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“What good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed?”

(2Esdras 7:120 NRSV).

* * *

After a short recess due to some unexpected lack of inspirations, I’m returning with a follow-up post on grace after It’s not easy being evilWhereas the former focussed on the necessity of entering grace through law, this will focus on some difficulties in law persisting after grace. I apologise ahead for the lack of footnotes and overuse of brackets. WordPress is not ideal for essay-like writings.

What makes grace possible? Certain passages in the bible that stress God’s omnipotence point out how nothing we do can ultimately sway his plan; because of God’s complete sovereignty, all redemption that a fallen world requires originates in him. For example, take the classic sermon attributed to Paul in Acts:

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

(17:24-27 NRSV)

A photo of John Milton on Instagram.

If God is God then he has no need for us to contribute to the success of his plans. He’s got it sorted. In one of my favourite Milton poems (ie. in one of my favourite poems), Milton explores his now relative inability to serve God after becoming blind:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed[¹]
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

He complains that as he grows closer to God in his old age, his body prevents him from serving the Lord more fully. Yet his conclusion is akin to the description of God in Acts: The Lord is able to fulfill his will without the great works of Milton (cf. Paradise Lost, which is a great work, above that of Paradise Regained, ironically and quite tellingly making the Fall more central to being human than Christ’s redemption), only now requiring that Milton wait faithfully.

Isn’t this omnipotence partly what enables God to forgive sins? If freedom allows us to do otherwise than God intends (ie. sin) then the Lord’s omnipotence allows him to allow for that freedom independently of the fulfillment of his will. Paul expresses this asymmetry in a popular verse:

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NRSV).

* * *

This alone makes me cynical of Zizek and Rollins’ atheistic enthusiasm towards the Christian legacy. God or the infinite, the Beyond, etc does not exist; he died on the cross. All we have now is the material Christian community, and the agapeic love thereof, which accepts us unconditionally (love the sinner, hate the sin). How then is this grace possible? The immutable alternative to sin and death, God’s ultimate and unchanging plan which exists in the infinite, has been shown to be wishful thinking, an illusion. Grace always was, and now knowingly, expressed in finitude, through imperfect believers.

I’m no scholar but humour me here. Say what Paul is saying in Romans is that it is impossible to fulfill the law through obedience to it, for various reasons, one being the universal sin of humanity (Romans 3:9ff), made known through the law (3:20), even taking the opportunity given by this knowledge to further assert itself (7:7-8). I think this can be possibly erroneously supplemented (in a good way) by some passages from the Messiah himself, and some good, commonsense examples. The Sermon on the Mount is a helpful place to start:

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire[…]

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

(Matthew 5:17-23, 27-30 NRSV).

Jesus cannot be seen here as just creating other absolute categories. The problem with law here is that its requirements are never absolute. Jesus points this out by relativising them. A lot of people could boast that they never committed adultery or murdered anyone. But how many could say they never indulged feelings of lust or hate for anyone? The temptation of people approaching this passage is to miss the point of what Jesus is saying by creating new absolute categories: No longer is it just wrong to sleep with the newlywed next door, it’s wrong also to think about doing so. I cannot dismiss that Jesus’ words righfully challenge smug law-abiders who think they’ve ticked all the boxes, yet in reality they missed the point of the law. Yes, taken. But we need to take our hermeneutics one step further. But what can also be taken from this passage is that Jesus is asking of us something impossible. It’s now wrong to think about committing adultery. What if it’s wrong also to want to think about doing so? This is all to easily dismissed as an untouchable depth of the depraved heart, which is not equal to ‘willful sins’ simply because we wake up with it in the same way we wake up hungry. Anger and lust are part and parcel with our humanity. Jesus asks us to not be something which cannot not be.

Perhaps this is why Paul cites ‘covetousness’ as an example of failure to live up to the law (Romans 7:8). With the possible exceptions of worshipping Yahweh alone and honouring your father and mother, covetousness is the law in the Decalogue most immediately obvious as an internal sin. As is already evident in the Torah, and then in later Rabbinic literature, case law and a whole range of imaginative possibilities were devised to determine what was and what wasn’t transgression in externally measurable circumstances: “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12 NRSV). Coveting occurs internally where things like husbands, genitals and hands don’t exist. It is not entered into with externally measurable circumstances but lurks in the infinite subconsciousness and coexists with the desires to drink water, yawn when you’re tired and scratch an itch. Of course, you don’t need to respond to those desires, but to be told not to desire in the first place, this is difficult.

Coming back to Jesus’ sermon, what is worrying (although I tend to always feel not somehow worried but inspired when I read this passage) is that he calls us to live so highly, to “be perfect” (v.48), as a part of adhering to the law, to the extent that if we neglect to live up to this perfection then we “will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v.20). Jesus presents a potential disciple with a similar conclusion, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NRSV). The same language of perfection is used here. Although this “someone” had kept all the commandments (v.20), Jesus required yet more of him. The same/a similar theme appears elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel (12:1-14; 15:1-20; 23:1ff).

Not only are the requirements of the law infinite for internal things like lusting and coveting, both of which cannot be measured empirically (this is why psychology is a soft science; real scientists make conclusions about gravity and the structure of atoms, etc), but there is no way to way to live up to external requirements either. The Sabbath is for resting but that doesn’t mean you can neglect your bone-brokened donkey. If you’re walking along and see a piece of rubbish on the ground, you can put it in the bin nearby, but then you might see another, and then another. Is it right to spend the rest of your life cleaning up the streets or is it right to pick up one piece, ignore the others, and move on? Using violence to solve problems goes against who Jesus is, but what about in self-defense? It’s not needed. I can forgo the protection of my body to maintain my peaceful ideals. What, then, about defending vulnerable individuals? How do you intervene between an adult smacking up some kid? When do your actions become no longer defense on the part of another but unneeded violence? What we need now is a bunch of Rabbis to take Jesus as the new Torah, and then to meditate on the infinite extensions of “turn the other cheek”, producing a two volume commentary on Christian non-violence and every conceivable situation where the moral responsibility of the subject would be called into question. Peter Rollins’ parable, The third mile is useful here:

* * *

Back into the big picture, Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious elite who hold a privileged place in society, along with access to the interpretations of the law, and therefore access to God. Paul takes the same kind of idea and shows how not just the religious elite but wider Israel had an exclusive status through the law that barred the Gentiles access to God (I’m here indebted to N T Wright for his gloss on Romans 2 — not hearers of the law (Jews) but doers (some Jews and Gentiles) will be justified at the judgement). What Paul and Jesus have in common here is that they are both criticising groups who bar others from access to God, which is not just an abstract, between-me-and-God spiritual superiority but a social superiority with far-reaching material consequences (eg. Matthew 15:5-6; John 4:9, 8:1ff; Acts 6:1; Galatians 2:12). It’s easy to get off topic when discussing the proper context of the passages. But Paul and Jesus’ presentation of an alternative to the law (while, of course, upholding the law) needs to be understood with what that offers, universal access to God and the material reality that comes with that.

Can Paul’s universality of sin and Jesus’ infinite requirements of the law then be removed from this context? I’m not qualified to give a proper answer. But, I can’t see, after first acknowledging the bigger picture, why not. Universal sin and impossible obedience are just that, universal. Paul sees this and presents an alternative, namely trusting/believing/having faith in God (Romans 3:21ff, 4:16ff; cf. Galatians 3:5) and living life in the Spirit (Romans 8; cf. Galatians 5:16-26). As Kierkegaard notes, in Christianity the definition of sin has shifted, “This is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity; that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith” (making reference to Romans 14:23, where Paul has now put his theology into a practical context).

Faith, after Abraham and the passages cited above, appears to me to be believing that God will fulfill his word(s). I tread carefully in giving a definition of life in the Spirit because of my Pentecostal background, which focusses on the response of the individual to the internal leading of the Holy Spirit, immediately connecting both faith and Spirit, although I will mention that this individualism² is not without biblical support (eg. Romans 14:5-12; Exodus 25:2; 1Corinthians 12:4-11). I am also aware of the emphases of Calvinist pneumatology, which hold some stakes in this definition, that is, that because of our total depravity (I actually get some sort of sick kick out of ascribing that to humanity, which no doubt some will cite as itself evidence of the doctrine) we cannot do good, let alone accept the message of the Gospel in faith, so that it is the Holy Spirit who works in our hearts and enables us to believe, also connecting two of Paul’s qualifiers for life in Christ. What appeals to me here is not our absolute dependence on God even for faith (which I disagree with, because it leads to determinism) but the framing of the Holy Spirit as God’s initiative, the topping up of what is incomplete in faith.

This brings us back to where we started, which is to acknowledge that Paul’s sermon in Acts continues with the words, “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (17:30 NRSV). And this is to acknowledge that while Milton could not serve God as he previously could with his sight, the Lord asks him now to “stand and wait”. These are expressions of faith, universal access to God through simply believing what he says. But faith in itself is art for art’s sake. It falls to the same fate as our flawed obedience to the law. This then is the Holy Spirit, who works with us through faith to overcome the infinite requirement, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 NRSV). God is pleased with what we do. Under law we were incited to sin, yet under faith the Lord uses us through his Spirit to “uphold the law” (Romans 3:31 NRSV), even, as with Paul, become a necessary part in his plan by sharing the Gospel (Romans 10:14-15). Now the asymmetry of the omnipotent Creator and the finitesimal created is topped up and mediated through Holy Spirit in faith.

Under the new dichotomy of faith/sin against the old of virtue/sin (better, obedience-to-the-law/sin; Kierkegaard was dismantling Socratic, not Judaic understandings of sin), we are protected from the accusations of the law because by our faith God declares us righteous. This is not simply being acquitted from the responsibility to uphold the law, especially justice, but that through faith we now enter, with the Holy Spirit, into a new expression of law (Romans 8:2; 1Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). We uphold the law. Yet we fail in obedience to the law, as cited before:

If, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! (2:17 NRSV).

Under faith/sin, sin is redefined as unbelief. Christians remain believing, being justified through faith, yet remain sinners naturally in accordance with the Mosaic criteria (when we remove Jesus and faith and all that and judge ourselves again from the start). We remain disobedient, as does everyone, yet we are declared righteous; there is an absolute, finite requirement, one that can be met with: Faith.

* * *

The transcendent God then does just what atheist criticisms accuse him of doing, making meaningful something truly meaningless and securing hope in something truly hopeless.  Who is on their side? Who adheres to this incompleteness of grace, the absence of redemption, which originates in some fantasy non-material world? One unlikely place to look would be Israel’s prophets. The truth of a finite expression of grace can be understood like this: What we do matters. Material actions matter. Although God will ultimately judge the world, our sins still affect those around us. It was not enough for Israel to be called by God apart from the nations to know him and be loved by him; Israel was also to serve him. Thus Ezekiel can say, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49 NRSV). Amos, speaking also of the neglect to provide for the poor and needy, writes of the Lord:

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5:21-24 NRSV; it is worth reading the whole chapter (or the whole of Amos) to get a better idea of where exactly Israel had screwed up)

The offense of Israel’s actions is that they assumed their election overwrote social responsibility. Are there any similarities between Israel’s complacency under election and ours under faith? Yes. As with faith/sin, you could almost apply an election/sin to Israel, as to which Paul and Jesus also make reference (Galatians 2:15; Matthew 3:9; Romans 2:3). When faith or election fulfills the law then obedience becomes secondary. Although, with the Holy Spirit, we are led into obedience, disobedience maintains its consequences (Romans 2:8; Galatians 5:21). The absolute finite requirement of faith has become relativised and infinite, like its predecessor, the law. Thus Paul can say that he has not yet fully attained to the goal of his faith (Philippians 3:12). This verse can easily be read in the sense that Paul hasn’t died yet (cf. 1:21), as he’s speaking of the resurrection, but he’s also speaking of faith, righteousness before God, sharing in Christ’s sufferings, being found in him and knowing him (3:7-11), all of which are in the process of being attained in the present (this relationship of present incompleteness moving towards a complete future is elsewhere in, for example, Philippians 1:6 and 2:13-14, present salvation anticipating future). Elsewhere Paul can speak of his weaknesses, not just from suffering as a Christian, but facing responsibility (2Corinthians 11:28-29³).

Faith is now doubly incomplete. Firstly it privileges trust over obedience. Secondly, in the same way Paul cites scriptures to say there is “no one who is righteous” (Romans 3:10), he rightfully can say that there is no one who believes. What is more, if we embrace death of God theology to its end then there is no Holy Spirit, no perfect-ultimate will to top up our mistakes and bring cosmic redemption. We are left to our own devices where material action is both necessary and impossible. Yet even with God, material action is both necessary and impossible (improbable, without determinism or complete ‘sovereignty’, etc).

* * *

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1).

As with most things in life, this ends in despair. People looking for happier times should return to the days of Mario Kart, picnics and puppy love. Although the conclusion is decidedly un-Christian, I’m not yet ready to take some pat answers. Something about denial being the first sign of guilt. Antinomianism is the heresy where grace is like a license to do whatever you want, and you want to sin. Ironically, it comes from the Greek word nomos, meaning law. When grace allows you to do whatever you want, you’re operating under the heresy that literally means to be without the law:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

(James 2:14-17 NRSV).

We will always fall short of our material responsibilities at the same time as faith’s ultimate inability to hide us from them. The obvious answer is that at least you can try. Try to be obedient. Strive towards perfection. And whether you’re a theistic Christian and your failures are contrasted to the work of the Holy Spirit and the absolute condition of your heart, or you’re an atheistic Christian and Jesus’ challenge to live always beyond the law impels you to a radical life of helping others, note this: Striving is not being. Trying is a form of failure. This is the truth of human depravity: We have miserably failed.

* * *

¹”speed” here is a verb. I always tripped up on this until I realised that.

²When I say individualism I don’t mean it in the existential sense of the individual making meaning for their self out of their personal relationship with God/existence, nor do I mean it in the consumerist/prosperity gospel sense of serving God for the benefits he provides you as an individual, but I mean it in the sense of the community with emphasis upon the individual: We are individuals, separate people, and our individual actions contribute, for good or for bad, to the Kingdom of God.

³The NRSV translates the Greek pyroumai as ‘I am indignant’, which ignores Paul’s use of it in 1Corinthians 7:9, denoting the fire of lust. I’m no translator, but the NRSV doesn’t even provide a footnote with an alternative translation, where it is possible, and, I think, important.

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Here’s another marketing ploy for readers to continue reading while I fervently try to box a little bit more of reality with language. Enjoy five sonnets written over 2008 and 2009. I haven’t read them for ages. Twenty-One, written on becoming twenty-one, also had Milton in mind when writing it, mainly lamenting the amount of life that’s gone to waste so far. Making sure, written out of my own cynicism in my inability to live up to my own ideals. Maranatha, disillusionment with my lack of compassion for people the world over, and that any desire I had to help others was actually more of a desire to find my own purpose in life. Poker for communists, on celibacy. A better tomorrow, a nice one to close on, as you can see from this miserable line up of other poems, expressing one of those rare moments in life when you grasp the reality of real hope.

Twenty-One

These formative years:
They are passing
with rapidity,
like a rabbit you would
see running from a gunshot. I shot

again, and the cuddle-wrought
fugitive contracted into a ball

of fluff. If an instant were a lifetime,
then in that instant of this life

one last elastic bound
cast my prize to his safety. And
I walked on dejectedly
into possibility; and I walked on
an empty stomach.

* * *

Making Sure

We’re not falling away
due to adversity,
but we are falling as we rise
in our prosperity. Hear this
new something we have

to complain about: life–
it’s too easy. Our excess is emptiness;

there’s really nothing there.
So we buy books

to make sure we’re saved.
Our Christian friends tell us
Christian things
to make us better Christians
so that one day we’ll be really good Christians.

* * *

Maranatha

When leaden souls burden
my shoulders, or if the blood
of the condemned swells
in my heart, then consecrate
this entire individual to the God who is

love. But between desert mosque and isolated
rainforest, though I could search for a niche to love

people, in searching I search for myself.
This skin envelops the multipartite and immeasurable

being: Bones, ghost,
psyche, etc. Give me some time away from
myself! Jesus will save the nations,
albeit my motivations are
a precedent for my procrastination!

* * *

Poker for communists

The pursuit of
happiness is all pursuit; the yellow
brick road concedes
infinity. Arise, dying body! Life within
continue! You may envy the resting

stillborn, who faced neither despair
nor desire, but we exchange fists

with eternity. Tell me how
Buddha, apostate of world and wife,

grew plump on nirvana. Tell me how
Jesus’ disciples could discount
godly union for fear of divorce. Tell me
how a couple could love to the utmost of human possibility
then forfeit it all to death.

* * *

A better tomorrow

The majestic king of beasts, through bringing
death, lives on flesh, and glorifies
his Creator. The humble plankton
perishes in a whale’s belly, yet sings
praises to his God. Eternity is now, forever

is today, and this breath finds its meaning
when breathed for you. Each moment

is just a reason to know you, and you
make each momentous. Although now the world

is lard in our blood and heavy
in our lungs, each choke
anticipates the coming perfection; and
though now we but know you
in spirit and faith, we will see your face.

Look Jackson, you’re too old for piggy back rides now; someone’s going to lose an eye.

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This is at once a necessary break from overly serious posts and a tribute to The Inky Fool, a fascinating blog on the roots of words and phrases in the English language. What follows is a list of words and their definitions as I have come across them in my reading. Some are still used legitimately today, whereas others are usually only used for poetic reference to a time past:

1. wont: accustomed: “My lord, the roynish clown, at whom so oft /Your Grace was wont to laugh, is also missing” — Shakespeare

2. wanton: frolicsome/sexually unrestrained: “Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls” — Shakespeare

3. thee/thou/thy/thine: you/you/your/yours: thee is objective whereas thou is subjective: he ate me; I ate him; thou ate me; I ate thee: there is no differentiation between you (objective) and you (subjective) in modern English: thine can function as your when preceding a vowel, like the difference between a and an: thy son; thine own son.

4. whither/whence: where (destination)/where (origin): “Whence they came? Whither they went?” — John Bunyan: see also hither/hence, thither/thence

5. suffer: permit: “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” — Matthew 19:14, KJV

6. wherefore: why/for what reason: “The Brooks laugh louder when I come— /The Breezes madder play; /Wherefore mine eye thy silver mists, /Wherefore, Oh Summer’s Day?” — Emily Dickinson

7. yclept: named: pronounced ee-KLEPT: “But come, thou goddess fair and free. /In heaven ycleped Euphrosyne” — John Milton

8. Phoebus/Diana: Greek or Roman names for the gods, used in reference to the sun and moon, respectively: “Phoebus, arise! /And paint the sable skies /With azure, white and red” — William Drummond

9. divers: various : pronounced DAHY-vers: as opposed to diverse, which means varied: “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” — 1Corinthians 12:10, KJV

10. gird: surround/bind with a belt: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning” — Luke 12:35, KJV

11. weregild: compensation money for someone murdered: were, meaning man, can be seen also in werewolf: “”This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother” — Isildur in Lord of the Rings, taking the ring as payment for the loss of family members

12. lovingkindness: kindness motivated by love: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” — Psalm 51:1, KJV

13. myrtle: a type of plant: this word is the same here as it is used in modern times: however, as someone up-grown  in New Zealand and experiencing English literature as something largely foreign, these factors have necessitated my inclusion of the word: I would also include something like rhododendron to further indicate my ignorance of botany, if only it was frequently found in the poetry I have read

14. alack: crap? mild curse/expression of sorrow: “Thou bring’st me happiness and peace, son John; /But health, alack, with youthful wings is flown /From this bare wither’d trunk” — Shakespeare

15. Muse: one of nine Greek mythological goddesses from whom are sourced all artistic inspiration: I hope the Holy Spirit will lead me as a Muse: Shakespeare assigns the young man of his sonnets as his own Muse: read about it here

16. swain: country boy/male lover: “Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, /Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn /Brushing with hasty steps the dews away, /To meet the sun upon the upland lawn” — Thomas Gray

17. twain: two: although the usage is slightly different: if anyone can enlighten me, please do: “For both, for both my love is so immense, /I feel my heart is cut in twain for them” — Keats

18. methinks: I think: “Wherein your father flourished, yet by you,
Madam, methinks I see him living yet” — Milton

19. o’er: over: apostrophes were widely used to reduce syllables and therefore meet the metrical requirements of poetry: so you also find e’er (ever), ne’er (never), and awkward deletions such as ev’n (even) and heav’n (heaven): I still don’t know how to pronounce a v and an n so close to each other with no vowel to mediate: also, you will find that since the e in the ed ending was pronounced, poets often omitted this to make words shorter: eg. walk’d: a few words in English still have this pronunciation: learned (adjective form), blessed (adjective form, possibly only in ecclesiastical contexts?), and crooked (I have never heard anyone say ‘crookd’)

20. behest: command: “Michael, this my behest have thou in charge, /Take to thee from among the Cherubim /Thy choice of flaming Warriors” — Milton

21. dun: grey, dull: “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun; /Coral is far more red than her lip’s red; /If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun” — Shakespeare’s unflattering account of his mistress is a landmark reaction against the deification of women by their male poet lovers: this not only paves the way for modern realism, but in some obscure, and possibly offensive, way you can use this sonnet to say, “I love you just the way you are”

22. connexion: connection: the alternative British spelling is actually not that archaic, still being in modern usage: it’s awesome, actually, how as a New Zealander I can interchangeably use words such as burnt and burned, spelt and spelled, learnt and learned: kist and blest, among others, have sadly fallen out of use

23. quoth: said (used before the speaker): “Quoth Peter, leaping from his seat,
‘There is some plot against me laid;'”– Wordsworth

24. ere: before: “O thou sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still” — Jeremiah 47:6, KJV

25. two-and-twenty: twenty-two: my age: the construction can be used for any number (I think): Shakespeare plays on it: “What’s to come is still unsure: /In delay there lies no plenty; /Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty! /Youth’s a stuff will not endure”

26. threescore and ten: seventy: a single score is twenty: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” Psalm 90:10, KJV

27. fie: expresses annoyance: pronounced FAHY: possibly cognate to fffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuu: “O, fie, fie, fie! /Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade” — Shakespeare

28. irksome: irritating: “But this swift travel scorns the company /Of irksome change, or threats from saddening power” — Wordsworth

29. hark: listen: “Hark! the herald angels sing /’Glory to the newborn King /Peace on earth and mercy mild, /God and sinners reconciled!'” — famous Christmas carol by Charles Wesley

30. hillock: diminutive of hill: “A graceless hillock rose too near mine town center. No wonder thou wert victorious! I shalt abdicate” — CPU resigning in AOE II: note the use of mine is probably incorrect as it does not precede a vowel

31. hoary: grey or white with age: there is a word with the exact same pronunciation used in New Zealand English to describe something either warn out, low-quality or a bit dirty: whorey? but I’m not sure how to spell it: “What are garlands and crowns to the brow that is wrinkled? ‘Tis but as a dead flower with May-dew besprinkled: Then away with all such from the head that is hoary! What care I for the wreaths that can only give glory?” — Lord Byron

32. sylvan: pertaining to the wood: “Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me /My helpmate in the woods to be, /Our shed at night to rear; /Or run, my own adopted bride, /A sylvan huntress at my side, /And drive the flying deer” — Wordsworth

33. beeves: the plural of ‘beef’. Wordsworth uses it, along with kine, to refer to cows: “Let beeves and home-bred kine partake /The sweets of Burn-mill meadow” — Wordsworth

34. yon: in the distance, yonder: “How exquisite the scents /Snatch’d from yon bean-field!” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

35. vicissitude: change: pronounced vi-SIS-i-tyood: “There is a Cave /Within the Mount of /God, fast by his Throne, /Where light and darkness in perpetual round /Lodge and dislodge by turns, which makes through Heav’n /Grateful vicissitude, like Day and Night” — Milton

36. bonny: pretty, comely: I think it’s related to the name: “It’s not for fight that I came here, but friendship for to show. /Give me one kiss from your bonny, bonny bride and away from you I go” — The Green Wedding, English folk song

37. livelong: entire: “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, /All the livelong day. /I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, /Just to pass the time away” — American folk song

38. concupiscence: sexual desire: “And what was it that I delighted in, but to love, and be loved? but I kept not the measure of love, of mind to mind, friendship’s bright boundary: but out of the muddy concupiscence of the flesh, and the bubblings of youth, mists fumed up which beclouded and overcast my heart, that I could not discern the clear brightness of love from the fog of lustfulness” — Augustine’s Confessions, translated by E. B. Pusey

39. perturbation: a disturbance: it may still be in usage but it’s not one I come across often: although Gandhi has made use of it: “Richard, thy wife, that wretched Anne thy wife, /That never slept a quiet hour with thee, /Now fills thy sleep with perturbations ” — Shakespeare

40. betwixt: between: my main source implies this is still in modern usage in parts of America: it is widely used in a lot of poetry I have read: “Of all the days that’s in the week /I dearly love but one day, /And that’s the day that comes betwixt /A Saturday and Monday” — Henry Carey: the context of the poem suggests that but should be read as just, because he is not excluding but speaking highly of Sunday: I dearly love just one day

41. erstwhile/whilom: former: “He conquered al the regne [reign?] of Femenye, /That whilom [fomerly] was ycleped [named] Scithia, /And weddede the queene Ypolita, /And broghte hir hoom [home] with hym in his contree [country], /With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee [solemnity?]” — Chaucer

42. prithee: pray thee, please: “The tidy breezes with their brooms /Sweep vale, and hill, and tree! /Prithee, my pretty housewives! /Who may expected be?” — Emily Dickinson

43. yea: yes: pronounced YAY: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” — Matthew 5:37, KJV: Can also be used to mean indeed: “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none” — Matthew 26:59-60, KJV

44. tarry: wait: “O let us be married! too long we have tarried: /But what shall we do for a ring?” — The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

45. chanticleer: rooster: “A flippant fly upon the pane; /A spider at his trade again; /An added strut in chanticleer; /A flower expected everywhere” — Emily Dickinson

46. wight: person, sometimes creature: In the poem Beowulf it is used to refer to the beast Grendel: “That heathen wight was right ready: fierce and reckless, he snatched thirty thanes from their slumber, then sped homeward, carrying his spoils and roaring over his prey as he sought his lair”

47. honey-tongued: sweet-speaking, persuasive:”This is the flower that smiles on every one, /To show his teeth as white as whale’s bone; /And consciences, that will not die in debt, /Pay him the due of honey-tongued Boye” — Shakespeare

48. wax: increase in size: “a full eye will wax hollow” — Shakespeare

49. horned: crescent-shaped: “There’s tempest in yon horned moon, /And lightning in yon cloud” — Allan Cunningham

54: oft/oftentimes: often: depending on metrical requirements, you can now use often for one, two or three syllables: “Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, /Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; /How jocund did they drive their team afield! /How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!” — Thomas Gray

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Simply because Puritans are often given a bad rap, here are ten things that you can appreciate that have been either directly or indirectly influenced by Puritans over the centuries. In case you didn’t know, the Puritans were a group of Protestants arising during and just after the Reformation. They are known for their strict moral code and influence on the formation of America as a country.

The word ‘Puritan’. Not to be confused with purist, someone who prefers something to be done without contamination from outside sources, if that makes sense. A puritan in the modern sense can be applied to overly moralistic people. It arose as a derogatory term for this new group of Protestants. Good start? Nice legacy bro.

Memento Mori. Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’, memento mori is a genre of art, literature, etc that stresses the shortness of life. Whereas carpe diem suggests that people make the most of life (this can be quite positive in a modern sense but was seen as surfeiting sensual pleasures back in the day), memento mori directs people’s attention to the condition of their soul in light of the immanence of death. Shakespeare may have even tried his hand at it.

Sexuality. You know that nice Christian apology for sex that tells people sex isn’t bad but is rather meant to be celebrated as a gift from God? After a little Wikipedia-funded research, I have found that Puritans held the same celebratory views of sex, within marriage of course!

Mission. Despite some utterly despicable relations with Native Americans, some Puritans had a positive missionary focus to reach the people around them. Not only Native Americans, but also different people groups in the Pacific.

Thanksgiving. Being a New Zealander, Thanksgiving is something I know little about. How awesome, however, would it be to have one day a year just to focus on giving thanks for that which is good? There’s something in there about affirmative relationships with Native Americans too. Also, the original Thanksgiving was not just celebration but thanks that acknowledged God’s providence!

Virtue Names. I’m a sucker for these. And if procreation is something that comes about in my seventy years then one or six of these will follow (don’t worry; that includes middle names). Some are still popular today: Joy, Hope, Faith (girl AND boy). Consider also Charity (Chastity?), Truth, Justice, Felicity, Freedom, Prudence, Self-control… Actually, Sophie is a virtue name. Let’s stick with that one.

Pilgrim’s Progress. There’s comes a point in your Christian walk when you say to yourself: I can’t actually move further in my faith until I have read John Bunyan’s classic. I myself have been there. It was a bit of a kick up the bum, but not one that was unneeded. Bunyan wrote in a time of persecution, and a lot of it from jail, with all zeal and fervor. My Penguin edition notes that in countries where the Bible was translated as first work of literature, this was usually next. Again, this emphasises the awesomeness (and perhaps death) of virtue names.

Anne Bradstreet. Apparently America’s first published poet was a woman. Feminism win. Anne was a prolific writer who didn’t shy away from putting God at the center of her writings. Not only that, but she is a prime example of the fruit of the education of women, which a lot Puritans endorsed. She probably influenced Emily Dickinson too, who is an existential babe.

Abolition of Slavery. One of the most important, albeit incomplete, happenings in recent history was somewhat sourced in New England, a collection of states that were settled predominantly by Puritans. Quakers probably got it right earlier, but hey, the Puritans caught on in the end and contributed to the greater good.

John Milton. Probably my favourite Puritan, this guy has had an immeasurable effect on the English language and literature. You may have heard of Paradise Lost, the last great epic poem to be written, which centres on the Fall. He also wrote some amazing sonnets, like the mighty On the late massacre in Piedmont and the profound On his blindness. Interestingly, he was politically active and non-Trinitarian.

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Thanks!

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