Beauty and the Beast

Frank and Elise

Beauty and the Beast

Dear Elise:

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I finally got to see Beauty and the Beast. You were right, I loved it. I know that it appealed to the little girl in you. I always loved that little girl, as much as I loved her older sister.

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I don’t know who was your beast but you were always my beauty.

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Love,

Frank

PS: I know the main reason you loved the movie was that they lived:

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The Poetry of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

A Critical Review

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William Butler Yeats is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1923. He had the gift for enchanting the ear. His themes were: Life and Death, Love and Hate, man’s condition, and the meaning and patterns of history.

The poems present images and magical incantations that resonate deeply with the reader apart from their literal meaning.  Hear the music…visualize the pictures they project. Yeats considered himself to be one of the last Romantic poets. The element of song is always present in his works. Everywhere the theme of music and singing recurs constantly.

He believed that certain patterns or cycles of civilization existed throughout history, the most important being what he called gyres, interpenetrating cones representing mixtures of opposites of both a personal and historical nature portrayed as rotating gyres forever whirling into one another’s centers, merging, and then separating. Yeats used the term “gyre” in his most famous poem, “The Second Coming.”

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer”

He contended that gyres were initiated by the divine impregnation of a mortal woman, first, the rape of Leda by Zeus, then later, the immaculate conception of Mary. Yeats found that within each 2000 year era, certain symbolic moments of balance occurred at the midpoints of the 1000 year cycle designating moments of high achievement in the culture. Yeats cited as examples the glory of Athens at 500 B.C., Byzantium at 500 A.D., and the Italian Renaissance at 1500  A.D.

Certain patterns of history recur that are entirely indifferent to human suffering. History, like art, teaches us that only through identification with the impersonal can we transcend human suffering and limitations. A symbol of this transcendence for Yeats was the Byzantine Civilization. Byzantium became for Yeats the purest embodiment of the union and subsequent transfiguration through art of the fleshly condition and the ideal of holiness. (Byzantium is the name given to both the state and the culture of the Eastern Roman Empire in the middle ages. Istanbul is now the name of what was formally called Constantinople, the empire’s capital city).

He was a symbolist poet, using allusive imagery and symbolic structures throughout his career. He chose words that, in addition to a particular meaning, they suggested abstract thoughts that may seem more significant and resonant. His use of symbols is usually something physical that is both itself and a suggestion of other  possibly immaterial and  timeless qualities.

Yeats employed the continental stanza and used straightforward syntax. He wrote in iambic pentameter which is a line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (unstressed) syllable) followed by one long (stressed) syllable. For example: “Two households, both alike in dignity.” He also used what is known as the heroic couplet, which is a pair of rhyming iambic pentameters. This is a traditional form of English poetry used for epic and narrative poetry.

Yeats was 62 when he wrote, “Sailing to Byzantium.”

Sailing to Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats

I

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,

—Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Allusions and terminology

“Perne in a gyre”- a perne is a bobbin. A gyre is a circular motion. A perne in a gyre is your life spinning out before you.

“No Country for Old Men”, a title to a popular book by Cormac McCarthy and a popular movie by the Cohen Brothers

“The Dying Animal”, the title to a popular book by Philip Roth, and a popular movie made from the book.

“The Golden Bough” is from Roman Mythology. It was a tree branch that allowed Aenas to travel safely through the underworld guided by Sybil so that he could learn of the fate of his people. It is referenced in the epic poem he Aeneid by Virgil.

“God’s Holy Fire” is a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Easter. A blue light emanates within Jesus’ tomb which forms a column of fire from which candles are lit.

Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats

The unpurged images of day recede;

The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;

Night resonance recedes, night-walkers’ song

After great cathedral gong;

A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains

All that man is,

All mere complexities,

The fury and the mire of human veins.

 

Before me floats an image, man or shade,

Shade more than man, more image than a shade;

or Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth

May unwind the winding path;

A mouth that has no moisture and no breath

Breathless mouths may summon;

I hail the superhuman;

I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

 

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,

More miracle than bird or handiwork,

Planted on the starlit golden bough,

Can like the cocks of Hades crow,

Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud

In glory of changeless metal

Common bird or petal

And all complexities of mire or blood.

 

At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit

Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,

Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,

Where blood-begotten spirits come

And all complexities of fury leave,

Dying into a dance,

An agony of trance,

An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

 

Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,

Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,

The golden smithies of the Emperor!

Marbles of the dancing floor

Break bitter furies of complexity,

Those images that yet

Fresh images beget,

That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

 

 The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

References

 Information for this article was gleaned from the flowing sources:

  1. William Butler Yeats, Selected Poems and Plays, Edited with and Introduction by M. L. Rosenthal
  2. The Poetry Foundation
  3. Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrel Hunting

“The quality of mercy is not strained. It falls to the ground like the gentle rain.” – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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The best way to shoot a squirrel is with a camera. When I was a young man I used to hunt squirrels with a 12 gauge shotgun. Now that I have grown older and have been influenced by Buddhism I have lost my taste for killing.

Once, when I was a teenager visiting my grandfather’s farm in Kentucky, I was out early one morning  with the shotgun. As I came upon the grainery in the early morning mist I noticed a motion just to my right. A groundhog had just climbed a fence post and was sitting on top of it just as pretty as you please.

Well, I drew a bead on the varmint and slowly cocked back the hammer of the single action shotgun. I had him in my sights and I wrapped my finger around the trigger and took a deep breath as I prepared to pull the trigger. But something happened at that moment. I began to think about what a cute little feller he was and he was well known to the family and everyone would be unhappy if I shot the creature.

I looked down the barrel of the gun and in my minds eye I shot the groundhog but I could not bring myself to actually kill he beast.  I slowly applied the web of my right thumb to the cocked hammer of the gun and gently released it to the non-firing position. The ground hog ran off to live another day.

I had an epiphany that day. One might say a moment of clarity. And I learned a valuable lesson that day about the use and abuse of power: It is more powerful to exercise mercy  by granting life than it is to execute an innocent creature who only wants to live as much as you do. I never killed again after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NERUDA (2016)

A Movie Review

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“Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.”

This is the beautiful poetry of Pablo Neruda. To read it is to be mesmerized, to hear it is to be cast under a magical spell.  Such are the words of Pablo Neruda. His entire countrymen were under his thrall. That is what made him such a dangerous man.

Police Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), hunts down the poet and National Senator, Pablo Neruda, who has become a fugitive in his home country of Chile for joining the communist party. The policeman’s dogged pursuit put me in mind of Javert’s chase of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He never gives up! Although, one begins to wonder if Oscar is really serious about catching Neruda at all.

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I loved the line about how Neruda had created the policeman and the policeman had created Neruda. It is as though we are all products of each others imaginations. Imagine that.

The movie is sumptuously photographed and is more dream play than a real play, more surreal than real.

I must confess I didn’t know much about Neruda before watching this movie. Of course I was familiar with his poetry which I loved for it beautiful sensuality and lyrical presentation. I now know more about him as a result of this movie and my subsequent research into the subject.

Neruda won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971. Gabriel Garcia Marquez described him as the greatest poet of the 20th century.

In fact he was a complicated man full of contradictions but no one deny the beauty of his poetry. I really enjoyed this movie and I hope you do too.

 

 

 

 

Assad Gasses His People Again

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According to news accounts (Reuters, April 4, 2017), a suspected Syrian government chemical attack killed scores of people, including children, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun located in the northwestern province of Idlib. The U.S. government believes the chemical agent sarin was used in the attack.

This incident would be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since August 21, 2013, when a sarin gas attack killed more than 1000 people in Ghouta near Damascus, many of them again, were children.

The use of chemical weapons is a particularly odious form of warfare, banned for good reason by the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed and agreed to by 165 of 189 countries in 1993, and administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons (OPCW) in the Hague.

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I roundly condemn this reprehensible act of unspeakable cruelty, as all civilized men would do. Trump has condemned it as well, which is to his credit, but he makes a mistake when he blames Obama. Yes, Obama drew a line in the sand.  He said he would act, but he put his resolution for action up for a vote before congress and congress would not approve of his action. In my view, congress is at least partly at fault for failure to take action against the Assad regime.

What did happen was there was a negotiated weapons deal brokered by the United States and Russia. OPCW inspectors, working with the United Nations, were in Syria in 2013 when the attack occurred. They returned in October as part of the deal.  They located and destroyed 1000 tons of chemical weapons. Not a shot was fired and a significant result was achieved. Fast forward four years until today. Where did Assad get his chemical weapons? The options are that either he held back some of the weapons he was supposed to surrender, or he acquired new weapons, or he produced new weapons. In any case, the Russians bear some responsibility for not doing a better job controlling the chemical weapons. The ultimate responsibility, however, lies with Assad and his use of these weapons and he must be held to account.

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What is to be done? According the New York Times and other news sources, the Pentagon is preparing military options for a strike against Assad inside Syria. In the final analysis, in my view, Assad must be removed from power and tried as a war criminal.

All war is evil, but sometimes it is necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. For the United States not to act in the face of such evil perpetrated against the civilian population by the Syrian government would be, in my view, both unethical and immoral. If we do nothing, we are sending a signal to Assad and others who would violate international norms that it is OK to use these weapons with impunity. That is a danger to our national security interests. This does nothing but encourage their use and nothing to discourage their use. A price must be paid and Assad must be held accountable.

 

 

500 Miles From Home

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Kentucky Refugee Ministries

I had a rather unsettling experience the other day while teaching ESL at Kentucky Refugee Ministries here in Louisville. We have students from all over the world in the class room: The Congo, Cuba, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq to name a few.

One of the other teachers in the class room was teaching a lesson on home and asked the students to name their home, as in what countries they came from.

She declared she was from Arkansas and then asked the students to name where their home was and they answered in turn. Then, for for some inexplicable reason, she turned to me and asked, “Benn where is your home?”

Well she caught me by surprise and at that moment I was dumbstruck because I literally could not think of an answer and it was at that moment I realized I did not have a home.

So I said, “I don’t really think of any one place as home as I have lived all over.” Well she repeated this back to the class and as the words rang rather hollowly in my ears, she went on with the lesson.

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If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone

I sat there stewing in the inadequacy of my lame answer and finally came up with a better one. I raised my hand and grabbed my hat!

“Here is my home,” I cried. Then I took my hat and hung it up on an imaginary nail on the wall behind me. “My home is any place I hang my hat!”

Claire dutifully repeated this back to the class, then she caught my eye with a moment of silent recognition, then said, “good one.”

Lesson learned.