Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A Top Ten Summer ~ Which Books?

I haven't done a Top Ten Tuesday in awhile AND I haven't posted in awhile, so today is the perfect day to do both.  The Broke and the Bookish are asking us what books we will be putting in our beach bags this summer.  Usually this question would be a breeze for me, but I've been so stunned by The Faerie Queene, mentally I don't seem to be able to get past it.  Soooooo, I'll list some of the books I'm reading at the present and then try to add others that might appeal to a summer reading schedule.


The Faerie Queene

I love and dread this work at the same time.  Right now, I'm in a rut with hardly any time to give it the needed attention but I intend to plug along and finish at some point.


Jane Eyre

Hamlette's read-along of this great classic has just begun.  The pace is very measured and allows the participant to really dig deep into the text.  Lots of summer fun!


The Gulag Archipelago

The final book of my The Well-Educated Mind Biographies project.  Do I read the complete book or an abridged work?  I can't decide!


Framley Parsonage

Argh!  I've been trying to get through my read of the Barsetshire Chronicles for two years!  I stalled on this book (#4), but I started it again recently and was more engaged with it.  I hope to say that I've finished it by the end of the summer.


The Home and the World

I believe that I'm reading this with Cirtnecce to commemorate India Independence Day (Aug 15th), if I'm not mistaken.


Don Quixote

I'm reading this with Bookstooge on Booklikes beginning in the month of August.  This will be a re-read for me and I'm looking forward to it.  August seems like it will be the only relaxing month for me this summer.


The Histories 

I add this one to the list with a heavy heart.  I am dying to read it, but really, do I realistically think I'm going to be able to get to it with all the other books that I'm reading?  I doubt it.  But hope always springs eternal with me and ...... well, I just might get to it.


Henry V

My Shakespeare challenge has been a pitiful failure so far.  I'm embarrassed.  So I'm determined to read at least one Shakespeare this summer.  If I can get Henry V read, I will have completed the Henriad!


A Doll's House

Another read with Cirtnecce.  At least it's short.  I'm looking forward to it.


Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

A wild card choice.  Why not?  It sounds relaxing and not too mentally taxing.  Just what the doctor ordered!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Faerie Queene ~ Book I (Part II)

The Faerie Queene

Book 1
The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse
Of Holinesse

So far this is proving a much more difficult read than anticipated.  It does get easier as you get used to the style and delivery, but there is so much information and I do want to cover as much as I can in my reviews in case I never read it again.  I mean I want to read it again, but right now it's rather exhausting.  Cantos I to VI introduced us to the Redcrosse Knight and Una, documenting Redcrosse's descent into sin and Una's unwavering faith in him.  The following cantos conclude Book I.

Canto VII
The Redcrosse knight is captive made
By Gyaunt proud opprest,
Prince Arthur meets with Vna great-
ly with those newes distrest.

When Duessa returns to the House of Pride to find Redcrosse gone, she hurries quickly after him and finds him near a fountain, resting in the shade. Using her manipulative wiles, she reproaches him for his dissertion and soon all is well between them. However, this fountain is not a regular fountain but a nymph cursed by the goddess Diana for laziness, and anyone who drinks of it will suffer faintness and lose his strength.  Is the spiritual lethargy of the nymph a parallel to the spiritual laziness of Redcrosse as he allows himself to be drawn further away from Truth?   In any case, of course Redcrosse drinks from the fountain and is soon content to sit chat though his strength fades and he becomes careless of his reputation.  Suddenly a great noise is heard and the earth trembles, as a giant, Orgoglio emerges from the wood.  Redcrosse has no time to take up his armour or weapons but Duessa pleads with the giant, promising them both as slaves in exchange for his good treatment.  He takes Duessa, seating her on a monster with seven heads, but throws Redcrosse into the dungeon.  The Dwarf, however, has seen all and gathering up his master's armour and departs, whereupon he meets Una on the road flying from the lecherous Paynim.  Seeing the Dwarf, she nearly faints and the Dwarf, equally unhappy, must help her recover to tell his tale of Redcrosse. Although his words almost tear her heart in two, she gains control and they set off together, soon coming across a knight with a gorgous diamond shield, who wishes to help her.  After spurning his assistance, she finally relates her story of her father and mother being held captive by the dragon, her travels to the court of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, for help, and her hero Redcrosse who has been diverted and now is captive of the giant.  This knight, whom we believe is King Arthur, pledges to help Una in her distress.

Canto VIII
Faire virgin to redeeme her deare
brings Arthur to the fight:
Who slayes the Gyant, wounds the beast,
and strips Duessa quight.

Una and Arthur search for Redcrosse and with the Dwarf's help, soon arrive at the castle of the Giant. Bringing out a gold-tasselled magic horn, he blows, all the doors of the castle fly open, and the Giant investigates.  They fight, and as the giant, Orgoglio, misses with a club-strike, Arthur turns and lops off his arm.  Duessa, on her monster, rushes to his aid, but when she is blocked by Arthur's squire, she puts a spell on him and sends her monster to finish him off.  Rushing to his aid, Arthur strikes off one of the heads of the monster and:

"His monstrous scalpe downe to his teeth it tore,
And that misformed shape mis-shaped more;
A sea of bloud gusht from the gaping wound,
That her gay garments staynd with filthy gore,
And ouerflowed all the field around;
That ouer shoes in bloud he waded on the ground."

Enraged, the giant attacks again, knocking Arthur to the ground but, behold, the knight unveils his shield and everyone is hit with a most wondrous, brilliant brightness which dazes the giant and Arthur is able to cut off his leg, then his head, where on his death, Orgoglio vanishes.  Grief manifests in anger in Duessa as:

"Her golden cup she cast vnto the ground,
And crowned mitre rudely threw aside;
such percing griefe her stubborne hart did wound,
That she could not endure that dolefull stound, 
But leauing all behind her, fled away."

But the squire halted her flight and brought her back to his master.  In contrast, Una is all composure and modesty:

"The royall Virgin, which beheld from farre,
In pensiue plight, and sad perplexitie,
The whole achieuement of this doutfull warre,
Came running fast to greet his victorie,
With sober gladnesse, and myld modestie,
And with sweet ioyous cheare him thus bespake;
Faeire brauch of noblesse, flowre of cheualrie,
That with your worth the world amazed make,
How shall I quite the paines, ye suffer for my sake?"

Arthur goes off in search of Redcrosse and discovers an old wizened man, the giant's foster-father, with a ring of keys about him.  Strangely, he is always looking backwards instead of forwards, and will not answer any of Arthur's questions.  Finally, in frustration, Arthur takes the keys and begins to search the dungeons finding the remains of children and the blood of Christians in its depths.  Redcrosse is discovered but he is wan and weak, although in spite of his appearance, Una is overjoyed to see him.  Instead of killing Duessa, they strip her of her garments and, when naked, they find she is an ugly old hag.  Spenser's description is appalling:

"Her craftie head was altogether bald,
     And as in hate of honorable eld,
    Was ouergrowne with scurfe and filthy scald;
    Her teeth out of her rotten gummes were feld,
    And her sowre breath abhominably smeld;
    Her dried dugs, like bladders lacking wind,
    Hong downe, and filthy matter from them weld;
    Her wrizled skin as rough, as maple rind,
So scabby was, that would haue loathd all womankind."

Ugh!  Duessa flees to the wilds to hide herself and our knights and lady rest at the castle.

Canto IX
His loues and lignage Arthur tells
The knight knit friendly bands;
Sir Treuisan flies from Despayre,
Whom Redcrosse kight withstands.

Before they leave the castle, Una begs Arthur to share his history.  He was raised by an old man named Timon who, in his youth, was concerned with battles and bravery but later became wise, and he raised Arthur to know virtue.  Merlin was also his mentor, but the wizard would not disclose his parentage, only revealing that he was son and heir to a king.  Una wants to know why he is in Faery land, but Arthur does not know, only that he has a wound that bleeds and perhaps there is an eternal reason for his presence which he does not understand.  He has been looking for his lady-love, a Queen of the Faeries, whom he is not sure is real or a dream.  Una and Redcrosse wish him well in his journeys, they exchange gifts, Arthur giving a potion that can heal all wounds, and Redcrosse bestowing on his benefactor a book to save souls.  They then part, although Una is uncertain whether Redcrosse is fit for battle.  

But heavens, what should come upon them but a fleeing Knight, looking behind him as if the hounds of hell were on his heels, with a rope hanging from his neck.  Redcrosse forces the Knight, Sir Trevisan, to stop and tell his story.  He was travelling with another knight, Sir Terwin, who was suffering from unrequited love.  One day they met with a terrible villain called Despaire, who played on their griefs and tried to convince them to kill themselves, Sir Terwin with a knife and the Knight with a rope.  With Terwin, Despaire succeeded, but the Knight, Trevisan, fled in terror.  Redcrosse is puzzled over the power of Despaire's words, but the Knight explains the subtlety of Despaire, how he stealthily weakens one's power.  Undaunted, they find the cave of Despaire and Redcrosse confronts him, whereupon Despaire gives a long speech on life and wonders why Redcrosse would want to prolong it, since it is full of suffering and the longer one lives the more chance he has to sin.  Death is the end of woes and shouldn't we all welcome it?  Redcrosse is moved by the speech, so Despaire shows him damn'd ghosts and torments of hell-fire suffering.  Unable to bear it, Redcrosse is about to end his life when Una flies into the fray, snatching the knife from his hand, and chiding him for his weakness; she can see right through this monster.  Despaire, knowing he has lost the battle, attempts to kill himself, but he cannot die until the world has ended.

Una is awesome!

Canto X
Her faithfull knight faire Una brings
to house of Holinesse,
Where he is taught repentance, and
the way to heauenly blesse.

Una decides to take Redcrosse to the house of a woman named Caelia, a place of virtue and tranquility, where upon reaching it, they are guided inside by a happy franklin named Zele, and a squire.  Una and Caelia embrace, overjoyed to see each other, although Caelia is surprised to see Redcrosse, as few find them on this narrow path. Her daughters, Fidelia and Speranza, enter, the former in white and carrying a gold cup of wine and water, and the latter clad in blue, yet not so happy as her sister as she holds a silver anchor as she prays.  After a rest, Redcrosse is taken to be instructed by Fidelia in good virtuous conduct and the avoidance of sin.  Yet when the knight begins to despair at his poor behaviour, he is comforted by Speranza (hope), however he still desires death. Una, concerned at his mental state, finds a "Leech" called Patience, and thus Redcrosse begins the healing of his sin, while Amendment, Penance, Remorse, and Repentance subject him to painful, but purifying, experiences.  Una feels his every pain as she sees his struggles but patience wins out, and when his conscience is cured, they visit another sister, Charissa, who has just gone through childbirth. From her, Redcrosse learns of love and righteousness and also is schooled by another woman, Mercy, in the art of graciousness and liberality.

Redcrosse is taken to a Hospital of holiness where seven bearded men have given their lives and service to the heavenly king.  The eldest, the Guardian, has charge and government of the house; the Almer feeds the hungry; the master of the wardrobe distributes the clothes and if he has none, he'd gives his own; the man who assists prisoners and pays their ransom; the man who comforts the sick, especially at the end of their lives; the one who ensures that the dead have a proper burial; and a man who aids the widows and orphans, supplying their needs.  Redcrosse rests there awhile and then climbs a hill to a chapel where an old man, Contemplation, is praying ceaselessly. Grudgingly, Contemplation agrees to help Redcrosse and takes him to a glorious mountain from which they view the City of God.  It is Jerusalem, although Redcrosse notes that while Cleopolis, the city of the Faerie Queene is very fair, it is earthly and cannot compare to the heavenly realms.  Redcrosse is now ready to complete his task, and when he has, Contemplation instructs him to return and he will be dubbed Saint George.  Redcrosse does not feel equal to the task, but the old man reminds him of his promise.  When Redcrosse returns, Una is overjoyed to see him and they take leave of the House of Holiness.

Canto XI
The knight with that old Dragon fights
two dayes incessantly;
The third him ouerthrown, and gayns
most glorious victory.

Thinking of her parents, the two approach the kingdom, where they soon spy the dragon lying on a hill.  Noting their approach, he rouses himself, whereupon Redcrosse sends Una up a hill to watch the battle, and the narrator is so unsettled that he calls on his Muse for help with his narration.  The dragon is as vast as many tracts of land, his scaly body "swolne with wrath, & poyson, & with bloudy gore."  His wings were like the sails of ships, his tail thick, long and pointed with stings, and his mouth and jaws ..... well, let Spenser tell it:

"..... But his most hideous head my toung to tell,
       Does tremble: for his deepe deuouring iawes
      Wide gaped, like the griesly mouth of hell,
Through which into this dark abisse all rauin fell.

And that more wondrous was, in either iaw
     Three ranckes of yron teeth enraunged were,
     In which yet trickling bloud and gobbets raw
     Of late deuoured bodies did appeare,
     That sight thereof bred cold congealed feare:
     Which to increase, and all atonce to kill,
     A cloud of smoothering smoke and sulphur scare
     Out of his stinking gorge forth steemed still,
That all the ayre about with smoke and stench did fill."

Charging, he bounds almost in joy at his "guest", and while Redcrosse tries to spear him, the weapon cannot pierce his scaly skin.  The dragon becomes annoyed that he cannot strike the knight and grasps Redcrosse and his horse, carrying them away, but finds them too heavy and lands upon the ground.  Redcrosse finally manages to gain a hit on the dragon's wing, enraging the beast, who is unused to such treatment.  Bleeding profusely, the dragon hits Redcrosse's horse and unseats the knight, who tries to strike the dragon on the head, but does not manage to wound the beast.  The dragon sends a stream of fire, searing Redcrosse in his armour.  "Faint, wearie, sore, emboyled, grieued, brent with heat and toil, sounds, armes, smart, & inward fire", the knight is so injured that he wishes for death, finally falling backwards into something he never expected:

"... Behind his backe vnweeting, where he stood,
     Of auncient time there was a springing well,
     From which fast trickled forth a siluer flood,
     Full of great vertues, and for med'cine good.
     Whylome, before that cursed Dragon got 
     That happie land, and all with innocent blood
     Defyld those sacred waues, it rightly hot
The well of life, ne yet his vertues had forgot."

Una fears for her knight's life as he lays there overnight, and she prays for his recovery. How astounded she is in the morning to see him spring from the well, and not only is his body renewed and strengthened, his blade as well, but from what cause is not certain. He strikes the dragon on the skull, making a gaping wound.  The dragon hits Redcrosse with his tail, stabbing him in his shoulder, whereupon Redcrosse answers by amputating the dragon's tail.  Infuriated, the dragon flies up, then down, grasping the knight's shield with his claws, but Redcrosse manages to cut off the claws but the foot still holds.  The dragon shoots flames again, and Redcrosse retreats, slipping on some mud into another saviour from death, the tree of life.  Another night passes, with Una devotely praying, and Redcrosse again is renewed in the morning.  The dragon tried to devour Redcrosse with a wide open maw, but Redcrosse stabs him through the mouth, killing the beast, and its fall is so terrible that both Una and Redcrosse are stunned until he realizes his victory, and Una gives thanks to God.

Canto XII
Faire Una to the Redcrosse knight
betrouthed is with joy:
Though false Duessa it to barre
her false sleights doe imploy.

A watchman tells the King and Queen about the fall of the dragon.  The kingdom rejoices to be released from the terror of the beast, thanking Redcrosse and throwing laurels at his feet while dancing around.  Music fills the air as the maidens crown Una, a virgin fair.  Yet the people's fear of the dragon keeps them from approaching to close to it, in case its death is not complete.  The king bestows Redcrosse with gifts of ivory and gold and thanks, kisses his daughter and brings both to the palace while the people sing and strew garments at their feet.  There is a feast where Redcrosse recounts his adventures.  The king sheds a tear, not knowing whether to bestow praise or pity on his deliverer but counsels rest.  Yet Redcrosse cannot accept any repose because he owes six years of his service to The Faerie Queene, but the king proclaims that when the six years are over Redcrosse will return to take Una's hand in marriage and his kingdom. Una enters, appearing like a fresh flower as she's shed the black garments and veil, and Redcrosse has never seen her more beautiful.  However, a messenger runs in, reading a letter from Duessa/Fidessa stating that Redcrosse is unable to marry Una as he is pledged to her.  Redcrosse sits astonished without a word, but finally the king demands an explanation.  Redcrosse proclaims his innocence, as he was tricked by the false and wicked woman, when he had strayed from the right path.  Una supports his story, and claims the messenger is Archimago himself.  They grab and bind him, and put him in the dungeon, then the king binds Una to Redcrosse with sacred vows and holy water.  The feasting commences, with music and jollity.  Redcrosse's blissful time with Una lasts long, until he remembers his vow to The Faerie Queene and Una mourns his leaving.

Here is a chart of some of the characters and the symbolism within each, which I found very helpful:

Characters_           _Moral_       _Religious and      _Personal and
                                         Spirtual_           Political_

 Redcross Knight        Holiness       Reformed England       St George

      Una                Truth           True Religion

 Prince Arthur      Magnificence, or   Protestantism, or    Lord Leicester
                     Private Virtue   the Church Militant

    Gloriana             Glory         Spirtual Beauty    Queen Elizabeth

    Archimago          Hypocrisy         The Jesuits    Phillip II of Spain

     Duessa             Falsehood      False Religion  Mary Queen of Scots,
                                                           Church of Rome

    Orgoglio          Carnal Pride        Antichrist       Pope Sixtus V

    The Lion            Reason,      Reformation by Force    Henry VIII,
                     Natural Honor                        Civil Government

   The Dragon             Sin          The Devil, Satan    Rome and Spain

  Sir Satyrane       Natural Courage     Law and Order    Sir John Perrott
                                          in Ireland

   The Monster          Avarice       Greed of Romanism   Romish Priesthood

     Corceca        Blind Devotion,    Catholic Penance      Irish Nuns

     Abessa           Flagrant Sin       Immorality          Irish Nuns

    Kirkrapine      Church Robbery      Religious State     Irish Clergy
                                          of Ireland          and Laity

     Sansfoy           Infidelity

     Sansjoy          Joylessness       Pagan Religion     The Sultan and
                                                            the Saracens

     Sansloy          Lawlessness

    The Dwarf          Prudence,
                      Common Sense

  Sir Trevisan           Fear

   The Squire           Purity        The Anglican Clergy

    The Horn             Truth        The English Bible

    Lucifera         Pride, Vanity     Woman of Babylon    Church of Rome
source:  www.archive.org

Rather than summarize the allegory and symbolism, which other readers have done much more adequately than I, instead I'll note some questions and observations that I had during the reading of Book I.
  • First, and perhaps most importantly, while Redcrosse was actually fighting "real" characters, in effect the fight was within himself.  This is a good lesson for everyone: as difficult as our practical struggles of life may be, our "fight" to gain a righteous character should feel much more arduous.  It's also important to use discernment, which Redcrosse shows little of at the start, leading him into sin and problems.
  • While Una represents Truth, she does not have control of the situations.  She always hopes yet must lean upon God.
  • Prince Arthur:  okay, he represents private virtue and Protestantism, but he also does not know his true parents.  How does this affect his allegorical and symbolic significance?  Will a revelation occur later in the poem?
  • There is definite tension (and confusion) between appearance and reality until Redcrosse realizes his own human inadequacy and relies on spiritual guidance.
  • Redcrosse has overcome the Dragon, yet the dragon is "sin", and we cannot be free from sin until we leave this world; will "sin" pop up again in future books?  I would think so.
  • Redcrosse's three day battle with the dragon, parallels Christ's three day crucifixion to resurrection, his bath in the well of life parallels Baptism, and his healing at the tree of life, the Eucharist.
  • If the poem is partly a treatise in favour of Protestantism and against Catholicism, why does the king use holy water as he binds the couple?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

All Rivers Run to the Sea by Elie Wiesel

"Last night I saw my father in a dream."

Born in the town of Sighet, Romania in the Carpathian Mountains in 1928, Wiesel's family of six was part of a thriving Jewish community. During World War II, murmurs of Jewish persecution by the Germans reached the town, but the villagers doubted the rumors and discounted anything they heard.  Even with the German occupation of the town on March 19, 1944, the Germans behaved correctly and no one was disturbed.  Months before their arrival, a man called "Moshe the Beadle" arrived in town with talk of his escape and stories of atrocities, yet his words fell like a barely noticeable rain:

"Messenger of the dead, he shouted his testimony from the rooftops and delivered it in silence, but either way no one would listen.  People turned their backs so as not to see his eyes, as though fearing to glimpse a truth that held his past and our future in his steely grip.  People tried, in vain, to make him doubt his own reason and his own memory, to accept that he had survived for nothing ----- indeed, to regret having survived."

Their own housekeeper, Maria, tried to convince the family time and again to seek refuge with her at her house in the mountains, but they were reluctant to abandon their Jewish community, still believing that all would be well.  Even when they were imprisioned in the ghetto, she would sneak through the barbed wire barricades to bring them food.  She figures prominently in Wiesel's memory:

"I think of Maria often, with affection and gratitude.  And with wonder as well.  This simple, uneducated woman stood taller than the city's intellectuals, dignitaries, and clergy.  My father had many acquaintances and even friends in the Christian community, but not one of them showed the strength of character of this peasant woman.  Of what value was their faith, their education, their social postion, if it aroused neither conscience nor compassion .... It was a simple and devout Christian woman who saved the town's honor."

Wiesel doesn't examine in depth his time in the concentration camp ----- his book, Night, describes this ordeal ---- rather he shares questions which he had before and after the nightmare.  Why didn't Jews in other countries do more for their suffering brothers? Why were there not more bombings to stop the transport of Jews?  Why did the world watch as six million Jews were exterminated?  There is a poignancy to the fate of the town of Sighet, as the Third Reich was already in disarray, and Hitler knew that his fight for world dominance had ended, yet he was determined to exterminate the Jewish people, making the deportation of Jews a priority over military convoys.

Wiesel comments on the Jewish passivity during the Holocaust:

"Today, as I write this, I think of all those who chided us for our passivity, our resignation, during the war.  'Why didn't you resist?'  What about the Germans?  What accounts for their obsequious cowardice before foreigners after their defeat?  There were endless rumors about parents who sold their wives and daughters to the first American soldier for a pair of nylons, former high-ranking Wehmacht officers who would shine shoes for any corporal, bankrupt merchants who fought over cigarette butts flicked into the road by drunken solders.  Their strength was gone, their power dissipated, their arrogance a memory.  Yesterday's supermen had become subhuman.  But no, I don't like either of those terms, superman or subhuman; both victors and vanquished are no more, no less, than human beings."
"Jewish avengers were few in number, their thirst for vengeance brief ....... the Jews, for metaphysical and ethical reasons rooted in their history, chose another path.  Later, this absence of violence among the survivors, this absence of vengefulness on the part of the victims toward their former hangmen and torturers was widely discussed.  Of course, the setting was a Germany barely able to breathe under the weight of its ashes, a nation humiliated as few have ever been."
Yet within the tragic fate of so many of his people, Wiesel observed the quiet resolution and courageous determination that his fellow Jews exemplified.

"With hindsight I realize that it was in the ghetto that I truly began to love the Jews of my town.  Throughout the ordeal they maintained their dignity as human beings and as Jews.  Imprisoned, reduced to sub-human status, they showed themselves still capable of spiritual greatness.  Against the enemy they stood as one, affirming their faith in their faith."

With the death of both of his parents in the camps, after his release Wiesel went to France where, under the children's rescue society, he began schooling and reconnected with his Jewish religious roots.  He rather naively began his journalistic career working for a Yiddish news weekly funded by the Igrun, an Israeli resistance group.  Eventually, he found himself in New York as a foreign correspondent, and finally became a U.S. citizen.  He recounts his meetings with political dignitaries and writers such as Golda Meir, Ben-Gurion, Saul Lieberman, Yitzhak Rabin, Hannah Arendt, etc., as his travels took him between France, the U.S. and Israel.   Through his experiences, we get a first-hand view of Israel's fight for independence in 1947, to its struggles up to the Six Day War with Egypt in 1967.

About claims that he renounced his faith, Wiesel responds:

"There is a passage in Night  --- recounting the hanging of a young Jewish boy --- that has given rise to an interpretation bordering on blasphemy.  Theorists of the idea that "God is dead" have used my words unfairly as justification of their rejection of faith.  But if Nietzsche could cry out to the old man in the forest that God is dead, the Jew in me cannot.  I have never renounced my faith in God.  I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it ....... my Talmudist master Rabbi Saul Lieberman has pointed out another way to look at it.  One can --- and must --- love God.  One can challenge Him and even be angry with Him, but one must also pity Him.  'Do you know which of all the characters in the Bible is most tragic?' he asked me.  'It is God, blessed be His name, God whose creatures so often disappoint and betray Him.'  He showed me ..... God wept, His tears fell upon His people and His creation, as if to say, What have you done to my work? ...... Perhaps God shed more tears in the time of Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz, and one may therefore invoke His name not only with indignation but also with sadness and compassion."

Yet throughout this book, the tragedy of his people lives within him, their suffering and memory never far from the surface of his thoughts.  It is as if their legacy lives inside him and his soul needs to shout their story.

"To write is to plumb the unfathomable depths of being.  Writing lies within the domain of mystery. The place between any two words is vaster than the distance between heaven and earth.  To bridge it you must close your eyes and leap.  A Hasidic tradition tells us that in the Torah the white spaces, too, are God-given.  Ultimately, to write is an act of faith."

I really loved his biography, as Wiesel is very honest and forthright, yet we see compassion and understanding, not only for Jews, but for Germans and Arabs as well. There is no resonance of hatred in Wiesel's narrative, only a cry for understanding.  He does not want vengeance, and not necessarily even justice, but more a soul-searching to prevent another atrocity such as the Holocaust, which would give some sort of meaning to the tragedy.  Wiesel tells his story with a quiet strength, offering questions that perhaps have no answers, but always has the Jewish plight speaking from both light and shadows.  Ultimately, a good part of life is made up of questions without answers and perhaps Wiesel exemplifies best how to live in that tension, and also to use it for good.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Faerie Queene ~ Book I (Part I)

The Faerie Queene

Book 1
The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse
Of Holinesse

Canto I
The Patron of true Holinesse,
Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie him to entrape,
Doth to his home entreate.

At the behest of the Faerie Queene, the Gentle Knight, or Redcrosse Knight, sets out with his companion, Una, a daughter of a king, who is riding an ass and leading a small lamb.  His quest is to slay a terrible Dragon, that is holding Una's parents captive. Accompanied by a Dwarf as a servant, the travellers come upon a fierce storm and are forced to take shelter in a forest bower for the night.  When morning dawns, they fear that they have lost their way until they come upon a cave.  Una cautions the Knight, fraught with fearful doubts and premonitions of this den, but the Knight will not heed and enters, "full of fire and greedy hardiment".  Inside he discovers a terrible monster, Error, surrounded by her young.  He commences a battle:

"Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
      A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
      Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
      Which stunck so vildly, that is forst him slacke
      His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
      Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
      With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
      And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has."

At Una's urging, he lops off the head of the monster, whereupon her young engorge themselves with her blood until they burst asunder.  (Are you feeling queasy yet?)  Una and the Knight proceed to look for the right path again, and wander until they come upon an old man, a hermit who takes them to an inn to sleep.  Unbeknownst to our pair, this hermit is the sorcerer, Archimago, and with his magic he conjures up two spirits to beguile our Knight.  One gives the Knight dreams of lust and the other takes the shape of Una offering a kiss when he wakes, yet the Knight resists the temptation.  

Canto II
The guilefull great Enchaunter parts
The Redcrosse Knight from Truth:
Into whose stead faire falsehood steps,
And workes him wofull ruth.

Nonplussed, Archimago puts a sprite in the guise of a young man into bed with Una, and takes the Knight to them upon his waking.  Furious that she has played him so false, the Knight rides off without his lady, and when she discovers his desertion, rides after him, both followed by Archimago disguised as the Redcrosse Knight.

Redcrosse comes across a Saracen Knight travelling with his lady, the daughter of an emperor.  They fight, Redcrosse kills the Knight, Sansfoy, and assumes responsibility for the lady, Fidessa.  Attempting to escape the heat of the sun, they seek the shade of some trees, but when the Knight breaks off a branch, to his horror blood drips from the stem.  A voice informs him that he has injured Fradubio, a knight who had been travelling with his lady, Fraelissa.  Meeting with another knight with his lady, Duessa, he'd fought the knight killing him and took Duessa to his care, not knowing that she was a witch.  Duessa casts a spell, making Fraelissa ugly but one night Fradubio saw Duessa as the monster she was and horrified, he fled but Duessa transformed him into a tree; the spell could only be lifted by him being bathed in "a living well".  Unbeknownst to the Redcrosse Knight, his new companion is actually Duessa in disguise.

Canto III
Forsaken Truth long seekes he loue,
And makes the Lyon mylde,
Marres blind Deuotions mar, and fals
In hand of Leachour vylde.

Una and the Lion
Briton Rivière
source Wikipedia

Una still wanders, searching for her absent Knight and upon sleeping in the forest, is attacked by a Lion.  However, the Lion is arrested by her beauty and becomes her protector instead.  When they come across a girl carrying water, the girl flees but they follow her to her house and force themselves inside for shelter.  The girl, Abessa, has a blind Catholic mother, Corceca and as the house is asleep, her lover, who is a thief, breaks the door in whereupon the lion kills him, ripping him into tiny pieces.    Una leaves in the morning but the two women set out after her to accuse her of the crime, however they meet Archimago disguised as Redcrosse and inform him of the circumstances.  Archimago finds Una who is overjoyed to discover her "Knight". Suddenly Sansloy, the brother of the slaughtered Sansfoy, approachs and fights with Archimago, nearly killing him until the magician reveals himself. Una, realizing Archimago's perfidy, is caught by Sansloy, the Lion is killed by him and Una is at his mercy.

Canto IV
To sinfull house of Pride, Duessa
guides the faithfull knight,
Where brothers death to reak Sansloy
doth chalenge him to fight.

Redcrosse and Duessa/Fidessa come upon a lovely and princely palace, the sinful House of Pride; while it appears stately and magnificent, it is constructed in a weak and ruinous fashion, its foundation unstable.  They enter a large hall were numerous people are gathered and the lady of the palace sits on a throne, her beauty as bright as the sun, but her feet rest on a terrible Dragon.  The Knight and Witch are mistaken for royalty and taken to the front by Vanity, but Redcrosse is uncomfortable with the proceedings.  The lady Queen, Lucifera, daughter of Pluto and Prosperina, decides to take a ride in her chariot.  She is not royalty, but is counselled by six wizards and the chariot is pulled by six beasts which they ride.  The first advisor is Idleness, who rides a donkey and is lazy, lawless, and shaking with a fever; riding on a pig comes Gluttony, eating and drinking like one and is useless for anything; now, Lechery sate upon a bearded goat, disgusting looking but drawing weak women into his spell with his outward talents, yet he suffers the sexual disease of the philanderer; Avarice rides on a camel laden with gold which is his god, however he is ill-dressed, thin from want of food, and sad nonetheless; a ravenous wolf carries Envy with a serpent in his bosom, hate for virtue and joy for pain, he is jealous of his own company and despises Poets no less; Wrath rides on a lion, this counsellor completely lacking self-control and allowing anger to overcome him ---- even while he regrets his ungovernable rage, he cannot overcome it and bloodshed and strife follow in his wake; and Sathan (Satan) sits on the wagon beam whipping them all. While Duessa stays close to Lucifera, Redcrosse stays back not wishing to be part of this unsettling sight, but Sansjoy arrives wanting to battle to revenge his brother.  The Queen tells them to fight on the morrow.  There is feasting that night but later Duessa creeps to Sansfoy's chamber to pledge her loyalty to him.  

Canto V
The faithfull knight in equall field
subdewes his faithlesse foe,
Whom false Duessa saues, and for
 his cure to hell does go.

Both Redcrosse and Sansfoy prepare for their battle.  Both knights are strong and dangerous, but Sansfoy has his brother's shield and memory to spur him on.  The victor is uncertain until Redcrosse finally is about to slay his enemy, however Sansfoy is covered in a cloud.  Puzzled, Redcrosse searches for his foe but the trumpet sounds his victory and he presents the shield of Sansjoy to the Queene, then goes to have his wounds tended.  A distraught Duessa leaves to find Night and ask why she has allowed her dear nephews (the three Sans-- brothers) to be in peril.  Night is confused with her concern until she recognized her foul "sister" and she agrees to help Sansfoy.  They find the knight and take him to the Underworld, where Aesculapius, the god of medicine is exiled by Jove for bringing Hippolytus back to life.  Because of his sentence, he is hesitant to help them but finally acquiesces.  Redcrosse learns from the Dwarf that there are hundreds of bodies in the dungeons of the castle, many of them powerful rulers, all victims of Pride, and he leaves to escape that fate.  Duessa finds him gone when she returns.

Canto VI
From lawlesse lust by wondrous grace
fayre Una is releast:
Whom saluage nation does adore,
and learnes her wise beheast.

Una and the Satyrs - Art UK

Redcrosse is upset to have left Duessa behind, but he is even more conflicted over Una and her duplicity.  Una, however, is in a vile predicament as Sansloy means to have his lustful way with her.  In distress, she calls out for help and is answered by Fauns and Satyrs, who terrifies Sansloy so that he flees for his life.  They bow down before Una, then dance around her with gladness and joy, crowning her as Queen with an olive garland.  They take her to their leader, Sylvanus, who is amazed at their joy and Una's beauty.  Staying with them for a time, she tried to deflect their worship, but when restrained, they worshiped her ass instead.  A knight, a satyr's son named Satyrane, famed for his courage and his control over the beasts, helps Una to escape her admirers and continue her search for Redcrosse.  They meet a silly travelling pilgrim who informs them of Redcrosse's death, whereupon Una nearly faints, but recovers to hear his story. The pilgrim informs them that the Paynim, Sansloy, is nearby, so Satyrane finds him and challenges him.  The two fight but when Sansloy sees Una he tries to pursue her but is prevented by his foe.  Una flees far from her lustful enemy, but the Pilgrim sees her go and pursues her.  Yikes!  It is not a pilgrim, but the evil Archimago!  What will happen to Una?
     "But for to tell her lamentable cace,
And eke this battels end, will need another place."

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Oh, my!  This poem is very challenging and moves very slowly.  It's obviously going to take much longer than anticipated, and I'm going to have to split my Book posts into part 1 and part 2, so as not to overwhelm myself and others.  Each of the six books has twelve cantos each, so if I split it 6/6, that should do it!  However, June does not seem to be an attainable finish date, nevertheless I will push ahead and see what transpires.

So far I'm really enjoying the poem.  I'm listening to the Librivox recording by Thomas Copeland while I read and it's very helpful for understanding.  So far, I can see some similarities to Le Morte d'Arthur, but I also hear echoes of Dante.  There is really so much in this poem that can work on so many different levels.  Right now, I'm merely concentrating on understanding what's happening but when I get more accustomed to it, I hope to be able to delve deeper.  And if I have any energy left after summarizing the cantos, perhaps I'll even write about it too!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley)

"When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night."

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925.  He was the fourth of seven children, his father being an outspoken Baptist speaker.  The family relocated to Lansing, Michigan where they were targets of attacks of the Black Legion, a racist group led by whites.  Before Malcolm's seventh birthday, his father was killed in a streetcar accident, but rumours of the Black Legion's involvement were rife.  When a relationship with a man she was dating deteriorated, Malcolm's mother had a breakdown and was placed in a mental asylum where she remained for 24 years.  At fourteen, he began to get involved in all sorts of illegal activity, from gambling, hustling, drug dealing, racketeering, pimping, etc in New York City.  He became a thug and a criminal, hanging out at music halls and smoking "reefers", living a wild life on the edge:

"Looking back, I think I really was at least slightly out of my mind.  I viewed narcotics as most people regard food.  I wore my guns as today I wear my neckties.  Deep down I actually believed that after living as fully as humanly possible, one should then die violently.  I expected then, as I still expect today, to die at any time.  But then, I think I deliberately invited death in many, sometimes insane ways."

Finally at 20 years old, an attempted robbery landed the young man in prison, where he finally discovered through one of his brothers, the "natural religion of the black man", the Nation of Islam.  Through their prophet Elijah Muhammed, a new history of the black man was revealed:  600 years ago everyone was black but a "Mr. Yacub", a scientist with a large head decided to break the peace.  Exiled to Patmos (the same island were the Apostle John lived when he wrote Revelations), Yacub, embittered towards Allah, made a race of "bleached-out white people" through his followers.  In two hundred years the black people were eliminated, two hundred more and the brown people followed, then two hundred each for the red people and the yellow people (yes, the math doesn't add up, but I'm just repeating the story).  The new white people were like animals, walking on all fours and living in trees and it was two hundred years before they returned to civilization and made it a living hell.  All the black people's problems stemmed from this "devil white race".  History had been completely rewritten by the white man.  X also figured out that because the King James Bible was considered the ultimate in English and the King had poets write it, Shakespeare must have written it.  So in Malcolm X's mind, King James used the alias of Shakespeare and wrote the Bible to "enslave the world".   And thus, Malcolm X began to correspond with his siblings & Elijah Muhammend, read any book he could to support his position and to recruit for the NOI (Nation of Islam).  He was successful with converting some followers, but the majority thought their tenants strange, to say the least, and rejected his overtures.

Malcolm X before a press
conference (1954)
source Wikipedia

Malcolm X despised the white race, but he also showed extreme antipathy towards the black elite, or any black person who did not agree with him, calling them brainwashed by the white people, including Martin Luther King, Jr. whom he labelled a puppet of the white establishment.

"Why you should hear those Negroes attack me, trying to justify, or forgive the white man's crimes!  These Negroes are people who bring me nearest to breaking one of my principal rules which is never to let myself become over-emotional and angry.  Why, sometimes I've felt I ought to jump down off that stand and get physical with some of those brainwashed white man's tools, parrots, puppets."

Yet with his evangelizing, NOI numbers slowly grew.  His met his wife, Sister Betty X, at his temple and after they were married, she became a good Muslim wife to him, caring for their children and supporting his ministry.  When questioned about his religious philosophy and its proclivity for spreading hatred, the people questioning him would immediately become "breathing living devils" and X would immediately go on the attack, claiming the white man was in no moral position to accuse anyone else of hatred, or he would accuse them of attacking his people because they were black.  As an artist might work in oils, Malcolm X worked in logical fallacies, painting his rhetorical and philosophical landscapes with circular reasoning, ad hominem attacks, red herrings, appeals to fear, tu quoque, and the straw man.

After years of working as Elijah Mohammed's front man and "minister", Malcolm X began to act more independently.  Praise was always given to Mohammed, but there were suspicions that his actions were not always pleasing to his superior and that the NOI head resented his subordinate's popularity.  When Mohammed was accused of sexual impropriety with NOI secretaries, a serious breach of the rules of Islam, Malcolm X attempted to justify his behaviour.  However, with Malcolm X releasing inappropriate comments after John Kennedy's assassination, in spite of a NOI ban on commenting, the leader felt X had become too independent and prohibited his public speaking for 90 days.  Malcolm X finally left the organization, founding Muslim Mosque, Inc. and in 1964 made a pilgrimmage to Mecca where he was astounded to see believers of all colours. It was the beginning of a change within the charismatic leader and when he returned to the States, there was tone moderation in some of his discourses.

"Yes ---- I wrote a letter from Mecca.  You're asking me 'Didn't you say that now you accept white men as brother?'  Well, my answer is that in the Muslim World, I saw, I felt, and I wrote home how my thinking was broadened!  Just as I wrote, I shared true, brotherly love with many white-complexioned Muslims who never gave a single thought to the race, or to the complexion, of another Muslim .......  In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people.  I never will be guilty of that again --- as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man.  The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against black ..... (it) was the first time I ever had been able to think clearly about the basic divisions of white people in America, and how their attitudes and their motives related to, and affected Negroes."

He finally saw that it wasn't "the American white man who is a racist, but ... the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourished a racist psychology in the white man." His inclusion now did not only cross the boundaries of race but also religion and political philosophy.  Suddenly Malcolm X began to get an inkling that his previous experiences which formed his views might have been based on ignorance, and he strove for a change.  Finally, we see a man struggling with new ideas that perhaps are trying to kick the old ones aside, as he tried to merge his new identity with the old one.  And we get a glimpse of some perhaps insightful self-examination:

"For the freedom of my 22 million black brothers and sisters here in America, I do beliee that I have fought the best that I knew how, and the best that I could, with the short-comings that I have had.  I know that my shortcomings are many."

Malcolm X defends his house
Photo from Ebony magazine
source Wikipedia

In spite of his new outlook and more moderate thinking, Malcolm X's rhetoric did not noticably change, other than the added sprinkling of more impartial comments.  It would have been interesting to see where this new-wakening would have taken him but it was not to be.  He knew his time was running out, as his divide with NOI had stirred a pot of vipers.

"Every morning when I wake up, now, I regard it as having another borrowed day.  In any city, wherever I go, making speeches, holding meetings of my organization, or attending to other business, black men are watching every move I make, awaiting their chance to kill me.  I have said publicly many times that I know that they have their orders.  Anyone who chooses not to believe wht I am saying doesn't know the Muslims in the Nation of Islam .....  each day I live as if I am already dead ....."

In an epilogue added by Alex Haley, we learn of Malcolm X's demise.  At a conference in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, while addressing the Organization of Afro-American unity, Malcolm X was shot multiple times by three men rushing the stage.  He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital with 21 bullet holes in his body. The three men, Nation of Islam members, were arrested and imprisoned for his murder.

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This book is brutally appalling and without encouragement from Ruth, I would probably not have finished it.  The vicious hatred and counter-disease of racial prejudice was so palpable it was nearly unbearable, being very similar to Hilter's discourses in Mein Kampf.  Personally, while I could never condone hatred, I could at least understand animosity against a person who had perpetrated an horrible act against him.  But I couldn't understand the savage hatred against people who had never done a thing to him but only shared the same colour of skin as those who had oppressed his people.  As I read his speeches and invectives, I did not feel like Malcolm X was speaking for his people; he was simply mentally creating a situation that he wanted to believe and acted on it, his own philosophy being more important than the people he was trying to vindicate.  It was only in the latter part of the book that his views began to be adjusted, and it would have been interesting to learn if they would have become even more moderate and inclusive with time.  Sadly, we will now never know.

The most interesting part of the biography was the epilogue written by Alex Haley. Through him we get a sense of Malcolm X, a man who was distrustful of everyone around him, including himself.  Even his friends were seen a partial enemies and his whole life was spent like a hunted animal, either from his own internal expectations, or real threatening circumstances.  Constant drama surrounded X and he appeared to need to feed on it, as one would food for sustenance.  His moods would swing from jubilant to sullen and back again.  Haley had often to lead and coax the black leader to tell about himself, luring him away frominstead of resorting to diatribes against whomever he felt conflicted with him or his views.  Yet even with the often unbalanced raving tirades and untenable attacks, there is no doubt Malcolm X had a compelling magnetism that garnered attention.

The violence through which Malcolm X lived and appeared to advocate, did not only culminate in his death but resonated throughout his family.  In 1995, his daughter Qubilah was arrested and tried for plotting the murder of Louis Farrakhan, then the leader of the Nation of Islam whom she felt bore the responsibility for her father's murder.  Two years later, her twelve-year-old son set fire to his grandmother's house (Betty, Malcolm X's wife) which caused burns to over 80% of her body and caused her death.  In his 28th year he was found beaten to death in Mexico.

Perhaps Malcolm X did give a type of pride to black Americans but the stain of violence he contributed and left in his wake cannot be seen as a value to anyone as far as I'm concerned.  If those who are advocates for the oppressed act exactly the same as the oppressors, no one benefits and the prejudices and hatred are simply perpetuated.  If it is simply a matter of anger and revenge, we learn nothing.