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Ocean City Boardwalk

The sun beats down upon this bench;

The boards resound with thumping feet;

The passing breeze picks up the stench

Of tobacco and roasting meat.

 

To left and right a world spreads out

Of blaring music, flashing signs;

The cream-streaked people peer about

Through glasses dark for cheapest finds.

 

An eastern wind comes from behind,

A crisp and cool breath from the sea;

Its sharp, clean fragrance wafts to mind

A world of grace and mystery,

 

A quiet world, breakers and breeze

Singing their wild, blissful hymn,

Earth’s edge fading in glimm’ring seas,

Free blue-green depths where finned things swim.

 

My heart leaps up to hasten there,

Leaving behind this boardwalk scene,

For all its splendid flash and glare

Pales by this majesty serene.

 

I’ve brought no purse nor souvenir,

Nothing that I need fear to leave.

My shoes I gladly set down here,

Forsake the scene, and never grieve.

 

For though its sweet delights I reap,

My hungry heart finds them too small;

The sea’s glory is strong and deep,

And fades not nor changes at all.

 

So may I gladly quit this earth,

Not weighted by things on the way,

And freely seek my second birth,

The joys deeper than man can say.

 

Though pleasures here be bright and sweet,

Still my heart strains up from the sod;

Into the depths shall fly my feet,

The changeless, beauteous depths of God!

 

 

The Problem with Poetry in Our Time

Why talk about poetry? It might not seem an urgent concern. It certainly isn’t among the “hot-button issues” of our day. Our thoughts, however, would be impoverished if we devoted them only to the latest controversy over Pope Francis, the new dismaying scandal, or whether our country will collapse. Even in harsh times, the things that make human life full and sweet still deserve attention.

Art is part of what makes life human. The urge to create has always been a distinctive mark of humanity, and has been manifest wherever people have had time to draw, sculpt, or compose. God made us “making-creatures,” as Tolkien put it, reflecting the image of our Creator by becoming little creators ourselves. If you have no interest in poetry or arts generally, you probably aren’t still reading. But if you are, and if you’re interested in how language relates to human nature, keep going.

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Looking to the Future: A Balanced Vision

What will the future be like? Our inability to answer this question with certainty has never stopped us from wondering and guessing, both about our personal futures and the future of the world. During the past century, the speculations about the latter have grown more numerous, diverse and elaborate than ever. Stories set in some projected time after our own have created such powerful images of the future that they shape our culture in the present, for better or worse. Although no expert on futuristic stories, I find the ideas underlying them intriguing and sometimes troubling. What do our imaginings do for us—or to us—now?

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The Gift of the Elven-King

Many ages ago, a great realm lay between the mountains and the sea, once ruling much of the world but now mostly forgotten. During the years leading to its decline, a curious affliction spread to many of its people. Fine, filthy fumes drifted across much of the land, becoming a slow poison in men’s eyes and throats. This was the doing of some wizards in the moors; they were releasing the foulness, most out of careless folly more than wickedness, from the furnaces and cauldrons where they performed their secret labors. But the people were to blame as well, for they made no effort to protect themselves. Instead, they simply coughed and blinked and went on as before.

In time, they became so accustomed to these fumes that they no longer knew anything different. They thought nothing of the bitterness they breathed, or the dull, ugly sights coming through their marred eyes. Many forgot that air could be sweeter, light stronger, colors brighter. Some, noticing the change, fled to remote regions where the air was less sullied, but they were few.

On the land’s western border, in the mountain forests, the Elves observed this evil from their own realm. No corruption could come near their dwelling places, but they saw and grieved over the sufferings of the foolish men. Thus it came, one day, that the Elven-king called his messengers to him.

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Peter Pan vs. My Neighbor Totoro: Contrasting Perspectives on Childhood

Recently, my family and I watched two movies deemed by their fans to be classic celebrations of the magic of childhood. The two take place in profoundly different cultures on opposite sides of the globe, but both—in their own ways—involve the magical bursting into the everyday, celebrate innocent wonder, and affirm the importance of family. One of them is, alas, much less well-known in the United States than the other. That one is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, and the other is Peter Pan (the Broadway version, starring Cathy Rigby). I had seen both many times before, but on these reviewings, I noticed some remarkable contrasts in their perspectives on childhood and growing up.

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The Host of the Wounded King

All you who weary of living,

All you tear-blinded who stumble,

Finding the road unforgiving,

Feeling your strength slip and crumble,

Though blood from your hands be streaming,

And the cross your backs encumber,

Through this night one star is gleaming:

Strength Himself is of our number!

 

Though we be lonely and desolate,

And our faith’s rock-bed be shaken,

We have not lost our last, nor yet

Are we completely forsaken.

That Lord so battered and slandered

Rises like flame of the morn,

Raising His unconquered standard,

Winding His summoning horn!

 

Rise up to heed His call!

Hail it, for ‘tis addressed

To weary suff’rers all,

Worn, wounded and oppressed.

All earth He means to win;

All souls who dwell therein

Rise as to Him they fall;

His cross, His weapon blest.

That conquest we may share,

All we who crosses bear,

Strange triumph if we dare

To love Him best!

 

Let us not drag like slaves

Burdened and raddled,

But with our King who saves,

Fight even to our graves,

As knights embattled!

Shall we not now perceive?

Hasten, all who believe;

Though all our hearts may grieve

And bones be rattled,

Let us live well and die

Knowing for Whom and why—

He leads us, riding by,

On ass-charger saddled!

 

Hark what we have to win!

Pulling from swamps of sin

Our souls and others’ in

Strength of His power;

Gaining, through patient fight,

Ever a higher height,

Up toward the world of light,

Hour by hour!

All of our bloody tears

Sowing our battlefield,

By our feet hoed, will yield

Fruit past the years,

From faith-laid seed appears

Immortal flower!

 

When we hear glad and resounding

His final blast o’er the earth,

All these grim foes now surrounding

Will, like the womb-walls at birth,

Burst away, and we will gather

Into our King’s lightsome hall,

No more blood-streaming, but rather,

Streaming His joy in its all.

 

Shall we not then rouse our spirits

And stand our ground this one night,

Knowing that we need not fear its

Dark, who have drunk of His light?

Faith’s light kindles Love’s blazing heat,

We fight by its heavenly glow,

Bleeding, but ne’er in defeat—

Till morning His triumph will show!

How to Be a Successful College Graduate

This piece is not what you might think. I’m not going to tell you how to get your dream job, climb the corporate ladder, navigate social circles, or make an obvious impact on society. I won’t tell you those things, partly because I don’t know them, but also because I want to challenge their status as the definition of success.

College students and new graduates hear a good deal about “success,” but are likely to receive very mixed signals about the particular goals in question. When our mainstream culture speaks of “succeeding,” it tends to have some sort of economic or social ends in mind. Land a well-paying job, achieve recognition in your field of work, acquire the means to live in comfort and security, and you’re probably a “success” by this assessment. The more noble-minded raise this standard to include making a useful contribution to the world, which is well and good, though I will bring in an important nuance later. Schools with a strong Christian outlook, like my alma mater, also emphasize building up the kingdom of God and winning the world to Christ. This is also, undoubtedly, an important and worthy aim. Any one of these, however, can become dangerous if new alumni make it the measure of themselves and their lives.

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The Sun-Woman

Kymrei had never heard of anyone descending below the canopy, that shadowy underworld of mysterious dangers. Much less had she ever expected to do so herself.

It all began on that year’s Day of Flight, the day she had been eagerly anticipating for most of her life. So much had been leading up to this point—the early rides behind her father or mother on the avyars’ backs, her first lessons in how to sit the saddle and work the harness with her feet, her solitary flights for the last couple of years among the branches of the Western Arbor. In the few months before this day, she had practiced with particular industry, flying in all the permitted areas and reviewing every tactic and trick she knew. Then, in the last couple of weeks, she had made her own riding garb, light and comfortable but strong, in the deep blue and white that marked her family. For her emblem, she had chosen a sunburst surrounded with stars, the only image that seemed to convey properly the excitement that she felt.

Now, at last, the day had come. Summer had arrived, and for Kymrei and all the Western Arbor’s youth in their fifteenth summer, it was their Day of Flight. After today, she would be a woman, free to do all the things grown men and women did. Her avyar, Aino, she would no longer have to borrow from the Keeper and ride only in a few places—he would be hers, and she could fly on him wherever she pleased. After this morning . . . they had only to follow the Keeper of the avyars all around the island, showing that they had mastered the art of flying the creatures and could overcome the tricks of land and sky.

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A Silent Consolation

The silence is tremendous here;

My heart is sore and dry;

I’ve wrung out every bloody tear

And found it good to cry.

 

This emptiness that’s taken hold

Seems to be listening

For some word that cannot be told

Except in suffering.

 

I listen with my weary soul,

My spirit limp and still;

Like water welling in a hole,

Fair sights my worn mind fill.

 

The branches this spot encompass

And sprinkle streams of sun;

Leaves glowing green like bits of glass

Quiver while breezes run.

 

The grass gleams back; the insects whirl;

The flowers softly glow;

Blithe birds and little roguish squirrel

All scurrying by me go.

 

And spread out on majestic high,

Its blue and white aflame

With golden sun, the evening sky,

O’er all my world the same.

 

All these are breathing out to me

A signal growing strong,

One thought—joy, joy—pulsing lightly,

A sweet and throbbing song.

 

“Why joy?” I ask. “What is there here

That should my spirit start?

What does your beauty frail to clear

The burden in my heart?”

 

Swift they reply, “Man, we are more

Than only what you see.

Our beauty is not idle, for

It speaks reality.

 

“Such is your Father, such His hand!

Spilling His splendors forth,

Scatt’ring them so you’ll understand

How His love sets your worth!”

 

“Are you His splendors, then?” say I.

“Yet you are not like Him;

For you too change, and slip, and die—

Small joy in what grows dim.”

 

Swift they reply, “Rejoice we must,

And you too, more than all.

We each are bound to die in dust

Since Adam’s grievous fall;

 

“And so we groan in longing, yes,

But longing not in vain;

There runs a song of hopefulness

Through sun and cloud and rain;

 

“For in the second Adam’s rise

We all are made anew,

And though death swallow earth and skies

‘Tis but a passing through.

 

“O learn now what the seedling shows,

That all your suffering

Is but the sowing of what grows

Unto far greater spring.

 

“Rejoice with us, be sown with us,

And fear ye not to dream

That all griefs may joy-blossom thus,

However sight may seem.”

 

So is it thus that flowers fall,

That suns wear out and die,

That loss besieges sinners all

Beneath the dimming sky—

 

So that all things, consumed and spent,

May keep what seedlings hold,

And with the One Who death-bars rent

Spring up a hundredfold?

 

I see it not, it seems so far,

Yet this I shall not lose,

This glimpsing of the things that are—

This I embrace and choose.

 

The Spirit that gives silent things

A mission and a voice

In silence stills my questionings

And calls me to rejoice.

 

Tales of the Night

Sorry, I can’t pretend to be objective here. Michel Ocelot’s Tales of the Night is simply a joy—not a perfect film, but a lyrical celebration of art and imagination, its assortment of stories sparkling like a jeweled mosaic.

Of course, it comes to us from abroad (specifically, from France, in a combined effort of NordQuest Films, Studio O, and Studio Canal). No American studio would produce such a film. The animation is simple, low-budget work, relying on lavish artistry rather than cutting-edge technology, much like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea (both of which, like Tales of the Night, were brought to the United States by GKIDS). Characters are black silhouettes with eyes, but the backgrounds are a riot of color and detail: flowers and branches, castle walls, a Gothic-style rose window, skies sprinkled with stars or streaked with pink and gold. Almost every frame is shot from the side, giving the images the feel of elaborate dioramas. The six eponymous tales, though none lack some form of excitement, are presented with fairy-tale simplicity and matter-of-factness, without attempts to sensationalize. Why can’t we get more movies like this?

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