Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Infirmus: A Recasting of Henley's Invictus

The following famous poem is by William Ernest Henley called Invictus (Latin for 'unconquerable' or 'undefeated') I will share it here before proceeding.

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

In reading again William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus, I was at once in marvel at the raw brilliancy of the poem—powerful, emotive, and an expression of the resilient human spirit in its fierce and mesmerizing autonomy. Yet at the same time, not to slight the plight of health and sincere expression of Henley that arose from this state, I was struck by how false I perceived the poem to be—I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.

These words have the illusion of truth, and they resonate because they touch something at the core of us, but they only touch upon a fragment of the truth whilst missing the point completely. These very lines above all, and the entire poem upon closer inspection, seemed to embody the complete antithesis of the Truth which is revealed in the Scriptures, and which flips human rationale on its head (or on its feet, as it flips a disordered thinking the right way up!) —and the truth is this: that true nobleness, power and glory resides not in the triumphalism of human strength over weakness, but in human weakness yielded to God, which because of the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ on the Cross, has become the locus for divine transcendence. An indwelling or habitation, if you will, for the Divine Glory, Strength, and Power; as opposed to a stepping stone to mere human conquering which may have its day, and can speak fine heroic words, but which is ultimately vain as it will perish in the grave.

It is true that having free will, and thus the power to choose, we are in some ways the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. Yet not really, because we are creatures, and therefore contingent beings upon a higher power—and so such mastery is mere illusion at best. It is conditional, and therefore not true mastery at all. After all, we are not gods, but are vulnerable creatures prone to sickness, deception, and death, which one fell swoop of mother nature can crush at the blink of an eye. So much for gods.

The very notion that freedom and autonomy is fulfilled by means of asserting our mastery, and taking the helm of the ship of our soul as its captains, is perhaps the greatest lie of all. A lie which Satan fed to Eve so long ago, and which he perpetuates to this day. Since if we are creatures with a mastery which is illusionary and subject to stronger forces which can rip the wheel from our hands and toss us about, to and fro, eventually unto the grave; then asserting this mastery by becoming the captain of our souls will bestow no more than a contingent, temporary and imperfect freedom and autonomy—a freedom and autonomy subject itself, to at the very last, sink in the final storm.

Thus in the truest sense, this isn’t freedom or autonomy at all. For a finite and limited captain cannot steer a ship into infinite and unlimited horizons. He can try, but he'll die trying in vain. An infinite and unlimited captain is needed for this—and by yielding oneself, one’s ship, to such a captain, one will sail on the waters of true and unbounded liberty, and will be truly autonomous, because one’s free will which is limited in its scope of realisation, once yielded to this captain, will share and acquire the limitless scope of this captain’s unbounded will. This captain is none other than God Himself, and happy is the soul who freely bows her head to His mastery, the mastery of His Divine Will, which sets one free, simply at the cost of pride—a brilliant price to pay.

The following poem adopts the form of Henley's Invictus, and not so much parodies but recasts his poem as it were in the Light of the Gospel. The poem, titled Infirmus, is inferior to Henley's, but it rings more true.


Within this night that covers me,
      Dark as cavernous Pluto’s pole,
I thank my God—sweet loving He,
      For frail my vulnerable soul.

On stage where plays the vehement scenes
      I’ve stood bold, trembled, cried aloud.
Under the thorny crown and beams,
      My head bloody, but freely bowed.

Beyond this field of tears and shame
      Shines through the pain an untouched dawn.
And thus the years like moon that wane,
      I gladly welcome as the morn.

It matters not how thin the gate,
      How black with sins that judging scroll;
I’ve yielded up to Him my fate,
      He is the captain of my soul.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Novena to St. Raphael for Healing

Guarigione di Tobia, Antonio de Bellis (attributed).

A private prayer, prayed for nine consecutive days.

St. Raphael—O Mighty Archangel,
And beloved instrument of God’s grace and healing designs—
We humbly invoke thy patronage
And beseech thee to come to our aid
On this day and throughout our days,
And to the aid of all our benefactors,
Just as thou didst come to the aid of Tobias, Sarah and Tobit
In diverse ways, according to their various plights and needs.
Drive far from us the influence of the Evil One;
Sustain us in God’s purity,
Arrange in advanced all the meetings God so wills us to have,
And offer our actions to the Virgin Mary for the glory of God.
Trusting in thy intercession,
And thy gift of healing, O dispenser of the Medicine of God,
We especially ask of thee for the favour of healing [mention name]
In mind, body and soul, especially in the particular ailment [mention ailment]
That plagues him/her, and that all complications of health in this regard
Would be resolved in the best possible manner, for God’s greater glory,
And for the consolation of this dear child of God.


Monday, 13 February 2017

The Great Library of Alexandria: The Phoenix Pyre

From Popular History of Egypt, 1886.

Who burnt the Great Alexandrian Library?
Julius Caesar they say, and all by an accident.
He merely intended to burn the Egyptian fleet,
And this he did, but it spread and roared
Until it turned every scroll to ash, as rubble thud.

Several others get the blame as well—
Though some confound it with the library’s daughter,
Which Marcellinus said no longer housed a scroll—
But Aurelian probably played his part,
And finished off burning that Helicon—
That great centre of learning and art,
That beacon of light in that Western part
Which began to puff and blind men’s heart,
And thus was permitted by God to burn
So that from the ash anew
Learning might turn from quail to phoenix new.

And thus religious hands—first the Christian,
Then the Moslem, then the Christian hand;
Save the odd rough hand from pagan to pious man—
Began to build anew Alexandria’s Library isles,
Cherishing the ancient scrolls in all their piles;
Not in building one and grand
But in spirit which valued the works of man
As aids to loving and to understand,
Serving thus as an Atlas in the West,
Reawakening the Hesperides with all their golden lovely fruit
Which Adam ate but tasted not,
By which the fallen may taste as aid to rise
Beyond the western skies—apotheosis!
Bestowed by a Jew in the Middle-East.

But before the rebuilding had been done,
Descartes and his friends sparked a flame—
Unbeknownst to most of them—
Which Voltaire and his mates carried in bawdy haste
To the ships of Christian faith,
Which had on board the good, the bad, and in-between,
And up they went in mighty flames—
There Joan of Arc upon those masts was burnt again—
And meanwhile the people cheered
As the Catholic fleet and its cargo sweet did burn,
Sinking bellow society’s surface
Where still it lays in Western bay,
Unaware all the while that they were burning again that Library Great,
Which only today has mostly burnt away,
All because they laughed to see the Bible burn
Without knowing they were at once burning
Every trace of good, in every scroll and book,
That man from the first had come to learn.
For the Canon of God is Helicon’s spring,
The place where Alexandria’s Muses swim,
Wherefrom every good and beauteous thing, has its source,
Not so much in ink but in the Word who ever was, in whom is All—
Perforce the human canons, such as the Western Canon, draws.

Distant not! Theory, nay!
Concretely one can see the ashened heap with their own eyes,
And smell its smoke that blots the skies—
For truly this is a Dark Age brought about ironically
Ever since the aurora of those ‘enlightened’ days.
Since Science has its place, but they’ve elevated it too far,
So high and large it’s hid the star it sought to study hard.
The microscope has butchered Art,
Burnt literature with a Bunsen,
Steel and chemicals have poisoned earth,
History’s being bullied as if a useless nerd,
And Culture has been dissected like a frog,
As human beings are mere testing rats
Whose value so they see, lies in homogenous group.
Psychology has its place, yet it’s placed on tenterhooks,
And forced to dance to ridged ways.
Philosophy is a waste of time,
An Arts degree a laugh,
Music is acceptable, and Teaching a peasant’s task.
And worst of all Theology—the one that binds them all—
Is a crime, and the biggest waste of time.

These are all the areas, the different levels of that Library Great,
With Science one among the rest—on the bottom level mind at that—
But they burnt them all, except fair Science
But even Science smoulders from the mindless purge
As she’s left incomplete without the other parts, above all dearest Art—
So now old Science is twisted against herself,
Turned away from natural quest, to abuse its principles against this quest
For Science lays today in Economy’s incestuous bed—
Economy who in truth, is to ancient Ethics wed,
Who is in fact the oldest brother of Science and them all,
Yet she has spurned him preferring with Economy to lie,
Can one hear Theology, that virgin Mother and her muffled cry?

And this is why this age is Dark,
Even darker than what before they called age Dark,
For the colour has being stripped from human life
And sacrificed for the grey and bland,
Creativeness has lost its zest;
Since when, to mention only two,
Art and Literature (read or heard) are touched by only few,
Or when the kind that many see and read and hear
Is a Campbell’s Soup Can,
This is a sign, when in the past they flourished all the more
In quality if not so much in quantity,
That we’re devolving, regressing towards the cave—
That something primitive is happening here
And not in a romantic agrarian way,
For this is mindless wade nonchalantly into mist
Without the aid of a Virgil or a Beatrice,
Since Science with its mating with Humanism—
Instead of Faith in God not man—
Has acted foolishly like drunken Laius
Who in going in to Jocasta, sealed his doom and his kingdom too,
Since by coupling thus an Oedipus was born—
A wretched, skewed Technology, akin to Frankenstein’s beast—
Who inevitably will consume his father
(Science a she before, a he now, whatever suits the metaphor),
And seduce his mother—Humanism, and thus all humans—
By which despair will eat away until what is doth die:
A tragic fate, already in subtle ways it writhes.

So culture’s dying, culture’s dead,
Alexandria’s shelves are kindling stacked,
All because the people said, “God is dead.”
But eternal waters cannot end,
Nor transcendent thirst intrinsic to every man,
And so denying such lofty water’s real—
Testified by universal pine, a sign its object exists—
The mind of men, slips backward even when superstition reigned,
For they know the complimentary how’s of life, but not the essential why’s,
Which none at all seem to even care, or turn a thought,
And even then all but a few point to others to tell the how’s
Somehow convinced the how’s a why—what a lie!
And so the empty vacuum made by digging out each member’s heart,
Society fills with varied Golden Calves—
Materials or Ideologies that do away with higher art.
Yet nothing really works, it’s all a farce,
The funeral parlour rubs it home,
The hollow ache before one sleeps when all noise elopes
And unquenched thirst for God never ceases to itch the throat.

Yet what shall we do?
Mourn I say, mourning is right to do!
Not like cold-fake Nero when licked the hefty Rome,
For this is a sad thing indeed—
That this Great Library again must the fire feed.
For the mighty flames they roar,
The mighty flames they crack,
And there’s nothing at all it seems, that we can do about that.
Either way, it’s almost done,
The flames have consumed every book, every scroll—everyone!
And plus, though my beloved Church is much burnt—
For all her fleet has long been scourged—
So many wicked things her ships have done, against her will,
They’ve spilled blood, and blasphemed God
By spitting on the poor, and stuffing their pockets full
Instead of saying their prayers and being so kind.
And a sick few—the folks I judge not, but their acts are sick and foul! —
Have done the unthinkable, they’ve done more than hurt the little one,
And how the mill stone weighs!
And though this is a few, so very few, it’s done, and crimes must pay,
Sometimes mercy must act through the justice way,
And thus the burning of this fleet—as the mediocre and saintly inside her weep—
Which has in turn caused this Library grand to burn.

Still, woe to them who lit the torch, and stretched it forth!
And woe to them who sit and watch it lick away
As shines with heat the coals of that fair fleet,
And glows the embers of that learning peak.
Yet this destructive sweep is for the phoenix to rise again;
For just like the Temple first was razed and dashed,
And a second was rebuilt to take its place,
Less in outer pomp, but grander
Since God in flesh himself strolled and prayed inside its walls,
Only to be crushed into the floor
To give way to this very risen Lord—the Third Temple as man reborn;
So too this same Latin mob burnt the first Alexandrian hub,
Which gave way to the second of its kind through faith
Above all in Church which carried it all, Science among them all,
Unto the day where it was took away;
Only since then and to this day to be burnt
So as to make way for the grandest age the world has ever seen,
An age where the Great Library will rise more grand and shine by all seen,
For it will be the Argo bearing the Golden Fleece,
The ship which none can sink or torch,
For Jason—Virgil’s name for Christ—
He’ll sail in again, hidden before his final round, to build himself this learning ground,
Placed in home town, but above all in every home and town,
And though all will either laugh or frown
This word is sound.
For though she burns, and is all burnt out,
And though all think the Library stands more firm today,
When it doesn’t except in few hearts which pray (whether known or not),
The Great Alexandrian Library will soon enough open wide its jaws
And splash all the world with Helicon’s spring—like ocean spray—
As every chapel bell will mingle with the sounds the Muses play
Just like they did in David and Homer’s day.

13th Feb, 2017.