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.”
One of my pet projects is to write a complete history of philosophy in limericks. Why? Because I can. But don’t worry, this is only one chapter.
SOME SKETCHES FROM THE HISTORY OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY
Limericks # 20-25
If a tree in the forest falls down
When no one with ears is around,
Though it crashes like thunder,
Whether there’s really a sound.
Or else, when you exit a room,
Is it logical then to presume
That the Table or Chair
That you left is still there
Until your sensations resume?
Bishop Berkeley set briskly about
Proving beyond any doubt
That the Table and Chair
Were really still there:
God still saw them when you had gone out!
Dr. Johnson kicked stones and said, “Thus
I refute this ridiculous fuss!
They may think I’m dense,
But I’ve got Common Sense.”
He was surely an ornery cuss.
Do you think we have learned any more
Than our ancestors knew back before?
Now the Chair and the Table
Are only a fable;
The Room has a lock on the door.
Deconstruction has buried the key
In the depths of the Post-Modern sea.
So we all stand around
Or we sit on the ground,
And we call it the freedom to be.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://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. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!
Donald T. Williams, PhD
“Proper words in proper places make the true definition of a style”.” — Jonathan Swift
I’m going to devote two posts to the issue of style in general and narrative style in particular. First we will look at what some of the great writers of the past have said on the topic; then next week I will add my own two cents.
The rules for a good narrative style are mostly the same as the rules for a good prose style in general, plus a few guidelines pertinent to the kind of narrator you choose (First Person, rarely; Second Person, just don’t; Third Person Omniscient, etc.).We will cover the general principles first and then have a few things to say about the specific strategies. And since better stylists than I have already laid those principles down, we will let them speak for themselves.
- “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” — Dr. Johnson
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word when a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive when you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
–from “Politics and the English Language”
C. S. Lewis:
1. Turn off the radio.
2. Read all the good books you can and avoid nearly all magazines.
3. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it were being read aloud or spoken….Every sentence should be tested on the tongue, to make sure that the sound of it has the hardness or softness, the swiftness or langour, which the meaning of it calls for.
4. Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. . . . Always try to use language so as to make quite clear what you mean, and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
5. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long vague one. Don’t “implement” promises, but “keep” them.
6. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “more people died,” don’t say “mortality rose.”
7. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful,” make us say “delightful” when we’ve read your description.
8. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
–from Letters, ed. W. H. Lewis (1966), pp. 271, 279, 291-292.
1. The difference between the right adjective and the next-best adjective is the difference between lightning and a lightning-bug.
Henry David Thoreau:
1. The fruit a thinker bears is sentences.
2. If you see that part of your essay will topple down after the lapse of time, throw it down now yourself.
3. A sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plow instead of a pen, could have drown a furrow deep and straight to the end.
Next week: some practical application of all the above!
Check out Dr. Williams’ Books at Lantern Hollow Press: STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: THE COLLECTED POETRY OF DONALD T. WILLIAMS; REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: ESSAYS IN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY; and INKLINGS OF REALITY: ESSAYS TOWARD A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF LETTERS. Order them (each $15.00 + shipping) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.
THE LOVES OF LEARNING:
Thoughts on Christian Education
This article was published in Christian Educators Journal 51:1 (October 2011): 30-32.
In Africa, one never knows what is going to happen. Your plans are rough ideas that may have little resemblance to the actual ministry opportunities that present themselves. I was expecting (since that morning) to address the students at St. Philip’s Secondary School in Kitale, Kenya, in an assembly at the end of their school day. But after they left, I was also unexpectedly invited to address the faculty in a separate meeting as they stayed behind. “Why are we here?” I asked them—asking myself (in a different sense) the same question. “Why are we doing this?” I continued, as the Lord helped me see a direction in which I could profitably go. Teaching is not just another job, something we do to put food on the table. It’s not just a slightly more prestigious form of factory work. Unfortunately, many African teachers (and some Americans) look at it that way. At least the Americans are reminded every payday that they aren’t doing it primarily for the money!
So why do we teach? Only if we have a well thought out answer to that question can we hope to foster truly transformative learning. And the only answer that begins to be adequate is that we do it out of love. I encouraged the Kenyan faculty actively to cultivate three passions: love of the Lord, love of their subject, and love of their students. It is only when all three are present and intelligently integrated that transformative teaching can emerge.
Love of the Lord has to come first. Unless it does, love of the subject will degenerate into intellectual pride and love of the students into corrupted sentimentality. But love for the Lord comes first not for those reasons but because He is the Lord of Glory, the eternal Word of the God of Truth, and the sacrificial Savior of our souls. We love Him not for pragmatic reasons, good and adequate though they may be, but because He first loved us and because He is simply worthy of that position in our lives. If we cannot see this most basic of truths, what else could we possibly have to teach? What else could we teach with any accuracy or integrity outside that most basic of contexts? For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, hence of learning—hence of teaching.
Love of the God of Truth leads to love of a particular area of truth, a “subject” for which we have been given aptitude and to which we have been called to devote ourselves. We love our subject: We take deep pleasure not just in its facts but in its terminology, its methodology, its grammar or structure, its history, its lore, its heroes, its practical application, as things worthy of contemplation and pursuit for their own sake as well as the sake of their Creator and of our fellow man. Without this love deeply ingrained in our hearts, we will never overcome the demands on our time of job and family to stay fresh in the material, keep it up to date, and impart it with enthusiasm. We cannot impart what we do not have. Therefore, without this love we will be able fully to impart neither learning nor the love of learning, being inevitably deficient ourselves in both.
Unfortunately, in America the pietism of some Christian schools does not sufficiently nourish this love compared to the other two. How could a mere subject compete in our affections with God and with His children? There are practical problems as well as ideological ones. The economic resources and structures of the average Christian school do not sufficiently support and enable real love of the subject on a practical level, and the pietistic spirituality may even discourage it. A deep, abiding, and practical love of the material is essential nonetheless. All Christians are supposed to love one another; but not all are called to be teachers. Those who are so called are called to be learners, and lovers of learning, first.
Love of the Lord and of the subject may suffice to make one a good Christian scholar; and this is a rare and excellent thing, not to be despised. It is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of fulfilling our whole calling. Without the third love, though, we will never be good teachers. We must love, not just students in the abstract, but our students, the very ornery, ill prepared, inattentive, lazy, and clueless people God has sent us (along with a few delights who embody the opposite of all those more frequently encountered attributes). We must truly love them for Jesus’ sake. How else shall we cut through their carefully cultivated ennui to reach them with the subject we love? Where else shall we get the combination of earnest zeal and endless patience that it takes? And why else would we expect them to listen?
If we have these three loves, we may be called to be teachers. If we are to be effective teachers, we must not take their continuance for granted, but rather cultivate them daily. Life has an almost infinite capacity to dull our hearts and minds, to bury us under trivial pursuits, to confuse us with the tyranny of the urgent, to wear us down by its daily grind. “A man, Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “should keep his friendship in constant repair.” It is good advice for those who would be friends of God, of learning, and of their students. How do we do this? We do it by being faithful in Bible study, prayer, and public worship; by scheduling time for the pursuit of our subject beyond the requirements of our lesson plans; by remembering that our students are “the least of these,” for whom our lessons should be “cups of cold water” given to Jesus Himself; by keeping our lives uncluttered by trivial concerns that sap our energy, distracting us from the loves to which we are called. So we may love the Lord our God with all our minds, our subject as truth that manifests His glory, and our students as ourselves.
The love of God; the love of your subject; the love of your students: It is only when all three are powerfully present and intelligently integrated that transformative teaching can emerge. May the God of Truth and of Love make it so in our lives, to the glory of His Son! Amen.
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at Lantern Hollow Press: Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (2011) and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (2012). Order either for $15.00 plus shipping at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.