April has brought to Nova Scotia not showers but torrential rain and high winds. Here are a couple pictures of my nephews playing outside after the latest storm:
One of my nephews is fascinated by all creepy, crawly things. Here he is after the rain, rescuing worms stranded in the driveway and carrying them over to the lawn.
Below is a poem by Dorothy Aldis, who wrote children's poetry and stories in the early 1900's. Her poem Brooms describes the appearance of trees in stormy weather, bending in the wind and brushing the sky.
On stormy days When the wind is high, Tall trees are brooms Sweeping the sky.
They swish their branches In buckets of rain And swash and sweep it Blue again.
We had a girls' night out on Saturday: we went out to dinner, went axe throwing, and then afterwards went for coffee and talk. The entire evening was really enjoyable, and axe throwing was super fun. Much to my surprise, I was rather good at it and posted the highest score in our group. The picture below is of the first time I buried the axe in the target. The trick is keeping your wrists straight and releasing the hatchet at the right time.
Here's a couple of other pictures from the event:
The vignette below isn't technically about lumberjacks but about log drivers, the guys who would transport the trees felled by lumberjacks from the forest down the river to the nearest sawmill. This was shown on Canadian TV for years, so most Canadians know it well. Plus, the tune is really catchy.
"A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom."- Robert Frost
This week, inspired by all the poetry that they've been reading on Finer Things Fridays, one of my nephews decided to try his hand at composing verse. The resulting masterpiece entitled The Pugilist is pictured below:
Sniff... it brings a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat. And, viewing the work with an impartial eye, it both rhymes and makes sense, which gives it points over a lot of modern poetry. I've certainly read worse.
One of the most enduring images from the 1952 movie High Noon is that of the solitary marshal Will Kane striding along a deserted street in the noonday sun. Abandoned by his friends, reviled by many of the townspeople, and facing almost certain death, he is walking bravely to confront the forces of evil- Frank Miller and his gang.
My favourite modern Christian artists is Andrew Peterson, and one of his songs is entitled "High Noon". In it, Peterson draws a comparison between Kane and Jesus, alone and friendless, facing the powers of evil in the world: "It was high noon in the Valley of the Shadow..." and describes His weapon: "Whose gun is the grace of the God of the sky." The song details Jesus' supposed defeat and follows through to His actual victory: "All praise to the King/ the victor of the battle/ High noon in the valley/ In the valley of the shadow.
Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, miserere nobis. have mercy on us. Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, dona nobis pacem. grant us peace.
There was a time- I've seen video evidence- when the Academy Awards weren't the grisly spectacle of political posturing and irrational outbursts by morally bankrupt celebrities that it has become in recent years. There was even a time when it could be assumed that most people would have seen the movies nominated for Oscars in various categories. I've personally only seen one of the films nominated for best picture this year- Dunkirk- and frankly, the only other one I have any interest in seeing is The Darkest Hour. I also, to the best of my knowledge, have never heard any of the nominated songs. Again, this is a relatively new phenomenon; back in the day, nominated songs would generally be well-known to the public. Of course, even when the Academy Awards were entertaining to watch instead of being a stomach-churning dumpster fire of vulgarity and sneering superiority, there were controvercial moments and decisions. Often the films chosen to receive awards were arguably not the best or most deserving. Movie tastes are, naturally, subjective- as are musical ones- but sometimes the right choices seem so obvious that one wonders how the wrong ones were made. Case in point: the Oscar for Best Song in 1955 was given to Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's Three Coins In The Fountain, from the movie by the same name:
Now, this is an enjoyable song (in a very forgettable movie) but in my opinion at least two of the other songs nominated that year were better. One of these was Irving Berlin's "Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep)" from White Christmas:
The song nominated which I think should have probably won the Oscar was Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away" from A Star Is Born. In my opinion, it's far and away better than "Three Coins":
Of course, this is just my opinion: I could be wrong (although I don't think I am). Either way, when was the last time in recent years that at least three of the songs nominated became classics? Sigh.
I've made no secret of the fact that I despise the song Imagine by the late John Lennon. I hate its saccharine, sentimental claptrap and hypocritical inanities. I particularly despise the fact that, after every terrorist attack, some idiot hauls out this travesty of inverse morality and, in a total rejection of good sense and taste, subjects us to its nauseating platitudes. So when Imagine was trotted out at this year's olympic opening ceremonies, I'd had enough. I'm now going to pick apart this song and point out exactly what is wrong with it.
Imagine By John Lennon Imagine there's no heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today... Imagine there's no countries It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people Living life in peace... You may say I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will be as one Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people Sharing all the world... You may say I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will live as one
1. Imagine there's no heaven/ It's easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky Okay, so the suggestion here is that people divorcing themselves from all forms of religion and embracing atheism will result in peace and love. Well, various nations have tried that on for size... let's see how it worked out for them, shall we. Revolutionary France decided to get rid of Christianity; the authorities seized Church lands, abolished the Catholic church, and exiled or killed the priests. They even replaced the Christian calendar with a secular one, reckoning years from the start of the Revolution. Was the result a post-religion Utopia? Not quite; during the Reign of Terror- which lasted approximately two years- over 40,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were imprisoned. Let's contrast this with the Spanish Inquisition, which is one of those events which anti-religionists always throw out to bolster their arguments. Admittedly it was not Catholicism's finest moment, but the estimated body count for the Inquisition was between 3,000 and 5,000 over a period of about 350 years. It's difficult to see how this could be regarded as worse than the bloodiness of the Revolution, but perhaps that incident was an aberration; there are other atheist states we can examine.
The Killing Fields
The Soviet Union comes to mind, though of course exact tallies of the murders under Stalin are hard to pin down, since that regime and the useful idiots who supported it managed to suppress news of what was going on for quite some time. But historians put the estimate at somewhere between 25 and 50 million dead. The Khmer Rouge in the atheist state of Cambodia under Pol Pot killed between 1.5 and 3 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1975. It's estimated that in China, Mao's "Great Leap Forward" killed 45 million people in four years. I could continue with Cuba, North Korea, Albania, East Germany... but why bother. It's obvious to anyone with a functioning brain cell that lack of religious belief does not equate with a peaceful, non-violent society. Rather, the civilizations of the west which are by any measure freer, more peaceful, more democratic, and have a better quality of life at all levels of society have evolved from the Judeo-Christioan tradition. This isn't to say that they are perfect, and have never made mistakes or taken missteps, but they are better, and to deny the obvious is intellectually dishonest.
2. Imagine all the people living for today Well, we don't really have to imagine this, do we. There are plenty of wicked and irresponsible people about who subscribe to this nihilistic philosophy. Why not spend like drunken sailors, running up the debt and sticking the next generation with the bill? I had been under the impression that The Ant & The Grasshopper was a cautionary tale, but- according to Lennon- the grasshopper's attitude is apparently the correct one. If we can have a good or easy time now, why worry about what happens when we're gone- especially if we haven't bothered to have any kids. Why face hard and unpleasant things like the threat of radical Islam when we can kick the can down the road a bit and leave it for someone else to deal with. This philosophy not only liberates people from concern for the future, but also from having a sense of responsibility to the past and to those who built and defended our way of life. If all that matters is "now", then who cares how our country got to where it is or where it goes from here. "Living for today" means being irresponsible, ignorant, and ungrateful.
3. Imagine there's no countries/ It isn't hard to do
This is poor English and even worse logic. We've seen from the disaster which is the European Union what damage forcing people of different countries into a common monetary system will do. And that's just the economy; the societal damage of trying to make people with different ethics, different world views, and competing interests into a single entity is incalculable. We've also seen what relaxing borders has done to many countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden as they have been flooded with people who do not share their values. I guarantee that South Korea- where they were singing Imagine- is extremely happy that there's a heavily-guarded border between themselves and North Korea. In fact, if it was possible to build a nuke resistant wall, you can bet that the South Koreans would be out there building it to the sky, probably wearing 'Make Korea Great Again' hats. It may not be hard to imagine no countries- especially if you're on drugs- but the reality is impossible and frankly, undesirable.
Incidentally, I've noticed that many of those who are trumpeting their desire for open borders are quite fond of keeping themselves secure behind sturdy walls and closed doors. This is the entrance to the luxury estate Tittenhurst Park where John Lennon lived when he wrote Imagine (the white piano was there). It's hard to miss the big ol' iron gate and brick wall. If Lennon truly believed in no borders, why not set an example by letting the unwashed masses move in with him? Of course, it's always easier to deliver sanctimonious lectures from on high than actually do anything yourself.
4. Nothing to kill or die for This may be the most cowardly and despicable line in the song. Of course no one wants to be put in a situation where killing or dying becomes necessary, but one is not always given an option. What this phrase suggests is that nothing- not even your family and freedom- is worth fighting for. Maybe there are people who actually believe this, but in my opinion, anyone who would stand by and watch his family be violently attacked and not do whatever it took to protect them is a pretty worthless human being. This sentiment is one reason why I don't have much use for Mahatma Gandhi, by the way. During World War II, he wrote an open letter to the British nation urging them to surrender to the Nazis: “Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds.” All I can say is, thank goodness the Englishman in charge was Winston Churchill and not John Lennon, otherwise we might all be goose-stepping around now. Oh, incidentally, Gandhi also urged the Jews to all commit suicide so that the Nazis wouldn't have the satisfaction of killling them. That guy was just full of good ideas, but I digress... the point is, you can talk pacifism and non-violence: you may even be able to practice it. But you'd better hope you're living some place where there are others willing to take up arms and do violence on your behalf, otherwise the only peace you'll see is the one you're resting in.
5. And no religion too
Lennon is repeating himself; see point one.
6.Imagine all the people / Living life in peace...
I reiterate my hypothesis that this song is a drug-induced hallucination. Two people of similar backgrounds, living side by side in the same community can manage to find something to fight over, from politics to an overgrown hedge, let alone people from different faiths and ways of life all over the planet. All people would have to be angels and- spoiler alert- we're not.
7. You may say I'm a dreamer
Nah- just under the influence.
8. But I'm not the only one
Unfortunately; just say no, people.
9. I hope someday you'll join us
Nope. I'm drug (and hippie-dippy baloney)-free
10. And the world will be as one
Not this side of Heaven... oops, I forgot: you don't believe in that. Also, rhyming "one" with "one" is lazy.
11. Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can
Something else we don't have to imagine; we can just turn on the news and have a look at life in some socialist paradise like Venezuela. Note the carefree, possessionless citizens picking through a garbage dump looking for something to eat. How liberating to not have to worry about having worldly goods... or food and clean water. They don't even have to worry about having no money, since there's nothing in stores to buy, anyway. So admirable.
12. No need for greed or hunger/ A brotherhood of man
See the picture above. Communism & socialism have not worked anywhere, not even once, in the history of the world. Everywhere that they've been instituted people have ended up poorer, hungrier, and less free. Without fail, power and wealth in these places ends up in the hands of a few dictators- Chavez, Castro, etc.- who enforce an equal level of poverty on the majority of their people. So much for brotherhood. You know what does work? Leaving people free to earn their own living and support their families. Since 1980's, economic freedom - except in a few places- has been spreading around the world. Not-so-coincidentally, the global rate of people living in extreme poverty has, in the same space of time, slipped from 44.3% of the world's population to just 9.6% (you can find those figures here).
13. Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world...
Um, we do share the world, but that doesn't mean that you're entitled to someone else's portion of it, or the stuff they've earned through their own hard work and industry. Don't get me wrong- I'm all for voluntary charitable giving: I just don't want it mandated by the government. Oh by the way, these are some pictures of Tittenhurst Park, Lennon's house where- as I mentioned previously- he wrote Imagine.
And here's another place he owned while living in Britain:
Huh. I guess he wasn't opposed to having possessions himself... maybe he just meant everyone else should be willing to give them up. Still, you'd think that in the interests of "sharing all the world", he'd at least have found some room in the Tittenhurst guest house for some of the "brotherhood of man". Incidentally, that term is a bit problematic- frankly, patriarchal- shouldn't he have been imagining a "sisterhood of peoplekind"?
14. You may say I'm a dreamer/ But I'm not the only one/ I hope someday you'll join us/ And the world will live as one
We've already been over this and frankly, it doesn't bear revisiting. In addition, "one" and "one" still don't rhyme. So those are my thoughts on Imagine. To sum up, it's a trash song with a smarmy, dishonest message and John Lennon was an overrated hypocrite. A word of advice: one shouldn't warble castigations of capitalism and materialism while sitting in one's mansion on a private estate. It's poor optics and shows a complete lack of self-awareness. Also, I advise avoiding Imagine like the aural plague it is.
* An observation on the day from my eleven year old nephew: "Usually when you get older you don't give little cards to your friends: you just say 'Happy Valentines' and punch them in the arm."
* Expressions of affection as defined by another nephew: My sister was sitting on the couch with her 3 year old lying beside her. He kept hitting her with his feet until, exasperated, she told him to stop kicking her. He responded, "I'm not, I'm just hugging you with my toes."
* A Romantic Poet: Richard Lovelace Richard Lovelace was a cavalier poet who lived from 1617-1657. This is my favourite portrait of him, a picture which seems to reinforce Anthony Wood's (a contemporary of his) description of him: "the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld; a person also of innate modesty, virtue and courtly deportment, which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city, much admired and adored by the female sex". A lot of Lovelace's poetry was influenced by his life experiences. For example, he wrote To Luccasta, Going To the Warres after serving in the Bishop Wars in 1639-40. It contains a few lines which may be familiar to many even if they're not familiar with his poetry: I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov'd I not Honour more. Perhaps even more well known is a portion of his poem To Althea, From Prison which he wrote after being imprisoned for his support of King Charles I during the English Civil War: Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage
It is another poem of his, however, that I think has one of the most charmingly romantic titles of any poem: To Amarantha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair. I've always liked it... the title is actually my favourite part of the poem.
To Amarantha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair
Amarantha sweet and fair, Ah, braid no more that shining hair! As my curious hand or eye Hovering round thee, let it fly!
Let it fly as unconfined As its calm ravisher the wind, Who hath left his darling, th' East, To wanton o'er that spicy nest.
Every tress must be confest, But neatly tangled at the best; Like a clew of golden thread Most excellently ravelled.
Do not then wind up that light In ribbands, and o'ercloud in night, Like the Sun in 's early ray; But shake your head, and scatter day!
It's Groundhog Day, when people with more energy than sense get up early and traipse through the snow to visit the burrow of a rodent and consult him about the weather. If you think this is silly, well, blame the Pennsylvania Dutch because apparently they started it. Of course, the groundhog is also referred to as the woodchuck, a name which actually has nothing to do with wood at all. Rather, it is taken from the Algonquin name for the critters- wuchak. This naturally calls to mind the old tongue twister: "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck all the wood a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood." This tongue twister dates back to a 1902 musical called The Runaways, in which the star Fay Templeton sang "The Woodchuck Song". No recording exists of this version, but in 1904 the song- with a different tune- was recorded by Ragtime Roberts.
*My sister overheard a lunch conversation between a few of her younger kids. It started on the topic of groundhog day, then branched out into their rather sketchy knowledge of history and culture. Here are a few of their more memorable statements: “Lewis and Clark were the guys who invented the groundhog.” “I thought the president lived in the outhouse...” “That’s ‘White House’!” “The loo is in France!”
Earle Birney's 1942 poem David is, as I mentioned in my last post, well known in high school English classes around the country. It's written in free verse, which basically means that it doesn't rhyme, which I've always taken a dim view of in poetry. As Robert Frost once remarked, "Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down." David, however, compensates for this to a degree by using beautiful and evocative language when describing David's and Bobby's hikes in the Rockies. For example:
"Then the two of us rolled in the blanket while round us the cold Pines thrust at the stars. The dawn was a floating Of mists till we reached to the slopes above timber,and won To snow like fire in the sunlight. The peak was upthrust Like a fist in a frozen ocean of rock that swirled Into valleys the moon could be rolled in. Remotely unfurling Eastward the alien prairie glittered."
Then, after the seminal event of the poem occurs, Bobby's descriptions of the mountain scenery change, seeming hostile and threatening rather than hauntingly beautiful. Of course, it's not the scenery which has changed, but Bobby's perception of it in the wake of what he has experienced and done.
Of gaping greenthroated crevasses, alone and pursued By the Finger's lengthening shadow. At last through the fanged And blinding seracs I slid to the milky wrangling Falls at the glacier's snout, through the rocks piled huge On the humped moraine, and into the spectral larches, Alone. By the glooming lake I sank and chilled My mouth but I could not rest and stumbled still To the valley, losing my way in the ragged marsh.
If you've read the poem, then you know what happens; on their last mountain climbing trip, David loses his footing and falls a considerable distance, landing on a ledge. When Bobby reaches him, David is alive but badly injured; he can't feel his legs and is sure that his back is broken. They are far from any available help, and Bobby is reluctant to leave David for the length of time it would take to get medical aid. As he lingers on the ledge, David begs Bobby to push him over (there's a huge drop below). Bobby recoils from the idea, but David says that, even if he isn't slowly dying, he'll spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, which he considers no life at all. Eventually, Bobby does what David asks. When he reaches the survey team, he tells them that David fell straight down to where they find his body.
This event is, of course, why the poem is the subject of much debate but before I get to that, let's cover a few other points about David. First, although he talks about David constantly, this poem is really about Bobby, the narrator: what happens, the choice he makes, and why he makes it. Also, David's fall- and his wish for death- are foreshadowed by two incidents earlier in the poem. The first is when they find the bones of a dead mountain goat and Bobby comments, "And that was the first I knew that a goat could slip." The second, and more telling, is when they find a robin with a broken wing. Bobby intends to care for it and keep it as a pet, but David takes the bird and kills it, saying "Could you teach it to fly?" Meaning, obviously, that a bird which can't fly is better off dead.
It is also obvious that, of the two, David has the stronger personality and is the leader. Throughout the poem, it's: "mountains for David were meant to see over,"David showed me how to use the give of shale for giant incredible strides, and "David taught me..." various mountaineering skills. It is also David who discovers- and insists on climbing- the unmapped spire which is their downfall. And, of course, it is David who kills the robin unhesitatingly, despite Bobby's intention to save it.
This brings us to the assisted suicide of David by Bobby. I had actually considered the morality of this before reading the poem in grade ten, because a short dramatized film of it was produced back in the eighties and I saw it on TV. I remember instinctively thinking what occurred was wrong, even though I doubt I could have articulated exactly why at the time. By the time high school rolled around, however, I was able to write a rebuttal of Bobby's choice in David. It's been a while, but I'll go over my main objections to "mercy killing". I'll mention in passing that, as a Christian, I'm opposed to suicide/ assisted suicide on principle but this isn't an argument except to fellow persons of faith. I have other reasons for being against these things which are not faith-based. The first of these deals directly with the Bobby/David situation: neither of these young men are doctors. Obviously David is badly hurt- probably permanently. But they don't know that for sure and what if his paralysis was temporary, or could be reversed? David would have plunged to his death for absolutely no reason. Secondly, David is scared, stressed, and hurt; he's in no condition to make decisions about life or death. By interviewing people who have survived suicide attempts, it's been determined that most regretted their decision the moment they tried it, and over 90% never attempt to kill themselves again. You can read an article about it here. Statistically speaking, it's likely that as David was falling to his death, he was thinking thinking that this was a really bad idea. One can argue, of course, that David's decision was not impulsive as shown by his killing of the crippled robin. This is true but again, he doesn't know that he is permanently injured. Also, this incident demonstrates that David has a very limited and arrogant view of life. He decides that the bird would be better off dead if it can't fly. This is his decision- no one asks the bird. Well, okay, it's a bird, but this is his view of human life as well: unless the person is perfectly functional, their life is worthless.
"a frozen ocean of rock"
Essentially, this equates a person's worth with his or her physical well being. But humans are much more than their corporeal forms: we have minds and souls and to suggest that only a life in a healthy body is worth living is to deny the true value of man. This is, of course, patently wrong yet it is an ideology which is now used to excuse everything from abortion to euthanasia. And that's vile. I find myself disliking David from the point of his killing of the bird on through the end of the poem. It's tragic of course that he falls and is gravely injured but at the same time, his insistence that his life will be unbearable if he's confined to a wheelchair leaves me cold. I have a young niece who was born with severe spina bifida; she will never walk. She has hardships and physical struggles that most of us will never have to face, but she loves life and enriches the lives of all around her. So when David is saying that the thought of life in a wheelchair is unendurable, I feel sympathy for his anguish but I also feel like telling him to man up. In addition, it's extremely selfish of him to emotionally blackmail Bobby into helping him commit suicide. It's obvious that Bobby has no desire to do so; he prevaricates and even lies to David to try to get out of it. In the end, he gives in because he's used to doing what his friend says, he feels guilty for being the reason David lost his footing, and also Bobby can't resist his pleas which end with the reasoning, "I'd do it for you." So he pushes David over the edge, killing his friend, which is a trauma and guilt he'll have to live with for the rest of his life. This last statement of David's holds no weight with me. Imagine it being used as an argument for any other kind of wrongdoing: "Rob that bank for me... I'd do it for you." Ridiculous. Besides, does anyone really want a friend who's eager to help them shuffle off this mortal coil when they're in pain or despair rather than trying to uphold and strengthen them?
I guess how you react to this story depends on whether or not you approve of assisted suicide. I personally think that it's morally reprehensible. It's also a very slippery- and dangerous- slope. Proponents of euthanasia always argue that it will only be used in cases of extreme physical suffering, but it never ends up that way. Last year a teenage girl in the U.S. was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the suicide of her boyfriend. The young man, who had mental health issues, committed suicide by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide. While he was doing it, his "girlfriend" was texting him, egging him on and encouraging him to go through with it when he seemed to be hesitating. Wrong? Evil? Yet in the Netherlands- where euthanasia is legal- in 2015, a 34 year old woman with chronic depression and a personality disorder decided that she wanted to end it all and her application was granted. She was euthanized- quite legally- leaving behind a three year old daughter. So what makes one case heinous and the other acceptable? I'm consistent on this: both are wrong. Also, note that the reasons for granting assisted suicide in the Netherlands quickly moved from extreme physical suffering, to mental anguish, to pretty much any kind of discomfort or disability at all- including old age. Where does it end? Is it truly compassionate to tell people that they shouldn't have to face pain of any kind, that they should always have the option of ending it all if they decide that they don't want to suffer or be unhappy? I can't accept that. It's not that I don't have sympathy for those who are suffering, either from physical or mental- or spiritual- anguish. It's that I believe that their lives have worth, meaning, and purpose even in the midst of that suffering. To conclude, David is a poem which combines beautiful imagery of the Rockies with a dark tale of tragedy and terrible choices. I don't agree with the ones made for the reasons stated above, but David does provide an opportunity to think about what you believe on this issue and why.