CIX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

There is an old recording of Flannery O’Connor giving an interview on Wise Blood for an early television program.  If you haven’t had the privilege of seeing it, you can read the poem it inspired.  If you have, you can judge how well I captured it in another medium.  The poem was originally published in New Oxford Review, March, 1982, p. 24.

Miss Flannery

Miss Flannery

For Flannery

The body was alive.  The evidence

Is that her fingers for pure nervousness

Caressed the chair’s arm, and that was enough;

The rest was calm, the eyes demure.  The voice

Was slow and hesitant, but when it had

A chance to build momentum it could carry

The burden of a thought or two and drive them

Directly, if gently, toward the heart of things.

(The eyes would look up then as if to follow

The words and make sure they were going straight.)

The body was alive; there is no doubt.

A fifteen-minute strip of celluloid

Is proof, and there are other witnesses

Whose bodies are still living, and will be,

I reckon, for another couple decades.

The body is cold dust and brittle bone

And blind as Hazel Motes.  But take the cold,

Thin strip of plastic, add electric light,

A motor, and some other gadgetry,

It will be warm and soft again, or seem so.

Hazel Motes

Hazel Motes

We most of us belong to Hazel’s church:

Our lame don’t walk, our blind don’t see, our dead

Stay put, our Jesus has no blood to spare,

Despite what we recite on Sunday mornings.

The body stalks from tree to tree behind us.

Its hands fidget in embarrassment;

Its eyes occasionally look up.  (Be sure

That’s only in the mind.  The body still

Lies quiet—even now the bones are cumbling.)

Be sure you do not look into the eyes.

If once you do, you are forever lost,

Your well-adjusted modern life in shambles.

Portrait-HazelMotes2

Jesus, striding through the point of light

Behind the pupils, will lay hold of you.

“The prophet that I raise up from her words

Will burn your eyes clean!”   There will be no way

To keep out even resurrections then,

Or Jesus’ blood.  And you will see the body

Living, and it will not be on film.

Miss Flannery and her Peacocks

Miss Flannery and her Peacocks

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD

InklingsofReality5c

CVIII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Enough blank verse!  Now for something completely different—like Christmas in April.  Hey, it’s the next poem in the series.  Maybe we’ll repeat this post in December.

XmasTrueMeaning

Oh Sight beyond all Seeing

(Christmas, 1980)

 

Oh Sight beyond all seeing,

Light in the dark of the sun,

Fact behind the face of Being,

Second of Three in the One:

What motive could have moved you hither thus?

The Life that was ever begotten, never begun,

Began to be born, to mourn.  For us

The daring deed was done.

BethlehemStar2

Burned by angel-light,

The shepherds’ eyes were blind

To everything except the sight

That they went forth to find.

It was a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes,

Laid in a manger: such had been the sign.

The sign they saw by then still shows

The perilous paths that wind

 

Between the Tree and the Tree

This much the sign makes clear:

The Light invisible we see,

The silent Word we hear.

What motive could have moved Him hither thus?

We hear pegs pounded, see the thrusted spear,

We hear, “Forgive them!”  Now for us

The day of doom draws near.

Cartoon-BethStar

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

CVII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Ted Georgian was the best back-packing buddy I’ve ever had.  I’m the speaker in this poem; but he was there, and will vouch for its truth, I have no doubt.

DSCN0242

Conversation with a Back-Packer

 

There is a path that slowly winds its way

Into the Hills.  In sudden switchbacks up

It rises from the Tallulah River basin

In North C’lina, and curls around along

The ridges until it crosses the bowl between

Big Scaly and Standing Indian; then, back down

It curves to join the Tallulah once again

In northern Georgia where the valley’s broader.

It was a road put in to bring logs out,

But that was many years ago.  Today

It seldom sees a truck, though I have met

The hoofprints of a burro coming down,

Plain where the ground was soft from last week’s rain

Or in white scars where the iron had struck the sparks

Out of the flinty rocks in steeper places.

The beeches have grown for thirty years back in,

Along with scattered stands of birch and hemlock,

And hulks of patriarchs the woodsmen left

As monuments to the forest’s former glory,

And the ever-present patches of rhododendron.

Except for the week-old marks of man-shod hooves

And the absence of older trees in the mist of the roadway,

There was little sign that men had come that way

Since the fathers of the beeches had been laid low.

Were it not for the shelter by the spring

With names and dates inscribed in candle-smoke

Upon the beams as a memorial,

You might have thought that place had been forgotten.

DeSotoFallsCreek

Between the peaks the land is almost flat

And opens in what you’d almost call a meadow,

And there the spring comes up beside the shelter

And almost forms a pond before it forms

The stream which forms Beech Creek, which almost gets

To be a river itself before the Tallulah

Deprives it of its name on down the valley.

There where the water is gentle the deer come

To drink and browse in the quiet of the morning

Before the sun can look in over the broad

Shoulder of Standing Indian, who stands guard

Above them there.  If you are there some morning

You might see elven maidens in the distance,

Appearing and disappearing between the tree trunks.

Look closer and they will resolve themselves

Into the deer’s white rumps as they go bounding

Across the ground.  And now has come the time

You must be very still and very quiet.

You’ll want the camera from your pack, of course,

But if you move to get it, however slowly,

The rumps will flash just once more and be gone.

Deer1

Resist temptation.  Clutch your bowl of oatmeal

And feel the heat go slowly out of it

As it goes still more slowly out of the fire

And up with the smoke in a grey, spiraled column

That could be one of the trunks of the young birches

‘Round which the doe steps out into the clearing,

No more than twenty feet from where you sit.

She looks at you, and you are sure she sees you.

She stands and stares as motionless as you do.

Then, being satisfied you’re not a hunter

(It’s said they know the day the season opens,

And what guns are, and partly I believe it),

The graceful head goes down and starts to tear

Away the undergrowth.  No, “tear”  is wrong–

For later when you go there, you will find

The leaves and stems are clipped away as neatly

As you could do it with a pair of hedge-shears.

But now, this living thing that stands before you,

Its breath as white as yours in the cold air!

Up here she wanders and lives out her life

Within the ancient hills and infant forest,

Depending on no man to come and feed her.

Deer4

She mates and bears her young and crops her leaves

And dances with her fellows in the forest

And warily sniffs the air for signs of hunters

(As she does now: see how the head comes up

With eyes and ears and nose all sharply pointed

Toward me at the slightest sound or movement

For a brief eternity of fierce attention

To see if I am still behaving myself.

Then, satisfied, the slender neck goes down

To feed again).  All this she does and more,

And would even if I’d never come to see her.

Deer2

You’ve seen deer in the zoos, no doubt, so tame

That children feed them milk from baby bottles,

And beautiful they are, but not the same.

The camera could not have told the difference

If I had gotten to it.  Paint on canvas,

Fanciful words on paper about elf-maidens,

Suggest it merely.  You must go yourself

And catch you own glimpse of the mystery.

There is no guarantee that you’ll see anything,

But give up guarantees, and go.  Remember,

Grace comes to whom it will.  There’s no explaining

Just why it touches one and not another.

You must be very still and very quiet.

Then if the deer comes, take it as a gift

Unearned.  You are her uninvited guest;

You are a pilgrim and a stranger here:

The spring and meadow high between the mountains

Belong to her and to her kind forever.

Deer5

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD

Stars Through the Clouds

CVI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

It is now 1980-81.  I have finished my course work for the PhD at the University of Georgia and been admitted to candidacy; all that is left is the minor detail of finishing my dissertation.  Meanwhile, I have been offered a job at UGA as full time Temporary Lecturer in Freshman English, just to make sure I don’t get too much work done on that dissertation.  Meanwhile there were stories to be told, some historical, some fictional, and some personal (a sub-set of historical).  The next poem is in the latter category.

On My Grandmother’s Father, His Wife,

Minnie Ellabella Huitt,

And a Tenuous Connection With Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

William Forney Lee had a long, white, drooping mustache

And a black string tie in the pictures in the drawer

At my grandmother’s house.  She was all I knew of him,

The old photographs and the stories that she told:

How his father had been sick and couldn’t go to fight the Yankees,

And old Marse Robert had come down himself to see him

And give such comfort as could be for such a woe,

And left him a daguerreotype, a new-fangled picture

Of himself on Traveler, and written on the bottom

With his own hand, “To my favorite nephew.”  That was all.

Portrait-RELee7

That was all!  It was enough.  To have such a contact

Was more than I have even yet begun to comprehend.

But was the story true?  There wasn’t any need to doubt it.

Her very own eyes had seen the picture more than once,

And that was back when she could see as well as anyone.

Well, now she is as old, almost, as William Forney’s wife

Had been when I, a boy, barely able to remember,

Had been led up to the wheelchair where the tiny woman sat,

Her hair up in a bun, the whitest white I’d ever seen,

And someone shouted, “This is Vera Lee’s boy, your great grandson,”

And slowly her ancient hand had reached out to touch me.

There was an old country house with a long porch, and horses

At the far end of the pasture, and a calf in the barn,

And bird-dogs in a pen who jumped up to lick my fingers.

There were long tables spread in the yard beneath the oak tree.

Yggdrasil

It seems this big in my memory . . .

The spiced tea was strange on my tongue–I wouldn’t drink it,

But there was chicken and dumplings and a giant birthday cake,

And water that you drank with a ladle from a bucket

That you cranked up creaking on a rope from the well.

It was all Great Grandma Lee, it was all the Birthday Dinner,

And it happened every year.  When we came back again,

The horses and the bird-dogs were still there, but she was not.

Well, William Forney Lee had mouldered twenty years already,

And now twenty more have passed.  The horses and the dogs

Have followed both their mistress and their master into dust.

The old house is gone; there is a new brick one now,

With all the modern plumbing, but it does not have a porch.

Only the old oak tree remains as a reminder,

And the pictures I the drawer, and the pictures in my mind.

Portrait-RELee3

“But where is the daguerrotype?” I ask, but get no answer.

“Oh surely it is somewhere in the family, but I can’t say

Exactly where.  It’s been so long, there are so many branches.”

As many as the branches of the oak that was a sapling

When William Forney’s father took an unexpected present

From the kindest hand that ever held a sword.  And I have touched

The wife of the son of the man who was that nephew of Marse Robert,

And oh, I wish that I had known, I wish that I had known!

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD

Stars Through the Clouds

The Cloak, the Books, and the Parchments

We have a guest blogger today, a man who would probably have been appalled at the very idea of appearing in a blog: my mentor and former pastor Dr. Alan Dan Orme, the founder of University Church in Athens, GA.  This passage is from his sermon “The Cloak, the Books, and the Parchments,” on 2 Tim. 4:13.  Paul asks Timothy,

When you come, bring the cloak I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.”

First a work of explanation:  “Common grace” is grace that God gives to all men, as opposed to “special” or “saving” grace, which only comes to those who put their faith in Christ.  Common grace is what allows even fallen and sinful human beings to do things that are positively good, including the goods of culture.  Here then is Dr. Orme’s commentary on Paul’s request.  And here is my question:  When is the last time you heard something like this from the pulpit?  And a second which is like unto it:  Is your answer not an index of how sick American Christianity has become?  Here’s the excerpt:

The house Dr. Orme rebuilt, the current meeting place of University Church

The house Dr. Orme rebuilt, the current meeting place of University Church

Even in the year of his death, Paul was intending on studying general literature which was the common heritage of human beings—of the people of the Lord and the people of the world, alike.

In principle, Paul here gives an example of a realm of human activity and civilization that was one step higher than the body and creaturely comforts: it is the realm of the mind. Paul wanted to exercise his mind and learn from that mass of literature that God had given to the world, not by inspiration, as he had the Scriptures, but by common grace.

This realm of thinking tends to justify a university education and the educated professions, but it also justifies your being interested in secular learning even over and above any help it might be as an aid to interpreting and applying the Bible. We do not know all the books Paul had in his library, but he quotes from poetry, drama, history, and fiction throughout his writings.

"The Books": This is Codex Alexandrinus, one of the earliest copies of the whole Bible.

“The Books”: This is Codex Alexandrinus, one of the earliest copies of the whole Bible.

In your lifetime pilgrimage, do not be afraid to expose yourself to the scrolls. It is God’s world, and all of these things belong to us who are his children. You don’t need to be like Jerome and his friend Rufinus, who copied out and studied the classics and then lied a little bit that they were too spiritual to read such stuff. You can admit it!

Love the English language. Frequently use the dictionary. Read some history. One of the wonderful gifts that God has given us by common grace is the gift of culture and civilization. Advance to the limit of your abilities in appreciation for fine music. Make Christ Lord over the realm of culture and the mind, and then with thanksgiving to the Lord of all creation, responsibly enjoy his gifts. Free yourself from the froth that is on television and feed yourself with something that will enhance your mind, your life, and your Christian walk.

Monet's "Water Lilies":  Fine Art and Music . . .

Monet’s “Water Lilies”: Fine Art and Music . . .

But do this responsibly. This realm must be used according to God’s commandments, as must be the realm of the senses and the body. But it is always in subordination to the spiritual, and the eternal, and the welfare of your everlasting soul.

Dr. Alan Dan Orme, “The Cloak, the Books, and the Parchments,” 2 Tim. 4:13, 3/9/03

For more of Dr. Orme’s sermons (and some by current blogger Donald T. Williams), go to http://www.theuniversitychurch.org.  To order Dr. Williams’s books, ($15.00 + shipping), go to  http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.