Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York: 1951
Seven Poems

These poems by Charles Reznikoff particularly struck me this evening:
New York: 1951 Seven Poems

Here is the last of the series, go read them all:

Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day's work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Thanks to Bishop Seraphim for the links to the poems.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Driving at Night

I had an errand to run this evening so I set off down the six miles of (to steal a description from Tom Waits) "black anaconda of a two lane" that runs between our farm and the town limits. I have a love-hate relationship with this road. Just a week ago the poplars were losing their leaves to wind gusts and I drove to work through sun-lit golden spirals. The view of the mountain as I approach home is stunning. A winter snowfall can turn it into a story-book path through white arches. It has also tried to kill me several times with the aid of black ice, fallen branches or indecisive wildlife. Tonight it was raining, with cloud at the higher elevations and mist in the low spots. High beams just bounced back glare, so I drove to town with the low beams on, slower than usual, watching the leaves in Sunday's pictures drift down and stick wetly to the road. I only saw one deer. She stood half in the road looking at me while I braked, me holding my breath hoping the new tires held on the banana peel pavement, the deer visibly calculating the odds of making it across in front of car. I was not in the mood to play chicken, and fortunately, neither was she. The deer backed away and I headed on, my pulse rate up, my speed down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

One More

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More Fall Color

Tourists were backed up about a mile waiting to get onto Skyline Drive. This is what they were waiting for, looking up instead of down.

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The View From Home

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Click for a larger image.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Poetry from Ancient China

Tonight's moon is a waxing crescent, and I am not on my sickbed. Nonetheless, the skies have been cloudy, my health could be better, and the sight of the moon earlier did bring a little cheer. Hence this poem, another translation from the Chinese by Jonathan Chaves:

RISING FROM MY SICKBED, I Saw the moon as the Sky Cleared
This was the night of the mid-autumn moon of the year i-ssu [1605]

Up from my sickbed, I meet the full moon-
the clouds open, a smile opens on my face.
The clouds depart with what's left of my depression;
the moon appears with the new good feelings.
Falling leaves are iced with clear dew,
new fragrance rises from the thick wine.
The gladness is still not deep in my heart,
but these are embers, ready to burst into flame.

Yuan Hung-tao, PILGRIM OF THE CLOUDS: Poems and Essays From Ming China

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Insect News

The unseasonable cold has retreated. This afternoon would have been summerlike except for a certain crispness in the air. Once the sun started falling the illusion of summer vanished. The crisp evenings still have ladybugs and asian stinkbugs dashing inside at every opening of a door. The ones who have made it inside make smaller and larger circles around the window glass. Today I saw a fly join them and thought of this poem before reaching for the swatter:


I see a fly
warming himself on the windowsill,
rubbing his legs, enjoying the morning sun.
He seems to know when the light will shift:
a sudden buzz
and he's at another window.

From Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow: Poems by Yang Wan-Li
Translated and Introduced by Jonathan Chaves

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Signs of Impending Winter

When I came home today I found the infallible sign that warm weather is over; hundreds of ladybugs crawling over the house looking for a way in. They were latecomers this year, having to compete for space with the Asian stinkbugs who have been staging their own invasion.

Monday, October 19, 2009

News that stays news

I don't comment much here about politics. It's not that I don't have opinions but rather, as a rule, there is not much new or helpful I have to offer on any given issue. It seems we cycle around the same set of mistakes year after year regardless of the party in power. This is an observation that goes back at least to Ecclesiastes. Here is one of my favorite restatements of it:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.

You can hear this read at Classic Poetry Aloud

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Foretaste of Winter

Yes, that white stripe down Hogback Mountain is snow. Last night our steady rain on the farm turned to snow up on the higher ridges. Around here a little altitude can make quite a difference in your thermometer reading.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

They grow up so soon

When I published my first post on this blog, the young man in the uniform was twelve. He is now twenty, a college student and part time soldier with the Virginia National Guard. The photo was taken this spring at Fort Benning at his graduation from basic training. It seems like just a day or two ago that his mother and I brought him home wrapped in small blankets. Enlisting was his idea. I am extremely proud of him, but I also find that I approach the prayers for peace in the Divine Liturgy with a previously unaccustomed fervency.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Blast From the Past

No, this is not a lightning strike. This is what happens when a small point and shoot digital camera and an unsteady hand meet the Browntown 4th of July fireworks display. This was not the picture I intended, but I kind of like the effect.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The March of the Pens

When I hung up my jacket this evening I found four pens in the inside pocket. I am not sure how four ended up there. Most days there are one or two, some days none at all. There seems to be a steady movement of writing implements from my desk to my jacket, to the top of my dresser and back again. I pick up what pens I see on the dresser in the morning, and take them out of the various pockets they have crept into when I change in the evening. At the end of some days, the pens in my pocket are not the pens that were there in the morning. Other days the pens are identifiable, but their numbers have changed, seemingly at random. Years ago I read a story in which it was discovered that odd socks, tangled coat hangers and abandoned bicycles were all different stages in the life cycle of a mimetic organism, possibly alien. I begin to wonder if I have become the transport system for another organism that adopts the disguise of a common writing implement to make its migration across the wastelands of modern life to feed, breed and eventually die, leaving pen shaped skeletons in the back of drawers and in the pockets of rarely worn overcoats.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Amazon dropped the latest Wendell Berry's poetry collection, Leavings, on the doorstep last week.  It is vintage Berry; part polemic, part lyric, part pastoral with a few oddities thrown in.  I am still spending time with the poems, so no review today.  I do want to share the short poem that begins the collection.  So, bending fair use a bit, here it is:


Suppose we did our work

like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stupid Sheep Tricks

No, I don't know what she was after in the wheel well. No, I don't know how she managed to get her head stuck. No, it was not easy getting her unstuck. Yes, she's fine.
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Looking Towards Home

With the leaves turning I can look up the mountain and see the tourist traffic on Skyline Drive looking down on us. This summer Susan and I took our own trip on a free entrance day and took this picture of our home. Right now the green is mixed with yellow, orange and brown.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Back Again

Well, I did not set out to take a year long blog sabbatical. About this time last year I took a day off. A day became a week, a week became a month and the days, weeks and months just piled up. Not much has changed since then. We still raise sheep on the family farm. I still practice law in a small firm in a small town. I still worship at the local Greek Orthodox Church. The kids are taller, my hair is thinner and my knees creak a little more each morning. With the boys' schedules growing more complex as they grow older and an illness earlier this year sidelining Susan for months, the farm is showing the effects of a family labor shortage. In fact, I was tempted to rename the blog on this relaunch as "The Bad Shepherd Chronicles." No disasters so far, just a lot of small tasks left for later, much like this blog. Nonetheless, I am back and will resume a daily chronicle of life here in the Shenandoah Valley.