For Faith in Action: Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader

I don’t exactly remember where I found what follows, so forgive me for not providing footnotes. I was reading Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin’s, recent blog post reflecting on today’s gospel reading. The reading from Sirach applies as well.

The message is simple, yet paradoxically difficult, like most of the tenets of our faith. As Father Jim notes, it is simply “be kind.” Simple, but my kids (and I) are still working on doing this so it is not easy!

While pondering this message,  the memory of this kind letter written by Fr. Louis (Thomas Merton) to a school child popped into my head. 

I mention this also because someone sent me an e-mail yesterday looking for a book recommendation, and in my haste I must have deleted it, because I can’t find it anywhere. So whoever you are, please e-mail me again because I’m not being unkind in not replying to you. I just blew it, is all. Just another plank in my eye (he thought sheepishly).

And now, Father Louis has the floor,

Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader named Susan

In 1967, Susan Chapulis, a sixth grader studying monasticism, wrote to Thomas Merton asking for “any information whatsoever” that she could share with her class. Merton replied:

Thanks for your nice letter. You want “any information whatsoever” to help the sixth grade in the study of monasticism. Well, I’ll see if I can get the brothers down in the store to send you a little book about the monastery here. That ought to help.

The monastic life goes back a long way. Monks are people who seek to devote all their time to knowing God better and loving Him more. For that reason they leave the cities and go out into lonely places where it is quiet and they can think. As they go on in life they want to find lonelier and lonelier places so they can think even more.

In the end people think these monks are really crazy going off by themselves and of course sometimes they are. On the other hand when you are quiet and when you are free from a lot of cares, when you don’t make enough money to pay taxes, and don’t have a wife to fight with, and when your heart is quiet, you suddenly realize that everything is extremely beautiful and that just by being quiet you can almost sense that God is right there not only with you but even in you. Then you realize that it is worth the trouble of going away where you don’t have to talk and mess around and make a darn fool of yourself in the middle of a lot of people who are running around in circles to no purpose.

I suppose that is why monks go off and live in lonely places. Like me now. I live alone in the woods with squirrels and rabbits and deer and foxes and a huge owl that comes down by my cabin and makes a spooky noise in the night, but we are friends and it is all ok. A monk who lives all by himself in the woods is called a hermit. There is a Rock ’n’ Roll outfit called Herman and his Hermits but they are not the same thing.

I do not suppose for a moment that you wish to become a hermit (though now I understand there are some girl hermits in England and they are sort of friends of mine because they are hermits, so I send them stuff about how to be a hermit). But anyway, I suggest that you sometimes be quiet and think about how good a thing it is that you are loved by God who is infinite and who wants you to be supremely happy and who in fact is going to make you supremely happy. Isn’t that something? It is, my dear, and let us keep praying that it will work out like that for everybody.

Good bye now.

Which reminds me of the old Shaker hymn,


For the Psalms and Spring, Family and Sports

It is getting ready to be a very busy time for me and my family. That’s because Spring is just around the corner, and around my house this means our children’s sports teams will begin hitting the ground running.

Not everyone gets involved in such things as sports for their kids. Not every child enjoys organized soccer, or baseball, or softball, volley ball, basketball, horse riding, or any of the other myriad possibilities to turn your child’s attention to.

So why do we even bother in our household? Joy in living is the only real reason that I can think of. That and the realization that though our children’s gifts and abilities are out of our hands, they should still be developed. Besides, everything we spend time doing matters.

It is a tight-rope and certainly there is a fine line between the healthy reasons for involving our children in sports, and the unhealthy turning of sports into an idol. On the positive side, for example, our oldest son has played organized baseball for 8 years, since he was 7 years old. As it turns out, he is pretty good at this game. Honestly, he is ten times better at it than I ever was.

How did this happen? I really have no idea. It is nothing that I expected. And let me assure you, my wife never saw this coming either. But God saw it coming, and of that fact I have no doubt. He has decided that, through our children, He will take my wife and I places that we never intended to go on our own.

And there is the riddle of our son’s gift, for example. Though endowed with excellent hand-eye coordination, and having an arm that can accurately throw thunderbolts, the most important characteristic of all isn’t even a physical one. It is that my son simply loves this game. And this love for it drives him to do things that only love can make him do.

Like get up early for practice, and study hard to keep up his grades. And endure practices that look like something that the Marine Corps would endorse. Sure, it wasn’t like that when he was in little league. That was all fun, and that is also where the seeds of this love were planted. But now that he has made the high school team, the love for the game has been tested by the fires of hard work and sweat. There is a spiritual message in all of this somewhere, I am sure.

As an aside, one of the great things about being Catholic is that we have never missed a Mass because of baseball, or any other sports games of my children either. Blessed to live in a diocese with more than one parish, Our Lord has also seen fit to provide more than one Mass said at each parish during the weekend across our area. The only excuse for missing a Mass is sloth, and thankfully, that hasn’t ever occurred.

One day, my son’s baseball career will come to an end, as all good things generally do. And on that day, my career as a baseball dad will end too. Life will go on. But until that day comes, I’ll keep supporting my children in these endeavors.

Because in the end, unless you measure things crudely in only utilitarian and materialistic terms, the benefits of participation in sports (or other extracurricular activities) far outweigh the negatives. Especially when you acknowledge that these abilities and talents being developed are gifts from God, and not of our own making.

I teach my children, and pray that they will remember, gratitude for these truths sung by the Psalmist,

I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God;
how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands;
to finish, I would need eternity.

And also this Song of Ascents of David, which is well suited to keep the soul of an athlete grounded in humility,

Psalm 131

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

Israel, hope in the LORD,
now and forever.

Amen.

From a Poem by George Santayana (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I think you will be surprised by this, because I know I was.Yesterday, I shared a little something that the atheist, and self-described “aesthetic Catholic,” George Santayana wrote. Today I’m going to do the same.

It seems Professor George really wanted to be known as a poet and he wrote a good number of poems and sonnets, which were published by the Herbert S. Stone & Company publishing house. I “discovered” his poem The Hermit of Carmel yesterday and I am amazed by it. I  added it to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf without hesitation.

I’m no poetry critic, because I don’t know poetry enough to criticize it. I only know what I like and can understand, and what I think is good. Below I’m sharing with you a taste of Professor George’s artistic ability from his poem Lucifer: A Theological Tragedy.

Published in 1899, this poem opened to mixed reviews. It was viewed favorably by Christian critics, and less favorably by secular ones.Tongue firmly in cheek,  I wonder why? I’ll give you a taste of his ability via two speeches. The first is by St. Peter to Hermes, and the second is The Risen Christ to Lucifer himself.

from Act IV,
Saint Peter’s Soliliquy to the pagan god Hermes,

It is a serpent tempts thee, noble youth.
Even while speaking truth he leads astray.
His eye is subtle, but his heart is blind,
And of God’s fruits he marks the spotted rind,
But not the kernel where their virtue lay.
All nature yields no meaning to his mind,
For understanding withers at its springs
Unless love guide it to the sense of things.
On faith is built the wisdom of mankind.
Mark how this age, that builds its truth on doubt,
Falters at heart and knows no certain hope,
But trusts to fate, with which it dare not cope,
To work its undeserved salvation out.
What truth have men ? The senses brief deceit.
What happiness ? The slavery to greed.
What art ? An echo and a paltry cheat.
What God ? A helpless consciousness of need.
Upon what food, then, doth this people feed
That it forgets of whom it borrows breath?
Knows it the secret of the budding grain,
Or can it conjure floods or summon rain?
Or grows it sick and amorous of death,
Or like its father, Satan, dull to pain?
Oh, men have waxed too covetous of gold
To lift their eyes up from their labour s gain;
And as each morning brings the sun again
And summer wears his splendours as of old,
They drive the ploughshare deeper in the mould
And say : There are no longer gods in heaven!
With smitten breast and penance would they crave
Their bread, if God less bountifully gave,
But they forget him now, when all is given.
Thus are the souls my Master died to save
Like earth-regarding beasts in stupor driven
Without the hope of heaven to the grave.

                      ****
from Act IV, Christ to Lucifer

Unteachable! Is God not the Lord of Hosts?
The arms that against his bosom fly
His own strength drives, and in thy mutiny
He triumphs, and is mighty in thy boasts.
What need of sentinel to guard the shore
When he is master of the embosoming sea,
When his the wave, the bark, the sail, the oar,
And his the sinews of his enemy?
O Lucifer, couldst thou behold thy soul,
As it lies open to my Father’s sight,
The gathering clouds of pity fast would roll
Across thine eyes, to hide thy proper plight,
And rain on thy parched heart in showers light
Of sweet humility. Woe to the vain
And raging will that hugs its mortal pain.
Is it for thee to fathom wrong and right?
Tis God who spun the fibres of thy brain
And wove thy reason; had he placed awry
One thread, new dreams had turned
thy dreams to naught
And idle thought confounded idle thought
For ever, and none questioned destiny.
Now thine own tyrant, to thyself unkind,
Thou chafest at the limits of thy wit
Whose meek quietus were to live resigned
And serve the elder will that fashioned it
For in the bosom of the infinite
Thou hast thy life, and thy forsaken woes
Like foam on the false bosom of a wave,
Rise in vain fury, impotently rave
A moment only. Then thy proud will goes
Whither the billow sinks or the wind blows.

Salt and Light, and Vinyl Hits?! (Music for Mondays)

I had a busy day at work today. Afterwards though, I threw together this little eclectic mix for your listening pleasure. First, I found a great song that is post related that I think you will enjoy and a little road movie by Matt Maher to boot.

Then we move over to some vinyl hits, some of which are pretty new. Vinyl? Their still making these?! According to my local newspaper, “Growing popularity of records nationwide is reflected in the local music market.” Break out your turn-tables folks!

Jami Smith, Salt and Light. I don’t know anything about Jami Smith except that she is a Christian Contemporary artist with this great song that reflects on yesterdays Gospel reading that I posted on. I dare you to not tap your feet and clap your hands to this.

Matt Maher & Co., Life In Technicolor. Just messing around in a music shop in Colorado, Matt and the boys play the band Cold Play’s instrumental on a hammer dulcimer, which I had never heard of until today. Then they get hailed on, ride horses etc. A slice of life with Matt and the boys on tour.

Cold Play, Yellow. You know what? My wife has something in common with Matt Maher in that she likes Cold Play too. Especially this song.

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Coldplay – Yellow
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Now for some vinyl hits, some old and some not so old. Vinyl…who knew?

George Harrison, Here Comes the Sun. This is probably the Traveling Wilburys, but the song comes from the #1 Vinyl Album of 2010, “Abbey Road” by the Beatles. This song and “Come Together” were the big hits on that album.

Arcade Fire, Suburbs. This song goes to show how much I know, because I never heard of this band either. This is #2 on the Top Ten Vinyl Albums of 2010. It’s a pretty cool video from a group named after the Arcade Fire that one of Webster’s favorite authors wrote about. Give it a listen,

Black Keys, Everlasting Light. This group is #3 on the vinyl chart and probably the best band you have heard of who you never knew their name. Their music was in the School of Rock?! And other features. Check out the promo,

This is from their album “Magic Potion” released by in 2006. Sound check!

Radiohead, Creep, Acoustic. I shared this last year when J.D. Salinger died. This time around you get the acoustic version. These guys are #3 on the list of Top Ten vinyl artists of 2010.

See you on St. Valentines Day.

To Share, and Share Alike (The Saturday Evening Blog Post)

Today I saw a blogging friend mention that it was time to contribute to blogger Elizabeth Esther’s Saturday Evening Blog Post. I thought, What’s that?

It turns out to be sort of like the Saturday Evening Post of yore, in that it is a compilation of blog posts from the past month from both Catholic blog writers, and not, from all over. Elizabeth posts these on the first Saturday of each month. Who is Elizabeth Esther? Come and see.


This month, Elizabeth asked for two selections because she didn’t have an issue for the month of December. So I’m sharing a couple of posts that I hope her readers will enjoy and I’m looking forward to reading other bloggers favorite posts as well. From December, I shared Because I Was Blind, And Could Not See, which Scott Hahn told me he liked. And from January, I shared Because the Church Is Paradoxically Consistent, because it is.

So far there are 66 posts to peruse over there, so this issue of The Saturday Evening Blog Post is pretty thick. This should be a blast and I’m looking forward to it!

For All the Saints: Joseph of Leonissa

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph of Leonissa (Feb. 4, 1612). He was from a small town in Italy that, at the time, lay within the borders of the Papal States. At the age of seventeen, he became a Capuchin friar. I hadn’t planned on posting on this saintly fellow, but I found something that I believe I am supposed to share with you. I can’t explain it really, I just feel drawn to share an account that involves Joseph.

But first, a little background. He is best known for heading to Constantinople to minister to the Christian galley slaves of the Sultan there. He didn’t do that on a lark, either. He studied the Turks, and Islam, before heading on this mission.

Art credit: Getty Images

One day, he got the idea that he would preach to the Sultan himself, was captured, tortured and then miraculously released after hanging from hooks through his foot and his right hand (comfortable, and humane) over a smokey fire for three days. You can read more about that episode from the article on him at the Catholic News Service. Suffice it to say it’s a miracle he survived.

Like I said, I really wasn’t going to post anything about this particular saint. But then I found something about him on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, you remember, my wacky hobby nowadays? And one thing led to another.

It is an episode in Joseph’s life that I found in a book entitled The Agonizing Heart, by Fr. François René Blot. I added this volume to our shelf promptly because the subtitle of the book is Salvation of the Dying, Consolation of the Afflicted. So, it sounds like a book that has a broad appeal, since all of us are dying, or consoling someone who has lost someone who has died.

This particular story comes from Section II in the book, Meditations For One Day In Each Month. The selection that concerns our saint of the day is the meditation for the month of December, on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It turns out that Joseph of Leonissa is also know for two things that stand out in my mind: he preached while holding a crucifix, and he had a strong devotion to Our Lady.

What could be more agonizing than losing your child in premature death? A horrible accident for example, or to a disease, and heaven forbid, to a homicide. That is the episode that unfolds in the account that involves our Saint of the Day below. Take a look,

from La Vie du B. P. Joseph de Leonissa
by Daniel de Paris

The talent of consoling the afflicted is one of the gratuitous graces which God gives to whom He wills for the benefit of others, but compassion towards the afflicted is the duty of every Christian, according to the words of St. Paul, ‘Weep with them that weep’ (Rom. xii. 15).

The Blessed Father Joseph had this talent to a remarkable degree. He was ever ready to weep with those who wept, and to lead them to adore the secrets of Divine Providence. On one occasion, when he was preaching the Lent at Jane (ed. a nearby town), he heard that a young man had just been killed in a quarrel, and that his mother, a widow, was inconsolable in her grief.

Father Joseph, with true compassion for her affliction, went to visit her, and to share it; but he found her in a state of frenzy, and full of thoughts of revenge. The servant of God did not begin by blaming her anger; on the contrary, he acknowledged that she had good cause for her tears.

“You weep,” said he, “your tears are reasonable, and God does not blame them. But now that you have given all that nature can expect from a mother’s heart, it is time to think of what grace claims from a Christian. You must let yourself be ruled by faith; look at Jesus on the Cross” (he showed her the crucifix), “and consider the tears of the Blessed Virgin His Mother, and her humble submission to the will of God. Will you not follow so beautiful an example? ”

“Your son has fallen a victim to the hatred of his enemies, but the Son of Mary suffered from the cruelty of His own people. The one was, like all Adam’s children, a sinner, the other was the God-Man, the Saint of Saints, and He died only to restore those who were dead in sin. In short, your son died in a personal quarrel, your Savior died for the sins of others. Yet Mary did not yield to such an excess of grief, she did not call upon Heaven to destroy those wicked deicides; she imitated the clemency of her Son, Who even on the Cross prayed for His murderers; every day she still intercedes for sinners. You have acted as an afflicted mother, but is it not now time to behave after her example, as a Christian mother, who conforms herself in all things to the will of God?”

The tears of a too human sorrow were changed into tears of holy compunction, and the poor mother seemed absorbed in the love shown by Jesus on the Cross. The holy man led her to something yet more perfect. As the Blessed Virgin loves those who have crucified her Son so much that she seeks their salvation, she also learned charity towards those who had taken the life of her child. She invited them to her house, even before the funeral, and assured them that she forgave them for the love of Jesus and His holy Mother.

****
I’ve been reading a book written by John C.H. Wu where he writes that,
Some time or other, the Holy Spirit moves you to whisper to Christ, “Lord, what shall I render to You for Your wonderful love of me? He answers you in a whisper, “Do not always say ‘me, me, me…’ Remember there is a big Me in you. Love Me, love My brothers.”

And of course, He also says,

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

St. Joseph of Leonissa, pray for us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

To Pull for the Pittsburgh Steelers (There’s Even a Catholic Reason, or Two)

My buddy Blaise Pascal has this to say about sports,

Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings.

I’m a baseball fan, so I watch professional football once or twice a year, usually. However, my family and I always watch the Super Bowl. And this year, I’ll be pulling for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is mainly for personal “childhood memory” reasons. Franco Harris, one of my favorite players, and the Immaculate Reception, for example.

Terry Bradshaw connecting with Lynn Swan for catches like this.

Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier (#20) one of my favorites too, scrambling forward for yardage tenaciously, in this case for a touchdown.

And I can’t forget John Stallworth.

Glory Days! It turns out that the Steelers have a pretty well know contingent of Catholics in the organization from down on the the playing field all the way up to the owner’s suite. Strong safety Troy Polamalu, for example, is a strong witness for the Faith. According to an article from the Catholic News Service back in 2006, Troy,

is not an NFL superstar who happens to be a man of faith. Rather, in his heart, he is simply “a Christian with a passion for Jesus… Success in anything doesn’t matter. As Mother Teresa said, God calls us not to be successful but to be faithful. My prayer is that I would glorify God no matter what, and not have success be the definition of it.

NFL players who quote Mother Teresa? Who knew! One of the authors of that article, Gina Mazza Hillier comments that, “the entire Steelers organization is a blessing. The owners (The Rooney Family) are devout Catholics and the players are humble.”

Perhaps the same is true for the Green Bay Packers. I can’t say, because I don’t have the same affinity for the Packers as I do for the Steelers, so I won’t be looking into the matter. I do know that a couple of bishops have a bet (all proceeds of which will benefit Catholic Charities) on the outcome of the game this year.

As Bishop David Zubik says,

Have fun with the game, enjoy our Steelers, but don’t let these things define us, don’t let them become such a passion that we lose perspective.

Amen to that. Go Steelers!

Update: Catholic Roots Run Deep for Both Teams.

For Thoughts On Meekness Like These

I mentioned the other day that I had saved up some Christmas gift money and used it to help me buy my friend John C.H.Wu’s book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. The book is John’s reflection on Christianity as The Way of Love. [Read more...]

Candlemas (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. On this day, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, in accordance with Mosaic Law. Our Lord was blessed by Simeon, as witnessed by the prophetess Anna as set forth in the Gospel of Luke.

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote a poem commemorating the blessing of the candles, which is also done on this day in the Latin Rite.

Candlemas

by John Henry Newman

The Angel-lights of Christmas morn,
Which shot across the sky,
Away they pass at Candlemas,
They sparkle and they die.

Comfort of earth is brief at best,
Although it be divine;
Like funeral lights for Christmas gone
Old Simeon’s tapers shine.

And then for eight long weeks and more,
We wait in twilight grey,
Till the high candle sheds a beam
On Holy Saturday.

We wait along the penance-tide
Of solemn fast and prayer;
While song is hush’d, and lights grow dim
In the sin-laden air.

And while the sword in Mary’s soul
Is driven home, we hide
In our own hearts, and count the wounds
Of passion and of pride.

And still, though Candlemas be spent
And Alleluias o’er,
Mary is music in our need,
And Jesus light in store.

The Oratory. 1849

Update:
The Anchoress on this Feast

Thoughts On Beauty from Sick Bay On A Tuesday

Have you ever heard of François Villon? I never had, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about him. I’m home sick, drinking coffee and later on I’ll be dipping into the medicine chest for the “sniffling, sneezing, coughing, so you can rest medicine.” But first, I want to share with you what, in my unlettered opinion, is the Best. Preface. Ever. Written.

It’s all my friend John C.H. Wu’s fault, you know. For Christmas, I ponied up all of my cash Christmas gifts and bought John’s close to impossible to find The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. Since I’m effectively confined to quarters, I started reading it a bit and began noting whatever references he made to other authors, adding their works to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

John is well read, and by reading my friend John, he points me to a lot of good stuff. That’s what friends do for one another, right? So I chased down a reference to a book written by one Pierre Champion, SJ entitled The Spiritual Teaching of Father Louis Lallement. By doing a search of the authors name, I was pointed to a book that quoted him, where I found this preface written by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, the author of a ton of books, including the one made into a movie a few times,  The Blue Lagoon.

Take a look at this and tell me what you think.

Preface to François Villon, His Life and Time, (1431-1463)
By Henry De Vere Stacpoole

Traveling in France you may often get a glimpse of something that England cannot show you—a chateau with slated roofs and towers pointed each like a witch’s cap.

The outline of a Chinese pagoda would not strike upon the retina more strangely than the outline of this veritable figure of stone, ambushed in valley or crouching on hill-top, and showing to the broad light of day the roofs that rose and the towers that took form when Amboise was building and before Bussy was a man. You pass on, the chateau fades from sight, but the picture of it will remain for ever in your mind. You have seen the Middle Ages.

My object is to present to you Francois Villon, one of the strangest figures in all literature, and one of the greatest of French poets. Were I to attempt to reach him immediately and entirely through the MSS. of the Bibliotheque de la Sorbonne, or the Bibliotheque Nationale, or the Archives of the Cote d’Or, and were I to take you with me, we would both be half asphyxiated by the stuffy smell of parchment, and we would part company, or arrive at our journey’s end cross and tired and without finding Villon.

You cannot find a man through manuscripts, unless they are in the handwriting of the man. Archaeologists and museum hunters may tell us all about a man’s surroundings, his companions, his status in life, and his morals, as they appeared to his contemporaries, but to find the man one must find the man, and we can only find him through the expressions of his mind. And that is why so many dead men are so utterly dead. They have left nothing by which we can weigh them as men. Literary men fall under this freezing law no less than others, simply because the large majority of them leave on paper their ideas, fancies, inventions, and so forth, but of themselves little trace. Villon had the magical power of turning himself into literature, and that is why I propose to rob archaeologists and students and all sorts of people on our road, so that we may find out in what sort of country Villon lived and something of the extent of his genius, but to discard or almost to discard these when we come to estimate Villon as a man—to discard everything but the literature which holds his mind and heart, and, almost one might say, his body.

Stand with me, then, on this French road in the year 1914 and, forgetting books and manuscripts for awhile, let that chateau with the pointed towers touch you with its magic wand. All those modern houses crumble to dust, the railway-track vanishes, mule-bells strike the ear, pilgrims pass, their faces set towards Paris, and troops of soldiers, soon to be disbanded and to join the ranks of the unemployed, the labourers, the mendicants, and the robbers.

It is the year 1431. War is smouldering in the land; only a few short months ago Jean d’Arc was burned at Rouen. Henry VI of England, his archers and men-at-arms, are advancing away there to the west slowly towards Paris. Paris is starving. Charles VII, recently crowned, is King of France but as yet only in name, and over the whole broad land the spirit of the dead Maid is welding together the Armagnacs, the Poitevins, the Bretons, and the Burgundians to form the French nation.

Side by side with this creation of a people is going forward—or soon to go forward—the creation of a national language.

Up to this, France has spoken almost entirely in stone; up to this the architect has been the man of letters; up to this all those scattered tribes, Angevins, Poitevins, Burgundians, Armagnacs, and Bretons, have found expression for the genius that lives in man, not in verse or prose or painting, but in the pointed arch and shrill spire, the cathedral, fortress, and chateau.

We are in the land of the gargoyle. That chateau before us is the mind of the Middle Ages epitomised in stone, severe, narrow-windowed, armed, and above all fantastic. When we reach Paris along that road on which the pilgrims are straying, you will see that chateau broken up and repeated in a thousand different forms, you will see its pointed roofs in La Tournelles, its weathercocks on the Hotel de Sens, its towers on the Bastille, its portcullis as you cross the Petit Pont, and its fantasy everywhere.

And what you see here and what you will see in Paris is not a collection of stones cemented by mortar, but the carapace of the mind of the people. You are, in effect, looking at the literature of France in the year 1481.

As I have hinted before, France has not learned to express herself fully in poetry or prose. She has not yet learned properly to write, the mind of the people is pregnant with artistic speech, but as yet it can only murmur in verse and in tapestry or cry out in stone, yet even in these tapestries you may see the prefiguration of French literature, and even in these stones.

Over there at Bourges you will find the first verse of Villon’s Ballade of Jean Cotart, not yet to be written for thirty years, on the main porch where Noah lies drunk and naked, and you will find his ballade of the Contredicts de Franc Gontier hinted at in the sculptures of the Salle des Cheminees of the Palais de Justice in Paris. You will find Rabelais everywhere, from the Abbey de Bocherville to the Church of St. Jacques de la Boucherie, though Rabelais is not yet to be born for many and many a year. Grim humour, gross humour, fantasy and a vague gloom, arising from the skull which is the basis of Gothic art, are found everywhere; we find facades that sneer, porches that criticise, bas-reliefs filled with pointed stories, a whole literature petrified and inhuman. The attempt, in fact, of the human mind to express itself in stone.

To Villon, who was born last month, will fall the high mission of helping to give the human mind expression in speech. The mocking verses of his Testaments will give voice to the spirit of mockery whose expression can now only be found chiselled in the lavatory of the Abbey de Bocherville, or in the sculptures of Guillaume de Paris; his tenderness, his humanity, his tears can be found as yet nowhere, for stone cannot give expression to these.

Leaving aside the genius and directness of vision of this man who has just been born into the world—or rather perhaps because of them— Villon’s highest mission will be to tell future ages that the inhabitants of the land of the gargoyle were living and human beings, not mediaeval figures. That will be the highest mission of one who, with Aristophanes and Homer, holds the position, far above all royal positions, of a world-link—the man whose destiny it is to be ever living in a world ever dying.

So, standing here on this French road in the year 1431 before that isolated chateau and under its spell we may gather some hint of the rigid world into which our poet has just been born, some idea of that huge edifice of stone which Art has constructed as a mode of expression for the dreams and the humours of man, and which has turned into a sarcophagus for the corpse of thought—a sarcophagus to be shattered by the voice of that infant over there in Paris and by the voices of others still unborn.

Trust me, I’ll be reading more of Stacpoole’s book on François Villon. How could I not?


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