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CLXIII

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.”

 Last week we looked at the testimony of humanity to the truth of the Gospel.  This week, in pursuit of corroborating testimony, we shall put the angels on the stand.

MARTYRES

 On the evidence of two or three witnesses every matter shall be confirmed (Deut. 19:15b).

II

Angelos

Painting-annunciation-Anon

 

 And suddenly an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you this day in the City of David is born a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you:  you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:9-14).

It was revealed to [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Pet. 1:12).

ChAllNations10

We were the first of all His thoughts to live

And know ourselves as living in His Mind,

And that was all the world we’d ever known.

Pure thought He made us, and to each would give

Great visions of rare creatures he’d designed.

The strangest?  Thought conjoined with flesh and bone.

 

We took it as a kind of abstract game,

An intellectual and eternal dance.

Imagine then our wonder and delight

When He spoke, and the whole expanding frame

Of space unfolded ‘round us, and, entranced,

We saw the ideas made and loved the sight!

"And God saw that it was good."

“And God saw that it was good.”

Then, more than that, He gave us jobs to do

And, as we shared His thoughts, we shared His work:

To form our dance of ideas into things.

As swift as thought at His behest we flew,

Taking the light He’d made into the mirk

Of space and time, the light itself our wings.

 

Not all of us together knew it all.

According to our stature He would share

With each some insight, but the larger plan

Remained a source of wonder.  Still, one small

World of all we made was our chief care,

For there He made His masterpiece:  the Man.

AdamNaming1

Though we were pure intelligence, we caught

So little of the grandeur of His Mind!

He’d brought forth thought in us; we’d seen Him bring

Forth space-time filled with things beyond our thought;

But we thought nothing that He did outshined

His strange idea of Man, a thinking thing.

 

But then the whole plan seemed to go awry.

Our brother Lucifer loved the mastery

Of things more than he did the One who gave

It to us, and his thought became a lie.

And then, when Adam joined him at the Tree,

Our joy fell into dust, into the grave.

Painting-Annunciation-FraAngelico

We thought it was the end, but we were wrong,

For then, the greatest marvel!  How we long

To look into it still—we raced to sing

The “Gloria!”—if we’d thought the strangest thing

Was thinking flesh, then what else could we say

About that Baby lying in the hay?

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, due out Sept. 30, 2016, from Square Halo Books! 

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

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CXXXII

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.”

See how long it takes you to discover what this poem is about.

Portrait-VirginMary1

The Moment

The seed had slept some fourteen years, but now

There was more than silent darkness:  something new,

A gentle motion, growing warmth.  Somehow

The tiny cell knew what it had to do:

Glide on and be receptive to its fate,

Either a greater change or death.  The girl

Felt nothing whatsoever when the weight

That counterpoises all the blazing swirl

Of suns we call the universe was pressed

To needle concentration down and driven

Into her belly.  She could not have guessed

The power of the gift so softly given;

The egg would never be the same again.

Painting-annunciation-Anon

It would have been annihilated by

The impact if the same force had not been

Within, sustaining.  Men who watched the sky

Were startled by a star they did not know;

The demons trembled and did not know why;

In Mary’s womb, the seed began to grow.

Painting-Annunciation-FraAngelico

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.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CXVI

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.”

 Combining Alliterative Meter (here loosely conceived) with rhyme produces results that just sound so cool that one wonders why we don’t do it more.  But maybe the product is just so rich that it is kind of like pecan pie—too rich for our daily diet.

Commentary, 1 Tim. 3:16

The Master of the Universe

The Master of the Universe

Great is the mystery of godliness, given

To men, in Man’s very flesh manifested:

Deftly the wing of Dove descending

On Voice from vaulted Heaven riven

Vouched for His virtue, tried and tested;

Many a mighty messenger wending

Far from the hallowed halls of Heaven

Watched the saints from Satan wrested;

Soon the Sword, asunder rending

Flesh and spirit, flashed, driven

Into joint and marrow, bested

Unbelief and evil, ending

Devil’s darkness.  Dare the frame

Of mortal man, albeit mending,

Stand before the fearsome Name

Of Glory given to Him who came?

He came befriending.

LambVictor

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.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

A Reflection on an Old Song

Have you ever noticed how many songs are in the Christmas story? There’s Zachariah’s song of praise, Mary’s Magnificent, and the most familiar song of the angels, “Glory to God in the Highest!” Have you also noticed the many times Scripture references Mary’s contemplative spirit. Read the gospel of Luke’s first two chapters and you will see what I mean.

The other day, I was listening to my favorite Christmas song, the Wexford Carol. As always, I enjoy the simple Irish tune, but I concentrated on the words a little more:

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son.
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born.

Upon my own meditations, I began to make a significant connection to singing, contemplation, and the Christmas story. Most of the songs in the Christmas story are praises to God for his Gift of Love. Our spiritual state does not warrant such a Gift, but God nevertheless offers us redemption and atonement. Such an action is quite a mystery, is it not? Why would God be so compelled to save a rebellious people? It is a mystery that we consider while we give our humble praise conjunctively.

Further, this particular carol invites us to be like Mary, this lowly, obedient girl, and ponder another mystery, the Incarnation of Christ. How many questions Mary must have had, but she willingly followed her Lord’s word and now “many generations can call [her] blessed.” Yet, Scripture never indicates that Mary received an answer for her mediations. I assume that she has been graciously illuminated, but the point of her story is that she mediated and obeyed. I should, like her, ponder the magnitude of her Son’s birth, life, and passion while following boldly and faithfully to his will.

Therefore, let us consider the Christ-child this season. Let us shout with the angels of God’s glorious work among his people. Let us consider, with the humble Virgin, the nature and mystery of our Lord’s redemptive plan. Let us remember his humility to take the very form of a child to save his people from their sins and give them a King that they can serve and worship forever!

Some thoughts on the usefulness of the stage as a writer’s laboratory

I take a break this week from my series on Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin to consider the usefulness of the stage to a writer.  Since I’ve been a part-time amateur thespian for about half a decade now, the subject has been simmering on the back burner of the brain for quite some time.  And it was moved at last to the front burner by this fascinating little post by Doug Wilson.

A couple of caveats before going further: What follows is quite stream-of-consciousness and very speculative.  I haven’t done anything like thinking this through in earnest, not yet anyway.

So what can writers of literature generally, and of fantasy in particular, learn from the world of the stage?  What has the Bird and Baby to do with Broadway and the West End, or even the Globe?  According to Tolkien, not much:

In human art Fantasy is a thing best left to words. . . . It is a misfortune that Drama, an art fundamentally distinct from Literature should so commonly be considered together with it, or as a branch of it. . . . Drama is naturally hostile to Fantasy.  Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama . . . Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited.  Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy.[1]

Having once uneasily portrayed a talking animal on stage – C. S. Lewis’s Lion, no less – I heartily agree with Tolkien on that point.  And the more majestic the animal, the more buffoonish the counterfeit is bound to be.  That is why a man can succeed quite easily in buffoonish lion portrayals – as in Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or The Wizard of Oz – but is bound to flop when required to convey anything like the majesty of a real one.

Fantasy and Drama, then, if not absolutely distinct, are pretty close to being absolutely distinct.  So far I am in hearty agreement with Tolkien.  But he goes much further:

For this precise reason – that the characters, and even the scenes, are in Drama not imagined but actually beheld – Drama is, even though it uses a similar material (words, verse, plot), an art fundamentally different from narrative art.  Thus, if you prefer Drama to Literature (as many literary critics plainly do), or form your critical theories primarily from dramatic critics, or even from Drama, you are apt to misunderstand pure story-making, and to constrain it to the limitations of stage-plays. You are, for instance, likely to prefer characters, even the basest and dullest, to things.[2]

Well, certainly.  Yet at this point I have to ask whether that preference is warranted.   Anyone who has read Genesis 1 and thinks it true (on any level) would have to say that it is.  Characters, “even the basest and dullest,” bear a particular glory which even the most majestic of things does not: namely, the image of God.  Indeed, we read at the beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews that the very Word by whom God wrought the world and upholds it is the “express image (Grk. charakter) of his person.”[3]

Therefore it’s precisely at this point, by forcing a writer to focus attention on characters, and especially by forcing them to focus attention on what characters do and say, rather than what they feel and think, where “pure story-making” can benefit most from an earnest consideration of the stage.  I get that Tolkien’s argument here is aimed chiefly at critics, and makes the fair point that critics ought not evaluate the works of one genre by the conventions of another.  But for those of us who are actually writers of stories, I think it a useful exercise to at least consider how our scenes might succeed even when constrained to the limits of the stage.  I can think of two reasons for this: one nuts-and-bolts, and one theological.

I’ll start with the nuts-and-bolts reason.  I am quite confident that such an exercise would improve the dialogue we write.  Clichés and generally cheesy lines[4], which may pass by unnoticed when read silently, will be exposed for what they are when read aloud, and especially when delivered on stage.  And dull, confused dialogue, which might be carried along by other things on a printed page, will absolutely flop when delivered in a theatre.  To be fair I’ll make the point by picking on an author whose work I admire most highly, Jane Austen.  Sense and Sensibility is a terrific novel.  But I have appeared in a stage production of it.  Now, in the stage adaptation our Theatre company used, much of dialogue was taken from the novel verbatim.  And the quality of that dialogue was a running joke among the actors.  This was due, in part, to some of the cast’s prejudice against early nineteenth century English; but even for those of us who were devoted Austen fans, a fair amount of what we actually had to say on stage made us cringe.[5]  And so I think it’s fair to say that, good as Sense and Sensibility is, the work might well have been improved by imagining how the dialogue would have worked onstage.

I’ve hinted at the theological reason for the usefulness of considering our written scenes as stageplay in the above quotation of the epistle to the Hebrews: The Author of the great play in which we are presently acting is also that play’s leading Man, who did not find flesh an undue constraint on the telling of his story.  For that reason, great stories come into their greatest glory not just when imagined but when actually beheld.  The imagination is best employed not when making things up out of whole cloth, but when straining to illumine and catch a vision of the glory of flesh and blood man made fully alive.  Thus, the “constraints” the stage places upon a story – having only men and women to say and do things that can be heard and seen – are hardly constraints at all.  Or, at least, they are constraints in the best sense, like a track is a constraint to a train.  So, even when we do not ultimately place our stories – the finished ones – on those tracks, they might at least benefit from being placed on them during some stages of their construction.


[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories, in The Tolkien Reader 70-71 (1966).

[2] Id. at 72.

[3] Hebrews 1:3.

[4] When I see cheesy lines in plays it makes me think that we should include warnings to the lactose intolerant in our programs.

[5] After finishing the run of Sense and Sensibility I pulled my Austen collection off the shelf and started evaluating the stage-worthiness of the dialogue in some of her other works. I was happy to find that both Pride and Prejudice and Emma fared much better than Sense and Sensibility.