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The dapple, shimmer, dazzle

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the Jesuit poet GM Hopkins, on the dazzling diversity of life and the stark contrasts of mortality ]
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The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ made great and frequent use of the word “dapple”. I’ll get to that word, and what I make of it, by a roundabout route.


Canyon de Chelly, in Navajo country

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Philosopher-architect Christopher Alexander in his book A Pattern Language describes the “pattern” he terms Pools of light, first by dissing “uniform illumination” — which he calls “the sweetheart of the lighting engineers” — saying it “serves no useful purpose whatsoever”, and that it “destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.” The engineers’ preference for uniform lighting, he continues, “is based on two mistakes.” It is the first of these that interests me here:

First of all, the light out-doors is almost never even. Most natural places, and especially the conditions under which the human organism evolved, have dappled light which varies continuously from minute to minute, and from place to place.

Let’s call that a contemporary version of an ancient truth.

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Christopher Alexander is not alone in noticing this feature of our natural surroundings. It’s a less poetic and more prescriptive version, for instance, of the Navaho view of creation in terms of the “four cardinal lights” which play unceasingly across the gloriously striated walls of Canyon de Chelly and the lands of the Dine:

Trudy Griffen-Pierce describes the Navaho cardinal lights thus, in her Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting:

the four cardinal light phenomena are results of the sun’s apparent daily motion. These phenomena are the four directions and the times of day and colors that are linked to them. A Navajo does not think of the east without envisioning hayolkaal, Dawn, and the white color of the sky at this time of day. Next is nahodeetl’iizh, which is usually glossed as “horizontal blue” or “blue haze” in reference to the band of relatively darker blue that lies on the horizon at midday; this light is associated with the south. Nahootsoii follows and literally means “around the area becomes yellow,” although this word is usually translated as “evening twilight”; it is linked to the west. Finally, chahalheel, darkness, is associated with the north and with the blackness of the night sky.

Here a people who live, walk in beauty, balance, peace, sa’a naghai bik’e hozho, minutely observe the play of light and shade that contitutes our “dappled” world.

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Hopkins was the first poet I read and loved — Trevor Huddleston introduced me to him — and the word “dappled” was and remains a central one in Hopkins’ poetry, a window on the way he saw the world, and thus a window on how we may see it ourselves.

Poem the first:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                    Praise him.

That would almost certainly have been the poem from which I first learned Hopkins use of the word “dappled” — and it remains a touchstone for me, more than a half-century later.

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It is glorious, begins indeed with the word “glory” — and Hopkins’ world is one in which a divine glory “will flame out, like shining from shook foil” to use another phrase of his. It is the “kingdom” of the Gospel of Thomas —

the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

— and one of those who did see it is the English poet Thomas Traherne, who wrote to his friend:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places.

I think here also of the American poet, still among us, Gary Snyder, and of one poem of his in particular, The Dazzle, from his Turtle Islamd collection:

the dazzle, the seduction the
design
intoxicated and quivering,
bees? is it flowers? why does this
seed move around.
the one
divides itself, divides, and divides again.
“we all know where that leads”
blinding storms of gold pollen.
– grope through that?
the dazzle
and the blue clay.
“all that moves loves to sing”
the roots are at work.
unseen.

The dapple, shimmer, dazzle.. the trembling of populus tremuloides, the quaking aspen in the canyon.. trembling of the Quakers before their God..

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Hopkins illustrates this exuberant, ecstatic, exhilarating sense of “dapple” in another great poem of his, The Windhover:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air…

In his poem, Duns Scotus’s Oxford he writes of the “dapple-eared lily”..

In The May Magnificat he asks:

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:

and answers himself:

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all–
This ecstacy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.

Dapple, dapple, dapple — the outer and inner worlds, dappled, the outer and inner worlds dappled together.

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And then, as Hopkins moves towards the end of his life, and his world towards the End of Days, the dapple, the variegation, is lost, the many colors turn to black and white.

I find Hopkins’ poems in general are wrestling matches of a sort that strengthens the fortunate reader, as Jacob wrestled with an angel, just as Rilke reported:

I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Poem the second is a harsh, hard poem. There is more in it of both music and meaning than I can easily wrestle from it — but these are the phrases I would pick out as delivering the central thread:

Evening strains to night .. earth her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end… let life .. wind off her .. veined variety .. all on two spools .. páck now her all in two flocks, two folds .. black, white; right, wrong .. reckon .. mind .. but thése two.. ware of a wórld where but these two tell, each off the other ..

Here, then, is the poem itself:

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ‘ vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ‘ womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ‘ her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ‘ stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as- 5
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ‘ damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ‘ Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind 10
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ‘ upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ‘ right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ‘ twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ‘ thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

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Anthony Burgess, in a New York Times piece, The Ecstasy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, writes:

To Hopkins, who was almost blindingly devout, God’s glory showed itself in the intense variety of the physical world, especially when such variety was present in a single member of it. .. Dapple was a kind of tension of opposites: nothing flaccid, everything dynamic..

At the end, for Hopkins — at the end of his days, and at the End of Days — all that glorious variety of dazzle and dapple narrows and collapses into a stark yes or no: black or white, good or evil, pass or fail, quick or dead.

It is a humbling thought, for one who loves the dapple, dazzle.

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Fantastic to watch the Goddess Pele knock out a mere Hurricane…

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an example of imaginative, poetic, non-literal, science-based theology ]
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My Facebook page today included the following video clip from KHON2 News:

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I am pretty sure my dear friend Mimsy Bouret, who posted this video clip under the title Fantastic to watch the Goddess Pele knock out a mere Hurricane…, intends to convey a sense of wonder, close kin indeed to worship, while not confining herself to literal belief in a reified goddess.

Here we see the imagination at play: Mimsy’s combination of words and video draws on the best of modern technology with a rich sense of natural wonder, to see and say something more than the science alone can manage. Science here is a part, but not the whole, of Mimsy’s vision: in it, through it, she experiences something richer and more human — the turning away of a threat to those she loves, in the interaction of forces way beyond her control.

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Poetico-religious thinking: there’s more depth and height to it than we often suppose… and hurricanes are not to be trifled with, though mountains on occasion can deflect them handily.

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Balancing acts & mirror images: 2

Friday, August 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- second of (at least) three posts, mostly about Gaza -- high wire stuff ]
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Here are two young women poets, the hope of the world, mirroring one another in a rare balancing act that leaves neither political / military side of the Israeli-Arab conflict uncritiqued, while the humanity of both sides is respected ansd loved:

It may be that the balance here is still too young and perfect…

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Here, then, are two tweets from Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli journalist and my admired Center for Millennial Studies colleague, attempting the delicate balancing act of loving his country with intelligence and nuance:

Gershom is quoting Joshua Gutoff, who describes himself thus:

Having finally completed a dissertation on Talmud and the development of the moral imagination, Joshua (a Conservative rabbi by training), is now a professor of Jewish education. An erstwhile contributing editor at the Jerusalem Report, he is available for speaking, teaching, writing, editing…

Gutoff’s longer piece, can we talk?, is worth your consideration.

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Here’s Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, writing under the title Palestine must be free… from Hamas at Jewish News Online:

In such a poisoned climate, we should strive to maintain a certain moral courage and razor-sharp distinctions for our own sanity, if not for others. Terrorism aims to deliberately target civilians, and benefits specifically from their death or injury as a matter of policy. Hamas has this policy.

On the other hand, recklessly killing civilians in breach of the international laws of proportionality, while issuing warnings and apologies -– and while trying to target rocket launch sites that Hamas has based in mosques and hospitals –- results in a terrible and disproportionate number of deaths. It is deeply troubling, it must stop. But it is not terrorism.

No civilian death is justified. However, laws rightly differentiate types of killing, from accidental death, manslaughter, murder, to war crimes and terrorism. We must maintain level heads and some nuance if we are to approach this poisonous debate at all.

Nawaz, too, is seeking the right balance, the mot juste to explain what is indeed a subtle question.

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Henry Siegman, an Orthodox rabbi — one time head of the Synagogue Council of America, executive director of the American Jewish Congress and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. Interviewed on Democracy Now, under the header, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, on Gaza: “A Slaughter of Innocents”, had this to say:

It [Israel] has what seems on the surface a justifiable objective of ending these attacks, the rockets that come from Gaza and are aimed — it’s hard to say they’re aimed at civilians, because they never seem to land anywhere that causes serious damage, but they could and would have, if not for luck. So, on the face of it, Israel has a right to do what it’s doing now, and, of course, it’s been affirmed by even president of the United States, repeatedly, that no country would agree to live with that kind of a threat repeatedly hanging over it.

But what he doesn’t add, and what perverts this principle, undermines the principle, is that no country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live.

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Again, the delicate balance is sought — and it interesting to see these two comments together, Nawaz the ex-Muslim terrorist sympathetic to the Israelis vs Hamas, Siegman the rabbi sympathizing with the inhabitants of Gaza…

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The Daily Illustrated Dante, or is that Milton?

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the maw of Wrath open over Gaza ]
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Via Remy Brulin, Research fellow at NYU, Shapiro fellow at GWU, this image of hell in action:

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This goes nicely with Milton, I think, describing hell in Paradise Lost, Bk 2, 170-190:

What if the breath that kindl’d those grim fires
Awak’d should blow them into sevenfold rage
And plunge us in the flames? or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us? what if all
Her stores were open’d, and this Firmament
Of Hell should spout her Cataracts of Fire,
Impendent horrors, threatning hideous fall
One day upon our heads; while we perhaps
Designing or exhorting glorious warr,
Caught in a fierie Tempest shall be hurl’d
Each on his rock transfixt, the sport and prey
Of racking whirlwinds, or for ever sunk
Under yon boyling Ocean, wrapt in Chains;
There to converse with everlasting groans,
Unrespited, unpitied, unrepreevd,
Ages of hopeless end; this would be worse.
Warr therefore, open or conceal’d, alike
My voice disswades; for what can force or guile
With him, or who deceive his mind, whose eye
Views all things at one view?

Hell, like Satan, is not without its beauty.

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Gaza now stretches all the way to God

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- more on the hopelessly interdisciplinary nature of reality, all the way to Amichai, to God, no God ]
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In this post, I’ll offer another “entry” into the complexities of the situation in Gaza, drawing largely and gratefully on a post by Derek Gregory — presently the Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia — at Geographical Imaginations two days ago under the title Darkness Descending:

First, Dr Gregory quotes Samuel Weber‘s book, Targets of Opportunity: On the Militarization of Thinking:

Every target is inscribed in a network or chain of events that inevitably exceeds the opportunity that can be seized or the horizon that can be seen.

Gregory then comments:

The complex geometries of these networks then displace the pinpoint co-ordinates of ‘precision’ weapons and ‘smart bombs’ so that their effects surge far beyond any immediate or localised destruction. Their impacts ripple outwards through the network, extending the envelope of destruction in space and time, and yet the syntax of targeting – with its implication of isolating an objective – distracts attention from the cascade of destruction deliberately set in train.

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I’m not sure who Gregory is quoting here, but the “network” gets personal, while tending to remain impersonal to the targeters:

.. by fastening on a single killing – through a ‘surgical strike’ – all the other people affected by it are removed from view. Any death causes ripple effects far beyond the immediate victim, but to those that plan and execute a targeted killing the only effects that concern them are the degradation of the terrorist or insurgent network in which the target is supposed to be implicated. Yet these strikes also, again incidentally but not accidentally, cause immense damage to the social fabric of which s/he was a part – the extended family, the local community and beyond – and the sense of loss continues to haunt countless (and uncounted) others.

In fact, the only thing I can think of that’s arguably both universal and more richly personal than individual persons is poetry — so I’ll let the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, have the last word, as Gregory does:

The Diameter of the Bomb
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The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

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Ripple image from Ripple Effect Kindness, a blog that hopes to see ripples of peace

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