professional descendants

You could say we’re professional descendants. …You see, what no one ever realized until about two hundred years ago is that The Nice and Accurate Prophecies was Agnes’s idea of a family heirloom. Many of the prophecies relate to her descendants and their well-being. She was sort of trying to look after us after she’d gone.

From Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

for the pipe and the lyre and all the varieties of music which used to delight me at dinner

Wonderful story from The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks by Benedicta Ward:

There once came from the city of Rome a monk who had held a high place in the palace. He lived near the church in Scetis, and had with him a servant to take care of him. The priest of the church saw that he was weak and knew that he was used to comfort: and so he passed on to him whatever the Lord gave to him or to the church. After he had lived in Scetis for twenty-five years, he became well known as a man of prayer who had the spirit of prophecy. One of the great Egyptian monks heard of his reputation and came to see him in the hope that he would find there a more austere way of life. He came into his cell and greeted him; after they had prayed they sat down. But the Egyptian saw he had soft clothing, and a bed of reeds, and a blanket under him, and a little pillow under his head, and clean feet with sandals, and he was inwardly contemptuous. In Scetis they never used to live like this, but practised sterner austerity. But the old Roman, with his gift of prayer and insight, saw that the Egyptian monk was shocked to the core. So he said to his servant: ‘Make us a good meal today, for this abba who has come.’ He cooked the few vegetables that he had, and they ate at the proper hour: he had a little wine because of his weakness, and they drank that. In the evening they said twelve psalms, and went to sleep afterwards; they did the same in the night. In the morning the Egyptian got up and left, and saying, ‘Pray for me,’ he went away, not at all impressed. When he had gone a little way the old Roman wanted to heal his mind, and sent after him and called him back. He said: ‘What is your province?’ He answered, ‘I am an Egyptian.’ He said, ‘Of what city?’ He answered, ‘Of no city, I never lived in a city.’ He said, ‘Before you were a monk, how did you earn your living?’ He answered, ‘I was a herdsman.’ He said to him, ‘Where did you sleep?’ He answered, ‘In the fields.’ He said, ‘Had you a mattress?’ He answered, ‘Why should I have a mattress for sleeping in a field?’ He said, ‘So how did you sleep?’ He replied, ‘On the ground.’ He said, ‘What did you eat when you were in the fields? What wine did you drink?’ He answered, ‘What kind of food and drink do you find in a field?’ He said, ‘How then did you live?’ He answered, ‘I ate dry bread, and salt fish if there was any, and I drank water.’ Then the Roman said, ‘A hard life,’ and he added, ‘Was there a bath on the farm where you worked?’ The Egyptian said, ‘No: I washed in the river, when I wanted to.’ When the hermit had extracted these answers, and knew how the Egyptian lived and worked before he became a monk, he wanted to help him: and so he described his own past life in the world. ‘This wretch in front of you came from the great city of Rome, where I had an important post at the palace in the Emperor’s service.’ When the Egyptian heard this first sentence, he was moved, and began to listen attentively. He went on, ‘So I left Rome, and came into this desert. I, whom you see, had great houses and wealth and I scorned them, and came to this little cell. I, whom you see, had beds decked with gold, with costly coverings: and instead of them God gave me this bed of reeds and this blanket. My clothes were rich and expensive: and instead of them I wear these tatters.’ He went on, ‘I used to spend much money on my dinner table and instead of it He has given me these few vegetables and this little cup of wine. Many servants used to wait upon me, and instead the Lord has given one man alone to look after me. Instead of a bath I dip my feet in a little bowl of water, and I use sandals because of my infirmity. For the pipe and the lyre and all the varieties of music which used to delight me at dinner I say twelve psalms in the day, and twelve psalms in the night. For the sins which once I committed, I now offer this poor and useless service to God in quietness. See then, abba, do not be scornful of my weakness.’ When the Egyptian had listened to him, he came to his senses and said, ‘I am a fool. I came from a hard life of labour to be at rest in the monk’s way of life and now I have what I didn’t have before. But you have come of your own accord to this hard life, and have left the comforts of the world; you came from honour and wealth to loneliness and poverty.’ So he went away with much profit; and he became his friend, and used to go to the old man for his soul’s good, for Arsenius (this was his name) was a man of discernment, and full of the fragrance of the Holy Spirit.

How can the end of the world start in a place like this?

From Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

The authors would like to join the demon Crowley in dedicating this book to the memory of G.K. CHESTERTON. A man who knew what was going on.

Also regarding GKC, in the story, we have this at one point within Crowley’s stream of consciousness thinking:

Who had written that? Chesterton, wasn’t it? The only poet in the twentieth century to even come close to the Truth.

One of the book’s most developed themes is the joy of life found in children and the loss of particular places where children can enjoy the world.

She gave him a helpless look. “It’s hard to describe it,” she said. “Something or someone loves this place. Loves every inch of it so powerfully that it shields and protects it. A deep-down, huge, fierce love. How can anything bad start here? How can the end of the world start in a place like this? This is the kind of town you’d want to raise your kids in. It’s a kids’ paradise.” She smiled weakly. “You should see the local kids. They’re unreal! Right out of the ‘Boy’s Own Paper!’ All scabby knees and ‘brilliant!’ and bulls-eyes—”

…The sun continued to shine. The thrush continued to sing. Dog gave up on his master, and began to stalk a butterfly in the grass by the garden hedge. This was a serious, solid, impassible hedge, of thick and well-trimmed privet, and Adam knew it of old. Beyond it stretched open fields, and wonderful muddy ditches, and unripe fruit, and irate but slow-of-foot owners of fruit trees, and circuses, and streams to dam, and walls and trees just made for climbing.

There’s also a wide variety of wit and humor that ranges all over the map of human experience. For example, this bit about “movements” (to use a Wendell Berry term) versus community:

And he’d given up on ecology when the ecology magazine he’d been subscribing to had shown its readers a plan of a self-sufficient garden, and had drawn the ecological goat tethered within three feet of the ecological beehive. Newt had spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house in the country and thought he knew something about the habits of both goats and bees, and concluded therefore that the magazine was run by a bunch of bib-overalled maniacs. Besides, it used the word “community” too often; Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word “community” were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained

Elrond concerting the three rings:

They are not idle. But they were not made as weapons of war or conquest: that is not their power. Those who made them did not desire strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained.

From The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

they will be here when we’re gone

I’m a professor of comparative literature, after all. I’ve read the Welsh stories, studied the lore. But it is one thing to read about it; quite another to confront the evidence. A little voice repeated something I’d read once: They were here before we came; they will be here when we’re gone.

The world has tipped over and it’s spilling.

From the short story “World Without End” by Shelley K. Davenport in the anthology Escapements (contributions include a poem by Wendell Berry).

we are in a world of invisible people

E. F. Schumacher in A Guide for the Perplexed:

Inner space is created by the [combined] powers of life, consciousness, and self-awareness; but we have direct and personal experience only of our own “inner space” and the freedom it affords us. The human …in his inner space …can develop a center of strength so that the power of freedom exceeds that of his necessity.

…We do not grasp that we are invisible. We do realize that we are in a world of invisible people. …We need not be surprised that most people throughout most of human history …have always claimed that we can learn to see the invisibility of the persons around us.

entire regions of human interest

E. F. Schumacher, in A Guide for the Perplexed:

In this book, we shall look at the world and try and see it whole. …Mapmaking is an empirical art that employs a high degree of abstraction but nonetheless clings to reality with something akin to self-abandonment. It’s motto, in a sense, is “Accept everything; reject nothing.” If something is there, if it has any kind of existence, if people notice it and are interested in it, it must be indicated on the map, in its proper place.

…Descartes limits his interests to knowledge and ideas that are precise and certain beyond possibility of doubt, because his primary interest is that we become “masters and possessors of nature.” …Descartes broke with tradition, made a clean sweep, and undertook to start afresh, to find out everything for himself.

…From the point of view of philosophical map making, this meant a very great impoverishment: entire regions of human interest, which had engaged the most intense efforts of earlier generations, simply ceased to appear on the maps.

you must labour in the sea

Found in the unfinished novel The Notion Club Papers, this is the “The Death of St. Brendan” by J.R.R. Tolkien:

At last out of the deep seas he passed,
and mist rolled on the shore;
under clouded moon the waves were loud,
as the laden ship him bore
to Ireland, back to wood and mire,
to the tower tall and grey,
where the knell of Cluain-ferta’s bell
tolled in green Galway.
Where Shannon down to Lough Derg ran
under a rainclad sky
Saint Brendan came to his journey’s end
to await his hour to die.

‘O! tell me, father, for I loved you well,
if still you have words for me,
of things strange in the remembering
in the long and lonely sea,
of islands by deep spells beguiled
where dwell the Elven-kind:
in seven long years the road to Heaven
or the Living Land did you find?’

‘The things I have seen, the many things,
have long now faded far;
only three come clear now back to me:
a Cloud, a Tree, a Star.
We sailed for a year and a day and hailed
no field nor coast of men;
no boat nor bird saw we ever afloat
for forty days and ten.
We saw no sun at set or dawn,
but a dun cloud lay ahead,
and a drumming there was like thunder coming
and a gleam of fiery red.

Upreared from sea to cloud then sheer
a shoreless mountain stood;
its sides were black from the sullen tide
to the red lining of its hood.
No cloak of cloud, no lowering smoke,
no looming storm of thunder
in the world of men saw I ever unfurled
like the pall that we passed under.
We turned away, and we left astern
the rumbling and the gloom;
then the smoking cloud asunder broke,
and we saw that Tower of Doom:
on its ashen head was a crown of red,
where fires flamed and fell.
Tall as a column in High Heaven’s hall,
its feet were deep as Hell;
grounded in chasms the waters drowned
and buried long ago,
it stands, I ween, in forgotten lands
where the kings of kings lie low.

We sailed then on, till the wind had failed,
and we toiled then with the oar,
and hunger and thirst us sorely wrung,
and we sang our psalms no more.
A land at last with a silver strand
at the end of strength we found;
the waves were singing in pillared caves
and pearls lay on the ground;
and steep the shores went upward leaping
to slopes of green and gold,
and a stream out of the rich land teeming
through a coomb of shadow rolled.

Through gates of stone we rowed in haste,
and passed, and left the sea;
and silence like dew fell in that isle,
and holy it seemed to be.
As a green cup, deep in a brim of green,
that with wine the white sun fills
was the land we found, and we saw there stand
on a laund between the hills
a tree more fair than ever I deemed
might climb in Paradise:
its foot was like a great tower’s root,
it height beyond men’s eyes;
so wide its branches, the least could hide
in shade an acre long,
and they rose as steep as mountain-shows
those boughs so broad and strong;
for white as a winter to my sight
the leaves of that tree were,
they grew more close than swan-wing plumes,
all long and soft and fair.

We deemed then, maybe, as in a dream,
that time had passed away
and our journey ended; for no return
we hoped, but there to stay.
In the silence of that hollow isle,
in the stillness, then we sang –
softly us seemed, but the sound aloft
like a pealing organ rang.

Then trembled the tree from crown to stem;
from the limbs the leaves in air
as white birds fled in wheeling flight,
and left the branches bare.
From the sky came dropping down on high
a music not of bird,
not voice of man, nor angel’s voice;
but maybe there is a third
fair kindred in the world yet lingers
beyond the foundered land.
Yet steep are the seas and the waters deep
beyond the White-tree Strand.’

‘O! stay now, father! There’s more to say.
But two things you have told:
The Tree, the Cloud; but you spoke of three.
The Star in mind do you hold?’
‘The Star? Yes, I saw it, high and far,
at the parting of the ways,
a light on the edge of the Outer Night
like silver set ablaze,
where the round world plunges steeply down,
but on the old road goes,
as an unseen bridge that on arches runs
to coasts than no man knows.’

‘But men say, father, that ere the end
you went where none have been.
I would hear you tell me, father dear,
of the last land you have seen.’

‘In my mind the Star I still can find,
and the parting of the seas,
and the breath as sweet and keen as death
that was borne upon the breeze.
But where they bloom those flowers fair,
in what air or land they grow,
what words beyond the world I heard,
if you would seek to know,
in a boat then, brother, far afloat
you must labour in the sea,
and find for yourself things out of mind:
you will learn no more of me.’

In Ireland, over wood and mire,
in the tower tall and grey,
the knell of Cluain-ferta’s bell
was tolling in green Galway.
Saint Brendan had come to his life’s end
under a rainclad sky,
and journeyed whence no ship returns,
and his bones in Ireland lie.

pleasures to which a man had to be acutely and intricately attentive

Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound. First, about his childhood caretaker and companion, Nick:

Within the confines of those acknowledged facts, he was a man rich in pleasures. They were not large pleasures, they cost little or nothing, often they could not be anticipated, and yet they surrounded him; they were possible at almost any time, or at odd times, or at off times. They were pleasures to which a man had to be acutely and intricately attentive, or he could not have them at all.

…He is yet another master of the customs of necessity, the minute strategies of endurance and of joy.

Next about another such childhood caretaker, Aunt Georgie:

I wanted desperately to share the smug assumptions of my race and class and time that all questions have answers, all problems solutions, all sad stories happy endings. It was good that I should have been tried, that I should have had to contend with Aunt Georgie’s unshakable—and accurate—view that life is perilous, surrounded by mystery, acted upon by powerful forces unknown to us. Much as she troubled me and disturbed my sleep, I cannot regret that she told me, bluntly as it needs to be told, that men and events come to strange and painful ends, not foreseen. …And no doubt because of this very darkness of cosmic horror in her mind, everything in the world that she touched became luminous with its own life. She was always showing you something: a plant, a bloom, a tomato, an egg, an herb, a sprig of spring greens. Suddenly you saw it as she saw it—vivid, useful, free of all the chances against it, a blessing—and it entered shadowless into your mind. I still keep the deepest sense of delight in the memory of the world’s good things held out to me in her black crooked floriferous hands.

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