Monday, December 13, 2010

Milton and Browne: Just a wee clip

Just a brief update today as I’m not feeling well, but want to keep up with the record of my reading, consisting of:

  • “Lycidas”
  • “The Fifth Ode of Horace, Book I”
  • Religio Medici


I continue re-reading “Lycidas,” finding it compelling and a bit mysterious. What of the numerous appearances of hair?

  • [069] Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
  • [103] Next Camus, reverend Sire, went footing slow,
    [104] His Mantle hairy, and his Bonnet sedge,
  • [112] He shook his Miter’d locks, and stern bespake, (“He,” being Saint Peter.)

And at least two references to shears

  • [075] Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears,
  • [117] Then how to scramble at the shearers feast,

Notice the proximity of the “shear” lines to the “hair” lines. In the “Lycidas” chapter from The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats, Peter M. Sacks reads this as symbolic castration—isn’t this a bit Freudian for a 17th century poet? Or was castration a frequent theme in 17th century writings?

The Fifth Ode of Horace, Book I

A luscious and beautiful poem, though again requiring several readings—the music of the lines seem to me almost to obscure the meaning, but I am not complaining.

Oh, and again with the hair.

For whom bind’st thou

In wreaths thy golden hair,

Plain in thy neatness?

All this hair brings Yeats to mind.

He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace

I hear the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,

Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;

The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,

The East her hidden joy before the morning break,

The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,

The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:

O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,

The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:

Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat

Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,

Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,

And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

And, too, this from Harold Bloom in his analysis of “Lycidas,” in The Best Poems of the English Language (which bit was taken from his earlier work, A Map of Misunderstanding):

Even in old age, I continue a lifelong habit of quoting to myself those deliciously erotic lines in which Milton’s fascination with women’s hair is immortalized, as it will be again with the portraits of Eve in Paradise Lost and of Dalila in Samson Agonistes. The vision of Atropos, inflexible and blind Fury, slitting Milton’s “thin-spun life” is far more compelling than the bland comfort proffered by Apollo.

Religio Medici

Thanks to Paul’s post on Religio Medici I’ve started working through it. At this point I’ve gotten to the 14th section and look forward to continuing through the rest. As I commented on Paul’s blog,

At a time when the attitudes of Protestants towards Catholics and vice versa was anything but tolerant and restrained, Browne expresses charity.

I also stopped short when I read this:

Those have not only depraved understandings but diseased affections, which cannot enjoy a singularity without a Heresie, or be the author of an opinion, without they be of a Sect also; this was the villany of the first Schisme of Lucifer, who was not content to erre alone, but drew into his faction many Legions of Spirits; and upon this experience hee tempted only Eve, as well understanding the communicable nature of sin, and that to deceive but one, was tacitely and upon consequence to delude them both.

Religio Medici, Section 7

Also this:

for heads that are disposed unto Schisme and complexionally propense to innovation, are naturally indisposed for a community, nor will ever be confined unto the order or oeconomy of one body; and therefore when they separate from others they knit but loosely among themselves; nor contented with a generall breach or dichotomie with their Church, do subdivide and mince themselves almost into Atomes. ‘Tis true, that men of singular parts and humors have not beene free from singular opinions and conceits in all ages; retaining something not onely beside the opinion of his own Church or any other, but also any particular Author: which notwithstanding a sober judgement may doe without offence or heresie; for there is yet after all the decrees of counsells and the niceties of the Schooles, many things untouch’d, unimagin’d, wherein the libertie of an honest reason may play and expatiate with security and farre without the circle of an heresie.

Religio Medici, Section 8

I read both a personal warning in this, and I also think of all those experiences I have had with sectarians, schismatics, and the True True Really-True and Definitely Truer Than You Churchers.

Isn’t it possible, though, that an impersonal and sometimes heavy-handed hierachy creates its own antagonist, the raving schismatics? I don’t want to turn this blog to religious discussions, much less disputes and controversies, but I will say at least this much: I came to Orthodoxy not for its organization and authority, nor its doctrinal purity, but for its beauty of expression, and for its holistic embrace of the entire person as he works out his salvation with fear and trembling. (Certainly not for the “murmurings and disputings” as we gnaw on each other and mumble about conciliarity.)

Never trust me when I say I will be brief.


  1. You'll likely find me quoting that last bit, somewhere, someday. How perfectly it describes our recent experiences with our former hairsplitting sect - minced into atoms.

    Clearly "brief" is a relative term.

  2. Clearly though brief be relative, she and I are estranged and badly in need of reconciliation.

    O, that I could sleep and put to rest sickly puns.

  3. I covet your gift of punnage. I only ever make them by accident. When I do they tend to be uproariously funny. It must be the deeper humor of my subconscious at work. Everyone else gets to laugh while I'm looking like the truest of straight-men as I try to figure out what the laughter is about. Once I do, I just let them believe I meant it.


Don't be a jerk.