Category: poetry

If it must be English, let it be this

by Andrea Elizabeth

not necessarily rapped, but his voice and pronunciation is nicer than the other youtube versions. A contemporary painting would have been nice  to look at however.

I do like to know generally what is being said, and Middle English gives enough clues without the translation.


by Andrea Elizabeth


a poem in blank verse with no feet

camping in a  camper

cutting out carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol while binging on avocados

silently, how silently she speaks

joyful sorrow

aggressive pacifism, not passive aggressiveness

choose her

reading Kierkegaard at an Indian reservation

ending on an odd


I doubt Ayn Rand would agree

by Andrea Elizabeth

from the Golden Age in Book 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

The mountain-trees in distant prospect please,
E’re yet the pine descended to the seas:
E’re sails were spread, new oceans to explore:
And happy mortals, unconcern’d for more,
Confin’d their wishes to their native shore.

Then past the Silver and Brazen Ages, the Iron:

Then sails were spread, to every wind that blew.
Raw were the sailors, and the depths were new:
Trees, rudely hollow’d, did the waves sustain;
E’re ships in triumph plough’d the watry plain.

Then land-marks limited to each his right:
For all before was common as the light.
Nor was the ground alone requir’d to bear
Her annual income to the crooked share,
But greedy mortals, rummaging her store,
Digg’d from her entrails first the precious oar;
Which next to Hell, the prudent Gods had laid;
And that alluring ill, to sight display’d.
Thus cursed steel, and more accursed gold,
Gave mischief birth, and made that mischief bold:
And double death did wretched Man invade,
By steel assaulted, and by gold betray’d,
Now (brandish’d weapons glittering in their hands)
Mankind is broken loose from moral bands;
No rights of hospitality remain:

But if God placed it there, albeit next to hell, is He tempting man, or just accommodating his free will?

Theological Poetry

by Andrea Elizabeth

So much radiance has the Trinity revealed to my eyes,

from the wings and the veil within the divine temple,

beneath which God’s royal nature lies hid. And if something extra is

for the angelic choirs, let the Trinity know what this extra is.

from On God and Man by St. Gregory Nazianzus, whom we commemorate today.

Ambiguity Is a Good Thing

by Andrea Elizabeth

I received a link to this article by Scott Cairns in my email from the new Orthodox St. Katherine College in California. Ambiguity is a trademark of Borderline Personality Disorder, according to Girl Interrupted. Maybe those with that diagnosis have a head start.

Ambiguity Is a Good Thing

December 21, 2010 

During the past dozen years or so, I have developed a healthy taste for ambiguity.

One of the reasons I enjoy poetry, for instance, is how a good poem pretty much insists that the reader learn to savor the swoon of ambiguity.  The productive ambiguity of good poems obliges the reader actually to participate with the text, that she collaborate as a co-maker of meaning.

That is to say, a great poem—even a pretty good one—isn’t ever done saying what it has to say, so long as successive generations of alert and energetic readers continue to pick it up.

Ambiguity in any substantial literary text, then, indicates that the significance of the telling doesn’t end with a single reading, and delivers a compelling nudge to the reader that she assist in the telling and the re-telling, the continuing labor of meaning-making.

I also have come to think that this goes for ambiguity in general, ambiguity in life.

And might serve as well for all flavors of uncertainty.

And for perplexity, to boot.

And it occurs to me that perplexity is not such a bad disposition to cultivate, considering the complex circumstances of our lives.  Perplexity is, at the very least, preferable to an array of clear, comprehensible, and mistaken certainties.


Confessing our uncertainties in the face of complex circumstances may prove finally to be a very good thing, even something of a gift.  They bring us face to face with the limit where human understanding fails—as it inevitably must do.   Apprehending that limit serves to make a healthy dent in our pride and sense of self-sufficiency.

Moreover, our noticing that limit of knowledge—that line across which we can never proceed—can nudge us into suspecting how the actual, the True, is immeasurably immense, how it necessarily exceeds us.

I love how W.H. Auden begins his wonderful poem, “Archaeology”:

The archaeologist’s spade

delves into dwellings

vacancied long ago,

unearthing evidence

of life-ways no one

would dream of leading now—


concerning which he has not much

to say that he can prove:—

the lucky man!


Knowledge may have its purposes,

but guessing is always

more fun than knowing. …


I have a very keen sense that our Mr. Auden—prince among poets—also had developed a very healthy taste for ambiguity.

Whatever the Truth turns out to be, it is not a comprehensible body of knowledge, even if that Truth is made manifest—is revealed—in the apprehensible Body of Christ.  We do not—will not ever—comprehend the Truth; rather, the Truth, presumably, comprehends us.

Scott Cairns is Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair in English at the University of Missouri.  His nine books include poetry collections, spiritual memoir, essays, and translations.  He serves as a reader/psalti at Saint Luke the Evangelist Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia, Missouri, and will serve as Visiting Professor of English at Saint Katherine College in spring, 2012.

by Andrea Elizabeth

I don’t believe in poems
That aren’t set to music.
It’s as if they aren’t finished
and are waiting for a home.

I know they have rhythm
And most of them rhyme,
But would you go to a drum concert?
Would you spend the time?

The beating of the drum
Needs a pretty tune
To cover it with flesh
To resurrect it from its tomb.

“What a piece of work is man”

by Andrea Elizabeth

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

I was glad to have two nights to watch Kenneth Branagh’s unabridged Hamlet. I wouldn’t have edited a thing except for the bedroom scenes between Branagh and Kate Winslet. It may seem that I fixate in these nude scenes, but not only because the proximity of children brings out my she-bear protective impulse do they upset me, but because I believe God gave Adam and Eve coverings after the fall for a reason. Am I Puritan prude or could this indicate that I have some other closet problem that I am repressing? May be, but mostly I feel manipulated by nude scenes, and that they show a lack of imagination in the directors as well as either the sad state of audiences who wont go to see Shakespeare without them, or the director’s degraded underestimation of said audiences. Bring back ‘40’s censorship!

Now that that’s out of the way. Lawrence Olivier is said to be the classic Shakespearean film actor, but most seem to think Branagh gave him a run for his money with his Henry V début. Much Ado About Nothing was also very well received. Hamlet followed close on the heals of Branagh’s critical and box office disappointment, Frankenstein. This proved a sad turning point in Branagh’s career. His marriage to Emma Thompson dissolved, and he took up with Frankenstein’s bride, Helena Bonham Carter for 5 years, until he started dating and eventually married her friend.

His Hamlet is probably as well-versed as anyone’s, but there is a self-grandiosity that makes one see Kenneth instead of Hamlet saying those exquisite words.The last scene when his dead body is carried out in cruciform posture is especially over the top. His black silouette from the beginning to his burial, against the stark white Danish backdrop singles him out just a bit too much as the untouchable presence.

I’ve always been a bit put off by Hamlet’s distraction from Ophelia. She is but a shadow in the periphery in other versions I’ve seen which include Olivier’s, Gibson’s and Mystery Science Theatre’s presentation of a German version with English subtitles – my family’s favorite. This movie makes it seem that there was more going on between them, though I’m sorry to know in such graphic detail. Still, he was distracted and neither Ophelia nor his mother, played by Julie Christie, could reach him, though the latter came closer. How Oedipal.

In spite of intense focus on himself from a third person point of view as directors who direct themselves must do, Kenneth does have apparent affection and admiration for other actors. I was not expecting the cameo appearances of so many of my favorites. Jack Lemmon at the beginning seemed the least obvious choice for Shakespeare – he was a little stiff, but maybe that was due to plastic surgery. Gerard Depardieu was not given very good lines – “Yes sir” and the like. Rufus Sewell’s commanding eyes were the perfect choice for Fortenbras, and at the end when he finally speaks, his mouth works pretty well too. Charlton Heston as the Player King was a masterful choice. But Billy Crystal as the grave digger stole the show for me. His witty verbal duel with Branagh was the highlight. Robin Williams seemed a little unsure at the beginning of his part as the fencing official, but his twinkling eyes made up for it. Kate Winslett was very winsome with her delivery and her singing, as she was in Sense and Sensibility. Horatio was played by an actor from Chariots of Fire, whom I also noticed in an episode of Foyle’s War, Nicholas Farrell.

An aside about Horatio. All the attention given to Hamlet was exaggerated in my consciousness in this viewing. I don’t know if the same would be true of the other productions if I were to view them nowadays. Maybe it’s me that changed. I found myself wondering about Horatio’s constancy in deeming Hamlet the more important and worthy of any sacrifice at the exclusion of any consideration for himself. A loyal friend who gives up his life for his friend. Shouldn’t Horatio have had more of a life himself? Apart from just listening to and supporting Hamlet? Or is the Prince of Denmark, who himself is avenging his father, worthy of such fealty? I don’t know, but I’ll also note that the effects around the ghost scene were very well done.

Despite all this, the motivating emotions in this film felt genuine and relatable, more so than in Mel Gibson’s. His performance was even more exaggerated. I think Olivier’s version is the most edited. Despite Kenneth’s playing more to the camera, I sensed a deeper respect for Shakespeare, hence the 4 hours devoted to capturing every word. Subtitles also helped me in my efforts to achieve this goal.

Athens and Jerusalem II

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dr. Hart’s Christ and Nothing is not encouraging me to read Plato either. If modern philosophy denounces Platonic hierarchies, then I think perhaps some proper evolution has occurred. In Christ and Nothing, Dr. Hart talks about how revolutionary Christ was in the pagan order of things.

The great Indo-European mythos, from which Western culture sprang, was chiefly one of sacrifice: it understood the cosmos as a closed system, a finite totality, within which gods and mortals alike occupied places determined by fate. And this totality was, of necessity, an economy, a cycle of creation and destruction, oscillating between order and chaos, form and indeterminacy: a great circle of feeding, preserving life through a system of transactions with death. This is the myth of “cosmos” — of the universe as a precarious equilibrium of contrary forces — which undergirded a sacral practice whose aim was to contain nature’s promiscuous violence within religion’s orderly violence. The terrible dynamism of nature had to be both resisted and controlled by rites at once apotropaic — appeasing chaos and rationalizing it within the stability of cult — and economic — recuperating its sacrificial expenditures in the form of divine favor, a numinous power reinforcing the regime that sacrifice served. And this regime was, naturally, a fixed hierarchy of social power, atop which stood the gods, a little lower kings and nobles, and at the bottom slaves; the order of society, both divine and natural in provenance, was a fixed and yet somehow fragile “hierarchy within totality” that had to be preserved against the forces that surrounded it, while yet drawing on those forces for its spiritual sustenance. Gods and mortals were bound together by necessity; we fed the gods, who required our sacrifices, and they preserved us from the forces they personified and granted us some measure of their power. There was, surely, an ineradicable nihilism in such an economy: a tragic resignation before fate, followed by a prudential act of cultic salvage, for the sake of social and cosmic stability.

[…]This is true even of Platonism, with its inextirpable dualism, its dialectic of change and the changeless (or of limit and the infinite), and its equation of truth with eidetic abstraction; the world, for all its beauty, is the realm of fallen vision, separated by a great chorismos from the realm of immutable reality.

It is true of Aristotle too: the dialectic of act and potency that, for sublunary beings, is inseparable from decay and death, or the scale of essences by which all things — especially various classes of persons — are assigned their places in the natural and social order. Stoicism offers an obvious example: a vision of the universe as a fated, eternally repeated divine and cosmic history, a world in which finite forms must constantly perish simply in order to make room for others, and which in its entirety is always consumed in a final ecpyrosis (which makes a sacrificial pyre, so to speak, of the whole universe). And Neoplatonism furnishes the most poignant example, inasmuch as its monism merely inverts earlier Platonism’s dualism and only magnifies the melancholy. Not only is the mutable world separated from its divine principle — the One — by intervals of emanation that descend in ever greater alienation from their source, but because the highest truth is the secret identity between the human mind and the One, the labor of philosophy is one of escape: all multiplicity, change, particularity, every feature of the living world, is not only accidental to this formless identity, but a kind of falsehood, and to recover the truth that dwells within, one must detach oneself from what lies without, including the sundry incidentals of one’s individual existence; truth is oblivion of the flesh, a pure nothingness, to attain which one must sacrifice the world.

Granted, some of these concepts can be translated or corrected into a Christian view, but I don’t think a pagan would have done that for himself.

It is worth asking ourselves what this tableau, viewed from the vantage of pagan antiquity, would have meant. A man of noble birth, representing the power of Rome, endowed with authority over life and death, confronted by a barbarous colonial of no name or estate, a slave of the empire, beaten, robed in purple, crowned with thorns, insanely invoking an otherworldly kingdom and some esoteric truth, unaware of either his absurdity or his judge’s eminence. Who could have doubted where, between these two, the truth of things was to be found? But the Gospel is written in the light of the resurrection, which reverses the meaning of this scene entirely. If God’s truth is in fact to be found where Christ stands, the mockery visited on him redounds instead upon the emperor, all of whose regal finery, when set beside the majesty of the servile shape in which God reveals Himself, shows itself to be just so many rags and briars.

This slave is the Father’s eternal Word, whom God has vindicated, and so ten thousand immemorial certainties are unveiled as lies: the first become last, the mighty are put down from their seats and the lowly exalted, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent empty away.

Since my background with the pre-Christian world is mostly in the Old Testament, I do not think that the pagan order was a universal view. There were coups of power all the time, like that of the younger sons, Seth, Jacob, and Joseph, the Hebrew slave, Moses, thwarting Egypt, pagan Ruth being the great-grandmother of King David, who supplanted his birth order and Jonathan’s right to the throne. It seems Israel was influenced at times by their pagan neighbors, but God brought about cleansings of the idols and admonitions against the wrong attitude of offering sacrifices, (like Psalm 50/51). Many Jews did not recognize Christ, but they were not the ones who followed their own tradition in spirit and in truth. Many Jews did, and they were the first converts. I get the idea that the OT people I mention above would have. In other words, types of Christ had existed throughout all time, even though a minority may have recognized them.

I am also pondering what would have happened if Greek (Athens) had not been the language of the Early Church. Since the Jews (Jerusalem) rejected Christ and the early Church did not continue in Hebrew, we will never know. However we still have the Old Testament which was decidedly Hebrew, the Septuagint Greek’s translation notwithstanding. I have read a little about how Hebrew storytelling is metaphorical and pictoral. Being mostly a concrete thinker I identify with Christ as Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the Rock of Ages. I also believe that there are enough references to the Old Testament in the services and Church Fathers to keep that imagery and method alive (maybe a friendship between this method and the idea of forms and analogeia entis can be made, which I may explore later). The Church Fathers, starting with St. Paul on Mars Hill, apparently did not inact a dialectical antagonism between the two in practice, at least not to the point of cleansing the language references of either one, Tertullian’s and Justin Martyr’s differences of opinion notwithstanding.

Brothers Karamazov VIII; Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

by Andrea Elizabeth

Or should I title it, “Forward Women”

The end of Part I

*Spoiler Warning* Dmitri Karamazov is engaged because Katarina Ivanovna offered in a note to be his fiancée, and the last thing in Part I is Alyosha happily receiving a note from Lise offering the same thing. *end Spoiler Warning*

Add to that, today’s delightful Saint, Saint Scholastica, memorialized at Logismoi, detaining her brother, Saint Benedict, to stay and talk with her against his will. In Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and I think in much of Classic British Literature, the virtuous woman silently waits, like a flower on the wall, for the man to make any advances or to initiate conversations. Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility scandalizes people when she approaches Willoughby in an open and direct way. From this brief foray into Russian Literature, it seems the social constraints of the same century were different over there. It’s been so long since I read Tolstoy that I don’t remember how the codes of etiquette of this nature are presented in his works.

Today’s poem seems fitting,

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a getting;
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Father Seraphim Rose, Dickens, Chesterton, Belloc, and Lewis

by Andrea Elizabeth

I still haven’t finished That Hideous Strength, but I’m getting excited about what I want to pick up next.

Namely, my copy of Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works has been calling me, and then, or simultaneously, I think I’ll try David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens for two reasons. I have previously not been able to clear the hurdle to read Dickens after seeing the 40’s movie of DC, which was heavy on the emotional angst and exaggerated caricature side. How could it not be with W.C. Fields? Plus the assignment of Great Expectations in High School yielded mixed reviews. I don’t mind the wordiness so much as how depressing it was. I don’t remember that much of Dickens’ style, but for some reason I was more motivated to read other 19th C writers, probably because the romances were more satisfying. Dickens’ characters seemed in even gloomier circumstances with not as much emotional relief. On to my reasons why I do want to read him, which actually may be three in number. Or more. When I was converting to Orthodoxy, I read that an Athonite monk recommended David Copperfield to a novice for basic Christian teaching. That started my warming to the idea. But more recently, since having the occasion to spend a couple of hours at a stretch driving my son to college when George doesn’t go in to his office, I have been in the mood to hear words instead of songs. This is the circumstance for my listening to the podcasts I’ve mentioned in posts previous. At home I don’t listen to my pod for some reason. Wednesday I happened to think of listening to David Copperfield which is available for free on iTunes from Librivox. The guy who read chapter one, “I Was Born”, was pretty good, but chapter two’s lady, though possessing an interesting Cockneyish accent, read groups. of three words. at a time. in the exact. same. way. But still, Dickens’s humor, wit and charm show through, unlike in the movie.

The last (maybe, maybe not) reason is more convoluted. A few weeks back, on “Second Terrace” there was a post on Chesterbelloc. At the time, I wondered, which I don’t think was explained, if this word in the title was a combination of G.K. Chesteron’s (whom I woefully also haven’t read, and who was influential in C.S. Lewis’ conversion) name and someone else’s. But I shelved my curiosity in the back of my head. Then yesterday and this morning, my About.com daily classic poem email sent me a couple by Hilaire Belloc called “The Big Baboon”,

The Big Baboon is found upon
The plains of Cariboo:
He goes about with nothing on
(A shocking thing to do).

But if he dressed up respectably
And let his whiskers grow,
How like this Big Baboon would be
To Mister So-and-so!

and “The Birds”,

When Jesus Christ was four years old
The angels brought Him toys of gold,
Which no man ever had bought or sold.

And yet with these He would not play.
He made Him small fowl out of clay,
And blessed them till they flew away:
Tu creasti Domine

Jesus Christ, Thou child so wise,
Bless mine hands and fill mine eyes,
And bring my soul to Paradise.

Eureka! The other half of the combined Chesterbelloc! So I googled that combo to find the relation, and read this fine article about the two artists. This is the last paragraph,

Chesterton said that the world of Charles Dickens was the best of all impossible worlds, and something similar is often thought of his. After all, he was an optimist, he wrote a rollicking prose that often runs away from sense to become a music that mystifies and delights. He can seem so innocent, almost prelapsarian. I suspect that this is one of his greatest accomplishments.

All this (the truly last reason) is under the unfolding umbrella of the nature of this blog, which I’m seeing as being an inquiry into what to do with one’s western roots when becoming Eastern Orthodox. I currently say, make them proud.