Saturday, May 20, 2006

Positively final appearance....

This is the positively final appearance of the Da Vinci Cod on this blog. We all know that the book was a stinker in terms of plot, characters, and historical accuracy but it seems that the film is even worse. Not only were the various critics coming out of the premiere in Cannes trying to outdo each other in abusing it, it seems that not even The Irish Times, that venerable organ of anti-Catholic opinion, could be persuaded to say a good word about it. My favourite of the lot however is A N Wilson in the Daily Mail. I'm used to reading his books column in the Daily Torygraph, so I usually expect him to be a slightly jaded voice speaking up once again for civility and humane values. And once again, he doesn't disappoint. Anyway, that's it; as promised above, this is its positively final appearance here. And now for something completely different....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Vulgate

If you're a trad, then you probably like your Scripture to be much like your liturgy, the older the better. If not in a dead language, then at least one that's on life support! Well the good news is that if the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate is your idea of a perfect book to curl up with, as you drink your cocoa then you're in luck. The wonderful people over at Baronius Press are going to republish it in 2007. Well they are planning to anyway, and knowing them they'll do their level best. For those of you who are regular readers of the Douai-Reims-Challoner, the Vulgate (if you've got any Latin at all) will be a cinch. That's because the DRC is an almost literal translation of the SCV. Obviously if you just can't wait, then the internet versions will have to do; alternatively you could get one from the German Bible Society or even the Library of Christian Authors. Do be warned though that the Deutsche Bibel Gesellschaft has no punctuation whatsoever. Very scholarly but a pain in the neck to read. And the BAC version is probably somewhat lacking in terms of production values. That may be the best reason for waiting until Baronius work their peculiar brand of magic. After all, the very best of books deserves the very best of paper, printing and binding.

Finally, if you're a technophile trad (as so many of us seem to be) here's one thing you can't do without. A Vulgate search bar for your Firefox browser!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Not a poetic bone in my body....

Being a philosopher, I'm probably supposed to be generally cultured. Well I'm not, mea maxima culpa. Of classical music I have only a desultory knowledge; as for literature, well eclectic is the term that would cover it best. Poetry a fortiori is an almost completely closed book to me, hence I read Sheila's blog rather a lot. Poetry, lots of it, plenty of variety and some solid exegesis on each piece. That lead to me to ask her to exercise her exegetical powers on Yeats, specifically on Easter 1916. She rose to the challenge but then got a bit stumped. That was my fault I'm afraid, because I forgot that without some knowledge of the whole Home Rule - Easter Rising - War of Independence period, this poem is almost meaningless. So here goes: an attempt to make clear what this poem is all about. It may turn out to be complete nonsense, but when a lady asks, what else is one to do?

Easter 1916

by William Butler Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

In the first stanza Yeats is talking about the small cultural Nationalist circle in which he moved during the first decade and a half of the 20th Century. Most of the men who actually started the 1916 Rising were clerks or shopkeepers or schoolmasters. Yeats lived in Dublin as they did, and much of the centre of the city is made up of Georgian houses or 18th century Neoclassical state buildings. The centre of Dublin then (and even now) is very small, and the chances of his bumping into a few of the men later executed on an average evening were pretty good. Of course he thought (a bit like Gabriel Syme in The Man who was Thursday) that they didn't really mean it when they promised to raise revolution. They might have claimed to wear patriotic green, but really it was only motley. He was contemptuous of their grandiose talk and lack of action; thus he'd have "a mocking tale or a gibe / To please a companion / Around the fire at the club". The Club is the United Arts Club on Fitzwilliam Square, one of those self-same "eighteenth century houses".

The second stanza starts off about Yeats's old obsession, Maud Gonne. He was in love with her for most of his life but she had chosen politics over passion; she had married though, a man called John McBride. He had fought against the British in the Boer War, and had been a soldier of one kind or another for many years. He was, it seems, rather too fond of drink, and when in his cups could be a less than gentle or kindly husband. The middle section is devoted to Padraig Pearse - the man who had kept a school - and another - I'm not sure but I think he might mean Joseph Mary Plunkett. All these men shared the same fate of course, in front of a firing squad in Kilmainham Jail.

The next stanza baffles me. I'm suddenly reminded of what my aesthetics lecturer told me some years ago about the poetic register of language being one where meaning is layered upon meaning almost to excess. What I can get out of it is that while life moves on and changes from second to second, the hearts enchanted with this dream of freedom are turned, as it were, to stone. They stand still and are unmoved by change all around, and keep faith with their dream.

Yeats refuses to pass judgment on them, even though he says "Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart. / O when may it suffice?". Instead he simply tells us to remember them and to mourn them, a little like a mother watching over her sleeping children. Then he remembers that they are not sleeping but dead. He asks whether their death was in vain, whether their aims might not have been achieved without bloodshed? He again refuses to judge but simply honours their sacrifice "We know their dream; enough / To know they dreamed and are dead."

The oft-repeated "lovely line" that Sheila drew attention to "All is changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born" is a deliberate reference to Yeats's own earlier poem September 1913. The very Dublin middle classes he excoriates in it raised a rebellion only three years later, and some of them went without a backward glance to their own certain deaths. What was "changed, changed utterly" was, above all, Yeats's own cynical and weary refrain that "Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone / It’s with O’Leary in the grave".

Sin a bhfuil! So Sheila, will that do?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The DaVinci Cod (sic)

For anyone who is turned off by Dan Brown's (& Ron Howard's) nonsense and wants good reasons why, have a look at Da Vinci Code Ireland. I heard about it from Fr Gavan Jennings (a priest, philosopher and in Wodehousian terms all round good egg). The site itself is full of interesting information, and has among other goodies, powerpoint presentations for download! Gavan's round-robin reads as follows
In case you haven’t heard, HOPE Ireland (a group of inter-denominational individuals coming together especially for this purpose) has put together a new website aimed at the Irish public to try to counteract the negative influence that The Da Vinci Code film will have on people, particularly on young families and teenagers.

There are several useful resources on that website, including a couple of PowerPoint presentations with scripts that could be delivered to all sorts of audiences: family groups, schools, parents of youth clubs, etc. Norella Broderick is coordinating the delivery of presentations around the country. Her email is She would be glad to help if you have any queries.

The website is: I would be very grateful if you could circulate this web address to anyone you know who might find it useful. Besides being of general interest to a lot of people concerned about the book and film, the downloadable presentations with scripts would be interesting to anyone in a position to give a presentation to a group of people.

There is also information about Mark Shea (author of “The Da Vinci Deception”, a booklet with 100 questions similar to the one produced for the film “The Passion of the Christ”), a Catholic convert who will be in Ireland from May 12 to 18. Simon R (The Voice Today) is hosting him while in the country. I attach the Q&A with Mark Shea on the DVC, for information. It has some very clever angles about the ‘dangers’ for Christians of dismissing the DVC as a work of fiction.

Best regards,
Fr Gavan Jennings