Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lilac, Star, and Bird Twined with the Chant of my Soul

At this hour 150 years ago today--April 14, 1865--the man who saved the Union was assassinated by a group of disgruntled secessionists in a devious plot to simultaneously murder the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. Two of three assassins failed. Only John Wilkes Booth found his target. Abraham Lincoln was shot from behind at close range in the Ford Theater at 10:15 pm. The President was moved to a bed across the street. He was tended during the night until he finally succumbed to his wounds at 7:22 a.m. the next morning. 

Moved by the tragic loss of such a great man by such a heinous act, poet Walt Whitman wrote several poems, including the following deeply moving pastoral elegy. As a tribute to a fallen President and a grief-stricken poet, I have added some illustrations and republished the poem at 10:15 p.m. on April 14th, 150 years to the minute after Lincoln was shot.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

Portrait of the President
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

Venus in the Western Sky

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

Farmhouse lilacs near white-washed palings

In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)

A grey-brown song bird
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

The President on his death bed
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

(Nor for you, for one alone,
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring,
For fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a song for you O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies,
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you O death.)

O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,
As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on,)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you,
But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain’d me,
The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.

Portrait of  poet Walt Whitman

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I’ll perfume the grave of him I love.

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific,
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows,
And the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

Lo, body and soul—this land,
My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships,
The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio’s shores and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
The gentle soft-born measureless light,
The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill’d noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer!
You only I hear—yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.

Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds and the storms,)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,
When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night in silence under many a star,
The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil’d death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-pack’d cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume,
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc’d with missiles I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

Passing the visions, passing the night,
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands,
Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul,
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.

I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

End-notes, References, and Additional Reading 
I pasted this arrangement from The Poetry Foundation. However, Whitman was a type-setter, and doubtless would have preferred his own arrangement on the page

Composer and Conductor Paul Hindemith was commissioned to set Whitman's poem to music after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.
You may enjoy this performance of Hindemith's composition. The link was sent to me by one of the performers (MST) who sang Paul Hindemith's "Lilacs" with the National Symphony last January. 
Additional information about Lincoln's assassination via "This Day in History" by History.com
Garrett Peck's just-published book about Walt Whitman's decade in DC is available for purchase.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Let's go Venice-hopping

The inspiration for this post: 7 April entry on my "1,000 Places" calendar
With its Grand Canal, water taxis, shop-lined bridges, and classic Renaissance architecture, Venice, Italy has a timeless appeal. It's the iconic canal city to which all other canal cities are compared. Wikipedia even has entries listing all the places nicknamed "Venice of the East" or "Venice of the North."

The five locations mentioned on my calendar are highlighted in Blue. The ones I have visited are highlighted in Green. Horseshoe close, but not quite? Yellow. 

Have you visited Venice? How many of the 28 other "Venices" have you visited? Which are your favorites? Which would you want to see next? Anyone want to go Venice-hopping?

  1. Barisal, Bangladesh
  2. Dhaka, Bangladesh
  3. Bruges, Belgium
  4. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei (the Kampong Ayer section of Bandar Seri Begawan is the largest water village in Asia).
  5. Lijiang City, China
  6. Suzhou, China (Tongli and Zhouzhuang)
  7. Wuzhen, China
  8. Copenhagen, Denmark
  9. Manchester, England
  10. Nan Madol, Federated States of Micronesia
  11. Hamburg, Germany
  12. Alappuzha Beach (also known as Alleppey), India
  13. Srinagar, Kashmir, India
  14. The City Palace located in Udaipur, India
  15. Basra, Iraq
  16. Osaka, Japan
  17. Malacca, Malaysia
  18. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  19. Giethoorn, Netherlands
  20. 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
  21. Henningsvær, Norway
  22. Sitangkai, Philippines
  23. Tawi-Tawi, Philippines
  24. Saint Petersburg, Russia
  25. Stockholm, Sweden
  26. Ayutthaya, Thailand
  27. Bangkok, Thailand
  28. Hanoi, Vietnam

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Courage of the Seed

Easter Sunday photo of Todd's Red Oak, planted Feb 16, 2015

Mark Nepo's timing is uncanny. When he published The Book of Awakening 15 years ago, he knew that in the year 2015, Easter would fall on April 5th. He knew that this would be the first Easter after our Todd passed from this Earth. He somehow knew that we would have a special reason to trust in a sense of continuity--that today, especially, we would strain credulity just enough to believe in resurrection of the dead.

The red oak acorn I planted on what would have been Todd's 52nd birthday was a gift from caring colleagues. This morning, somewhat groggy from a sunrise service, I sat in my prayer chair and opened Nepo to the entry for April 5th. That is when those words he wrote 15+ years ago just for me, and just for that moment, finally hit home.

"All the buried seeds
crack open in the dark
the instant they surrender
to a process they can't see."

Never-mind that this is the 5th time I have read Nepo's book. The first four didn't count. The seed of meaning in those words could not crack open in my mind until I was ready to surrender reason and simply believe.

Happy Easter, Todd. We love you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Match Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type to a Patron Saint

Image: Church of the Resurrection

On St Patrick's Day, Trevor McMaken of the Church of the Resurrection published in interesting twist on the ever-popular Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator: using your MBTI profile to match yourself to a saint in time for Holy Week.

As an ENTP, I was immediately curious to add a Saint to my collection of characters from Star Wars and Harry Potter characters. This fascination with the MBTI has been habit-forming! Turns out the folks at the Church of the Resurrection reckon that the Patron Saint of ENTPs like me is one St. Thomas Cranmer.

Image: Church of the Resurrection

Frankly, despite my post-secondary education at Notre Dame, I was not familiar with St. Cranmer and so was slightly disappointed that I did not align with someone more popular, like St. Francis of Assisi....

"Now I'm practicing my likeness of St. Francis of Assisi
And if I hold my hand outstretched a little bird comes to me"
                                                     --Elvis Costello, "Bedlam" 

Alas, clearly, I am no INFP, so IF McMaken and Church of the Rez are accurate, I have little hope of Elvis singing about me. However, I mollify myself with the speculation that Mr. Costello is himself a fellow ENTP. And I surveyed the remaining choices and found no descriptions more like me. Those of you who share my MBTI fetish might enjoy reading the choices to see whether you really do align with the recommended saint.

Image: Church of the Resurrection

The Sunday edition of the Washington Post placed this interesting bit of pop psychology into slightly wider circulation under this banner: For Holy Week, Here's How You Can Match Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type to a Patron Saint. I noticed more of my friends participating and commenting after the Post got in on the game. It was at this time that I figured I had better get a better understanding of the life of Thomas Cranmer. And that is when I discovered why the story of Saint Cranmer was not discussed at my alma mater....

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, is revered as a reformer and martyr in ... wait for it ... the Church of England. So, he may be a saint, but not one recognized by Catholics. Thomas made it possible for King Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, which of course made neither the King nor the Archbishop popular with the Pope.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1533-1556). Image: Wikipedia

Henry VIII died at age 55 and was succeeded by his 9-year old son, Edward VI, born by 3rd wife, Jane Seymour. During the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer was allowed to make the doctrinal changes he thought necessary to the church. In 1549, he helped complete the book of common prayer. After Edward VI's death, Cranmer supported Lady Jane Grey as successor. Her nine-day reign was followed by the Roman Catholic Mary I, who promptly tried Cranmer for treason.

Cranmer’s martyrdom, from John Foxe’s book (1563). Image and caption: Wikipedia

To save his life and his life's work, Cranmer recanted. He was even received back into the Catholic church. However, Mary I insisted on his execution. Cranmer was sentenced to be burnt to death in Oxford on 21 March 1556. Before his death, he publicly renounced his recantation. He dramatically stuck his right hand, with which he had signed his recantation, into the fire first.

As an ENTP, I am all about generating ideas for change, for reformation, and for continuous process improvement. I am also quite happy to work hard for causes in which I believe passionately. The whole burned at the stake thing, though. That is a different matter!

I hope this post has you in an enlightened, if somewhat somber, Holy Week mood. And if you are so inclined, feel free to comment or share.


1. Church of the Resurrection
  • Address: 935 W. Union Ave., Wheaton, IL 60187. 
  • Phone: 630-653-3888. 
  • Email: office@churchrez.org. 
  • Website: http://www.churchrez.org 
2. Church of the Resurrection's original publication. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.churchrez.org/news/holy-week-myers-briggs

4. Wikipedia's entry on Thomas Cranmer. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cranmer

5. Bedlam Lyrics. (n.d.). Lyrics.net. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.lyrics.net/lyric/7543662.

6. A British perspective on Church of England's sainted leader. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/cranmer_thomas.shtml

No Fool

Just in time for April Fool's Day comes this Lenten meditation from one of my favorite United Church of Christ pastors, Quinn G. Caldwell.