Friday, August 31, 2007

The Penance Absolute

Another 15 minute poem. Hope you like. Am not sure about the 7th line.

In cruciform appointment, there outsplayed
Was He pierced for our portion,
Second Adam's holy person
Transfixed for trespass else than His, but paid

The pardoning in full; all other spill
Of saints self-fancying in self-drawn measure
Were pittance to that Godspilled sanguine treasure
That fed the soil of Calvary's fertile hill.

-Thomas Banks-

From Song #19

He turns their difference to naught
Then both into Himself, so sweetly
And with a flame so fine and fragrant
Which now I feel in me completely
Reduce my being, till no vagrant
Vestige of my own self stay.
And wholly I am burned away.

-San Juan de la Cruz-

Thursday, August 30, 2007


May fortune without falter on thee shine,
From thee her countenance never remove;
And in your person virtue stand unshamed,
Unmarred thy love.
May all the graces thee companion, 'till
Tacet-fallen, earth close you in her tomb-
'Till then, may Wisdom's seven-pillar'd house
For thee be home.
-Thomas Banks-

Obituary for an Artist of no Great Significance

Here he lies whose foremost work it was
To pitch a sale on properties of words,
To keep a prospect occupied enough
To leave off brother-slaying with clubs and swords.

Failing in this, he took a part time job
As a dime-shop messiah; but none too well
This suited him- for as no doubt you know,
The girl Eurydice is still in hell.

The surgeon-critics most officiously
Forbade the favorite postures of his craft-
The cancer-causing faults in his technique
That "Might be cured sir, by a second draft."

Cynical and hopeless of repair
He ends in jingles and in greeting-cards,
Purchased by many a bourgeois-sweatered maenad,
And paid his place among the muted bards.

-Thomas Banks-

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Movie Notes

If you haven't seen "The Lookout," I give it a very enthused double plus. Reminded me visually of some of the stuff the Coen brothers do, but the writing was all around a bit tighter.

Go to Youtube and check out the preview for the "Sleuth" remake that's coming out in the next few months. Michael Caine and Jude Law. Kenneth Branaugh directing. Thumbs vertical.

While you're at it, pick up a copy of the original Sleuth, which is the best two-character movie ever made.

The new Beowulf (The motion-capture one) looks sort of (read: completely) geeky, but I'll probably see it anyway. At least once.

Finally saw "Benny and Joon," after years of people telling me how good it was, and realized they were mostly right. Johnny Depp's Buster Keaton routine is definitely worthwhile. I also noticed about halfway through that it was filmed in Spokane.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lines from Hamlet

From Act four, Scene four:

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed?-A beast, no more.
Sure, He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking to precisely on th'event-
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward-I do not know
Why yet I live to say "This thing's to do,"
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exort me,
Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw,
When honor's at the stake. How stand I, then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep while, to my shame, I see
The immenent death of twenty thousand men
That, for a fantasy or trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain. O from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.

On Persuasion

Most of the people I know, self included, argue a lot, or perhaps even too much. For at least a few of us though, I think this must be a good thing. People who are given to aggressive discourse stand a better chance of offering a satisfactory account of themselves, if an account is ever called for, than people to whom the rule of deferrence denies the chance to cross propositions with a likely opponent. This much I gathered from living at a boarding house for a time long enough to realize that grace at times dwells even in division, even one as trivial as an argument on the theoretical application of the Mojo to the actual world of Men and Women. This is another point of knowledge I acquired at the Big Haus- that it is often more beneficial to devote a measure of mental energy to the trivial areas of life than to the Calamities of This Present Hour. This may be bias on my part, as most of the areas in which I am at all expert don't really mean that much. Fortunately, the atmosphere of the Big Haus fosters engagement with what Aristotle called "The Beautiful and the Useless." Very little, in all of the many arguments that there transpired, ever registered as a matter of any great importance. Most of E.W.'s philosophical expositions centered in the realm of proper valuation of the world and the things of the world, and then after having done so, casually dismisses all of them as objects of Futility. I am convinced, after having several years of attended his church and hanging out at his house that the reason anyone at all attends his church or hangs out at his house must owe itself to the fact that E.W. has the rare talent of making the proximity of the catastrophic sound sort of comfortable, provided one has an accomadating front porch and a good cohiba with which to enjoy it.

Among the other blessings of semicivil discourse is that, if I may state the obvious, it forces one to speak. A person's syntactical abilities tell as much, if not more about them than all the rest of their habits combined. Vocal expression is a better measure of intelligence than any standardized test could ever be, and it provides an opportunity to judge not just how much a person knows, but how much of what he knows he also as successfully arranged in a web of interrelation, and more importantly, what is the order of valuation in which he has placed it.
The ability to judge the latter of these is, I believe, the shortcoming of the Christian Classical movement, and the root of the development why relatively few students who graduate from any of its schools use their classical education for anything. They can teach grammar, logic and rhetoric year in and year out, and teach them effectively, but still not point a student toward a proper regard, specifically a proper aesthetic regard for the Order of Things, the attainment of which is, or ought to be one of the chiefest goals of any sound theory of education; we listen to the turn of a man's arguments, we can guess with some accuracy how closely he has gauged the optimal valuation.

Sorry to end on a dogmatic note, but I need to take off. Will post more on this in a bit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The so named "Dark Philosopher's" last testament, as I can best imagine it. For whatever interest it might serve, he died of kidney stones, which I can't imagine is all that restful an exit.

May no winds' withered index me disturb,
Or bear with fallen foliage cause to grieve;
To sweeter dissolution, body's death,
That comes when goes the fragrant final breath,
Grant quiet leave.

The grosser element the winds reclaim,
Go where it will; Tranquility's sweet grapes
I tasted long and deeply, and request
Death peacefully fulfill the stern bequest
That none escapes.

-Thomas Banks-

Monday, August 13, 2007

Some Thoughts on Joining, Post-College, the Renowned and Redoubtable Institution That Is the U.S. Army

Have pondered it, and think I just might. Would be thankful for your hopes and prayers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

To Virgil

Roman Virgil, thou that singest Ilion's lofty temples robed in fire,
Ilion falling, Rome arising, wars, and filial faith and Dido's pyre;

Landscape-lover, lord of language more than he that sang the Works and Days,
All the chosen coin of fancy flashing out from many a golden phrase;

Thou that singest wheat and woodland, tilth and vineyard, hive and horse and herd;
All the charm of all the muses often flowering in a lonely word;

Poet of the happy Tityrus piping underneath his beachen bowers;
Poet of the poet-satyr whom the laughing sheperd bound with flowers;

Chanter of the Pollio, glorying in the blissful years again to be,
Summers of the snakeless meadow, unlaborious earth and oarless sea;

Thou that seest Universal Nature moved by Universal Mind;
Thou majestic in thy sadness at the doubtful doom of human kind;

Light among the vanished ages; star that gildest yet this phantom shore;
Golden branch amid the shadows, kings and realms that pass and rise no more;

Now thy fallen forum roars no longer, fallen every purple Caesar's dome-
Tho' thine ocean-roll of rythym sound forever of Imperial Rome-

Now the Rome of slaves hath perish'd, and the Rome of freedmen holds her place,
I, from out the Northern Island sunder'd once from all the human race,

I salute thee, Mantovano, I that loved thee since my day began,
Wielder of the stateliest measure ever moulded by the lips of man.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson-

Monday, August 6, 2007

The New American Male

"Go on with the world, get gold in its strife,
Give your spouse the slip and betray your friend!
There are two who decline, a woman and I,
And enjoy our death in the darkness here."

-Robert Browning, from 'Dramatis Personae'-

To fit the mold of the fully functioning American Male, one must first abandon one's romantic resolution. All the men in American myth, Deerslayer and Captain Ahab being the foremost examples, were practicing monks in buckskin; later variations built on the same mythos, a la Eastwood and McQueen, appear before us in the guise of consumate loners. American masculinity is of the post-Byronic breed that excite emulation, but defy approach. Most of us have come to expect this, and the opposing type of man always seems a bit too revealing, a bit too effete. An adult male who simply wants to love, and love well looks like someone who suffers from a tragic poverty of imagination. The conquest of the frontier and its attendant challenges leaves precious little time to indulge the softer emotions, and it follows that the American conquistador has scant inclination to create a legacy for the progeny he doesn't have. In America, a man's wealth, like a man's wisdom is his own to do with what he will. Dynasties do not often here occur; we have our Rockefellers, but our Carnegies and our Warren Buffets excite more admiration. We may leave our conquests and capital to those that follow after, but to do so appears in questionable taste.
This is why it remains for us to raise the term "American Empire" only with a certain set of necessary qualifiers between either of the phrase's two parts, of which the two most most common are "Corporate" and "Capitalist," words whose mention immediately divides those who can't speak them without spitting at the nearest Starbucks label, from those on whose capuccino the aforementioned label is most likely located. But leaving these two sets to their free exchange of opinions, I think it is best to remove the phrase "American Empire" from our discourse, polite or political, in toto; at least, that is, until we have actually conquered something, and conquest, allow me to insist, is a practice seperate from buying and selling; the former demands endurance, endurance suffering, and suffering is worlds away from market speculation. A thing we have made, sweated and bled over demands an attentiveness and obligation that a bought commodity can never hope for. We cannot liquidate empires like so many stocks.
Here our two men, the American Male and the romantic male take their first step closer to contention. The former, in right perspective, still holds hejemony over the stock exchange and the cocktail party, for which environs he traded in his harpoons and hunting rifle around the turn of the last century, since which time he has grown ever the more comfortable. He has never met the romantic male, of which America offers precious few, of whom the only notable was Scott Fitzgerald's greatest creation. To his more extablished counterpart he cannot help but appear morbidly obsessive, as does Gatsby, the host of a thousand soirees he himself never attended, and who makes his first appearance reaching bayward for the woman he cannot have.
Needless to say, dislike, if not enmity would be a foregone conclusion if these two were to meet in a singles bar. In the short of it, the American Male as we now know him trumps all adversaries. But the romantic male does not suffer the handicap of having to recreate himself with each turn of a generation and each change in the fashion of leather jackets; he is always himself, and his bruises become him. Throw these two together for long enough, and synthesis will finally avail itself. And then, when the dust has settled, we will have our New American Male.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


My education began with The Odyssey. I was about five at the time when my dad read Lattimore's translation to me, my brother and sister, and it had an effect on me that was profound enough to delay my Salvation until I was eight. I did not, at that time, make what was a conscious decision to avoid Christianity so much as I chose to ignore it until it could demand my attentions with a more magnetic pantheon of heroes. This aversion was not born out of an ignorance of the heroes of the Bible, because at this point, I already knew many of these, and I liked some of them; when you are five years old and male, you cannot help liking David, who was barely more than a kid himself when he killed Goliath and beheaded him (which detail I always relished). Moses took more effort, as a grown man with his insecurities (or any others) then struck me as a contradiction, but I somehow managed to get around these. Ehud and his assassination of the Moabite king were certainly attractive to the imagination, and I always thought it disgraceful that these only warranted a single chapter amongst the Judges, while simpering minor prophets like Hosea had whole books to their allowance. I liked Ehud, then as now, but had to recognize that he stood low among the giants.

Then I met Odysseus, who stood low in another sense, but triumphed over the giants (or gouged their eye out with a hot stick) in spite of the fact. His limitations were laid plainly before us, but unlike Ehud's, his story made all the vaster because of it; I was already familiar with many of the other Greek myths at this time, (outside of comic books, I didn't read much else) and didn't find the same finitude in any other hero or demigod; Heracles and Achilleus both impressed, but only too much. Each could subdue his world, but could grow none the larger inside of it. Their world was small in comparison to them, and in consequence the scenery suffered.

But with Odysseus, the tone of the story never allowed my attentions to lapse toward the flippant or casual; Odysseus himself was often diminished in contrast to the scale of the world that he traversed and the scope of the divine elements that cast themselves against him. Yet even in the midst of this, none of the edges of the character himself were in the least blurred; he endured his measure of hardships, "harried for years on end," and his role in the tale was almost as often that of victim as that of hero, and still he was harmonic enough for me to make sense of him, and just magnanimous enough to spark a latent idolatry. In fact, I think now that everything I have ever loved about the antique, and above all, about everything that is Hellenic goes back to Homer's sharp, percussive music and his "man of many ways." I have liked any number of mythologies outside of the Greek, but only to the level of avocation. I can appreciate some of the jocularity in the face of doom that weaves its way through all the Norse tradition, but never enough to create any lasting attachments. The window between the clownish volatility of Thor and the gravity of Odin is broad enough to let in all sorts of cold air, but more humane temperaments never seem to find much space for breathing; there, Balder is remembered chiefly for the manner of his death. The Norse tales have their place and time, and find it in autumn, where the twilight of the gods and the twilight of the year can best compliment each other. Here they sit best, and here we leave them.

The spirit of the Greek myths, and especially the story of Odysseus, was more sinuous in nature. Odin was circumspect, to be sure, but Odysseus had that curiosity which turns its interest not just to self perpetuation, but to the pursuit and possession of a knowledge such as gratifies the soul. And while this interrupts, it never too greatly interferes with his purely human longing for Ithica and Penelope. The instincts of both the aesthete and the homesick husband play within Odysseus, and jointly contribute to his preservation. He is governed by more than one characteristic, unlike Achilleus, and so outlives him, whom he finds in the underworld ruminating that it is "Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand. . .than lord it over all the exhausted dead." Achilleus excells all around him too much to live long. Odysseus is both more hesitant and more completely humane, and his humanity is, as with many heroes, always a small step ahead of his better judgment; he leaves his ears unstopped in the presence of the sirens so as to hear their song. His curiosity is as energetic, but less dire than Faust's urgent absorption of the sciences; urgency, for Odysseus, is never far off, and still he finds time for his distractions, his daliances with Circe and Calypso. Reprobate as he often is, the whimsical and the inquiring side of him always prevents us from exhausting the stores of our sympathy. In him is the best, the most daring and the most dastardly in the humanistic instinct, and for this, and for much else besides, "He is always in my heaven."

Friday, August 3, 2007

Something from Butler

If you haven't read any Samuel Butler (most people haven't), I strongly advise picking up a copy of his novel "The Way of All Flesh" when you have the time (most people don't). These are a couple of snippets from his essay "On Knowing What Gives Us Pleasure" that have a nice aphoristic quality.

"I should like to like Schumann's music better than I do; I dare say I could make myself like it better if I tried; but I do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things that make me like them at once and no trying at all."

"To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pears' soap at the end of the programme."