"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

'Waiting for World's End' the Woodruff Way

Waiting for World's End: The Diaries of Wilford WoodruffWaiting for World's End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff by Wilford Woodruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What was Wilford Woodruff’s deal? Pay attention to the title of this abridgment of his lifelong diaries: Waiting for World’s End. Literary scholar Susan Staker, who also indexed all nine volumes of Woodruff’s journal, edited this book for folks curious enough to read a book’s worth of the diary (in lieu of the whole record). As she decided on which entries to include, she zeroed in on Woodruff’s preoccupation with end times, and his hope of being alive to help usher in Christ’s return.

Waiting for World’s End, as a sampling of the LDS Church’s fourth President, assumes readers are already familiar with Mormon history and theology. Readers looking for a primer should consider other resources. Staker’s editorial style is, as much as possible, to get out of Woodruff’s way. This means few background footnotes and minimal tweaking of the text. Things like spelling and punctuation go largely uncorrected. For example, some of the book’s great offerings are chances to experience Brigham Young’s voice, as recorded copiously by Woodruff. However, the text lacks standardized punctuation. For me, it was sometimes taxing to track who was speaking: Woodruff, Young, or some other early Mormon leader.

Being a former practicing Mormon, well-read (albeit rusty) in the religion’s history, theology, and lore, this was quite a satisfying read. I felt myself experiencing 19th century Utah vividly and intimately through Woodruff’s eyes and mind. He is a far more colorful and potent personality than I ever experienced through official LDS publications. His world travels are impressive and worthy of envy. His love of family and fellowship is profound and often moving. However, his overt eagerness to see the United States enveloped in war and natural disaster, for the sake of prophecy fulfillment, is troubling. Regardless, letting Woodruff and his scribes tell the story should ensure this is engrossing reading for both practicing Mormons and secular folk.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Two Centos for Byron

Once more through all he bursts his thundering way—
It is not ours to judge,—far less condemn;
The gift—a fate or will that walked astray—
For stories,—but I don’t believe the half of them.
(He made the church a present by the way);
Why doth he gaze on thee, and thou on him?
A heavy price must all pay who thus err,
Beating for love as the caged birds for air.

Lord Byron, Image Credit: NYPL

For my part I say nothing—nothing—but
For me who, wandering with pedestrian Muses,
Pythagoras, Locke, Socrates—but pages
And they were enemies; they met beside
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!
But something of the spirit of old Greece
Would still, albeit in vain, the heavy heart divest.
Why, I’m Posterity—and so are you;
Give thee back this.—Now for the wilderness.
The wandering outlaw of his own dark mind;
The Arbiter of other’s fate
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.
Your next step may be fatal!—for the love
White, cold and pure, as looks a frozen rill,
Death’s a reformer, all men must allow.
The doom he dreads, yet dwells upon—
‘That good but rarely came from good advice.’
‘Gainst such belief, there’s something stronger still
And if you had it o’er again—‘twould pass—
An arrow for the heart like a sweet voice.
The fair most fatal Juan ever met,
His spirit seemed to dare you to forget!

Poet's Note:

The above centos are the poetic equivalent of playing with LEGO pieces. Think of each line as a block stacked on top of other blocks. These two poems are comprised of individual lines taken from several different Byron works. Why play with a dead man's writing in this way? Firstly, because my current poetry mentor, Stephen Fry, told me to as an exercise. Secondly, as Mr. Fry accurately promised me, centos "provide a harmlessly productive way of getting to know a particular poet's way with phrase and form." (The Ode Less Travelled, p. 262)

Here are the Byron poems from which I borrowed lines: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Epistle to Augusta, Beppo, Manfred, Cain, Don Juan, Darkness, The Giaour, Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Online Poetry Trip to Scotland

When you grow tired of where you are, but lack the time and money to travel today, google your way to someplace else.

Scotland and northern Ireland as seen by the Aqua satellite in 2011,
the red dots mark fires being monitored,
Image Credit: NASA

Throughout the 2016/17 winter, my reading and writing focus has been poetry. Today, I visited Scotland with the help of the Poetry Foundation. In addition to Google Search, I find the Poetry Foundation's search engine to be quite helpful at turning up great samples of poetry past and present, native and exotic (depending on who you are).

So I am happy to have encountered the work of the late Norman MacCaig, an Edinburgh-based poet with Highland roots. Try one of his poems. Here's one that took me in. It's a stopping-to-smell-the-roses kind of poem:

For a short biography, additional poetry samples, an article he wrote on Scottish poetry, and a good old-fashioned bibliography, head to his About page.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Salient Pessimism 9

I will bring our needed surcease and the quiet for which we all are longing. Believe me.

But to do so, first I must shout the loudest.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Poetry Drills with Stephen Fry ... oh my.

I am currently working my way through The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, by Stephen Fry. This book wonderfully combines the usually disparate styles of textbook and leisure reading. I'm so glad I found it while browsing the shelves at my local Barnes and Noble.

Lord Byron, Image Credit: NYPL

Every chapter covers specific styles or techniques of poetry and includes an exercise that the reader must try before proceeding further in the book. Stephen is very clear about this from the beginning. You must do each exercise without exception. If you do not, you miss out on the learning and the fun.

Yesterday, per Mr. Fry's instructions, I tried a couple of venerable English forms: Ottavo Rima and Spenserian Stanza. Lord Byron championed these forms in works like Beppo and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (note my blog's name). I am including my exercise output here. Please keep in mind these are not polished pieces, just poetic drills. But I do like them and hope you will too.

Ottavo Rima

(Meter: Iambic Pentameter; Rhyme scheme: abababcc)

Embark upon Ottava with some dread,
The path of old Romantic's laureate.
Lord Byron with this Rima my soul fed,
And with the rhyme scheme Beppo's story set.
With alternating lines of a/b wed,
The octave thrice will wage a hoary bet:
That readers new, like old, are wont to smile
At couplets that with assonance beguile.

Spenserian Stanza

(Meter: Iambic Pentameter except a final line of hexameter; Rhyme scheme: ababbcbcc)

You'll note the rhyme scheme like an unchecked king
Dictating what is said and how it ends--
Enticing poets like poor Frodo's ring,
Exalting craft but gaining no dear friends.
On prim but labored turns this form depends.
It's elegant enough to read like French,
But cannot hide its English bumps and bends.
You'll find that writing in it is no cinch.
It works. That's true, but drops into your themes a wrench.