Archives For Poem

Beware of Moths

March 27, 2014 — 12 Comments

mothI try not to hate moths. They’re obviously not so pretty as butterflies, but I remind myself that’s not their fault. They’re a nuisance around the porch lights on summer evenings, but that’s instinct, not choice.

I strive to see the best in moths, like C.S. Lewis, who was able to capitalize on their impulsiveness in his 1933 poem, “The Naked Seed.”

Oh, thou that art unwearying, that dost neither sleep

      Nor slumber, who didst take

All care for Lazarus in the careless tomb, oh keep

      Watch for me till I wake.

If thou think for me what I cannot think, if thou

      Desire for me what I

Cannot desire, my soul’s interior Form, though now

      Deep-buried, will not die,

—No more than the insensible dropp’d seed which grows

      Through winter ripe for birth

Because, while it forgets, the heaven remembering throws

      Sweet influence still on earth,

—Because the heaven, moved moth-like by thy beauty, goes

      Still turning round the earth.

I really want to give moths the benefit of the doubt . . . but that’s become virtually impossible since I learned some of them are vampiric!

Before we consider their blood-sucking rituals, I want to share a traumatic moth encounter my wife and I experienced several years ago when we lived in Eastern Washington.

We had a huge fragrant collection of plants that ran across nearly the whole of the front of our house. There was a bush at the far end, and some delightful quail nested there. The flowers brought us other welcome guests. Hummingbirds would crowd around them as sun was setting, and savor their nectars.

We loved watching them hover near the blooms, and wondered precisely what species of hummingbirds they were, since they were slightly smaller than the ones we were accustomed to.

One day I was getting a close up view of their activity and I saw something that shattered my sense of reality. Instead of a beak, these hummingbirds had tongues that curled and uncurled, not unlike those “party horns” that children blow at celebrations.

My wife said I had to be imagining what I’d seen. I assured her that I hadn’t seen anything like this in the scifi shows I regularly watched, and I was pretty sure that these abominations weren’t hummingbirds.

Eventually I persuaded her to look for herself, and she too was aghast at the question of what they might be. Some of you already know, because you’ve had the misfortune of growing up where these creepy things thrive. For the rest of you—the fortunate ones who’ve been spared the curse of hemaris sphinx moths—let me assure you, their maladapted proboscises are grotesque.

I thought they were the worst thing the world of the moths had to offer. (Well, aside from the 1961 Japanese film “Mothra.”)

That’s what I thought, until recently, when I learned that some misbegotten moths had followed mosquitoes in their descent into parasitical evil by drinking the blood of other creatures.

The calyptra moths are another proof of the fall. No longer do they flutter around from plant to plant, seeking sustenance as a proper herbivore. The aptly named “vampire moth” has chosen to adapt its proboscis to pierce the skin of other animals such as buffaloes . . . and human beings.

In the equal opportunity world of the corruption of the natural order, while female mosquitoes drink blood, it is male moths that do so. Apparently, they’ve already infested Malaysia, the Urals and Southern Europe. Now they are adjusting to the climate of Scandinavia. The question arises, where can be we safe from these monsters?

Returning to C.S. Lewis, he records an incident that occurred in Narnia involving mistaken identity.

It is a very funny thing that the sleepier you are, the longer you take about getting to bed; especially if you are lucky enough to have a fire in your room. Jill felt she couldn’t even start undressing unless she sat down in front of the fire for a bit first. And once she had sat down, she didn’t want to get up again. She had already said to herself about five times, “I must go to bed,” when she was startled by a tap on the window.

She got up, pulled the curtain, and at first saw nothing but darkness. Then she jumped and started backward, for something very large had dashed itself against the window, giving a sharp tap on the glass as it did so. A very unpleasant idea came into her head—“Suppose they have giant moths in this country! Ugh!”

But then the thing came back, and this time she was almost sure she saw a beak, and that the beak had made the tapping noise. “It’s some huge bird,” thought Jill. “Could it be an eagle?” She didn’t very much want a visit even from an eagle, but she opened the window and looked out. Instantly, with a great whirring noise, the creature alighted on the window-sill and stood there filling up the whole window, so that Jill had to step back to make room for it. It was the Owl. (The Silver Chair).

Fortunately for Jill, and the rest of the children who visited Narnia, there is no record of them ever encountering giant moths . . . vampire moths . . . or moths deceptively impersonating hummingbirds.

_____

Note: The monster moth pictured above is not (to my knowledge) a blood or flesh eater. But I still wouldn’t want one that size landing on my shoulder.

Poetry for Geeks

November 15, 2013 — 6 Comments

csl ipadThe word “Geeks,” we know, is no longer an insult. It often refers to those über-intelligent folks who author the invisible “codes” that make computer software work.

Their mystical incantations make the modern world go round.

Two years ago some creative programmers decided to invent a new genre of poetry. It’s called “code poetry,” and they’ve published a collection entitled code {poems}.

It’s an intriguing genre, but the examples I’ve read suggest that you need to have at least an elementary understanding of programming languages to truly appreciate the poems. Consider “Dailygrind.”

DAILYGRIND

by Paul Illingworth (// Java)

import java.util.Date;

public class DailyGrind {



   public static final void main(String[] args) {



        boolean its_time_to_go_home = false;


         boolean away_the_hours = true;



        while (away_the_hours) {



              Date now = new Date();


               its_time_to_go_home = now.getHours() > 17


                         && now.getMinutes() > 30;



              if (its_time_to_go_home) {


                   break;


               }

        

      try {


                   Thread.sleep(60000);


               } catch (InterruptedException e) {


                   // ignore


               }


          }


     }


}

As I understand it, the code needs to (1) be functional (i.e. it has to actually work on a computer), and to (2) possess a lyrical essence.

Boasting no programming skills, I find it rather confusing. Then again, I’ve been confused by other examples of atypical poetry. I guess I’m a poor judge on the matter.

C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, was an expert on nearly all things literary. Although he died before the development of the internet, I would be curious to see how he would measure this novel approach to verse.

Although he was little praised for his poetic forays, Lewis penned a number of poems. Some are sprinkled throughout his writings, and others were compiled after his passing by Walter Hooper. The collection Poems is quite enjoyable. And Hooper’s preface to the collection is very informative.

He relates a delightful example of Lewis’ poetic admission that he found a particular poetic image particularly inappropriate.

The fact that he did not publish these poems during his lifetime suggests that Lewis was hesitant about their publication. He knew his poems were very unlike most contemporary verse. Because of this, he could not be certain of the reaction of his readers. The answer is not far to seek. In the poem, “A Confession,” Lewis says with ironical disappointment:

I am so coarse, the things the poets see

Are obstinately invisible to me.

For twenty years I’ve stared my level best

To see if evening—any evening—would suggest

A patient etherized upon a table;

In vain. I simply wasn’t able.

Lewis found Mr Eliot’s comparison of an evening to a patient on an operating table unpleasant, one example of the decay of proper feelings. He mistrusted, in fact, the free play of mere immediate experience. He believed, rather, that man’s attitudes and actions should be governed by, what he calls in the same poem, Stock Responses (e.g. love is sweet, death bitter, and virtue lovely).

Man must, for his own safety and pleasure, be taught to copy the Stock Responses in hopes that he may, by willed imitation, make the proper responses. He found this perfectly summed up in Aristotle’s “We learn how to do things by doing the things we are learning to do.”

Returning to the question of what Lewis might have thought of code poetry, I suspect he would be just as mystified as I am. Still, depending on how each individual poem resonates with the stock responses to which Hooper alludes . . . perhaps Lewis would embrace some of them as worthy expressions of a genuinely poetic heart.

_____

The T.S. Eliot poem to which Lewis was responding, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” was published in 1915. If you are up to the challenge of interpreting it, you can read it here.

A Multiplicity of Polls

November 4, 2012 — 3 Comments

Here in the United States, our presidential election season is nearing its end. This is something people on both sides of the political spectrum are anticipating with joy. It’s been a grim process, grimmer than usual. The nation’s financial woes appear to have ramped up the vitriol. Christian values, especially, are maligned by many candidates and the partisan press that ingenuously professes objectivity. Yes, it will be a relief when it ends.

One of the features of modern elections that continues to grow in importance is polling. Scores of different pollsters—with widely varying results—compete for the public’s attention. Some of it is quite interesting, but the dizzying whirlwind of contradictory results creates confusion about their accuracy.

That, however, doesn’t slow their multiplication. Polling as we know it today is a fairly recent invention. It was 1958, when George Gallup gathered all of his nascent polling operations into a single organization. Gallup founded the American Institute of Public Opinion, the precursor of The Gallup Organization, in 1935. Gallup has maintained its reputation for integrity by refusing to accept any funding from political parties or candidates. Today, the company conducts opinion polls in more than 140 countries around the world.

As I was pondering the surplus of polls, I grew curious as to whether or not C.S. Lewis had ever commented on their like. I’m no expert on British politics, but I imagine they had occasional surveys, projections or prognostications. C.S. Lewis and his works have been the subject of innumerable contemporary polls . . . but did the Oxford don ever discuss such matters?

Desiring to avoid superficial attachments that might prove distracting to his literary goals, Lewis maintained a distance from political issues. It was for this reason he declined the well-deserved honor of becoming a “Commander of the British Empire.”

Lewis’ thoughts about politics reflect those of all who have grown tired of empty promises and venomous threats related to the election of “the opposition.” He would have longed, like many of us, for a reasonable and respectful conversation about charting the best course for his country.

Lewis longed for peace, in the spirit of Paul’s exhortation in his epistle to the young pastor, Timothy: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (I Timothy 2:1-2, ESV).

In that spirit he wrote to his brother Warnie in 1940 about the tragedy of living in an epic era, wracked by not one, but two global conflicts.

Lord! How I loathe great issues! ‘Dynamic’ I think is one of the words invented by this age which sums up what it likes and I abominate. Could one start a Stagnation Party—which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place? (Maundy Thursday, 21 March 1940).

Lewis’ collected Poems include the following delightful reflection on political campaigning.

Lines During a General Election

Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear

All that; it is their promises that bring despair.

If beauty, that anomaly, is left us still,

The cause lies in their poverty, not in their will.

If they had power (‘amenities are bunk’), conceive

How their insatiate gadgetry by this would leave

No green, nor growth, nor quietude, no sap at all

In England from The Land’s-End to the Roman Wall.

Think of their roads—broad as the road to Hell—by now

Murdering a million acres that demand the plough,

. . .

And all our coasts one Camp till not the tiniest wave

Stole from the beach unburdened with its festal scum

Of cigarette-ends, orange-peel, and chewing-gum.

Nor would one island’s rape suffice. Their visions are

Global; they mean the desecration of a Star;

Their happiest fancies dwell upon a time when Earth,

Flickering with sky-signs, gibbering with mechanic mirth,

One huge celestial charabanc [tour bus], will stink and roll

Through patient heaven, subtopianized from pole to pole.

As I mentioned above, there are an abundance of polls about Lewis and his writings. It’s fitting to close this post with a related discussion from the introduction to The Quotable C.S. Lewis.

A quick survey of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s great books of the Western world reveals that an average of approximately three authors per century have been included in that august collection. This being so, what authors from this century will be read in the next? Of course, we can no more than guess; only time will tell. If votes are going to be cast, however, the name C. S. Lewis ought at least to be on the ballot.

The influence of his pen can hardly be overestimated. One observer noted that Lewis “is read with enormous affection and loyalty by a wide and diversified audience today. . . . In fact, more of his books are sold today than those of any other Christian writer in history.” Indeed, with over sixty of his books in print, Lewis has for many in this century become the dominant exponent and champion of thoughtful Christianity. Lewis wrote on a wide variety of subjects in many literary forms.

These words were written during the twentieth century. A decade into the new century they ring just as true. Lewis’ contributions to literature and faith are passing the test of time. And I suspect that will remain true at the close of this century, whether polls anticipate it or not.

Those of you with extra time on your hands may wish to participate in Mere Inkling’s nonscientific poll, below.