It has been made a question, whether good poetry be derived from nature or from art. For my part, I can neither conceive what study can do without a rich [natural] vein, nor what rude genius can avail of itself: so much does the one require the assistance of the other, and so amicably do they conspire [to produce the same effect]. He who is industrious to reach the wished-for goal, has done and suffered much when a boy; he has sweated and shivered with cold; he has abstained from love and wine; he who sings the Pythian strains, was first a learner, and in awe of a master. But [in poetry] it is now enough for a man to say of himself:—“I make admirable verses: a murrain seize the hind-most: it is scandalous for me to be outstripped, and fairly to acknowledge that I am ignorant of that which I never learned.”

Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), The Art of Poetry: To the Pisos Lines 412-418.
C. Smart, Theodore Alois Buckley, Ed.

Or from Dante:

“Shake off your sluggishness,” the Teacher said,
“For no one comes to fame who sits on soft
pillows of down, or lies at ease in bed,
And when his life is wasted utterly
He leaves such traces of himself behind
As smoke in air, or foam upon the sea.
Get up, then! Conquer your distress with that
Brave soul that wins through every fight, unless
It should turn weak beneath the flesh’s weight.”

Inferno Canto 24, Lines 49 – 57.
Anthony Esolen, translator.

I have never read any Charles Peguy, but this quote was on the “Catholic Stuff You Should Know,” podcast from June 7th.

There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world, the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared with him. Everything in the modern world, even and perhaps most of all contempt, is organized against that fool, that imprudent, daring fool – against the unruly, audacious man who is daring enough to have a wife and family. Everything is against him. Savagely organized against him. Everything turns and combines against him. Men, events, the events of society, the automatic play of economic laws. And, in short, everything else.
Everything is against the father of a family, the pater familias; and consequently against the family. He alone is literally “engaged” in the world, in the age. He alone is an adventurer. The rest are at most engaged with their heads, which is nothing. He is engaged with all his limbs. The rest suffer for themselves. In the first degree. He alone suffers through others. — Charles Peguy, Clio 1.

 

Life is simpler with a sword in hand
Because the sword is simple
Focused
Tapered
Narrowed.
And when I drive it home
Wielding legion molecules of steel
Forged and forced into ordered
Patterns of interwoven strength
By the heat and the hammer and the heart
Of the burly smith (broad with bulging arms
And a poet’s eye
Visionary,
A technician’s eye
Critical,
A boy’s eye
Young enough to believe in heroes)
Fiercely leap and drive like fire behind
One
Single
Mathematical 
Point,
Which my sluggish soul pursues.

 Hate has no place in a warrior
For only love can forge a worthy sword.
At such moments my flowing body
Takes on the nature of the blade.
And I imagine my mind too is 
Focused
Simple
Quiet
At peace.

 I always come home from the mission,
The deployment,
Or the war;
The office,
The gym,
Or the dojo.
Sweat-stained,
Weary, 
Bruised,
I eat an apple and shower
And sit beside the crib 
To watch my bright-haired baby breathe
And all of me reaches out to seek her cheek
And touch tenderly with just one fingertip
Lighter than a butterfly
Softened with a kiss.

 I get into bed next to my wife
And slide close and stretch to take her hand
And all my body and soul
Reaches
Searches
Touches
And loves with the same totality.
All of me.

st-john-the-baptist-icon

The Prophet

My conscience wears a loincloth of camel hair.
His stomach, drumskin taut from hip to gaunt
Protruding ribs, bloats and ripples beneath
The harsh and swelling cry. Through busy streets
The press of unwashed bodies, mingling, shoving,
Sweating over their various sundry trades,
Commerce and compromise, muffle the voice, deaden
The shrill, piercing, long-accustomed cry:
“Repent!”

                             Within the academic towers
The scholars pause their insufficient trade
In formulations inadequate to truth
Or grace, to parse and analyze his words,
Extrapolate his childhood memories,
Apply the latest theories, check his sources,
Influences, background, syntax and every shade
Of meaning inherent beneath the truth he says,
Or does not say.

                             Poets hold easy commerce
With his “artistic vision.” His naked plea
Draws knowing professional courtesy, they nod and snap
Their fingers and murmur “Mmmmmm…”
“Yes!”
“Oh yeah!”
They clap him on the shoulder and call him, “Brother.
We too are misunderstood, we understand.”
But they will never believe. Belief requires
Relinquishment of doubt, acceptance of joy,
And joy and faith are just not “in” these days
And so they casually wear artistic angst,
Artfully draped across the shoulder and back,
At a jaunty angle like the capes of musketeers,
And neither believe, nor even understand. 

Seers drown their visions in cups of tea
Brewed from scraps of re-constructed past
Steeped in self-pity, savoring the taste
Of stagnant pain, and swirl the bitter leaves.
They read the posthumous reviews of their own tales,
Of all the ways things could have turned out well
If the other guy had only heard the call
To repent. 

                             Outside the city walls the farmland
Groans. Ignorant farmers work the earth
Producing grain, and grapes, and olive oil
For shipment to the City, there to furnish
Bread for the masses, and wine to cheer their hearts,
The necessary but insufficient cause
Of life. The workers live their lives
Such as they are, with a minimum of fuss
Taking in stride the semi-occasional raid
Upon the farms, by scaly, stupid beasts,
Monsters from the ancient outer wilds.
These things do happen.

                                                While in the cosmopolitan,
Refined and cultured burg, the very name
“Barbarian,” or rumor of beasts, is enough to send
The citizens into orgies of delicious panic.

 Meanwhile, the ground beneath our feet shakes,
Rumbling with inexorable, oncoming
Redemption like a volcano beneath the earth.

 

I, who cannot do a thing about it, 

Kneel before you, who can, 

And wonder what is wrong with me. 

How is it possible for me to yawn?

Not just the yawn of the mouth, but of the mind?

Seeing no other way forward, I offer you

A wry shrug and all my boredom

Saying, “Oh well, what can you do?”

And the question ceases to be rhetorical. 

I don’t know what to make of these
Conjugal visits of ours,
Whether they make things better
Or worse between us.
I have suffered more than you know
To make them possible
And it would break my heart
To see them end,
But do they really do any good?
Can we really sustain this relationship
On one hour a week?
(One hour? Rather less. I am lucky to get
45 minutes) Especially when
You never write, or call,
Or even answer my call,
Anymore.

I sometimes wonder why,
Why you even bother
Since when I speak you are not here,
Not listening, your mind awash
With details of your routine
The business of living
Day to day, or football,
Or movies, or dust on the floor.
Your mind is full of everything
Except us. You don’t even talk to me,
You mutter incessantly
To yourself.

And when the visit winds down
And only minutes remain
Ticking off on the clock on the concrete wall,
You insist (God knows why) on taking my body
Though you have not received my heart
Have not listened to my mind.
Still you take me in your hand,
Your mouth, your body,
Mechanically like a hooker,
Never looking me in the eye,
Glancing at the clock on the concrete wall,
Anxious to be gone, anywhere.

Why? I offer myself to you because
You are my bride, and you insist,
And this is a conjugal visit after all.
But why do you insist on it?
What do you get out of it,
When you don’t see me,
Or even look for me.
Religiously you take your pill
Every day like a novena,
And still I hear you mutter
“God I wish he would use a spiritual condom,
The pill is far from perfect,
And I’d certainly hate to bear much fruit.”

And afterwards you have no more
Use for me.
You collect your things
Without a backward glance
And rush for the door,
Eagerly returning to your cell.

I hang crucified once more
Above the altar, watching you leave,
Entombed in the solitary
Tabernacle.

Oh God in Heaven, How I love her!
Why does she not care?

How should the mortal bush
Be like a Seraph?
Only the terrible Mercy
Makes it so,
The ineluctable call of the
Holy
Holy,
Holy,
All-devouring Moth.

From the jar which never runs dry.
The poured out oil of gladness
(My only safeguard, also
My greatest fear)
Slowly seeps up the reluctant,
Untrimmed and fearful wick.

I fear the refining fire that casts out fear,
Which saints have called the Living Flame of Love.

The following is the final speech from the play Cyrano de Bergerac, translated by A. S. Kline.

Cyrano-Bergerac-1563253

CYRANO
I believe he’s staring…
that he dares to stare at my nose, that Ruffian!
(He raises his sword.)
What do you say? It’s useless?…I know, ah yes!
But one cannot fight hoping only for success!
No! No: it’s still more sweet if it’s all in vain!
– Who are all you, there! – Thousands, you claim?
Ah, I know you all, you old enemies of mine!
Deceit!
(He strikes in air with his sword.)
There! There! Ha! And Compromise!
Prejudice, Cowardice! …
(He strikes.)
That I make a treaty?
Never, never! – Ah! Are you there, Stupidity?
– I know that you’ll lay me low in the end
No matter! I fight on! I fight! I fight again!
(He makes passes in the air, and stops, breathless.)
Yes you take all from me: the laurel and the rose!
Take them! Despite you there’s something though
I keep, that tonight, as I go to meet my Deity,
will brush the blue threshold beneath my feet,
something I bear, in spite of you all, that’s
free of hurt, or stain,
(He springs forward, his sword raised;
and that’s…
(The sword falls from his hand; he staggers, and falls back into the arms of Le Bret and Ragueneau.)

ROXANE (bending and kissing his forehead):
that’s? …

CYRANO (opening his eyes, recognizing her, and smiling as he speaks: the actor must try to convey the multiple meanings of the word panache, a feather, the plume in his hat, display, swagger, attack, or just spirit.):
My panache.

 

I have a saying that I use frequently: “You can’t let the commies win.” I say it when deciding whether to work out today, or when deciding whether to read a book vs. surf facebook. I say it when someone asks me why I am working out  while I am sick, or until I want to puke.

The answer is, “Because you can’t let the commies win.” This:

“Ah, I know you all, you old enemies of mine!
Deceit! There! There! Ha! And Compromise!
Prejudice, Cowardice! … That I make a treaty?
Never, never! – Ah! Are you there, Stupidity?
– I know that you’ll lay me low in the end
No matter! I fight on! I fight! I fight again!”

Is more or less what I mean by that.

reachinghandOh Jesus, I reach out for you, feeling
Through dark air for you; wanting
To grasp your hand and know you, sensing
Nothing.

I know you are always here. Knowing
Shapes my efforts, but you beyond all trying
Are Real and wholly other to my all-needing
Nothing.

I stretch both arms ahead, working
Unaccustomed awareness beyond myself, stretching
To brush a hand that is not my own, trusting
Nothing

And all things. The airy creatures, whispering,
Past my outstretched fingers, brushing;
Thou, and yet not Thou; grasping
Nothing.

I keep my fingers stretched, my palms accepting
Creation’s misty coolness, waiting
For your hand grasping mine, withholding
Nothing.

But then in silence behind I hear you, laughing
Fondly at my graveness. Your hands encircling
My chest have raised me up, outstretched, offering
All Things.