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For Veterans' Day

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:32 AM

For Veterans' Day, it seemed appropriate to post one of the most notable poems coming out of the Great War, certainly the sort that sticks with you once you've read it. I had just been talking about this poem with Jason K. not all that long ago.

WILFRED OWEN: Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!— An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

In memorium. The armistice was signed 90 years ago today, offering a brief respite before the smoldering embers of discontent raged again two decades later.


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:02 AM

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

-T.S. Eliot

These lines came to mind tonight, for more than one reason, and so I thought I would post them.

Waiting for a Plot

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:30 AM

In a piece I found via Drudge on Village Voice, David Mamet describes Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot as “Twentieth century's greatest play.” Huh? Say again?

Waiting for Godot is one of the low points of literature in the twentieth century in my estimation — and it had to compete fairly hard to get that title! The only thing it accomplished was it served to help inspire the master playwright Tom Stoppard in his penning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. A Stoppard play certainly is far more worthy of the designation of the twentieth century's best (although I would probably pick Arcadia as the particular play of choice). I'd also submit Miller's Death of a Salesman and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author as worthy candidates.

But Waiting for Godot? No, that's merely a play where you are waiting for a plot.

In Other Words

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:04 AM

The In Other Words meme has this wonderful quote for this week's meme:

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.
— Kurt Vonnegut

I love the simile. I'm not sure if it is entirely true, but to an extent, it might be true. Novels are rather low in impact and quality generally, compared to other forms of literature… (not to say that I don't read novels).

Good Quotes from Sir Jack

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:25 AM

A a few classic lines from King Henry IV Part 1, courtesy of our man John Falstaff:

Tut, never fear me: I am as vigilant as a cat to steal cream.
In reference to the pitiful looking soldiers he has gathered:
Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder; they'll fill a pit as well as better:
tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis in Springtime Poetry

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:19 AM

I may have talked about this on here before (in fact, it is quite likely, since I know I've mentioned both Eliot and Chaucer together before) but I thought with my recent piece of poetry (and Brad's comment on it), I would explain what I meant about it being the synthesis of spring poetry.

Chaucer's “General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales is likely the most revered piece of poetry in the English Language. The first fifteen lines form one sentence in the form of an argument. When April comes and beats back the drought of March and Zepherius starts blowing, flowers bloom and birds get so excited about singing they sleep with one eye open! When all of this happens, it is time for pilgrims to go on pilgrimages to Canterbury to where St. Thomas Becket's relics are, for he helped them when they were sick.

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The Droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe course y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye, -
So priketh hem nature in hir corage:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages -
And palmers for to seken straunge stronde -
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

So, Chaucer's thesis is one of new life, healing and — really — pure, unabashed joy. To borrow from my friends in the Intertextual school of criticism, Literature is really a structure of signs and symbols. The canon of literature, which most definitely includes Chaucer, can be “accessed” by future literature to evoke additional meaning. T.S. Eliot, the twentieth century's finest poet, loves allusion. He alludes to almost anything worth mentioning in the literary canon, religious texts, and all kinds of other stuff. But, when starting out the Wasteland, he appropriately chooses to point signs towards Chaucer. Anyone familiar with Chaucer will immediately see what Eliot is doing, but not only recall “the General Prologue,” but also see that as part of the fragmenting of reality that is Eliot's vision for the Post-WWI Wasteland, this invoking of Chaucer contradicts the thesis. From the first lines of “the Burial of the Dead:”

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

This is just the very beginning of Eliot's long, enigmatic poem, but it sets an important tone. This is a poem of deconstruction: reality deteriorates ever more rapidly in the various sections of the Wasteland. I think things really culminate in “the Fire Sermon” (part three).

So, between joy and death is what? A crime of passion, at least according to the book my professor was reading. I think this makes sense, for that would be a perversion of emotion that could have been joy, and that perversion leads to death. That synthesis is what I was at least toying with in my little poem, which is much more humble (in content, in length and in every other way) than that from which it draws.

Does that make more sense?

I'll Be Returning Shortly, Hopefully (Insert More Adverbs Here)

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:58 AM

Well, as I posted on my Facebook status:

Timothy is celebrating that “ἡ δευτερη θλιπσις της κοινη ἑλενικιας εστι τελος” (the second tributation of Koine Greek is finished).

Less cryptically, I finished the second exam for Greek class. These are take home exams, but they are on the honor system as closed book and limited to 2.5 hours in length. I ended up taking less than an hour to complete the exam and another forty five minutes or so to do two checks of all my answers.

So, given that, I might have a bit more flexibility of time. Plus, spring break is next week. After Friday, I'll be off from classes until Monday, March 26. On that day, one of my two classes is canceled, so I just have an evening class. Then, the next day of class (Wednesday, March 28) is canceled for “campus day,” meaning my first full day back will be two weeks after spring break started (Friday, March 30). Then, to make things even more interesting, I have both Good Friday and Easter Monday off, and I never have classes on Thursdays or Tuesdays, so I'll have another week off about a week later. With all the time off, hopefully I can catch up on stuff for my seminary classes, plus get some other things done. :D

Burning burning burning burning

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:08 AM

I'm not sure why, but spring is making me melancholy this year even while I am glad to see its arrival. With that in mind, I must revisit my good friend Eliot.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

I cannot even begin to comprehend “the Wasteland,” which is why — perhaps — it appeals so much to me. (As noted before, someone wishing to explain the above quote would do well to checkout “the Prologue” to Chaucer's the Canterbury Tales.) However, the entire sense of disconnect and the eventual deterioration of communication as the narrator falls more and more into transitions between languages (Eliot showing off his vast skills, of course!) seems somehow powerful to me. It is as if Eliot grants us the opportunity to open up someone's head and glance into the madness instilled by the Great War. But, more than that, I think it describes to some sense that disconnect that goes with the modern world in general.

There is a sense of desperation that tinges every line and permeates it with a sense of imminent destruction. There is a cry for help, and Eliot, not yet a believer, still poignantly focuses, ever so slightly on the intervention of God, when he does his interesting interlacing of the Buddha's “Fire Sermon” with St. Augustine's Confessions:

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest


These lines strike me perhaps more than any other in the poem. Although tonight, some lines that appear above it strike my fancy:

But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.

These are interesting for their allusion. Eliot, by the admission of his own endnote admits that this is a reference to Marvell's “To His Coy Mistress.” But, instead of “time's wingéd chariot,” Eliot gives us “the sound of horns and motors.” Is this a suggestion that modernism has destroyed man's ability to hear something beautiful? While time might be horrifying, how much more so hearing a mere cacophony of machines?

That'd be my guess.

This Is Just To Say

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:11 AM

I thought I might try to start regularly picking out bits of poetry and commenting on them here. Here's a fun one I haven't read for awhile, “This Is Just To Say:”

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

— William Carlos Williams

I think Williams had a unique gift for “picturesque poetry,” or, more properly, “Imagist poetry.” Unlike much of the poetry of the last century that aimed more at painting a scene than telling a story or arguing a point, but failed to do much of anything at all, Williams's works actually seemed to succeed in being primarily a sensory experience. This one always makes my mouth water as if I really have missed out on a cold, sweet plum.



By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:41 AM

I'd like to do a long post on the book Thr3e sometime, but for now, let me say that if you're like me and are completely oblivious to it, you should go buy it and read it. It's been out for a few years, and is “now a major motion picture,” but I had never heard of it. I knew of Ted Dekker, but had never read any of his works.


It has some real literary underpinnings I think are worth looking at, and the overall picture at the end is exquisite. Get the book. I'll write more about it. It's a page turning crypto-thriller that is well worth a read.

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