Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Last week at the local post office.  The clerk said, “If I had some other stamps to sell you, I would be glad to do, but I’m doin’ what I’m told to do.  We won’t have other stamps to sell till we get rid of these Christmas ones.”   Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel.

Grammar.  One of the topics on “Jeopardy,” PARTS OF SPEECH, proved difficult for two of the three players.  Answers:  adjective, adverb, conjunction, article, noun.

When I was in fifth grade, most or all of my classmates could have answered the questions that these adults did not know.

I don’t know why we no longer teach grammar.  If we ever want to talk about how language works, we need the vocabulary that grammar provides.

Listening.  “A Shrine Christmas Album.”  Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.  Peter Latona, director.  I ended Christmastide with this excellent CD.  Our choir director attended Mass at the Shrine on January 1 and bought the CD.  He offered to lend it to me.

Latona’s interpretations are understated and allow the meanings of the text to have full effects.

There were several pieces I did not know and enjoyed.  I welcome unfamiliar pieces during Christmas.

It was good to hear Gustav Holst’s “Christmas Day,” a piece that should be performed more often.  Latona’s interpretation was much less dramatic and thus more effective for me than the recording I heard several years ago by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

My favorite selection, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” performed at a stately slow pace, simply.  Verses relating the story of the nativity are done by soprano solo or by the men’s voices.  “Tidings of comfort and joy” are made evident in the change of the last chord to the major key.

Reading.  The record cold temperatures Monday night recalled to me one of my favorite works, “The Eve of St. Agnes” by John Keats, written in 1819.  I had not read the poem in a decade or more, and it was a pleasure to read it again three times.  The opening resonated with the current temperatures, though the Eve of the Feast of St. Agnes is January 20:  “St. Agnes’ Eve–Ah, bitter chill it was! / The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; / The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass, / And silent was the flock in wooly fold: / Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told / His rosary  . . . ”

The imagery of cold here and later in the poem is impressive, but not more so than the imagery of the sumptuous banquet prepared for the waking Madeline by her lover:   “. . . candied apple, quince and plum, and gourd; / With jellies soother than the creamy curd, / And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon; / Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d / From Fez, and spiced dainties, every one, / From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon. / These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand / On golden dishes and in baskets bright / Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand / In the retired quiet of the night / Filling the chilly room with perfume light.”

The imagery of sleep and moonlight is beautiful.  We have “the languid moon,” “pallid moonshine,” “the faded moon / Made a dim, silver twilight soft,” “the wintry moon,” shining full on a window “high and triple arch’d” with stained glass, “innumerable of stains and splendid dyes, / As are the tiger moth’s deep-damask’d wings.”  The bed is a “Soft and chilly nest.”  There is “the poppied warmth of sleep.”  Going to sleep is describe as “soul fatigued away; / Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day; Blissfully haven’d both from join and pain.”

The use of Spenserian stanza is effortless on the part of Keats.  It moves the thought and action in a dignified and eloquent manner and pace.

The story is exciting.  Madeline, believing the legend that a virgin on the Eve of St. Agnes can have a vision of her true love, goes to sleep.  She is awakened by her lover Porphyro, who presents a feast, declares his love, and asks her to flee with him into the dark and freezing night.  The couple is imminent harm if they are caught.  She agrees, and they make the escape, unharmed.

Characterizations are well-thought out.  There are the virginal and beautiful Madeline, the stalwart, bold, and dashing lover Porphyro, the helpful, cautious devoted servant Angela, and the pious and devoted Beadsman, whose prayers and vigils frame the action.

I was always glad when I could teach the poem, and it was a pleasure to revel in it again.  If I find that I am called to be a Bard, I will memorize it, all 42 stanzas of magnificent Spenserian stanza.

Spiritual Life.  What I admire about the expressions of Celtic Christianity is the literature that shows that the people accepted, welcomed, and were aware of the Divine in all aspects of their lives.  In find it in an idea expressed in a quoted work from Madeleine Delbrel (1904-1964), a French social worker.  The idea:  “Each docile act makes us receive God totally and give God totally, in a great freedom of spirit.  And thus life becomes a celebration.  Each tiny act is an extraordinary event, in which heaven is given to us, in which we are able to give heaven to others. . . . Is the doorbell ringing?  Quick, open the door!  It’s God coming to love us.  Is someone asking us to do something?  Here you are!  It’s God coming to love us.  Is it time to sit down for lunch?  Let’s go–it’s God coming to love us.”   (Quoted in Give Us This Day, Liturgical Press, Jan. 7, 2014.)

Thank you for reading.  I hope your week will be good.

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About billwednesdayblog

Retired high school English and French teacher.
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2 Responses to Wednesday, January 8, 2014

  1. Dave A says:

    Re “Listening at Christmas time.” Some years ago, in late November/early December, Christine and I used England’s National Trust system and rented an apartment on the top floor of Hanbury Hall, a 300 year-old country mansion, near the village of Droitwich in northern Worcestershire. As luck would have it, the mansion’s only other apartment was unrented during our stay, so, except for the Trust’s rental office on the first floor, the mansion was ours alone. The country squire and wife strolling the gardens, now firmly in winter’s grasp, wondering what they looked like in the warmer months. The cattle wandered freely about the outer grounds, serenading us when we opened the windows for fresh air.
    The mansion’s announcement board noted there would be a “by invitation only” Christmas choir concert; undaunted, we asked if we might attend. “Oh, of course, there are always people who don’t show up, so do join us for the concert, mince pies, and mulled wine.” What a lovely evening! (The mince pies reminded me of my grandmother’s holiday treats!) Much to our surprise, there was only one seasonal carol to which we could hum along! All very traditional English and Welsh carols, beautifully performed, by the holiday-dressed choir who lined both sides of the spiral staircase to the second floor. Certainly an unexpected holiday treat.

    • Betty Collins says:

      Goodness, Dave Able–I did not know that you led such an exciting life! Good for you & Happy New Year!
      A Blast from the Past–Betty Collins
      Mullen Secretary in the Guidance Office ;?}

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