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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 A requiem for the death of English Literature as a humane academic discipline: Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, and Matthew Arnold are the authors respectively of the first three italicized points of view, now considered quaint at best in current English departments. The attitudes of those departments are reflected in the standard print.  My commentary on the whole fiasco appears in the last italicized bit, the concluding couplet.

Sir Philip Sidney

HORACE, SIDNEY, AND ARNOLD,

LOOKING DOWN ON EARTH FROM ELYSIUM,

SCRATCH THEIR HEADS

The purpose, by delighting thus to teach

And then by teaching also to delight?

Nothing but a lame excuse to preach

Oppressive values—how naïve, how trite!

The good of History and Philosophy,

The concrete and the abstract, unified?

A quaint archaic curiosity

From European White Males who have died.

To see the thing for what it really is,

To know the best that have been thought and done?

Merely factual answers for a quiz;

No more a map for any race we run.

It’s how the academic game is played,

And Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are betrayed.

Matthew Arnold

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

A POLEMIC

On the Origins of Post-Modern Criticism

For David Hume

David Hume

(The radical Empiricism of the Endarkenment entails treating the Good as an abstraction, rejecting Truth for fact, and reducing the Beautiful to a subjective response.  Thus it undercuts the docere of Literature, leaving us only with a truncated diligere.  This epistemology applied to Art can only lead to Aestheticism, which inevitably degenerates into Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Deconstruction.  Once the actual Values of the Sages have thus been destroyed, they can now be replaced with Marxism, Feminism, Freudianism, or whatever other Ism we wish to impose on Texts left defenseless by the death of Truth.  To get beyond this impasse, we must abandon the skeptical philosophy that produced it as question-begging Nonsense.)

 

That skeptic, David Hume,

Gained philosophic fame

Committing to the fume

Of metaphoric flame

Whole libraries of pages

By metaphysic sages.

 

Unless it could be measured

By his empiric wit,

It never could be treasured,

And so, away with it!

Mere sophistry, illusion,

Divinity ( ! ), confusion.

 

Augustine and Aquinas,

Isaiah, Moses, Paul,

Nothing but a minus;

Better burn them all:

The penalty for treason

Against enlightened “Reason.”

 

Erasmus, Calvin, Luther,

Dante, Milton, Spenser:

What could be uncouther,

More worthy of a censor?

Life seen through the prism

Of rank empiricism.

 

To keep them as purveyors

Of just imagination

Is but to be betrayers

Of all their conversation:

Dead, white, oppressive pigs

For mere aesthetic prigs.

 

Good critics can’t arise

From bad philosophy.

It should be no surprise

That we have come to be

Despisers of the True—

Of Goodness, Beauty, too.

 

If only what the senses

Can see or smell or feel

Is able to convince us

That it is really real,

How’d the sensation grow

That tells us this is so?

 

We’d really like to know.

Dr. Williams being unimpressed by Hume’s arguments.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CCII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Jim Kilgo was a professor of American Literature at the University of Georgia when I was doing my doctorate there back in the 1970s.  I never had a class with him, but we bonded as fellow Christians.  We had other reasons too.  I miss that man.

KILGO

We never did get to the woods together.

We’d meet up in his air-conditioned office

From time to time to swap a tale or two.

He’d find a chair beneath a pile of papers

For me, beneath a pile of books for him,

And we’d lament the state of education

And then get on to more important things:

How quiet dawn is in a river swamp,

How sharp the wind blows over Albert’s Mountain,

The steam a plate of grits makes on a table

When frost is on the sedge outside the window,

The best last lines in all of literature

(They must be Izaak Walton’s Life of Donne

And then “The Life and Death of Cousin Lucius”).

We’d quote from C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Faulkner,

Or Robert Frost, or Flannery O’Connor;

We loved the words that named the things we loved.

We even tried some naming of our own–

He’d read his stories, and I’d read my poems,

Testing lines like newly mounted axe-heads

For balance and a clean and compact stroke:

The different rhythm life has on the trail–

I said, “Three days away from clocks you feel it”;

The trout he caught high in a mountain stream

In pools between the rapids and the falls–

“No gift comes cleaner from the hand of God.”

His book was Deep Enough for Ivorybills.

He meant woodpeckers in a cypress swamp;

I take it and apply it to his soul.

We love the words that name the things we love,

And one among the cleaner strokes is “Jim.”

Photo credit: David Hodges

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

XCII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

When everybody else was abandoning iambic pentameter for free verse, Gerard Manley Hopkins dove even deeper into the metrical sea of poetry and came up with creative pearls we still haven’t caught up to. This tribute was in New Oxford Review, May, 1981.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Gerard Manley Hopkins

Daylight’s dauphin, wanwood, diamond delves,
Mountain mind-cliffs, lightning, eyes of elves,
Finches’ wings or falcon’s, wolfsnow, wet
Weeds wildness by the burn-bank lingering yet,
Thoughts of Scotus, music of Purcell
Ring out like stones rim-tumbled in a well.
All are lead-golden echoes, all a view
Of Eden Garden, fresh when it was new
Or cursed and cancerous, fell with Adam’s fall,
Blasted with death’s dread worst despair—Not all
Is this the tale. Christ did for that he came,
Grace graces: thus He flings out broad His Name;
The Spirit boods still; brooded over you.
Your firedint, mark on mind is not yet through:
Still in your lines He flings it forth anew.

Hopkins at his Desk
Hopkins at his Desk

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

THE SKEPTIC AND THE TEXT

I’ve noticed a new type of skeptic over the last few years. He questions whether there even is a text of the New Testament. There are so many manuscripts and so many variants, how can we ever claim with any credibility to know what the original manuscripts of the New Testament even said? And since we don’t even have access to the text, how can we possibly treat it as authoritative and trustworthy?

Codex Alexandrinus
Codex Alexandrinus

The ignorance of the science of textual criticism on the part of this skeptic is truly abysmal. But you can explain the actual state of the manuscript tradition, the fact that the New Testament is better attested than any other ancient document, the criteria by which we evaluate those manuscripts and reconcile their variant readings, the tried and true validity of those criteria, and how trivial most of the variants actually are, until you are blue in the face, and not faze him one bit. He really doesn’t care about any of that. He really doesn’t care about whether we can know what the New Testament says, much less what it says, still less whether it is true. He just clings to the variants as his excuse for escaping its authority. He likes having learned the word variant so well that he just keeps repeating it without ever responding to your patient attempts at explaining what it actually means and what its significance actually is.

Codex
What saddens me most about this mindset is the impoverishment of mind and heart that inevitably flows from it. You’ve found a new way to justify your self-referential doubt. Congratulations. But what are you missing as a result?
I need a sonnet to answer that question.

The skeptic doubts there even is a text.
He hides behind the tiny variations
And will not hear a reasonable narration
Of methods: what comes first and what comes next,
Criteria to leave us unperplexed.
His questions answered bring him no elation;
He must not really want illumination:
The truth he claims to seek just leaves him vexed.

The seeker of the Truth will not be whipped
So easily. He turns from what is not
To all the rich wine waiting to be sipped,
So revels in the pleasure of the plot,
The romance of the ancient manuscript,
The treasure of the tittle and the jot.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CorsairMs

For more of Dr. Williams’ poetry, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS.  For more of his apologetics, order REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE.

Reflections-Front Cover-2013-6-4