Two Poems: Bees and Elves in My Garden

David Russell Mosley

Eric and I in the Garden, Last Summer

Eric and I in the Garden, Last Summer

Lent
27 March 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Since my review of David Constantine’s Poetry was posted on Christ and University yesterday, I thought I would share a poem or two of my own. They are probably quite bad (the rhythm and metre is often a mess). So, feedback (preferably constructive) is welcomed. These two poems were written on a sunny afternoon in my back garden. Two quick etymological notes. The word dumbledore is colloquial eighteenth century British term for a bumble bee. Also, the term gnome has its origins in one of the Greek terms for knowledge (gnosis). It was also at one point somewhat interchangeable with elf or fairy (Tolkien calls his high elves Noldor in part for this reason). Ok, on to potentially poor poetry.

My Dear Dumbledore

My dear Dumbledore,
I hope you won’t think
Me such a humble bore
If I dedicate some ink
To writing you this letter.

My green bush with blossoms pink
You seem to love none better.
But my flowers red and blue
They never see the likes of you
Within their expectant petals.

What have they said or done
That you treat them like common nettles?
I’m sure they meant naught but fun.
Come back, my friends, and say hello.
I’ll put on the biggest of my kettles.

We’ll drink to cheer, to nectar sweet;
We’ll sup sumptuous honey;
We’ll drink mead, put up our tired feet.
One thing I ask, it is not money,
Leave your weapons at the door

From Gardener, your friend,
To little Dumbledore.

The Gnomes

Of all the creatures on God’s green earth
None is wiser, nor longer living than the gnome.
They write no books, nor build things of worth,
Caves built by other serve for home.
And yet their knowledge goes back to the beginning
Before the human race began its tradition of sinning.

For what immediate end God made them
No one can be sure; perhaps they do not know.
Some call them devils sent to tempt us unto sin;
Others that they do not exist and there is naught to know.
Both camps are wrong, they truly must be.
In truth, we have simply forgotten how to see.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

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Review of “Poetry” by David Constantine

Dear Friends and Family,
First, if you haven’t checked out the articles on Christ and University, make sure you do so. Second, here is a review I recently did for them. Let me know what you think.

Yours,
David

Christ & University

9780199698479Constantine, David. Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Reviewed by David Russell Mosley

Christ & University desires to emphasise the theological nature of education. Education seeks to help make women and men more like Christ through the various disciplines. The Literary Agenda series, begun by Oxford University Press, has a related goal in exhorting that closer attention be paid to the humanities in general and literature in particular. Poetry by David Constantine fits within the themes and desires of Christ & University, its call to return to reading and writing poetry as essential to society and as belonging to every person, not simply the elite few. Poetry is ultimately about human expression and formation. While not explicitly theological or Christ centred, this book serves as a reminder of the place of poetry within society and therefore within education, which is to make it implicitly about the conformation of the reader of…

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Fiat and Doom, Mary and Frodo: Feast of the Annunciation and Destruction of the Ring

David Russell Mosley

Feast of the Annunciation
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. This is the day we commemorate and make present again that joyous moment when the archangel Gabriel told Mary what was to happen to her. Mary’s obedience in this moment is the beginning of the undoing of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Mary becomes, in a way, a new Eve and her son will be the New Adam. This on its own is of utmost importance. However, there is another event that is celebrated on this day. It was on this day so very long ago, or so we are told, that the One Ring was bitten off of Frodo Baggins’s hand by Gollum and fell into the volcanic pit of Orodruin.

Of course, I realise that The Lord of the Rings is not real, or at least not real in the same sense that the Annunciation is real, but for a moment I want to explore the implications of Tolkien choosing this day and what relation it may have to the Feast of the Annunciation.

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and while there is no explicit reference to the Christian religion in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien himself had always thought of his works as explicitly Catholic. That is, they had a Catholic (or perhaps simply Christian) metaphysics. The world he created was our world in the distant past when men and elves were not estranged, when the Fall had happened but even Israel was a long ways off. So why is the 25th March the date for the destruction of the Ring?

I think there may be a few possible answers gleaned by looking at what the day signifies in the Christian Calendar and what it signifies in the story. First, in both instances there is an importance behind the events. Mary is told she has been chosen to be the Mother of God (not that God was to have a beginning as God, but that he would have a beginning as a man). Something the whole world is said to have been waiting for is now happening, or will happen, in her, the entrance of God into his Creation. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam and Gollum arrive at the fires of Mt Doom to destroy the One Ring, the very thing all Middle Earth has been, perhaps unknowingly, been longing for since Sauron made it. In both cases an appointed time has come.

Also in both instances, the act is not carried out by the actors. However, this plays out very differently in each case. Mary does not make herself pregnant with the Word of Life. She was not even aware that this might happen to her. She is merely told that this will happen, and presumably happens that very day, perhaps that very moment. Mary is not active in this except in her acceptance, as she says, ‘“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”’ (Lk 1.38).

Frodo is the exact opposite, however. He has come to Mt Doom for the very purpose of destroying the Ring. Yet when he arrives he refuses his task, ‘“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!”’ (LOTR, 945). Frodo falls, he fails where Mary succeeded, and yet the task is accomplished. Gollum, who’s life has been spared on multiple occasions, but importantly by each of the three ringbearers (Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam), and most recently by the third, sees his moment. Somehow finding the invisible Frodo and feeling his way to the ringed finger, Gollum bites it off and takes hold of the Ring. He is, ‘dancing like a mad thing,’ beaming with a corrupted joy until his celebrations take him off the edge of the cliff and into the fires below. The Quest has not failed, though Frodo had, by what the reader at least can call divine providence. Frodo and Sam are rescued and Middle Earth is free for a time, but the divine help needed in this moment foretells a future moment when providence will not be the course of action, but that God will step into his creation to set all things right.

This is, I believe, the connection between the two. Each shows the beginning of a new age, each is the undoing of a previous evil, and each is done in a kind of passive way by the main actor in each story. Frodo is almost a kind of anti-Mary who’s quest is accomplished without his will. In the quest of Frodo the evils of Sauron are undone. In the fiat (Let it be so) of Mary is the beginning of the end of all evils, of death and sin through her offspring, the one who, like the offspring of Eve would crush the serpent’s head.

So let us remember Frodo and Sam and Gollum while we also remember Mary and Christ, for the story of The Lord of the Rings can lead us to the even truer story of Incarnation, Resurrection, and Return. After all, as Tolkien himself wrote in ‘On Fairy-Stories’:

‘I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way that fitting to this respect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels––peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But the story has entered History and the primary world; the desires and aspirations of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy’ (‘On Fairy-Stories, 88-9).

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

The Thing I’ll Miss Most in England: Pubs

David Russell Mosley


St Patrick’s Day 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today being the feast of St Patrick, you might think I’d be doing a post on him, but this year, you would be wrong. You can check out the post I did on him last year, a post Peter Stevens has done this year, and an excellent article on him from here.

Today I am writing about pubs. No, I didn’t choose this topic because today is St Patrick’s Day. Rather, I have been sitting on this topic for quite some time and finally have a free moment to write up my thoughts.

As the academic year progresses and I get closer to finishing my PhD, my children get even closer to make their grand entrance into the outside world, my time in England is beginning to come to a close. People ask me what I’ll miss most when my family and I move back to the United States. There are many things I’ll miss, a pedestrianised culture, the landscape, the climate, the food, but most of all I’ll miss the pubs.

IMG_0994I will admit, I had romanticised pubs before I came here. I thought they were all places with home-cooked meals by plump landladies, fresh pulled ales from the pub-owned brewery, bands playing folk music every evening, and good conversation ruling the day. Imagine my shock when many of the first pubs we went to had televisions, gambling machines, and standardised touristy food to boot. I was even more shocked when I found out several of the pubs in the City Centre of Nottingham doubled as nightclubs in the evening. It was a blow to my romantic picture of England as a place that hadn’t yet succumbed to the greed and vice that often surrounds the American bar scene.

Nevertheless, by the time my birthday had rolled around in our first year I found what would come to be (though not always literally) “my local”.IMG_0996 The Crown Inn isn’t a perfect pub, but it is an excellent one. Alongside excellent decor, they have an excellent real ale selection. But a pub is more than a lack of individualistic distractions and good ale. Pubs, also known as public houses are places of community congregation. They are places to meet with your friends to discuss life over excellent libations. They are places to sit quietly and contemplatively. They are places to have conversations with strangers. In fact, they are excellent places to spread the gospel.

Now I’m sure my friends in America will be able to tell me what the pub/bar scene is like back home. Truth be told, when we moved to England I had only just begun to understand beer and wine and other types of alcohol. In fact, the American craft beer movement gives me quite a lot of hope that perhaps America can begin to shift its understanding of alcohol from something to get you drunk to something you enjoy especially when used for its proper end, conviviality. This isn’t to say England has everything in order, far from it, but the proper British pub is certainly a bastion of hope in a world of cheap, tasteless booze and community-less individualism. And therefore, it is what I will miss the most.

I want to leave you with a poem by G. K. Chesterton another Christian and lover of ale:

The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

The Enchanted Cosmos-A Response to Matt Moser at Christ and University

David Russell Mosley


3 March 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

 Over on Christ and University, Matt Moser has been doing a series on the difficulties of teaching Dante. In his most recent post Moser notes that a significant issue in reading Dante is his cosmology which we no longer share on a broad societal level. This is an issue one often sees when reading Ancient and Medieval literature. In a sense, this is precisely what C. S. Lewis seeks to address in his The Discarded Image. The medievals, Dante, thought differently than we do about the way world works. One of the most common cases of this is an issue over spontaneous generation. The ancients and medievals thought flies came from decaying meat, spontaneously, or, usually, through some juxtapositional of the Zodiac.

This, however, is not the kind of problem we’re dealing with in Dante, nor is it the main problem we deal with in most of the Ancient and Medieval writers. Instead, as Moser notes, it is an issue of enchantment, or even more, an issue of seeing the Universe as a Cosmos (which means order). Moser writes, 

‘This is the challenge of reading Dante. His cosmic imagination is difficult to apprehend because we inhabit an a-cosmological, disenchanted world. But more importantly, this is the challenge of Dante: “See the world you inhabit in this way,” he bids us. “To see order is to see goodness; to see harmony is to see beauty. To see goodness and beauty is to see truth. To see truth is to behold God.”’

Moser then connects this to education as such. In a cosmological understanding of education all the branches of the University are connected, they interpenetrate one another. But this is not the way we view education or the Cosmos. So it causes Moser to ask, ‘Is there a way to forge a cosmic imagination in our students given the a-cosmological world we inhabit today?’

I certainly do not wish to pretend that I have the one answer to this, the one solution that will fix all of education and our disenchanted vision of the universe. However, I think an aspect of the answer is in the problem. You see, the post is about the difficulties of teaching Dante, yet teaching Dante is one of the solutions to this problem. To put it more frankly, in order to get students to understand a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe we need to teach them about thinkers who have a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe. Even more so, if we agree with those thinkers, as Moser and I do, then we need to model that vision. 

There are perhaps two things for which I am most frequently criticised here at Letters from the Edge of Elfland. The first is a jumble of my relatively theological conservatism (meaning I think Jesus is really the Son of God and the Bible is the word of God, etc.) and my qualified support of thinkers like John Milbank and the school of theology known as Radical Orthodoxy. The other critique, however, is based on my writing about things like Faerie, and King Arthur, and Enchantment. Nevertheless, I won’t stop precisely because this is the vision of the world our Christian forebears had, not always couched in the terms I have inherited from the Medieval and Romantic British, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and German traditions, but it was nevertheless a world where miracles were possible by the grace of God. It is a world where angels existed, as did demons. It is a world where God became man and now bread becomes flesh and wine blood. It is a world where humans can become gods or devils, but only by grace or its rejection. I think there are many ways to lead students to this kind of understanding (or at least to understand that this is how Dante et al., saw the world): not least of which are the reading and writing of fiction (especially fantasy), and reading the Ancients and Medievals themselves. However, to lead students to an even deeper understanding of the Cosmic vision of the Universe is to live it and to live it, unashamedly, in front of them.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley