, I realise that there have been many times when my faith was in the background, and some other preoccupation was in the foreground. Despite my daily rosary and my near-daily Mass attendance, this happens. These things are always in danger of becoming mechanical.

Most of us have to live in the world, so how do we address this problem? The approach I'm taking is to try to keep Jesus in the foreground every day. I know that keeping Jesus in the foreground every single moment should be the ideal, but if I can manage every day, I think that will be great progress. One way I'm trying to do this is to read the Bible for some non-trivial amount of time every day, but I'm also trying to do it by writing reminders to myself to read regularly. I'm hoping this will help. But I know this will remain a struggle, and no routine can replace that struggle.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Beautiful Passage from Tennyson's "Idylls of the King"

I've loved the poetry of Lord Alfred Tennyson since I was a kid, including "The Passing of Arthur", the final section from his long narrative poem Idylls of the King. ("The Passing of Arthur" is often printed in anthologies. Although it comes at the end of the poem, it was actually the first section written.)

The poem is divided into twelve 'Idylls", each containing a separate story. I'm currently reading "The Holy Grail", which describes the quest by many of the knights of Camelot to find the Holy Grail. The sister of one knight, who is a nun, has had a vision of it. When King Arthur learns that many of his knights (in his absence) took vows to search for the Grail, he is horrified-- he tells them that this is not their mission, that they should have stuck to their own mission as knights of Camelot, and that the quest belongs to Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval alone-- both of whom were granted visions of the Grail.

That's all incidental. In his quest for the Grail, Sir Percivale speaks to a holy monk Ambrosius, whose evocation of his simple, local life is very moving. He is somewhat sceptical of the Grail Quest, since he has found no mention of it in his holy books. His participation in the life of the community contrasts with Percivale's experience; ever since embarking on the Quest, he has seen no people, only phantoms. 

"O brother," asked Ambrosius – "for in sooth
These ancient books – and they would win thee – teem,
Only I find not there this Holy Grail,
With miracles and marvels like to these,
Not all unlike; which oftentime I read,
Who read but on my breviary with ease,
Till my head swims; and then go forth and pass
Down to the little thorpe that lies so close,
And almost plastered like a martin's nest
To these old walls – and mingle with our folk;
And knowing every honest face of theirs
As well as ever shepherd knew his sheep,
And every homely secret in their hearts,
Delight myself with gossip and old wives,
And ills and aches, and teethings, lyings-in,
And mirthful sayings, children of the place,
That have no meaning half a league away:
Or lulling random squabbles when they rise,
Chafferings and chatterings at the market-cross,
Rejoice, small man, in this small world of mine,
Yea, even in their hens and in their eggs –
O brother, saving this Sir Galahad,
Came ye on none but phantoms in your quest,
No man, no woman?"

"That have no meaning half a league away"! Isn't that amazing?

Prayer Requests

Readers are always welcome to ask for prayers from me and from other readers of the blog, whenever they so wish. Mail me your intentions and I will blog them, keeping them anonymous if you'd prefer.

I'm very grateful for all the times readers have answered my prayer requests. It shouldn't be a one-way street!

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I've never really been much of a novel reader, but one novel which greatly appealed to me in my teens was Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny. It's a fantasy novel, and the Amber of the title is a city which is the only "true" place in existence. Every other world, including out own, is a reflection of some aspect of Amber.

The central character, Corwin, wakes up in a hospital on present-day Earth with no memory of who he is. He leaves the hospital and pieces together his own story through various clues. He slowly realizes he is a member of the royal family of Amber, and he resolves to depose his elder brother from its throne. (There are a whole series of books about Amber, and later on I read them all, but I only really liked the first.)

The idea of Amber was wildly exciting to me. For one thing, I absolutely love the word "Amber". When I had a secret society with my brother and cousins, (we existed for the purpose of being a secret society), my code-name was Amber. It's one of my favourite names, and one of my favourite words.

But the idea of Zelazny's Amber thrills me, too, and this is what this blog post is about.

All my life I've been beguiled by the idea of a world, or a state of being, where life is elevated. I don't know what better word to use than "elevated", because this yearning is very specific and not be confused with other yearnings.

It's not a yearning for a utopia, because it doesn't seek to escape from evil and struggle.

If I use words like "humdrum" and "quotidian", that also gives the wrong impression, because this yearning is not a yearning to escape from the ordinary. In fact, I've always loved the ordinary with all my heart.

Banal is a better word than 'ordinary' here. The ordinary can contain the sublime, but the banal never does.

Perhaps Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence is the best way to approach it. Nietzsche said the ultimate affirmation of life would be to yearn for our lives to be repeated eternally. As a Christian, I obviously don't subscribe to that, but I do (involuntarily) apply the criterion of "eternal recurrence" to each moment.

I think; could this moment be frozen timelessly in a picture, or a poem? Is there something eternal within it? Now, obviously that can be a moment that is very ordinary, or one that is very special. It can be a kiss or standing at a bus stop on a cold day.

I've mentioned my fascination with photographs, especially enigmatic photographs...I constantly imagine I'm in a photograph when I am out and about. A photograph that is several decades old.

There are moments, however, that seem altogether devoid of this potential to be eternal. Bitching about one acquaintance to another, for instance. Small talk. Sarcasm. Channel-hopping. Lingering in a museum gift shop. Reading trashy magazines. That sort of thing.

Nietzsche expressed this very well, in a chapter of Thus Spake Zarathustra entitled "The Rabble". (In my early twenties, I read Thus Spake Zarathustra over and over):

Life is a well of delight; but where the rabble also drink, there all fountains are poisoned.

To everything cleanly am I well disposed; but I hate to see the grinning mouths and the thirst of the unclean.

They cast their eye down into the fountain: and now glanceth up to me their odious smile out of the fountain.

And it is not the mouthful which hath most choked me, to know that life itself requireth enmity and death and torture-crosses:—

But I asked once, and suffocated almost with my question: What? Is the rabble also necessary for life?

Are poisoned fountains necessary, and stinking fires, and filthy dreams, and maggots in the bread of life?

Of course, Nietzsche expressed this concept in typically aristocratic terms, and in my anti-populist youth I would have agreed with him enthusiastically. But even now, I sympathize with these words, although with the understanding that "the rabble" is me....the rabble is all of us, all too often.

Whenever we cheapen or banalize or coarsen life, we are the rabble.

But back to Amber. The thing I liked most about Amber was that Corwin only remembers it gradually. When someone first mentions the name to him (it's his sister, who doesn't realize he has lost his memory), it fills his soul with an unspeakable yearning and he doesn't know why. Slowly, he begins to remember it as the story goes on.

This is similar to my own yearnings for an "elevated" world. There's something inescapably indirect about such yearning.

When I look at my reflection in a Christmas bauble, and see myself and the room around me transfigured into something else, I seem to see Amber.

When I see out a back window through a front window, I seem to see Amber.

When I look at the frozen figures in a snow globe, I seem to see Amber.

I've often quoted a line I love from the poem "The Burning of the Leaves" by Laurence Binyon-- "The fingers of fire are making corruption clean". This yearning is a yearning for such a refining fire, in oneself and the world around.

I want to make clear that this isn't really a matter of morality. I'm not talking about the fires of Purgatory, and Amber is not Heaven. I'm talking about an attitude to this world.

Translated into social and cultural terms, this is a yearning for tradition, ceremony, ritual, solemnity, and splendour. For monarchy, cultural nationalism, hierarchy, chivalry, festival, national and regional identity, venerable institutions, public monuments, the preservation of rural life, and so forth.

It's what makes me wince when I see tacky advertising, or casinos, or trendy overpriced restaurants, or zany humour.

I yearn for Amber in cultural terms, too. As I've mentioned, I've been reading The Idylls of the King recently-- reading it, and reading about it. Whenever I read poetry, I feel a contempt for prose and for the primacy of prose. I get to thinking that we should read all prose as bashfully and apologetically as we read murder mystery novels. I feel ashamed of myself for reading so much prose.

I suppose my yearning for Amber is a yearning for a life that is poetry rather than prose-- and not just any poetry, but heroic verse like Idylls of the King.

Of course, we can never live in Amber. But we can try to get closer to it, to breathe its air.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Apologies to Marc Leslie Kagan

Marc, I only saw your comments on some earlier blog posts this morning. Thanks for those, and for your kind words.

I can't believe the Googie post got so many might be the most commented-upon post on this blog!

I really do appreciate people taking the time to comment and, if I ever fail to respond, it's only ever an oversight.

I also found this charming comment on my "What I Believe" post:

You say, "I believe in Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, today and forever."

NO you don't. That's the biblical Christ. YOU, sir, believe in "another jesus and another gospel" per 2 Cor 11:4, because the REAL Christ is not anymore in your piece of wafer thin bread as there is a man in the moon.

I challenge you to a debate on this very website on that very topic. But is it not true that you are a coward and will refuse the offer, coming up with some reason like, "I don't like your attitude?".

Either PUT UP your evidence for Transubstantiation, or kindly SHUT UP.

I can't help feeling a certain fondness towards people who write this kind of thing!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Idylls of the King (I)

On the bus into work on Friday, I was suddenly seized with a powerful desire to read some long poetry. I get these sudden whims. I can't help them. They come out of nowhere and are almost impossible to resist. Then they very often disappear, in favour of the next thing.

All the same, I've loved poetry since my early teens, and I've been in love with the magic of words for as long as I can remember. However, it was short lyric poetry which I loved, and which I've loved ever since, and which I'm sure I'll love till the day I day.

Poetry, it seemed to me, should be as intense and concentrated as a flame, and it simply couldn't be sustained for any longer than a few pages at most.

Poetry especially shouldn't tell a story, unless it was a very simple story, because a story requires lulls and pauses, and accounts of people going hither and thither. Plot mechanics are far too vulgar for poetry.

I did make efforts to read longer poems, but they never appealed to me very much. All the same, I couldn't help feeling a certain unease about this-- after all, most of the great poets did not regard their lyrics as their masterpieces, but their long poems. Was seventy or eighty per cent of a poet's Collected Poems to be regarded as so much ephemera?

Of course, I have read some long poems, including narrative poems. I read Paradise Lost in my twenties, and enjoyed it well enough-- although, as Samuel Johnson, no reader ever wished it longer than it was. (I'd known some excerpts of the poem since my teens, and indeed I had some of Satan's speeches off by heart. I always a bit of a rebel, so I identified with Milton's Satan-- although certainly not in any kind of Satanist spirit. I was an agnostic at this time.)

(Incidentally, it's funny how propitious name associations can be-- when I first encountered the name Milton, I associated it with Milton's Fluid. Milton's Fluid is a liquid used to sterilized baby bottles and the like. I didn't realize this; I think I thought it was some kind of medicine or tonic, such as gripe water. In any case, I associated the name "Milton" with something medicinal or astringent, and that association turned out to be entirely appropriate! Milton's poetry can certainly give pleasure, but it is a cerebral and even austere pleasure.)

Aside from Paradise Lost, I can't really think of any other long poem I enjoyed-- with the single exception of Night Thoughts by Dr. Edward Young, a series of extended blank verse meditations on death and the afterlife, written from a Christian perspective. I liked this because, like Paradise Lost, it's extremely philosophical and meditative.

I read George Chapman's blank verse translation of the Odyssey, Dorothy L. Sayers's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton, The Wanderings of Oisin by W.B. Yeats, Autumn Sequel by Louis Macneice, the Canterbury Tales, and many others...I didn't really enjoy any of them as poetry, although I certainly appreciated passages from many of them.

In spite of all that, I decided, aged forty, that I was going to give long poetry another try. Not only reading it, but reading criticism about it.

I decided I would start with a long poem I had failed to conquer before-- that is, Idylls of the King by Lord Alfred Tennyson.

I've often written about Tennyson on this blog. "Ulysses" and "Locksley Hall" are amongst my absolute favourite poems of all time. I also like "Chorus of the Lotos Eaters", although it's a poem I very much associate with early puberty, when I remember being exhausted all the time. And there are even shorter pieces, such as "The Eagle" a six-line jewel of poetry.

Idylls of the King is the poem Tennyson regarded as his own masterpiece, and he wrote it over a period of decades. It's a set of linked blank verse narratives, set against the main narrative of King Arthur's Camelot, and its decline. The final "idyll", "The Passing of Arthur" is the most famous, and it's one that I've loved for many years. I've often quoted it on this blog. It includes these famous lines, which will speak to all conservatives:

"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world,
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."

And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

So I've always wanted to tackle the entire thing. I've made one major effort before, and I gave up. But given this new gusto for long poetry, I thought Idylls of the King was a natural starting point.

Tennyson is an "eminent victorian" if ever there was one; in fact, one biography of him has the title The Pre-Eminent Victorian. He was bearded, patriarchal, serious-minded, liberal (in the old-fashioned sense), idealistic, and so on. When the Victorians became an object of scorn, Tennyson fell out of favour with them. As Samuel Butler famously wrote: "Talking it over, we agreed that Blake was no good because he learnt Italian at sixty in order to study Dante, and we knew Dante was no good because he was so fond of Virgil, and Virgil was no good because Tennyson ran him, and as for Tennyson—well, Tennyson goes without saying." Tennyson has been rehabilitated since then, but more in spite of his Victorianism than for it, or even regardless of it. I love him for many reasons, and his Victorianism is one of them.

Another reason I love him is for the sheer polish of his verse. There is never anything jarring in them, whether in terms of scansion, tone or language. Take this, for instance:

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font. 
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Verse this smooth is, in my view, unique to the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It's hard to describe exactly what makes it so "smooth"; it's not only the lack of discordance, but the ambitiousness of the scansion and sentence structure, almost so that it could be read as either poetry or prose, and needs no allowances made for it.

Well, I've spent so long writing this blog post, over the last two days, that I'm going to publish it as it is, and return to the subject another time.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Every year, I'm saddened that Guy Fawkes Day (or Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night) has become so invisible. Regular readers of this blog will know my feelings about tradition. Short version: I'm keen on it.

Guy Fawkes Day commemorates the Gundpowder Plot of fifth November, a plot by Guy Fawkes and other English Catholic to blow up Parliament and thus assassinate King James I, and install a Catholic monarch instead. But the plot was detected, the plotters were executed, and Guy Fawkes Night became a celebration of the Protestant supremacy and foiling of Popish plots. So, it had an anti-Catholic element. Big deal.

I remember, when I was a kid, the British comics (which were the comics I got, since there weren't any Irish comics) used to print "Guy Fawkes masks" over centrefold pages, at this time of year-- the idea being that you would cut them out and put them on a cardboard base.

Today, there seems to be no mention of Guy Fawkes Day-- neither on the mainstream media, nor on social media. I find it very sad.

The jingle by which Guy Fawkes Day was immortalized was:

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I know not the reason why the gundpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Why should any traditions be forgot? It makes you sad. Anyway, happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Before the Tabernacle

I want to be always here, to be always here...
Through all the changing seasons of the year,
The seasons of my life. I want to stay
Before you, Lord, to worship and to pray
As day turns into night, and night turns into day.

I want to be always here, to be always here,
Wherever I may be. Let me be near,
Though far away. When I am in a crowd
Keep me alone with you. When on the road
Let me be here still, leaning on your breast.

I want to be always here, to be always here,
Through every sorrow and through every cheer,
Give me this peaceful joy that is the best.
Through every struggle, let me be at rest
Before the tabernacle, with you here.

I want to be always here, to be always here...
Whatever piece of ground I may find dear
May this be dearer still. Within these walls
Is peace from all the world's insistent calls,
Peace in your silent call, your gentle call.

I want to be always here, to be always here,
To be safe with you in the face of every fear,
Let me like Mary choose the better part...
Lord, dwell in the tabernacle of my heart.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Ongoing History of the Purple Notebook

OK, here's another very personal one...

Regular readers will recall my little purple notebook. Perhaps they are tired of hearing about it. Or perhaps not.... I recently had a very deep and emotional discussion with a good friend, one which, along with other things, inspired him with the idea of writing a short book on the meaning of life. As we spoke about this over the phone, I quickly realized that the heart of the book would consist of moments such as those chronicled in my purple notebook-- or (to put it another way), experiences of "joy" as described by C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy, or "spots of time" as described by Wordsworth in The Prelude. In fact, my friend was delighted that I'd heard about Wordsworth's "spots of time". So perhaps such experiences are not so unusual, and perhaps this subject is of some interest to my readers after all.

I am putting together a new "edition" of my purple notebook. My purple notebook was originally a computer file which I wrote up when I was sixteen or seventeen. I called it the Ancaneron (a name I'll explain in a moment). In my college years, I transferred it to a hard-covered notebook with a marble effect cover, and wrote it out in differently coloured inks. (I don't recall exactly what was in this original purple notebook, but I'd guess only a few entries have survived to the latest "editions").

As chronicled on this blog, the modern incarnations of this document have been a little purple notebook, then a blue notebook, then a golden notebook....the latest notebook is shiny red.

I have decided that there is no definitive version of my purple notebook. When I put together a new version, I add some new entries and drop some old entries-- sometimes I revive old entries that had been dropped. My current version is the one I find most inspiring at this stage of my life.

So back to the name 'Ancaneron'. This name came from a fantasy saga I was planning, all the way back in my teens, about an order of bards who would be rather like the bards of ancient Ireland-- not merely wandering minstrels, but living repositories of ancient lore. In my proposed story, the Ancaneron was the name of an epic poem, one which the bards had memorized and which gave them supernatural powers. Like the Bible, the Ancaneron would be a "living word", an animate thing in itself. (I was also rather influenced in this by the Matrix of Leadership in the Transformers stories. The Matrix of Leadership was a kind of power source which was handed from Autobot leader to Autobot leader, and which contained the spirit of previous owners. And of course The Force of the Jedi is in there somewhere, too.)

Well, I did eventually write a novel about an order of 'Bards'-- The Bard's Apprentice, which I serialized on this blog, and which accumulated a modest readership at the time. It's the most (artistically) successful of the novels I've written-- the closest thing to a real novel! However, I didn't use the idea of the Ancaneron.

The name itself was conjured out of thin air, intended to sound similar to the Decameron of Boccaccio (which I haven't read), the Mabinogion of Welsh mythology, or the Necronomicon of H.P. Lovecraft (another fictional text). It was supposed to suggest "ancient incantation".

I've always been excited by the idea of texts such as the Decameron, the Arabian Nights, the Mahabarata, the Canterbury Tales, and (of course) the Bible. (The Canterbury Tales is the only one of those, apart from the Bible, that I've actually read.)

But let me return to the Ancaneron-- not the fictional Ancaneron, but the real one, the progenitor of the purple notebook. Even when I was a teenager, I very consciously thought of the Ancaneron as a "body of folklore" similar to the works of Homer, or the Arthurian legends, or the Mabinogion, or the Kalevala, or indeed the Bible. Like Billy Fisher in Billy Liar, I had my own country, except the country was me. My life was its history, and the Ancaneron was its national epic, or Scripture, or folklore, or some hodge-podge of all these things.

And this analogy still makes sense to me. Writing out my new edition of the purple notebook, I found myself once again musing on canon formation, a life-long fascination. I tried to express it in this blog post, one of the posts that mean the most to me.

Canon formation fascinates me in all its forms. Whether it is the canon formation of Scripture itself, or the evolution of an epic cycle or a folk tale or an urban legend, or the process whereby a poem or a song or a movie comes to be considered a "classic", there is something mysterious about it. At the most exalted heights, this is the mystery of the Holy Spirit forming the canon of Scripture from the choices of the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians. But, even when we descend from those heights, a certain mysteriousness remains. Who decided Casablanca was a classic movie? When did The Lord of the Rings pass from being a fad to an institution? You can't watch this happening; nobody can control it; it would be impossible even to reconstruct retrospectively. It just happens, on the dark side of the moon. It delights my Counter-Enlightenment heart.

Well, my purple notebook has the same mysteriousness, on a micro level. The "spots of time" it chronicles just happened-- whether they are experiences or ideas. At a certain point, I realized that some memory or idea inspired me in a way that was especially potent. It kept coming back, just as "classic" songs or poems or films keep coming back (or classic plays "command the stage"). And, as I'm writing a new edition, I realize that some entries have ceased to "glow" while others have not.

For instance, a memory of attending a Marc Chagall exhibition in Geneva, with Michelle, has continued to "glow", while the memory of reading the Foundation series of science-fiction novels by Isaac Asimov, in my teens, no longer "glows". (But perhaps it will glow again.) The dedication of a book of humorous essays, "For anyone, anywhere, with whom I have ever shared a laugh", continues to glow, while the memory of reading The Iliad when I was seventeen has ceased to glow-- for the moment.

Does anyone find such matters interesting, other than me? Now that I have written so much, I find myself lacking a conclusion. Well, to anyone who cares, the purple notebook lives on!

Thank You Thank You Thank You!

Look what I got in the mail today from a very generous reader! My favourite thing in the world....a snow globe! And a birthday card, and more!

I was both delighted and taken aback at this very generous gift. Thank you!

As I'd admitted, I was a little bit melancholy about my approaching fortieth birthday, for various reasons. But a lot of kind gestures from various people made it a nice experience, overall.

My reader sent me a very sweet letter in which he said: "It's fair to contribute something". It's very kind, but there's no need! A few readers have sent me gifts over the years...The kindness is most appreciated, but I enjoy writing this blog as much as anyone enjoys reading it. Just having readers is ample reward-- and prayers, when I've asked for them. I pray for you, too.

So thank you, friend, and thanks everybody for reading, and praying for me.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

My Step-Grandfather's House

My step-grandfather was my mother's step-father. Aside from my paternal grandfather, he was my only grandparent-- both my grandmothers died before I was born, as did my mother's father.

He lived in Croom, which is in county Limerick. Croom is a town but his front garden looked out onto a field with cows in it. It was surrounded by roads but there were cows in it. I think I am remembering that rightly.

My step-grandfather and my mother didn't have the best relationship. In fact, my family generally seemed to have a low opinion of him. I've always felt rather bad for him, on account of this, and remembered him in my prayer more often than I might have otherwise.

Me and my brothers liked his house because it included an airing cupboard which ran from one bedroom to another. A passage between rooms, like in so many kid's stories! And it was big enough for us to clamber down.

Another thing I remember vividly from the bedroom was the holy picture, or holy pictures, on the wall. This memory is an extraordinary one because, while I have no memory whatsoever of the pictures themselves, I can very vividly remember how they made me feel. However, this feeling is harder to convey into words. "Solemn" is the simplest aspect of it, but it goes beyond that. "Particularity" is the more subtle aspect. I don't know what scene of sacred history they represented, but I was impressed (without really thinking about it) by the fact that these were people who lived in a faraway time and place, and yet they were somehow ancestral to me. That seems essential to the "flavour" of Christianity, at least in my mind. I could write volumes on this theme. Perhaps I will some day.

More simply, I have an impression of gloom-- dark greys and dull browns-- which has influenced my taste in Christian art.

My step-grandfather was a forbidding old man. I have a memory of him telling me how, when he died, the Devil would cry to him: "I have you now!", and how he would burn forever in Hell. I asked him if he wouldn't burn until he was all black, and I had a very vivid image of a human being reduced to cinders. "No", he said, "I will burn forever". I have no idea if he was serious or not, but I was quite awe-struck.

Perhaps he was not serious, because I have another memory of him listening to St. John Paul II on the television, and saying: "Lies, lies and more lies". (I can just about remember that this was a saying of his.)

I saw a spider in my step-grandfather's bath once, and this is also something that lingers with me. I don't think it frightened me at the time, and the memory is a pleasant one. I've always liked spiders. I think they are very graceful creatures, and the webs they spin are a symbol of the traditions and customs which I value so much in human life. As with so many other memories from my childhood, this one is superimposed with another memory; a villain in a comic-book called Tarantula. But it's still a pleasant memory. I was always more drawn towards the villains in stories, if they were sufficiently stylish and mysterious (Darth Vader, Sauron, etc), than the heroes.

Another vivid memory connected to my step-grandfather is a picture of him on his First Communion day. It was framed on a wall, but I can't remember if it was his wall or somebody else's wall. I was very struck by this picture; the fact that there was a photograph of this old man as a child seemed extraordinary to me. Over and over again, in my life, I've been astonished by the realization that time is a continuum; that the past may be a different country, but that it has no definite border.

More fundamentally, it was in my step-grandfather's house that I was most struck by the solidity of the world. He rarely had the television or the radio on, in stark contrast to my own home, and the relative silence somehow made his house seem especially real. This is something that strikes me in retrospect, rather than something I was aware of at the time. This awareness of the world's solidity, however, was not oppressive but rather ecstatic-- the sheer joy of things being what they are.

Most memorable of all my memories from my step-grandfather's house is the morning I saw all the crows. I've often mentioned this on my blog before, so I won't linger on it. It was a very early morning, and I was awake before anybody else (something most unusual, then or now). The sky was grey, or perhaps it was a dim white-- I can't remember exactly. The bedroom was gloomy. Against one wall was propped a halved brown and white flag-- I don't know what it represented, but I found it most attractive, especially the vague notion that it was an obscure local flag.

And then, outside my window-- I can't remember if it happened suddenly or gradually-- there appeared a vast amount of crows, so many that I was astonished. They seemed to fill the sky. I can't really put into words what this vision meant to me. "The profusion of mundane beauty" is perhaps the phrase that express it best.

I've never ceased to be haunted by this sight. Over the years I'd come to assume that there was nothing really remarkable about it, and that my memory has magnified it. But perhaps not. My father told me, a few years ago, that he'd heard a radio discussion concering strange starling formations in Croom. Croom is not a place you often hear mentioned in any context. So perhaps the bird life there is out of the ordinary, for whatever reason, and I did witness something remarkable after all.

Monday, October 23, 2017


Well, I turned forty over the weekend. It sucks!

But I was cheered (amongst other things) by a birthday poem from Sweden and a couple of nice messages from Australia! Just posting this to acknowledge.

Thank you!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Snow Issue of Transformers

Once upon a time, long ago, I read the Transformers comic. There have probably been quite a few Transformers comics, so I should be more specific; I read the British Transformers comic which was published in the eighties. I think I read it from 1986 to about 1989, but that's a rough guess. I do remember it had a time-travel story titled Target: 2006, suggesting that I was reading it by 86, when I was nine. The year 2006 seemed extremely remote. I guess it was, really.

Transformers was a good comic. The stories were mostly written by a guy called Simon Fuhrman. Even as a kid I remember realizing how grown-up his writing was, both in terms of ideas and of vocabulary. They were kids' stories, but they weren't as childish as most stuff aimed at kids. I learned a lot of new words from the comic. "Via" is one example, as in "I heard it via the radio". I can't remember any of the others.

There was a very memorable "Snow Issue" of the Transformers comic which was published to coincide with a snowfall in the Dublin area. I can still remember the cover, in which snow was falling on a scene containing the various giant robots. I wish I still had that issue.

OK, not really. There was no "Snow Issue" of Transformers. A British comic would hardly issue a special edition because it snowed in Dublin. But I did have a dream about a "Snow Issue". I can't remember if it was during an actual snowfall or if the snowfall was just in my dreams. Snow is a rarity in Dublin, and it was still more rare in my childhood. When it happened, it was a very big deal.

I've been thinking about that Snow Issue a lot recently, dreamily. I wish I still had it. It seems symbolic of so much, but it would be hard to say what...

I loved Transformers. It was mine. Well, my brothers read it, too, but it still felt like my special comic. There was a letters page called Grim Grams, edited by a Transformer called Grimlock. Grimlock was a Dinobot, one of the Transformers who took the form of a dinosaur. What use is that? Well, they arrived on Earth during the era of the dinosaurs-- or something like that. Anyway, he answered the letters. There was a picture of him opening a letter with his sword. I liked the letters page because it had a pleasant "club" feeling.

There was a comic strip about a military-obsessed boy, Combat Colin, and his friend, Semi-Automatic Steve...who had a beard. Maybe they weren't boys. It was pretty good.

My favourite part of the comic was the "next issue" section on the very last page. This would show an image from next week's comic, with a little blurb of text underneath it describing what the next week's stories would be. What I liked most was that the picture was surrounded by a frame of futuristic symbols, making it look as though it was being seen on a screen. It reminds me of a favourite Chesterton quotation, one I've quoted often on this blog-- that every wilderness looks bigger seen through a window. I remember lying in bed one night, in the dark, talking to my brother, and picturing the subjects of our talk as an image in that "next week" box. I guess it was the beginning of my life-long infatuation with such frames-- cinema screens, Viewfinder slides, stories, etc. etc-- and even more, with the magic of the mind and the imagination.

It's so long ago now that it's hard to believe. But, at the same time, it seems like yesterday... that far-off time of AIDS, Gorbachev, Reagan, Amstrad computers, Halley's comet, Kylie Minogue, video nasties, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, Live Aid... all vanished now, forever.

I wish I still had the Snow Issue of the Transformers, though. If you ever come across a copy, email me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Excellent Blog Post from Edward Feser on Catholic Social Policy

Read it here.

I'm fairly confident there's nothing I've ever written on this blog which isn't in keeping with the philosophy outlined here.

I like this passage: Just as one can be excessively attached to one’s own family or nation, so too can one be insufficiently attached to them. This vice is exhibited by those who think it best to regard oneself as a “citizen of the world” or member of the “global community” rather than having any special allegiance to one’s own country. It is the idea of a “world without borders” and a “brotherhood of man” – hence fraternity construed as an ideal of universal brotherhood to replace family loyalty, patriotism, and other local allegiances.

This is what Feser has to say about social justice, the deity of so many Catholic today:

The currency of the term “social justice” originated in Thomistic natural law social theory. It is often attributed to the great Jesuit natural law theorist Luigi Taparelli. It has to do with the just or right ordering of society as defined by strong families and cooperation between husband and wife in carrying out their respective roles for the sake of children and elders, solidarity and cooperation between economic classes and other social groups, and scrupulous attention to subsidiarity in the state’s relationship to the “little platoons” of society.

What today goes under the label of social justice – what self-described “social justice warriors” agitate for – is precisely the opposite of all of this. It entails sexual libertinism and abortion on demand, the feminist demonization of “patriarchy” and of traditional family roles, the incessant stirring up of tensions between economic classes and racial groups (e.g. the daily Two Minutes Hate directed at “one percenters,” “white privilege,” etc.), the relentless smearing of one’s country and its history, socialized medicine and socialized education, and so on. This might be liberty, equality, and fraternity after a fashion, but it is the destruction of subsidiarity, solidarity, and family and country.

When will true social justice be achieved? Only when this evil doppelgänger is defeated. Indeed, one is tempted to parody the line famously attributed to Diderot, and reply: only when the last socialist is strangled with the entrails of the last sexual revolutionary. That’s meant as a joke, of course. Revolutionary bloodlust is itself yet another malign legacy of the French Revolution, which every conservative and natural law theorist ought to condemn. But all the same: Écrasez l'infâme.

Friday, October 6, 2017


Well, I'm back on Facebook (for good reasons), and I've noticed that Facebook tends to sap my blogging energies, as it's much more tempting to fire off an idea in a short Facebook post than in blog form. I like the interactivity, too. However, today has been a reflective day-- in fact, this week has given me ample time for reflection-- so I'm going to take the opportunity to blog.

One of my colleagues lost his wife this week. I've worked with him for sixteen years and we've always got on very well. They were married for twenty-eight years. The funeral was today. The church was packed out. I was standing at the back.

Lots of library staff travelled to the funeral together, in two vans. On the journey out, I happened to mention that I'm the least observant person in the world and (later) that I'm a complete philistine when it comes to music. When I made the second statement, the woman sitting beside me linked it to the first, and said: "I think you have to work on your self-esteem". And she's right. I know conservatives like to scoff at the idea of self-esteem, but I do think there's a healthy sort of self-esteem, and it's one that I often lack. Constantly feeling bad about oneself, not in the sense of one's sins but one's capabilities and self-worth, can't be good. In recent months, I've been having particular difficulty with this and I've been despondent quite a lot. I've tried not to dwell on this on my blog. It can be debilitating.

Recently, a friend and fellow Catholic, who'd previously expressed concern about how far I was veering towards the populist right, urged me (again) to rethink my attitude. Actually, I'd already been rethinking my attitude. Regular readers will be familiar with my horror at political correctness and my conviction that it needs to be opposed with the utmost force. Well, I fear that my zeal for this cause became almost all-absorbing for a while. I became too focused upon the things of this world, on controversy and politics and "the battle of ideas". I lost sight, to some extent, of the Heavenly Jerusalem. And I found myself spending far too much time listening to voices who were right about some things, but horribly wrong about others

Well, I've turned away from all that in the last few while-- not because I'm no longer a populist or anti-PC (I am), but because I've felt my thirst of the sacred revive, and my preoccupation with the secular diminish.

All my life, even before I was a Christian, I've swung between a fascination with the diversity of the world, and a hunger for the Absolute, for the unconditional, for the permanent. I've had recurring dreams about swimming pools all my life, because swimming pools represent immersion and depth. One part of me, the part that thrills to the Louis Macneice poem "Snow", is in love with daily life and the giddy abundance of the world. Another part of me craves only what is timeless and abiding.

I guess the second part is in the ascendant right now. I've found myself losing interest in secular matters and wanting to immerse myself in the sacred. I've been reading Introduction to Christianity by Pope Benedict, a book of essays on the Protestant theologian Wolfgang Pannenberg, and other Christological works. And feeling that the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the Cross are enough to absorb anyone for a lifetime, that they make all secular matters pale.

I've often felt that the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my imagination. The Christian mystery grips me most powerfully through the mediation of some image or story. I've written a great deal about these in my diary, but I feel a strange shyness in confessing to them here. One example that I encountered only recently, is the story of Soon-to-Be-Blessed Solanus Casey, the American Capuchin friar, arriving at his monastery for the first time, on a snowy Christmas Eve, after a long and arduous journey, just in time for Midnight Mass.

Or they can be actual visual images, such as these painted figures behind the altar of St. Benedict's Church in Richmond, Virginia, whose very stiffness and solemnity have entranced me from the first time I saw them:

I do find myself worrying, sometimes: is this genuine Christianity? Or is it merely making an idol of my own imaginative impressions? Is the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my imagination, or is it imagination pure and simple? Is it a mistake to draw inspiration from such impressions? What if they desert me, will my faith dry up and die?

Having said so much about my latest turn from the secular to the sacred, I've learned enough from previous "turns", back and forth, to realise some things are a constant with me. For instance: I will always be a nationalist, an Irish nationalist. No amount of reminding myself that "we have here no abiding city" can change the fact that I do care about Ireland, the preservation of its traditions and identity and distinctiveness. Globalization and cultural homogenization depresses me. I care very much about this, and I realize that I always will.

Even here, however, my attitude has shifted recently, at least in one particular. In the last couple of years, I've made the biggest effort of my life to improve my knowledge of the Irish language, and use it more often. I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that I can do relatively little for Irish. The one measure of the Irish language's health which is constantly discussed, and which (when you think about it) is indeed the most relevant one, is the extent to which it is spoken in everyday life. And there's really little I can do to help it here. There's nobody with whom I could speak Irish in everyday life. I could join Irish language clubs and go to Irish language events, but these would take me out of my routine, and I already have very little time left after all the commuting I do. Reading Irish language books and listening to Irish language radio is really doing very little; the spoken word is what matters. (It's no wonder that Israel is the only country that has successfully revived a dying language. The Israelis needed a lingua franca, so Hebrew filled a need. It got to be spoken in the hurly-burly of ordinary life, not in contrived situations. Without such a context,  I wonder if any language can prosper.) I'm not going to give up on Irish entirely, but at this stage I've given up my ambitions to make it a big part of my daily life.

Well, that's "where I'm at" right now. I told you it was going to be reflective.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Thoughts of Dr. Gray

I'm reading The Blindness of Dr. Gray by Canon Sheehan, which was published in 1909. Canon Sheehan was an Irish priest-novelist, who died in 1913. His works were very successful in Ireland during his lifetime, and indeed afterwards. I remember my Catholic school's library had a whole series of his novels in gilt-edged, leather bound editions. Of course, I had no interest in him at that time. I simply noticed the name.

I've started several of his books but only finished one, which is The Triumph of Failure. He writes rather in the style of Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott or Anthony Trollope, and he has all the faults of this kind of author; occasional mawkishness, excessively broad humour, melodrama, redundant sub-plots, fixation on female chastity, etc. He's at his best when he writes about religion, but he seems determined to cram in a lot of other stuff, to prove how Homeric he is.

There is a sub-plot about gypsies and vagabonds in The Blindness of Dr. Gray which is incredibly dull; but whenever the story turns to Dr. Gray himself, a severe but dedicated parish priest, and his more broad-minded (but equally devout) curate, it holds my attention. The conversations between the two priests are absorbing, as are their private reflections.

In one particular scene, Dr. Gray takes his curate to task for his worldly occupations: playing the piano, and reading literature (Goethe and Jean Paul Richter) who Dr. Gray considers profane and useless. I was very moved by the subsequent description of Dr. Gray's views. I can even identify with them, even though I doubt this is what Canon Sheehan attended. I'm torn between an abiding attraction towards "culture" for its own sake and an intermittent conviction that human culture is trash, that only sacred studies are worth anything. Much as I love poetry, I'm dogged by the idea that all "literature" is decadent by its very nature. The excerpt is lengthy, but I'm going to transcribe it all:

When Dr. William Gray reached his home that afternoon, he was in one of those moods of agitated thoughts that were so frequent with him, and in which he had to walk up and down the room to regain composure. He was one of those serious and lofty thinkers that looked down upon literature and art as only fit for children dancing around the Maypole. He could not conceive how any priest could find an interest in such things, which he regarded as belonging so exclusively to a godless world that he regarded it as high treason for any of the captains of the Great Army to be attracted or drawn to them. He felt exactly towards the  literary or accomplished priest, as a grim and wrinkled old field marshal would feel if he had heard that a young subaltern had stolen out of camp at midnight and gone over to the enemy's lines to listen to the strains of some Waldteufel waltz. He would accept no hint or suggestion of compromise with that mysterious "world", which, with all its wiles and magic, has been to the imagination of such ruthless logicians something like the vampire witches of medieval romance, from whose diabolic charms there was no escape but in instant flight. The meditation of the "Two Standards", and its terrific significance, was always before his eyes. Here was the Church, stretching back in apparently limitless cycles and illimitable, if variable power, to the very dawn of civilization. Here was the mighty fabric of theology, unshakable and unassailable, and founded on the metaphysic of the subtlest mind that had ever pondered over the vast abysses of human thought. Here were its churches, built not to music, but to the sound of prayer-- great poems and orisons that had welled out of the heart of Faith, and grown congealed in eternal forms. Here was its music, solemn, grave, majestic, as it fell from the viols of seraphs into the hearts of saints. Here was its mighty hierarchy of doctors and confessors-- pale, slight figures in dark robes, but more powerful and more aggressive than if they carried the knightly sword, or moved in the ranks of armoured conquerors. Here was its Art breathing of Heaven and the celestial forms that peopled the dreams of saints. Its literature was one poem and only one; but it lighted up Heaven, Earth and Hell.

And there in the opposite camp was the "world"-- that strange, mysterious, undefinable enemy, taking its Protean forms from climate, race and language. There were its theatres, coliseums, forums, opera-houses with all their pinchbeck and meretricious splendour, where all the vicious propensities of the human heart towards lust and cruelty were fanned and fostered by suggestive pictures or erotic verses or voluptuous music. There, too, were its philosophic systems, vaporous, fantastic, unreal as the smoke that wreathes itself above a witch's cauldron, or the ashes that lie entombed in the urns of dead gods. There again is its Art, fascinating, beautiful, but picturing only the dead commonplaces of a sordid existence, or the fatal and fated loveliness of a Lais or a Phryne. And there is its main prop and support-- this literature, aping a wisdom which it does not understand, or dealing with subjects that reveal the deformities and baseness, instead of the sacredness and nobility, of the race.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Liberal Catholicism and Conversion

Recently, I've been developing a new conviction about liberal Catholicism. For a long time, I believed the liberal Catholic was simply naive and wrong-headed. I thought that he, or she, truly believed that a greater liberalization of the Catholic faith would reverse the fortunes of the Church in the West-- that new converts would flood into the Church, and that lapsed Catholics would return, the less emphasis there was on "thou shalt not" prescriptions and the more emphasis there was on the warm fuzzies.

What I wondered was: how? How could they think this? How could they think this, when the post-Vatican II era had witnessed such a spectacular exodus from the priesthood and religious orders, and such a dramatic decline in congregations? How could they think this, when the Church of England, which had implemented most of the reforms they wished for, has all but disappeared? Was it simply delusion, wilful blindness?

Increasingly, I've come to believe that many (most?) liberal Catholics do not expect that liberalizing the Church will reverse its decline. They don't particularly care about reversing the Church's decline. Perhaps they are even happy to see it decline.

A liberal Catholic is not a Catholic who is liberal, but a liberal who is Catholic, or who identifies with the Catholic "faith tradition". Their allegiance is not primarily to the Faith, but to liberalism. They are interested in using the resources and the moral weight of Catholicism to further the various liberal measures they support. What happens to Catholicism itself is of subsidiary importance.

This surely explains the attitude of so many religious orders, who seem blithely unconcerned with their imminent demise and their inability to attract new members. They are so intent upon their left-wing activism that it's simply not a priority for them. Their work will go on-- whether it is conducted by missionaries or NGOs is not important.

Behind all this I identify the "death of God" theology which sees the renunciation of Christianity itself as the ultimate act of Christian sacrifice. How far can Christians imitate the self-giving of Christ-- even beyond the sacrifice of their lives? Well, to sacrifice their very claim to be right, to sacrifice their claim to a revelation. Liberal Christianity is Christianity turned against itself, humble and contrite where it should be most proud and unapologetic. It agrees with Nietzsche: "To take upon oneself, not all punishment, but all guilt-- only that would be godlike."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rod Dreher on "Dialogue"

Thanks to Hibernicus of the Irish Catholics Forum for drawing my attention to this article from Rod Dreher on the liberal attitude towards "dialogue".

I feel mildly vindicated by this article. I've been sounding the alarm about political correctness for quite some time now. I really do believe its impossible to exaggerate just how insidious, how cancerous it is. And "dialogue" is the false flag under which political correctness loves to march. "Dialogue" sounds so harmless, so reasonable, so non-committal. But it ain't!

Writing and Faith

As I've mentioned before, I've been keeping a diary for more than two years. Every now and again, I spend some time browsing it. I was browsing it this evening and I came across this passage (actually something I posted on Facebook at the time):

I like how people look when they are walking outdoors. It's like there is a thicker outline around them. There is something more deliberate and cautious about them. This becomes even more pronounced if they are walking somewhere they have never been before. This occurred to me when someone asked me the direction on campus today. You can recognise when people are in a place that is unfamiliar and I think there is something very endearing about the sight.

This is probably why I like fish out of water films, like Crocodile Dundee, the best movie of the eighties (after The Breakfast Club, of course).

Reader, what do you think of that? I can't remember if many people reacted to it on Facebook, but I don't think they did.

Re-reading it, I find myself once again contemplating the act of faith required in writing-- faith in one's own ideas, their value.

When I think about the idea I've outlined above, I get terribly excited. It seems important to me. It suggests so much, although I can't say exactly why. Getting excited about such an idea is like finding yourself in a passage which may lead to a cavern, or finding a hidden panel that opens onto...who knows what?

I realize how strange this seems. Very, very often, for as long as I can remember, I've found myself getting very excited about some idea which I can barely articulate, and desperately wanting to convey that idea in some kind of written form.

At the same time, I'm a deeply insecure person, and I'm always dogged by the question: "Why should anyone else care about your strange enthusiasms? Perhaps you struggle to convey this idea because there is quite simply nothing to convey?"

I'm deeply envious of the writers who manage to take their inspirations and convey them to thousands, tens of thousands, millions of people. I imagine that it requires a tremendous amount of faith, of faith in the validity of their own thoughts. Because surely anything that's original, that's creative, started out as simply being odd. I once read an interview with Sue Townsend, writer of the Adrian Mole books, in which she recalled that, when she was younger, she often found herself pointing out things to other people which they found completely uninteresting-- they didn't know why she would be pointing them out in the first place. I found a lot of consolation in that!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Hurray for Culture Night

Tonight is the thirteenth Culture Night in Ireland. It's an institution which has gained momentum over the years (I certainly hadn't heard about it thirteen years ago) and has now reached the stage where people ask each other: "What are you doing for Culture Night?" As a lover of traditions, I approve of this.

On this one night of the year, cultural institutions give free admission or put on special events.

The Central Catholic Library is open for it and has a display about writers of the Irish Literary Revival.

I moan about modern Ireland enough, so I like to celebrate the good when I can.

Doubtless we will have a horror movie set on Culture Night if it becomes popular enough!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Time and Eternity

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways: 

Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old

In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody. 

Come near, that no more blinded by man's fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate, 

In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.

Come near, come near, come near—Ah, leave me still
A little space for the rose-breath to fill! 

Lest I no more hear common things that crave;
The weak worm hiding down in its small cave, 

The field-mouse running by me in the grass,
And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass; 

But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead... 

That's Yeats, of course, in "To the Rose upon the Rood of Time". The lines often come to my mind, because I'm very familiar with the conflict they describe. I've always been familiar with it. I've written about it on this blog before, especially in this post.

I suppose I could describe it as "love of the world, versus hatred of the world". Or love of eternity, as opposed to the love of time.

The mystical side of me, the side that is drawn towards romantic nationalism and poetry, craves all that is elevated and elemental; ritual, hierarchy, idealism, nature, solemnity, poetry, proverbs, mythology, high romance...

But then there is the other side of me, the lover of the ordinary; of news bulletins, diaries, the hum of voices on the air, pop songs playing in supermarkets, nerds of every description, Hallmark shops, newspaper cartoons, election posters, cinemas, all human life in all its delicious banality...

One side of me thrills to "The Passing of Arthur" by Tennyson ("clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful"), while another part of me thrills to "Snow" by Louis Macneice ("the drunkenness of things being various").

Part of me is the highest of High Tories, while another part of me feels very home in liberal democracy. (By liberal I do not mean anti-life, anti-family, or anti-religion. I mean the messiness  of liberal democracy.)

Part of me wishes to withdraw from all pop culture and current affairs, and part of me loves to gorge on three hour TV documentaries with titles like "The One Hundred Scariest Movie Moments".

I have been tossed between these two extremes all my life, and I'm really beginning to think that is my fate unto death.

The Heelers Diaries

There is an Irish blog called The Heelers Diaries which has been regularly updated since 2005. This is sterling dedication to the cause of the Catholic faith and to poetry (which are the two main themes of the blog).

The blog's slogan is: "The fantasy world of Ireland's greatest living poet".  I thought that was me!

There is no blog quite like it and I'm ashamed I haven't plugged it yet.