In my daydream College for Bards, the curriculum would be as follows:
(1) In addition to English, at least one ancient language, probably Greek or hebrew, and two modern languages would be required.
(2) Thousands of lines of poetry in these languages would be learned by heart.
(3) The library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies.
(4) Courses in prosody, rhetoric and comparative philology would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in mathematics, natural history, geology, meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.
(5) every student would be required to look after a domestic animal and cultivate a garden plot.
A poet has not only to educate himself as a poet, he has also to consider how he is going to earn his living. Ideally, he should have a job which does not in any way involve the manipulation of words. At one time, children training to become rabbis were also taught some skilled manual trade, and if only they knew their child was going to become a poet, the best thing parents could do would be to get him at an early age into some Craft Trades Union. Unfortunately, they cannot know this in advance, and, except in very rare cases, by the time he is twenty-one, the only nonliterary job for which a poet-to-be is qualified is unskilled manual labor. In earning his living, the average poet has to choose between being a translator, a teacher, a literary journalist or a writer of advertising copy and, of these, all but the first can be directly detrimental to his poetry, and even translation does not free him from leading a too exclusively literary life.
A Burger King surrounded by blast barriers in Baghdad in 2008. Photo by Donovan Wylie.
Image used to illustrate “How cities reshape themselves when trust vanishes” by Thanassis Cambanis.
“At root, cities depend on constant leaps of faith. Each act of violence—a mugging, a murder, a bombing—erodes that faith. Over time, especially if there are more attacks, a city will adapt in subtle but profound and insidious ways.”
This is the wisdom of the Night issuing and following: folly, because it holds firmly to a two-dimensional plane, occurring persistently contradicted by actual occurrence. The wisdom of the night knows whither the unbroken road is leading. It understands quite clearly the meaning of its direction and its goal. It knows the Cause; it sees the Operation; but it dare not give the command to halt. The road of those who forget their Creator is accompanied always by a strange complaint against the frailty of human existence, and by indictments against human sinfulness. But in spite of all this, with their eyes fixed upon the earth, they affirm edifice which is erected on it, concentrate their desire upon it, approve it, hope for its continued existence, and, regardless of every protest, constitute themselves its guardians. But why is it so difficult to remember what has been forgotten, though it is quite clear that the operation of this forgetfulness and the end of our wandering in the Night is—Death?
“Why did the Son of God become man, one of us, our brother, our fellow in the human situation? The answer is: In order to judge the world. But… in order to judge it in the exercise of His kingly freedom to show His grace in the execution of His judgment, to pronounce us free in passing sentence, to free us by imprisoning us, to ground our life on our death, to redeem us and save us by our destruction. That is how God has actually judged in Jesus Christ. That is why He humbled Himself. That is why He went into the far country as the obedient Son of the Father. That is why He did not abandon us, but came amongst us as our brother. That is why the Father sent Him. That was the eternal will of God and its fulfillment in time—the execution of this strange judgment. If this strange judgment had not taken place, there would be only a lost world and lost men.Since it has taken place, we can only recognize and believe and proclaim to the whole world and all men: Not lost!”
[Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 222]
Someone might make the case for mercy by pointing out that Gosnell merely carried out the logic of the abortion license that is enshrined and protected in our law. One might note that there is no moral difference between dismembering a child inside the womb (which our jurisprudence, alas, treats as a constitutional liberty) and snipping a child’s neck after he or she has emerged from the womb (potentially a capital offense). How can our legal system impose the death penalty on Gosnell, given the arbitrariness and irrationality of the underlying law?
But that is not the fundamental reason for our asking for Gosnell’s life to be spared.
Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.
If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.
But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday… and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration….
In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again — well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.
Caprice Is the Core of Man
“One thing I would like to re-emphasize and detail, if ‘The Fireman’ ever goes into book form, is the fact that radio has contributed to our ‘growing a lack of attention’ simply because we tune in, see five minutes of one thing, ten minutes of other [sic], half an hour of this, an hour of that. This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again … Also, I want to re-emphasize the fact that we haven’t time to think anymore. The great centrifuge of radio, television, pre-thought-out movies, etc. gives us no time to ‘stop and stare.’ Our lives are getting more scheduled all the time, there is no room for caprice, and caprice is the core of man, or should be the tiny happy nucleus around which his more mundane tasks can be assembled.”
[Ray Bradbury, in a letter dated January 22, 1951 to Richard Matheson discussing “The Fireman,” the short story that would develop into Fahrenheit 451, via the University Bookman]
I actually began to notice a change when I finished my second book of poems. I was 34 or so. That book ends with a crazy character named Serious having a mortal — and, as it happens, fatal — confrontation with God. It came out of nowhere and left me stunned. Not stunned enough to act, however. That took a jolt from life, not art. When I fell in love with my wife at the age of 38, it became clear to me that I believed in something. When I got sick, it became clear to me that I needed to decide what that something was.