What a child with a classical education can do

Last summer I blogged about what I consider to be possibly the best book on classical education, Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Memoria Press).  It’s by Cheryl Swope, my fellow board member on the Consortium for Classical & Lutheran Education (whose conference is next week in St. Louis–join us!).  Cheryl tells about how she applied classical education in homeschooling her daughter Michelle, a special needs child who is afflicted with autism and a number of other heart-breaking mental problems.  Whereas progressive education, with its reductionistic view of human beings, would have just tried to program her with some basic survival skills and stop there, the humane, personal, inspiring approach of classical Christian education caused Michelle to blossom.  To bloom.   Not only was she achieving academic levels that her doctors thought were impossible for her, she was awakening to the realm of the true, the good, and the beautiful.  You have got to read Cheryl’s account of her daughter, who emerges, despite her continuing difficulties, as a complex, accomplished, and compelling young woman.

Anyway, Michelle–now 19–has now published a book of her poetry.  It will blow you away.  By any standards, the poems are extraordinarily meaningful and touching, filled with vivid imagery and lovely language.   To know Michelle’s background, though, is to appreciate her all the more and also to appreciate the potential of classical learning for shaping a young mind and a young heart.  But that’s not all.  Her poetry is profoundly Christian.  She writes about the Law & the Gospel, about experiencing the Sacraments and what they mean, about the Cross, about Jesus and what He did for her.  She shows just how deep catechesis in God’s Word can go, even in someone whom we might not expect.  After the jump, I will give you two of her poems, quoted with permission, along with a link so that you can buy the whole collection. [Read more...]

The woman who anointed the feet of Jesus

Thanks to Frank Sonnek for introducing me to this sonnet about the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.  It’s by the son of the great Romantic poet Samuel T. Coleridge!  (Just as the great hymnwriter Christopher Wordsworth was the nephew of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth.  Both Romantic poets, who together penned the revolutionary Lyrical Ballads, would become conservative Christians.)   The title of this poem is Latin for “she loved much,” since, as Jesus said, “he is forgiven little, loves little,” and vice versa.  This makes a fine meditation for Holy Week.  (If you know of others, give a link in the comments.)

“Multum Dilexit”
Hartley Coleridge (1796–1849)
SHE sat and wept beside His feet; the weight
Of sin oppress’d her heart; for all the blame,
And the poor malice of the worldly shame,
To her was past, extinct, and out of date:
Only the sin remain’d,—the leprous state; 5
She would be melted by the heat of love,
By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver are adulterate.
She sat and wept, and with her untress’d hair
Still wip’d the feet she was so bless’d to touch; 10
And He wip’d off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she lov’d so much.
I am a sinner, full of doubts and fears:
Make me a humble thing of love and tears.

Contemporary poet embraces Christianity

One of the most important publication in the contemporary literary world is Poetry Magazine.  Its editor is usually a distinguished poet.  Lately, the editor of that periodical, Christian Wiman, stepped down from that position.  What is, perhaps, less known is that several years ago Wiman embraced Christianity.  He writes about that in a new book that will be released April 2, My Bright Abyss:  Meditation of a Modern Believer.  In his book of poetry Every Riven Thing, Wiman writes about his struggle with cancer that led to his discovery of God.  After the jump, read his poem by that name and an excerpt from a fascinating interview in Christianity Today. [Read more...]

Tolkien's new book on King Arthur

J. R. R. Tolkien has a new book coming out next year, a 200-page narrative poem about King Arthur.  From the British newspaper The Guardian:

It’s the story of a dark world, of knights and princesses, swords and sorcery, quests and betrayals, and it’s from the pen of JRR Tolkien. But this is not Middle-earth, it’s ancient Britain, and this previously unpublished work from the Lord of the Rings author stars not Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo, but King Arthur.

HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien’s never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. Running to more than 200 pages, Tolkien’s story was inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory’s tales of King Arthur, and is told in narrative verse. Set in the last days of Arthur’s reign, the poem sees Tolkien tackling the old king’s battle to save his country from Mordred the usurper, opening as Arthur and Gawain go to war.

“It is well known that a prominent strain in my father’s poetry was his abiding love for the old ‘Northern’ alliterative verse,” said Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, who has edited the book and provided commentary. “In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he displayed his skill in his rendering of the alliterative verse of the 14th century into the same metre in modern English. To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur.”

Tolkien began writing The Fall of Arthur a few years before he wrote The Hobbit. Its publication is the latest in a series of “new” releases from the author, including The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún in 2009 and the unfinished Middle-Earth story The Children of Húrin in 2007.

For the book’s editor at HarperCollins, Chris Smith, the news that Tolkien had finished work on The Fall of Arthur was an unexpected surprise. “Though its title had been known from Humphrey Carpenter’s Biography and JRR Tolkien’s own letters, we never supposed that it would see the light of day,” he said.

He described the previously unpublished work as “extraordinary”, saying that it “breathes new life into one of our greatest heroes, liberating him from the clutches of Malory’s romantic treatment, and revealing Arthur as a complex, all-too human individual who must rise above the greatest of betrayals to liberate his beloved kingdom”.

He added that, “though Tolkien’s use of alliterative verse will mean the poem is of more specialised interest than his other work, we would like to think that the subject of King Arthur is one that will resonate with readers of his more celebrated works.”

“In The Fall of Arthur we find themes of lost identity, betrayal, and sacrifice for greater glory, which have their echoes in other works, such as The Lord of the Rings, but anyone looking for closer connections will find no wizards or magic swords. In this respect The Fall of Arthur is closer to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.” . . .

John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War, said that from the fragments he had seen, the omens looked good. “In The Fall of Arthur, Tolkien depicts Arthur going off to fight the Saxons in Mirkwood – not the Mirkwood of Middle-earth, but the great German forests. Whether it’s as good as the best by Tolkien will have to wait on the full publication, but snippets published so far are encouraging, showing him in darkly evocative mode writing about one of the great English villains, Mordred: ‘His bed was barren; there black phantoms/ of desire unsated and savage fury/ in his brain brooded till bleak morning.’

“Any addition to the Arthurian tradition by a major author is welcome; this one is also exciting because of what it adds to our picture of a great modern imagination.”

via ‘New’ JRR Tolkien epic due out next year | Books | guardian.co.uk.

I’m excited about this.  I’m even excited about the narrative verse, which uses the alliterative patterns of very early English poetry, as in Beowulf.  Here are the opening lines of The Fall of Arthur, as quoted in the Guardian:

“Arthur eastward in arms purposed

his war to wage on the wild marches,

over seas sailing to Saxon lands,

from the Roman realm ruin defending.

Thus the tides of time to turn backward

and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,

that with harrying ships they should hunt no more

on the shining shores and shallow waters

of South Britain, booty seeking.”

Can you handle a story told in this kind of poetry?

Whatever happened to narrative verse?  Other cultures and other times have loved stories told in poetry (think Chaucer, Milton, Longfellow).  Have we just become too prosaic?  Do you think Tolkien can bring back the form?

HT:  Jackie


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