“Down In The Depth Of Mine Iniquity” by Fulke Greville

Baron Fulke Greville was one of the 1550s boys–one of those men born during the tumultuous period in the transition of the child king Edward VI to the prosecutor, Bloody Mary, to the stabilizing Queen Elizabeth. Born in that decade were people like Napier, Browne, Camden, Raleigh, Spenser, Marlowe, Hooker, Lyly, and Sidney–really the people who created the revolution of poetry and ideas in the late Elizabethan and early Jacobian period. It is the generation that produced Shakespeare and the King James Bible and, a little later, Donne and Milton. It is remembered as the Golden Age of English verse.

Fulke Greville is now all but lost to most of us. Perhaps the name “Fulke” is off-putting, but his verse isn’t especially accessible. The Digital Age is preserving and recovering lesser known Golden Age writers, but preserving them for a generation that has lost the art of reading poetry.

Still, there are some who walk among us. One is a colleague who is teaching Renaissance English Verse at the University of Prince Edward Island this fall. Gerald Wandio was actually my English Writing teacher, ever and anon ago. We are working together on a pilot classroom project and share a love of music.

OHEL-Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century-CS LewisGerald has recently pushed upon me the lost Fulke Greville. C.S. Lewis dedicates a section to Grevell, the first Lord Brooke, in his magnum opus, The Oxford History of English Literature’s English Literature in the Sixteen Century, Excluding Drama. Greville, Lewis argued, is doubly important to the historian. He was an interesting Golden Age poet, but he went on to create a new style (manner) that was neither of the two trends that followed: Metaphysical (Donne and Herbert and the gang) or Augustan (whose father is Alexander Pope).

Lewis goes on to give one of his startling and precise epitaphs. He writes:

But Greville has an interest quite apart from literary history. He wrote as he thought, and, being a man of his age, he thought chiefly about religion and government. Being a logical man, he connected his thoughts on the two subjects. What this led to he finally succeeded in expressing in four lines of such precision and such sombre melody that nothing can ever be added to them….

Oh wearisome Condition of Humanity!
Borne under one Law to another bound:
Vainely begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sicke, commanded to be sound.

Gerald would have added “love and sex” to “religion and government,” but he was able to see some of the gems that Lewis saw and others have long since forgotten. I’ll have to talk to Gerald sometime about “oddes betweene the earth and skie”–Lewis’ idea that Greville thought that life in the world and belief in God were both in him and yet irreconcilable.

I wanted, though, to share with readers the poem that was recommended to me and which Gerald is assigning this semester. It is a stunner, containing within it the entire gospel story in one man’s chest. I suggested to Gerald that the second stanza, with the “-tion” endings, sounded like it would rap well. He wrote back and asked whether Greville was a Kanye or Eminem fan.

I’ll let you decide.

XCIX by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Down in the depth of mine iniquity,
That ugly center of infernal spirits;
Where each sin feels her own deformity,
In those peculiar torments she inherits,
Depriv’d of human graces, and divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

And in this fatal mirror of transgression,
Shows man as fruit of his degeneration,
The error’s ugly infinite impression,
Which bears the faithless down to desperation;
Depriv’d of human graces, and divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

In power and truth, Almighty and eternal,
Which on the sin reflects strange desolation,
With glory scourging all the Sprites infernal,
And uncreated hell with unprivation;
Depriv’d of human graces, not divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

For on this sp’ritual cross condemned lying,
To pains infernal by eternal doom,
I see my Savior for the same sins dying,
And from that hell I fear’d, to free me, come;
Depriv’d of human graces, not divine,
Thus hath his death rais’d up this soul of mine

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“Almost an Inkling” Flash Fiction Contest Week 1 Winners!

Brenton Dickieson:

“It’s a race! It’s a race! I’m weeing! I’m weening!”
Well, it isn’t a race, but I’m pleased to say that I’m one of those that were picked by popular vote in the “Almost an Inkling Writing Contest!” New prompt is up this week; the hint is “a One Minute Mystery.” You should check it out!

Originally posted on The Oddest Inkling:

magical_door_by_danielgnomesClick over to the contest home page to watch a video in which I talk about the winners and to download a .pdf of the winning entries!

Week 1 was:

Through Mysterious Doors
This week, we entered the world of microfiction with stories of up to 333 words that involved portals into other realms. Our writers took a character through some kind of gateway or past some threshold into a secondary world unlike our own.

Eugene Sullivan, “The Stairwell”

Brenton Dickieson, “One Step Into Dawn”

doorPOPULAR WINNER (tied):
Olivia Jakobitz, “Through the Porthole”

Cheryl Cardoza, “Fairy Rings”

Anne Whitver, “Never Trust a Clock”

Laura Crouse, “Lot’s Wife”

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Mini-Syllabus: Introduction to Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon

Brenton Dickieson:

For today’s Feature Friday, how about rediscovery of a lost world? Michelle Joelle, student, writer, and blogger, has been posting a “Mini-Syllabus” every now and then. I enjoy each one. Here is one to learn Anglo-Saxon–the Old English language that we find in Beowulf. It is very connected to Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian and the rest of the Norse mythologies and hero tales. It is something I would like to learn, so I’m folding down this page for the future!

Originally posted on Stories & Soliloquies:


Although I am still working my way through my last syllabus, I’m excited that my book club is reading Beowulf this fall. I’ve decided to make the most of this chance to talk about Beowulf with a wonderful group of intelligent readers by setting myself a larger project. I’d love to get a better sense of the language and the context from which Beowulf, and though I won’t get to this project for some time, I couldn’t resist sharing it here.

First, there is the story itself.

1. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Bilingual Edition), by Seamus Heaney.

Heaney’s translation is widely considered the best, most exciting new translation, and as such is a great starting point. I also love any translation with the original text on the left-hand side.

2. Beowulf, a Translation and Commentary, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Of course, with Tolkien’s new translation out…

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The Astonishing Power of a Book about Nothing: Woolf’s “Orlando”

I have just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography. It is a shocking, confusing, and engaging book. I am reeling from this … well, I’ll call it a novel.

And I can say almost nothing about it or it will ruin it for you. But, here we are.

There is almost no real plot—almost nothing happens in the entire book. Yet it is transformational. Here is how C.S. Lewis described Orlando in an April 1930 letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, not long after the book was released.

I am reading Virginia Wolfe’s Orlando to Minto at present. Have you read it? And if so what do you make of it? I think there is a quite astonishing power of rendering the feel both of landscapes and moods, rising sometimes to real loveliness, and a total absence of any matter on which to use the power.

virginia woolf orlandoI agree about the “astonishing power,” but what does Lewis mean by “matter”? He must mean “story”—which he would later write about as a critic. There is no shortage of ideas in the book. The first book of Woolf’s I read was A Room of One’s Own—one of the few books I read through, then turned over and began again. It was no surprise to me that Orlando also plays with the idea of gender and culture, asking the question of what a woman is.

Indeed, Orlando is really a journey of discovery, though the land of adventure is English history rather than the Continent or the New World. This travelogue of time is entirely dislocating. It is like the characters have continued the play on stage while the set changes behind them.

There are characters, but they will certainly not stabilize you. Some are ruggedly rooted in time and space, others are not. Some personalities transform, some are fixed. The weather might shift an entire culture, or clothes may quite literally make the man. When physiology should be concrete, it is fluid. And when society should live, it dies.

virginia woolf orlando 3Even the genre of the book slid past me. I ignored the subtitle, “A Biography.” Soon in though, I could see it was a novel posing as a biography. Fair enough. Woolf discusses the nature of biography all throughout as part of her exploration of Orlando’s character. But then I find out after finishing that there is a real person behind Orlando. So as far as I can tell this is a fictionalized biography posing as biographical fiction.

Perhaps I’ve said too much.

This is what Woolf does, I suppose. Lewis talked about what her writing was like this in a 1945 letter to Cecil Harwood, comparing Jonathan Swift and Virginia Woolf:

In Gulliver you get strange adventures in a studiously ordinary way.  In Virginia Woolf you get v. ordinary life presented in a strange way. But two strangenesses is too much.

I wonder if Orlando might be one strangeness too many. I’ll have to read it again to let you know.

Or, better yet: You read it and let me know. My bedside table full of books teeters on the edge of literary apocalypse, and this Orlando sits in my memory like indigestion after the picnic.

virginia woolf orlando 2Why not just leave it? Why not let it be another book that could slip into history forgotten, like 90% of the greatest works I’m sure?

I don’t think we can. For our culture has finally come to the point where it is asking the kinds of questions that Virginia Woolf was asking in the late 1920s in her fiction and pseudo-fiction. I don’t know anyone else who was so able to anticipate questions about gender, sexuality, mental illness, marriage, religion, race, war, art, and politics. Perhaps she is worthy of literary anonymity (I don’t think so), but we must consider her first.

So read, if you dare. And teach me what I am to do next!

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A Beautiful Night for an Apocalypse

Last night was the Supermoon, that time in the moon’s elliptical orbit when it is at its closest to earth and looks about 14% bigger. Last night was also a full lunar eclipse, which happened within 3 minutes of a full moon, and the sky was absolutely clear. It was also a family friendly double bill at the Drive In. And, if you think the coincidences could not continue, it was the “trunk or treat” special night at the Drive In. How cool is that?

This perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system—we call it a “Supermoon” because saying perigee-syzygy makes it sound like our lips are frozen shut—combined with an eclipse is a pretty rare event. The odds of this event in the heavens being combined with a family fun double feature with free candy thrown in are astronomical.

It was quite a night. An amazing night. An apocalyptic night, really.

blood-moon-2015-537x408There is a lot of serious stuff happening in our family right now. In the elliptical orbit of human lives, our family’s is at its apogee. Things are intense in a lot of adult ways, so my partner and I decided that we needed to do something Superfun on Supermoon eclipse night.

We were visiting family in Nova Scotia yesterday when we cooked up the plan. We bought 300 tootsie roll suckers for $10—key to most heinous plans—said our goodbyes quickly, and hopped on an earlier ferry to our Island home. The boat tossed and rolled in the Supermoon tidal shifts, but we arrived safely to shore.

At home, Nicolas’ job was to find a costume. As Kerry is a Kindergarten teacher, we have a great tickle trunk ready. Within minutes Nicolas was a Jedi—convincing enough that the children at the Drive In called him Anakin, which doesn’t bode well for his future. Kerry threw together a picnic supper—a kale and spinach salad with feta, strawberries, mandarin oranges, almonds, and Portuguese BBQ chicken (I know!). And I packed the car with sleeping bags, lawn chairs, blankets, pillows, and drinks. It’s my fault we forgot the toques.

Lunar-Eclipse-moonPrince Edward Island is a small place, so we knew five or six families at the Drive In. Nicolas took his environmentally friendly reusable shopping bag from car to car as I handed out our pretty lame suckers. And as we all milled around, laughing and meeting people, the Supermoon rose between the trees. Its clear light pierced the lingering dusk.

hotel_transylvania 2 coverBy the time the Supermoon had cleared the trees, the first film had begun. It was a fun sequel to Hotel Transylvania. Filled with a Supercast of voices, with a cameo from the indelible Mel Brookes, Hotel Transylvania 2 made the mistake of many soft sequels: it leaned too heavily on message and didn’t allow the characters to find their story. It lacked the spontaneity and “blah-bu-blah-bu-blah” of the first film. Still, a great night out and a good pairing with “trick or trunk” night at the Drive In.

The second film, begun just as a shadow was nudging its way across the Supermoon, was Pixels—coincidentally another Adam Sandler film. His films are risky, as they walk the fine line between Superlame and popcorn-shooting-out-of-the-nostril funny. This one played on nostalgia pretty heavily, so it came off all right.

Pixels is the story of an alien race that mistook film footage of the 1982 World Arcade Championship as an act of war. Naturally, the alien race created an army of classic video game characters to invade earth. It is now up to a group of Superlosers, and one pretty competent soldier who looks great in a uniform, to save the planet. The plot is crowded, the pace is manic at times, and there is one character who is so bad and out of step with the film, that he almost ruins it. But it was fun film overall, and squeaked by with only a few cringe-worthy moments.

And, of course, apocalypse is averted.

seventh sign demi moore coverMy first apocalyptic film memory was Demi Moore in The Seventh Sign. This 1980s horror show captivated me. It wasn’t Demi Moore’s best role. It pretty much butchered all the best parts of apocalyptic legends, mashing them together with the skill of a chef that puts a cheese slice on Atlantic lobster. But I still remember her enocunter with the rabbi, the moment we meet a servant of Pilate cursed with eternal life, and great chunks of ice falling from the sky. In this film, apocalypse is averted when someone does something nice for someone else.

Sophisticated, I know.

It could be that Adam Sandler and the creators of Pixels stole their narrative arc from The Seventh Sign. There is certainly more GenX angst about fullfilling one’s own life path in Pixels. But, otherwise, they dance the same dance, each with its own awkward, loping gait.

Last night was a night to think about apocalypse.

After the second film, just as the shadow was about to eclipse the moon, we pulled out of the steeplechase that is the post-Drive In commute back to Charlottetown. Instead, I drove through the back roads, away from the light pollution of city and traffic. In the quiet and the dark, my family huddled in the cold on an old country road, heads tilted to the heavens. We watched as sun and earth and Supermoon aligned. Instead of blacking out the moon, though, the eclipse caused the moon to take an orange-red tinge. It was quite beautiful.image

With crystallized matter-pixels falling from the sky in the film and the moon turning red in real life, I thought of Joel’s prophecy, as told by the Apostle Peter so long ago:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.

18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

blood-moon-in-auckland-new-zealandThis is the earliest vision of the apocalypse in the Christian era, retold just weeks after Christ’s death and resurrection on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. This passage drips of prophecy. The imagery is bracing. There is something deep and mythical and ominous about the twinned transformation of nature and social class. While the revolution of the planets seems to still, the revolution of human culture begins. No longer is the Spirit of God for the elite. Instead, the very words of the Creator of the Universe are found on the lips of page boys and washer women and the old lady across the street with all the cats.

See, although so much of our apocalyptic imagery roots itself in this moment in the book of Acts, it is there that Peter says this moment is fulfilled. Why are the Disciples speaking in tongues? Because this is what Joel said would happen, all those generations ago.

We are living in the last days. We have been for nearly two millennia.

nicholas cage left_behindWith all due respect to the Left Behind producers, the sensationalist approach to the idea of apocalypse misses much. I agree with many that the awkward acting of Nicholas Cage—in honour of the same performance by Kirk Cameron a generation before—paired with painful penmanship by the Left Behind writers could be interpreted as End Time signs.

Still, though, when we forget the root of biblical apocalypse, we miss much about the dangerous beauty of this genre. “Apocalypse” literally means “unveiling” or “uncovering.” It is the Greek word for the book of “Revelation.” Perhaps it is that we have forgotten what “velare” used to mean, so the “re” in “revelation” has no meaning. The word “apocalypse” goes back to the Greek nymph named Calypso. I would translated “apocalypse” as “un-hiding.”

Apocalyptic literature in the Jewish world was about hiding and un-hiding. At its root, it is best understood in the way that we watch movies. In Hotel Transylvania 2, “VamPop” (the vampire grandfather) and the mom are talking on facetime. Everything is fine when we are just staring at his vampyric nose. But when the camera pulls back, it is a scene of flame and terror and sirens and disaster. VamPop is in trouble.

droppedImage_2The ability of film to pull the camera back to see the big picture is one of its greatest qualities. The novelist can do this too, as the poet always had, but I want to stick with the camera for a moment. Apocalypse is like that wide angle lens on the boom. Apocalyptic literature helps us look at what is going on in the world from a cosmic angle. What happens when the Spirit falls in Acts 2? We see the results of the Spirit in that anyone can speak the word of God, regardless of social class or gender. Joel’s prophecy fills that moment with spiritual significance: it looks like a normal festival morning in Jerusalem, but there is a cosmic revolution taking place.

This is what I think about as I look up at the sky with my family. The sun is darkened. The moon turns to blood. These are the wonders in the heavens above that we have in the moment. As a shooting star cruised through the star-crowded sky—why not throw in a shooting star while we are at it?—I felt like a little bit of the veil was lifted. All the busyness and discouragement and struggle of my “adult” life came into focus. My 10 year old said, “I have never seen a sky like that in my whole life.”

Our sons and daughters will prophesy, after all.

I don’t doubt that the apocalyptic literature has some future meaning too. But when we miss the “un-hiding” aspect of these images, we miss much. Revelation 12, for example, is the story of Christ’s birth shown from the cosmic angle—the camera is pulled way back from the manger to view the moment of Christ’s birth across all the spiritual universe. Every Christmas is about spiritual warfare on an intergalactic level, though we sometimes forget.

When we take apocalyptic and make it only earthquake and lightning and heroic struggles against interstellar foes—whether on film or in pulpits—I think we miss much of what apocalypse teaches us about every day. We are a culture that delights in the fall of the mortar shells and forgets the lives snuffed out at the end. We chase celebrities and leave our lovers lonely. We vote by scandal, work for money, and mate according to the expectations of Hollywood. We are a culture bent on taking the shell of an idea and losing its heart. We are determined to throw the baby out with our distilled water.

Looking up at the night sky, stopping for these once-in-a-lifetime wonders, brings us back to the heart of things. Briefly on that clear night, the foggy state of my heart lifted for a moment. The truth of God’s strength stilled the frenetic revolutions of my worried mind. For that is the base message of all apocalyptic literature: God is in control.

I think that is Supercool.

It really was a beautiful night for an apocalypse–a tiny bit of unveiling in my cloudy world.

Note: none of these awesome photos are mine. I loved the CBC and Guardian articles on it with great slideshows.

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“You Shall Not Pass!” A Little Feature Friday Fun

Because it’s Friday, and because we need a little fun on Fridays, and because Hobbit Day was this week–and because it is more than just a little ridiculous–I thought this would be a perfect piece for this week’s Feature Friday. I love what Improv Everywhere does. Here’s a bit of it, with apologies to Sir Ian McKellan, Peter Jackson, J.R.R. Tolkien, and people of any real taste.

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A Depressing Book Announcement: Women and C.S. Lewis

Book Announcement Women and C.S. LewisIt is with great sadness that I announce the release of Women and C.S. Lewis by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key.

A clean, diverse, and full collection of papers by established and emerging scholars, poets, and writers, this collection is very depressing. It says many of the things that I have wanted to say, but haven’t yet gotten to writing down.

Even worse, in my quick scan, some of them are better than what I would have done.

I’m sure there are many problematic and horrifying arguments in the diverse collection of essays, but even that saddens me. What better than to have clear disagreement between the authors that find themselves on pages back-to-back?

Oh well. There is no sense worrying about why bad book announcements happen to good scholars. I’ll return, with tears, to my dusty tomes. This book will look down from its shelf at me, reeking of the disdain of its sheer good-ideaness.

Book Description from Amazon

Sexism in Narnia? Or Screwtape? Or among the Inklings? Critics have labelled C.S. Lewis a sexist, even a misogynist. Did the life and writing of the hugely popular British author and professor betray attitudes that today are unacceptable, even deplorable?

The younger Lewis was criticized for a mysterious living arrangement with a woman, but his later marriage to an American poet, Joy Davidman, became a celebrated love story. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien formed a legendary literary group, the Inklings – but without women.

Women and C.S. Lewis features academics and writers who come together to investigate the accusations: Alister McGrath, Randy Alcorn, Monika Hilder, Holly Ordway, Don W. King, Kathy Keller, Colin Duriez, Crystal Hurd, Jeanette Sears, David C. Downing, Michael Ward, Devin Brown, Malcolm Guite, Joy Jordan-Lake, Steven Elmore, Andrew Lazo, Mary Poplin, Christin Ditchfield, Lyle W. Dorsett, Paul McCusker, Crystal Downing, Kasey Macsenti, Brett McCracken, John Stonestreet, Kelly Belmonte, Brad Davis. Women and C.S. Lewis provides broad and satisfying answers. Editors are Carolyn Curtis, veteran journalist and book author; Mary Pomroy Key, Director, C.S. Lewis Study Center, Northfield, Massachusetts.

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