Friday, December 12, 2008

Requiescat in pace

Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, has died at 90.

The Wikipedia page about Cardinal Dulles, which relates how a tree flowering along the Charles River played a part in his conversion.

Finished the Caitlin Thomas book

She had two abortions, the first in the sixth month of pregnancy. In her own words:

[...] the baby was already well formed, and they chopped it up as they were pulling it out, and then brought it out in chunks. I suppose I was horrified, but by that time I was expecting anything -- it was like being in a butcher's shop. They gave me a local anaesthetic. They said they couldn't put me out otherwise they wouldn't have been able to perform the operation. I was fully conscious the whole time. There was a nurse holding me down, holding my head, and two men working down at the bottom, and I was in a most undignified position with my two feet strapped in those clamps they use to keep the legs apart. I kept saying (because I wanted a girl, incidentally), 'Will you just tell me whether it's a girl?' They just didn't answer. They took no notice of me at all. They simply got on with the job, working away at the bottom of the bed, with my feet held high in the air.

Caitlin Thomas with George Tremlett, Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas (Henry Holt and Company, 1988), p. 152

Friday's Marianne Moore

We perceive that there has since the time of Byron and Shelley, been a change in literary manners and are forcibly persuaded by it, of the tediously ineffective dullness of published personal invective.

from The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 252

December 12, 2008

Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

René Char

Dans l'absurde chagrin de vivre sans comprendre
Écroule-moi et sois ma femme de décembre

[In the absurd chagrin of living without understanding
Tumble me down and be my December woman]


(Quoted by Thomas Merton in Learning to Love: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Six, p. 116)

Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas

Am reading the famous widow's memoir, published in 1986, when she was in her seventies, and while it is enthralling inasmuch as it sheds some light on the personality of the poet, it reveals the widow to be a woman of a somewhat less-than-generous spirit.

An example of Mrs Thomas's prose (actually, she had a co-writer, George Tremlett, so what follows is a transcription of her spoken reminiscence):

Dylan had a great respect for N----- as a poet (although I didn't think he was half as great as Dylan made out). Although he once brought a glamorous-looking girl down to stay in Laugharne, I thought he was probably homosexual. It seemed to me that he had too much of a passion for Dylan, and that Dylan was cowed by him. One day, when I was in London as well, he invited us both to lunch at Simpsons, and then didn't say one single word to me throughout the meal. I couldn't forgive him for that.

The score-settling, fault-finding personality is presented here at its mildest. But so far, it's been a hundred pages of this sort of thing. And when someone is praised ("Nobody gives praise more than I do when it's due"), the person is usually slighted, derided, or gossiped about in the next breath.

I shudder to think how Marianne Moore would have reacted when reading this memoir.

Another example of Mrs Thomas's abrasiveness: In her youth she was the object of the unrequitable affections of a young Italian, an unfortunate man she describes as "groveling" and "a worm"; he would follow her around (not quite stalking, but still being a nuisance), and she would always "sweep past him," saying nothing. It transpired that this young Italian fellow shot himself to death, presumably because Caitlin couldn't reciprocate his affection. She admits in her memoir that her first and only thought was "thank God I've gotten rid of him!"

Being followed around like that must have been no fun; still, it causes startlement, how easily she finds herself able to speak ill of the dead!

I could come up with other examples, but more than any incident, it's the overall tone that is really, really off-putting. A friend of her mother's is "odious"; her own father is described as a "dirty old man" -- and if some of these charges are true, it's still disheartening to read what is relentlessly negative.

The People magazine blurb speaks approvingly of Mrs Thomas's "unabashed honesty" and "almost savage personality." A little too unabashed, as when she describes her marital relations with Dylan in rather clinical detail. And the adjective "savage" may need no qualifier.

Thursday's Marianne Moore

Vividness is not, however, invariably synonymous with good taste

from The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 253

December 11, 2008

Optional memorial of St Damasus I, pope.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elegy for a Trappist

by Thomas Merton (1915-68)

Maybe the martyrology until today
Has found no fitting word to describe you
Confessor of exotic roses
Martyr of unbelievable gardens

Whom we will always remember
As a tender-hearted careworn
Generous unsteady cliff
Lurching in the cloister
Like a friendly freight train
To some uncertain station

Master of the sudden enthusiastic gift
In an avalanche
Of flower catalogues
And boundless love

Sometimes a little dangerous at corners
Vainly trying to smuggle
Some enormous and perfect bouquet
To a side altar
In the sleeves of your cowl

In the dark before dawn
On the day of your burial
A big truck with lights
Moved like a battle cruiser
Toward the gate
Past your abandoned and silent garden

The brief glare
Lit up the grottos, pyramids and presences
One by one
Then the gate swung red
And clattered shut in the giant lights
And everything was gone

As if Leviathan
Hot on the scent of some other blood
Had passed you by
And never saw you hiding in the flowers.


:: :: ::

(Today is the 40th anniversary of Thomas Merton's death.)

Wednesday's Marianne Moore

When an artist is willing that the expressiveness of his work be overlooked by any but those who are interested enough to find it, he has freedom in which to realize without interference, conceptions which he personally values.

from The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 214

December 10, 2008

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I've been tagged for a meme

... by Ellyn of Oblique House: the ten most fascinating Catholics of 2008. Here goes:

10. My friend S., and the others who gather for coffee after the weekday Mass at St P's (a Mass which I'm able to attend perhaps twice a week) ... what makes S. so fascinating? You'd have to know him to fully appreciate why.

9. The bishops with spine who stand up for pre-born life, esp. Abp. Chaput, who deserves a red hat.

8. Fr. C., formerly of Boston, now out west somewhere, my erstwhile confessor. Very much missed.

7. Fr. D., a parochial vicar where I attend Sunday Mass, who actually has the temerity to condemn abortion and contraception in his homilies.

6. The Holy Father.

5. His immediate predecessor, of happy memory.

4. Again, more than one here: Catholic bloggers, all and sundry. A great variety of dynamic personalities!

3. Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR.

2. Nuns who serve the poor in anonymity, and who are invariably the happiest souls on the face of the earth.

1. The saints in heaven. All right, they're the most fascinating, compelling, inspiring, challenging, celebrated Catholics not only of 2008, but of all time.


Sorry I couldn't come up with a better list! I may revise if a thought of someone else occurs to me later ...

Straight No Chaser

The a cappella group was featured on ABC's World News last night. Here's the story on the ABC website.

And here is the YouTube of Straight No Chaser performing their memorable version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas":


Tuesday's Marianne Moore

If criticism is "the effect of the subjection of the product of one mind to the processes of another," is not the reviewer's own mind disparaged by him in resorting to an inconsequent and disrespectful ruade?

from The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 192

December 9, 2008

Optional memorial of St Juan Diego.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Monday's Marianne Moore

As is observed by a writer upon St. Francis in a recent article in The Spectator, humility is a quality which attracts us -- though not to imitation.

from The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 177

December 8, 2008

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday's Marianne Moore

In making works of art, the only legitimate warfare is the inevitable warfare between imagination and medium and one finds it impossible to convince oneself that the part of the artist's nature which is "rash and combustible" has not been tamed by the imagination, in those instances in which the result achieved is especially harmonious.

from The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 177

December 7, 2008

Second Sunday of Advent.