Daybook, St. Nicholas’ Day 2016

Today the Church remembers St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. The “real Santa Claus,” puncher of heretics, etc..

Readings:

Something Else:

Last night, I finished a strong novel called No Snakes in Iceland, by Jordan M. Poss, a community college history instructor by day and writer by night. It is an excellent book that mixes history, theology, and fantasy elements in a way that is reminiscent of excellent works of high fantasy, but without many of their excesses. In an appendix, Poss states that much of his work in the novel is derived from his reading of the Icelandic sagas, and I am myself interested in reading them now. I’m especially attracted to a saga called Gisli (or something like that), about an outlaw–Poss’s novel has made me quite interested in the Icelandic notion of outlawry. Looking around for it this morning, I happened across a novel called The Outlaw, which seems to be a part of a series of novels written by the late Victorian/Edwardian era historical novelist Maurice Hewlett that perform prose retellings of many of the Icelandic sagas. The Outlaw is Hewlett’s retelling of the Gisli saga:

Daybook, 1 December 2016

One of the most wonderful things about being the father of a small child is having her cuddle up against you as she ceases crying, knowing that she no longer needs to be upset about whatever things has made her upset. One of the most miserable things about being the father of a small child is when you try to comfort her in these ways, and she’ll have none of it. Sallie Jo has at least one molar coming in, and the poor girl is absolutely miserable. One of the most incredible things about being the father of a small child is how you eventually find yourself able to exist in relative peace and calmness whilst screaming is occurring but a few inches from your ear.

But on to today, as we begin a new month, and we take a brief pause to remember Nicholas Ferrar, the Founder of the Little Gidding Community and a man of great prayer and faith. I’m trying not to miss a single daily office or go a week without taking Communion at least once this liturgical year, and Deacon Ferrar’s example is both a challenge to me and a great inspiration to me, in how I order my life and arrange my home and family life.

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

I’ve been inspired recently to explore new-to-me music. Scruton’s talk on music (posted in the Daybook for St. Andrew’s Eve) inspired me to revisit the Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School with new appreciation and perspective, and this essay on forgotten American neoclassicists has opened up several new composers to me as well. Here is one such example of American neoclassicism, Walter Piston’s 2nd Symphony:

Finally, inasmuch as the aforementioned Nicholas Ferrar founded the community that lent a name to one of T.S. Eliot’s greatest poems, it is only appropriate to end with “Little Gidding” itself:

I

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city–
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

II

Ash on an old man’s sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another’s voice cry: “What! are you here?”
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other–
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: “The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.”
And he: “I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season’s fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.”
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.

III

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives – unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation – not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us – a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.

IV

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

V

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Daybook, St. Andrew’s Day 2016

Today the Church remembers St. Andrew, the first of the Apostles. This is one of the two days traditionally thought of as the Church’s “New Year.” The first Sunday of Advent is always, by definition, the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day, either before or after. When it occurs after St. Andrew’s Day, then St. Andrew’s Day is the first day of the liturgical year. When the Sunday occurs before St. Andrew’s Day (like this year), then the first Sunday in Advent is the Christian’s “New Year’s Day.” The connection between the two is intentional, of course, with call of the first Apostle suggesting a starting point for the Faith, and the season of anticipating the coming of Christ–both at Christmas and at the fulfillment of time–points us to the primary, Incarnational basis of the Faith.

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

Apropos of the last reading, Entrance to the Wood, by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, ca. 1825:

700px-jean-baptiste_camille_corot_-_entree_du_bois_a_ville_davraySomething Else:

I’ve read some Vernon Lee before, and found her Hortus Vitae to be rather charming. Here is Limbo, the collection of essays briefly mentioned in a reading for today. I look forward to reading through it at my leisure over the next few days.

Daybook, St. Andrew Eve 2016

It’s St. Andrew Eve on the Western Kalendar; in 21st century America, it’s also something called “Giving Tuesday,” a charitable response to the year-end consumerist latter-day traditions of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Quite apropos, I commend to you a charitable organization I truly love, The Society of St. Andrew. Basing their work on the Biblical principle of “gleaning,” SoStA gathers together food that farmers are unable to sell to grocers and other distributors, and that would thus become wasted food, and distributes it to local food pantries and the like. My wife worked for a while at a food bank, and SoStA was one of their primary sources of fresh produce to be distributed amongst the needy.

Readings:

Something Else:

Sir Roger Scruton on classical music in 2016.

Daybook, 18 November 2016

[N.B.: I spent quite a bit of time yesterday working on some of the new things I’m adding to the site, especially the “library.” There will be quite a bit of work to come there in the next few weeks; check back with frequency if you find interesting those same things I find interesting.]

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

The piece on bogs reminded me of Seamus Heaney, whose poetry I read with a couple of good friends a couple of years ago, and whose work I like to revisit from time to time.

Today’s a good day to hear Heaney himself read “Digging” and read “The Grauballe Man”:

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep
the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel
like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.
His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.
The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat
that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.
Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?
And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face
in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,
but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,
hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed
on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

Daybook, 17 November 2016

Once again, I re-begin the Daybook.

Today, we commemorate Hugh, the Bishop of Lincoln, one of my favourites in the Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Readings:

Something beautiful:

In honour of Bp. Hugh’s commemoration, a few images of Lincoln Cathedral, one of the great churches of Western Christendom:

Lincoln Cathedral viewed from Lincoln Castle https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49001540

Bishop's Palace, with Cathedral in the background. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35184206

Bishop’s Palace, with Cathedral in the background.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35184206

Cathedral Interior, facing the altar. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35516448

Cathedral Interior, facing an altar, presumably in a chapel off of the transept.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35516448

The Nave. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35008877

The Nave. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35008877

A final note:

I’m working to re-configure this site, both as a place where I continue to collect things together in a regular Daybook, but where I also build a library of things that I find to be useful, and that others might find to be useful as well. You’ll see links to these in the menus above, though you’ll notice many of these are empty. They are in-progress works. I hope to have most of them done by the end of the year. Ideas and recommendations are appreciated, and can be sent to me via email: matt AT wmatthewjsimmons DOT info

Daybook, 19 September 2016

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

Continuing my long-held love of rural churches, St. Michael’s in Michaelstow (Logmihal in Kernowek), Cornwall:

Something Else:

Aldous Huxley on the risks of enslaving ourselves–and being content, and even happy, with such a state:

Daybook, 15 September 2016

My daughter smiled at me in a way this morning–her bottom jaw jutted out, the two teeth in the middle, standing alone, proudly standing out from her mouth as her smile pulled her lips back, her eyes squinted closed, and her whole body shaking with happiness–that put me in a mind of the wonderful, winsome, and whimsical. Today’s Daybook reflects that feeling.

Readings:

Heidegger, grandma’s house, and the quotidian beauty of boredom.

A Michigan man tries to spread some happiness and his father’s warm-hearted legacy, only to come against the anti-social paranoia that defines our shared social and cultural spaces. “‘I will never try to go out and try to do anything nice for anyone again,’ he said,” is the disheartening ending to the story. I say we take his example, and start doing strange, nice things for strangers. Maybe together we can beat the silliness that permeates our paranoiac public spaces.

On the internal lives of a man who practically lived in the library while he was at university, and his encounter with a student who has never darkened the door of that space.

A long essay on the connections between 19th century Romanticism and latter-day Traditionalism, and their shared reactions against post-Enlightenment modernity.

Something Beautiful:

Apropos of the last reading, a truly Romantic painting: Lorrain’s Sunrise:

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Daybook, 14 September 2016

Being after Labor Day, wearing seersucker and chambray gets a man a funny looks–this, despite it still feeling like summer in Carolina, and it still being summer on the calendar. I don’t know where these silly fashion rules came from. Probably Martha’s Vineyard. Alas, I found myself needing to choose a new jacket this morning, as I’ve been wearing my navy linen blazer to death here recently. Instead of choosing my seersucker or chambray as I probably should have, I chose a wool blazer for the first time in a long time. It looks rather handsome, if a bit warm, and I do not regret it. Onto things for today.

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

From Brian Brown’s incredible (and must-check-everyday) site, Vanishing South Georgia, a shotgun house in Fitzgerald, GA:

shotgun-house-fitzgerald-ga-photograph-copyright-brian-brown-vanishing-south-georgia-usa-2016Something Else:

I’m teaching Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio in my Special Topics in American Literature course this semester (I’m focusing on the small town in American literature). Reviewing some pieces this morning in preparation for class tonight, I’m reminded of why I always loved this book so much: it’s so strange and varied, yet so absolutely true. Anderson is writing in the shadow of a world that has spun wildly out of control, has become so strange and so unstable and unknown (post-Darwin, Marx, Freud, Gilded Age hyper-industrialism, & Great War, the dawn of radio’s revolution in communication, etc.), where perhaps capital-T Truth is inaccessible. But he revels in the small truths of the mundane, and fearlessly explores how they appear, how we hide them, and how the consequences of their revelation are not, as those consequences of capital-T Truth are, liberating–but we must face these truths nevertheless. It seems, then, perhaps an apropos book for our current times. Realizing its age (published in 1919), it’s in the public domain now. So, for those who have maybe not read it, here it is, in its complete strangeness:

Daybook, 13 September 2016

A beautiful morning. I just read an essay that really put into words things I’ve been trying to explain to folks around me for ages: Michael Cooper, Jr.’s “Poisoning the Working Class.” In just a few words, Cooper provides a pretty through introduction to the issues that produced Trumpism, as well as the issues that are at the heart of our more through societal rot–atomism/hyper-individualism, economic stagnation, feelings of cultural alienation, both parties using, abusing, and ignoring certain segments of the populace, etc. It’s well worth your time. And while I don’t agree with everything Cooper says here (for one, I’m much more skeptical of immigration than he seems to be, at least as the close of the essay, at least in a few suggestions contained in a small line), he in many ways articulates things I’ve tried to say, often quite unsuccessfully, for some time.

Onto today:

Readings:

Somewhat unintentionally, nearly all of these are apropos of the Cooper essay. That kind of morning, where (almost) everything comes together.

These are totally unrelated to the Cooper essay, but worth your time as well:

Something Beautiful:

A ruined tobacco barn from Duplin County, NC, right up the road from where I’m from:

These structures are imprinted in my psyche as monuments to the world that produced me–a world that was always past, always gone, that was part of me but that I could never be a part of. Ruined tobacco barns have always been both dreamscapes of fantasy and open wounds on my soul. They produce in me what the Welsh call “hiraeth,” and what my Cornish ancestors called “hireth.”