Poetry Wednesday: “God’s Grandeur”

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Acadia National Park (I took this picture June 2016)

Sometimes “religious” poem smacks of over-sentimentality. In that case, this isn’t a religious poem. Gerald Manley Hopkins is a master with words, a Victorian poet who reminds us of the “bright wings” of the world. And check out the reading by Stanley Kunitz, another poet.

[Note: For some reason I was having difficulty with the indentations. There should be indentations on lines 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 12, and 14. Check it out here.]

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

El Salvador: Juayua, Ataco, El Principito, and Grace

[I missed a post last week, so this is basically a combination of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s posts.]

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Yesterday I went to las cascadas de Juayua with some friends. We’re in the rainy season here in El Salvador, but if we wait for ideal conditions in life, we’ll sell ourselves woefully short. Thus, we plowed on and had a great time despite the rain. Unfortunately, the weather did prevent decent pictures. Still…

These waterfalls pour into crystal clear pools where one can relax and enjoy the surrounding environment (the jungle). I guess we couldn’t exactly relax too much since it was really cold, but we did have fun. Built alongside these pools are multiple tunnels leading to other pools. Though a little intimidating to plunge through a tunnel in the dark, it was a neat experience. We had a great time, and tried to stay dry, but most of our stuff got pretty wet. Afterwards we cleaned up as best as we could (I was directed to go inside this poorly lit house to change. As I walked in an old lady was moseying about and soon left. I changed quickly hoping she wouldn’t walk back in while I was stark naked!).

After the waterfalls we ate a delicious lunch and then visited Ataco (now my second time) to walk around and grab some coffee. There’s some really great wall art there!

As you can see, there’s a painting dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s work, El Principito (originally in French, Le Petit Prince). This work is significant throughout the world, but it is especially significant in this region of El Salvador: Saint-Exupéry married Consuelo Suncín de Sandoval of El Salvador, and Ataco is near Sonsonate, the departamento where she grew up.

I started reading El Principito to work on my Spanish. Here are a couple favorite quotes so far:

Las personas mayores nunca pueden comprender algo por sí solas y es muy aburrido para los niños tener que darles una y otra vez explicaciones.

 

Cuando el misterio es demasiado impresionante, es imposible desobedecer.

Finally, I’m also reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel for the first time. In his fifth chapter, Manning goes into great detail to discuss the exchange of grace and wonder. This idea of wonder I think accurately relates to my experiences in El Salvador as well as to what I’ve read so far in El Principito.

     The spirituality of wonder knows the world is changed with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.

In the grasp of wonder, I am surprised, I’m enraptured. It’s Moses before the burning bush “afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6). It’s Stephen about to be stoned: “I can see…the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). It’s Michelangelo striking his sculptured Moses and commanding him, “Speak!” It’s Ignatius of Loyola in ecstasy as he eyes the sky at night, Teresa of Avila ravished by a rose. It’s doubting Thomas discovering his God in the wounds of Jesus, Mother Teresa spying the face of Christ in the tortured poor. It’s America thrilling to footsteps on the moon, a child casting his kite to the wind. It’s a mother looking with love at her newborn infant. It’s the wonder of a first kiss.

I’m learning to live with wonder in the moment. Thanks for sharing in part this journey with me.

Poetry Wednesday: “The Rose that Grew from Concrete” and “In the Event of My Demise”

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I claim to know very little about Tupac Shakur, but, in addition to being a legendary rapper, he was an artist and a poet. Despite a hard life, young Tupac was enrolled in various programs where he studied acting, poetry, jazz, and even ballet. He used his words to raise awareness of the harsh realities of minorities and to decry social injustice (systematic racism). His murder in 1996 remains a tragic mystery, but his legacy is perhaps even stronger in death. After the recent shooting of unarmed Terence Crutcher by a Tulsa police officer, Tupac’s influence is especially relevant. Below are two of his poems followed by a hauntingly moving song by the Outlawz commemorating his poetry and legacy.

The Rose that Grew from Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

In the Event of My Demise

In the event of my Demise
when my heart can beat no more
I Hope I Die For A Principle
or A Belief that I had Lived 4
I will die Before My Time
Because I feel the shadow’s Depth
so much I wanted 2 accomplish
before I reached my Death

I have come 2 grips with the possibility
and wiped the last tear from My eyes
I Loved All who were Positive
In the event of my Demise

A Day in the Life of Your Favorite Book Character (Anodos)

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If you could spend a day as your favorite book character, who would it be?

I wanted to think outside the box a little bit here and choose a character lesser known than, say, a certain famous hobbit. Then it hit me: Anodos!

Anodos is the name of the main character in the Victorian fairy story Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women written by George MacDonald in 1858. If you have never read George MacDonald, you should. His stories are full of imagination, and he is incredibly influential in the fantasy genre. Many are unfamiliar with his name, but he rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous writers in Western Literature. C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, acknowledged his incredible literary debt on multiple occasions. In fact, George MacDonald takes the place of Virgil as guide in Lewis’ The Great Divorce, a modern interpretation of The Divine Comedy. Lewis would say this about MacDonald’ Phantastes in his own book Surprised by Joy:

It was as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new. . . . I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness. . . . It was as though the voice which had called to me from the world’s end were now speaking at my side.

In Phantastes the main character, Anodos, awakes one day to find himself no longer in his own room–he is in Fairy Land. The story follows Anodos through Fairy Land on his strange adventures as he seeks to escape the wiles of the spirits of the Ash Tree and the Alder Tree. At one point, even, he has confrontations with his own, evil shadow, an element that would later remind me of Ged in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series (another must-read for all fantasy lovers). I kind of felt like Phantastes was an adult Alice in Wonderland: more plot, less nonsense, and deeper moral imagination all amidst a strange, Alice-like journey through a magical place (this is an especially appropriate example since MacDonald was a mentor to Lewis Carroll and his Alice publication). I don’t want to ruin the story, but you must read it!

Therefore, the character I pick is Anodos. I want to wake up in Fairy Land and learn bravery and beauty and mystery through magical forests even if it is risky.

Yet I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming, though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. -Phantastes

How about you? If you could spend a day as your favorite book character who would it be and why?

El Salvador: Día de la Independencia y La Naturaleza

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I didn’t anticipate posting about El Salvador again so soon, but I captured some more great moments that I wanted to share.

In El Salvador, Independence Day is September 15th, and this year was the 195th celebration. Despite a turbulent history there is strength, perseverance, and tremendous national pride.

My friends (i.e. my second family) had to pick me up at 7am (I begged not to be picked up at 6am) in order to avoid the chaotic traffic of the parades that took place the entire morning. We drove to Nueva Ascension, the birthplace of my madre salvadoreña, and I was blessed to see more of this great country.

Finally, a piece of advice: if you ever find yourself in El Salvador during the month of September, go to the nearest Mister Donut to enjoy 2×1. They’re delicious, and they’re Salvadorian.

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Río Lempa
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elote asado…originalment mi amigo lo llamó “elote quemado” jaja
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and here I thought you were supposed to drink water from a bottle
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thank God for four-wheel drive
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I love these guys…
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un rancho
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look…I found my new means of transportation

 

Finally, to reiterate the beauty of this place.

 

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Poetry Wednesday: “Death, be not proud”

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John Donne, a 17th century English poet, wrote “Death, be not proud,” a sonnet, in 1609. This particular poem was published posthumously along with a group of other poems in a collection known as his Holy Sonnets. These sonnets explore deep religious themes and are thought to have been written in a period of personal trial in Donne’s own life.

Another piece of life added to Donne’s poem is the composition of nine holy sonnets by composer Benjamin Britten in 1945. Though the poems are melancholy, there is a note of redemption, especially poignant in “Death, be not proud.” It is said that Britten was inspired to compose his work after witnessing the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. Both the poem and the musical composition are posted here.

Personally, when I first came across Donne’s poem I was deeply moved by its words and message. Though perhaps a bit gloomy, I have often been drawn to the imaginative personification of Death, the creative macabre (Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman perhaps). Death has been at times depicted as the great devil himself, Satan. At times Death is merely an angel or supernatural entity doing his duty (think of Zusak’s narrator in The Book Thief). At times he is kind and empathetic of life’s tragedies, and at times he is the instigator. For some reason, when I think of Death personified, I hear the last track of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida running through my mind: “No, I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end; / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge; I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.” But Donne’s words are clear and are our hope: “Death, thou shalt die.”

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

#HappyWednesday

Read This: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

[Here is a piece of advice if you want to be better read and don’t know where to start: besides the “canonized” classics (Western AND non-Western), try reading Pulitzer Prize winning fiction or Nobel Prize authors. When I’m looking for new, contemporary fiction and I’m not sure what to read, I’ve recently been going to the most recent Pulitzer Prize winning novel that I have not read.] 

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[Don’t worry, no spoilers here! ]

Viet Thanh Nguyen is the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novelist of The Sympathizer. Though born in Vietnam, at four years old his family fled to the United States after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Nguyen now is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern California.

“‘No one is righteous, no, not one…'”

This verse, Romans 3:11, might be an appropriate summary for The Sympathizer and an especially poignant reminder for the American idealist.

Over three-quarters of the book takes place as a confession from the main character (unnamed throughout), a Vietnamese political prisoner, to his communist commandant. He is a mole, a communist spy that has spent years as a captain for the southern republic of Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon, he escapes as a refugee to America. There he continues to act as an informant and operative for the communist party before he returns to Vietnam with a small reconnaissance party only to be captured by his communist comrades and forced to write and re-write a satisfactory confession over the course of a year. The book concludes with a self-revealing climax about the character, the reality of war, and human nature.

In his novel, Nguyen writes the main character as a living embodiment of contrasts and duality. He is a bi-racial bastard, the secret love child of his Vietnamese mother and his father, a French priest. He is in southern Vietnam as a mole, a sympathizer for the communist north. He is a strange amalgamation of East and West: he studied in America, speaks perfect English, understands the culture, and almost feels at home there as a refugee. He is a mole with a conscience, constantly struggling with his role in the revolution. He truly sympathizes with both sides of everything: both sides of the revolution in Vietnam and in some ways both sides of the world (East and West). His struggle is not a negation of identity (in contrast to a faceless character towards the end of the book) but rather a doubling of it. Thus, in perfect story form, Nguyen himself explores the duality of the Vietnamese American, perhaps best captured in the book’s opening lines.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess…. But in the month when this confession begins, my way of seeing the world still seemed more of a virtue than a danger, which is how some dangers first appear.”

Additionally, Nguyen explores the abuse of power from all angles: the Americans, the southern Vietnamese, and the northern Vietnamese. No one is innocent, as the character realizes.

Finally, uniquely, Nguyen isn’t really directing his novel towards white Americans. In a Q & A with Paul Tran, Nguyen implies his desire to “directly [confront] the history of the American war in Vietnam from the Vietnamese American point of view.” However, it’s not a novel to describe the Vietnamese to whites.

“I did not want to write this book as a way of explaining the humanity of Vietnamese. Toni Morrison says in Beloved that to have to explain yourself to white people distorts you because you start form a position of assuming your inhumanity or lack of humanity in other people’s eyes. Rather than writing a book that tries to affirm humanity, which is typically the position that minority writers are put into, the book starts from the assumption that we are human, and then goes on to prove that we’re also inhuman at the same time.”

So there you have it. I recommend the book. It’s thought-provoking and challenges our assumptions. And it is written from a unique and powerful voice. Enjoy!

El Salvador: My Adventure So Far

“Life itself is a quotation.” -Jorge Luis Borges

As stated in my “About Me” page, the purpose of the blog is to share literary posts and resources (especially for my students). However, I’m living in El Salvador and wanted to share some of my experiences so far. There’s so much travel literature that exists, so there’s my loose connection: for the win!

I arrived in El Salvador nearly two months ago, and as a first-year teacher, most of my time is spent grading and lesson-planning. However, I’m trying to get out and see this beautiful country as well!

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Parque Arqueologico San Andres
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Lago de Coatepeque
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Catedral de Santa Ana
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Catedral de Santa Ana
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Teatro de Santa Ana
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My Salvadorian family…my home away from home.
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…and of course, pupusas (con curtido y salsa)

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El Día de los Farolitos is a festival on September 7th in the area of Ahuachapán. The day has two origin stories: a remembrance of a great earthquake that hit around 1850 or the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s birth. Beautiful, colored lamps are displayed throughout the town (we visited Ataco, the most popular celebration destination and a real gem). Though I saw one other gringo, this is a celebration for Salvadorians: music, street food, dancing, and lots of people. After walking around for a couple hours, my friends and I finished the night with dinner at Sibaritas.

So many great adventures and so many to come! So far, I think the farolitos are my favorite experience.

Poetry Wednesday: “Do not go gentle into that good night”

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Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet who died in 1953 at the age of 39, wrote (among other significant works) “Do not go gentle into that good night.” It is one of my favorite poems and feels truly inspired especially when one considers the strict form it is written in: the Villanelle. Please read and listen to this hauntingly riveting poem.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Additionally, I believe that adaptations are art in their own right, and we need to treat them separately, allowing them to communicate their own life. Thus, here are a few verses recited by Michael Caine’s character in the hit movie Interstellar.

Do you prefer one over the other?

Personally, though I like what Caine was doing in interstellar, I still prefer the original voice of Thomas himself.

#HappyWednesday

At the Intersection of Books & Dreams

“I have come to believe that coming true is not the only purpose of a dream. It’s most important purpose is to get us in touch with where dreams come from…”

This weekend I watched a TED talk by Lisa Bu entitled “How Books Can Open Your Mind.” It’s a fascinating account of a young girl scorned from pursuing her dream (Chinese opera) and finding solace in books. Eventually reading also gave Bu the tools necessary to “re-start” her relationship with her parents. However, as the quote above points out, the ultimate benefit of reading in Bu’s life was not an actualization of her dreams but rather an actualization of her identity.

Through reading we live a thousand lives, and I believe that by surveying those multitudes we better understand our own. Books empower and they teach and they console. And in a sense, they allow us to live out those lives that our world won’t allow (our dreams). Furthermore, as Bu points out, even shattered dreams can help us understand ourselves better. Therefore (motivational soap box), find your dreams, find your books, find your dreams (yes, it’s cyclical). Even in the pursuit of understanding a dream realized or a dream dreamed, you will find yourself more deeply I believe.

PS Check out this 6:16 video in full: