Poetry

The Lays of Ancient Rome

I’ve always been interested in how literature reflects and affects society. Perhaps that’s why I am fascinated by the Lays of Ancient Rome. On the other hand, it could just be because they sound cool.

The Lays are a collection of poems by Thomas Babington Macaulay. They are Roman ballads, set in Ancient Rome about Roman heroes, yet were written in 1842 by a Victorian gentleman.

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I idolize Bravery – a realisation and defence

“Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity.” (Sherlock BBC)

I am attracted to bravery

I have often wondered what it is that causes me to dub some fictional characters as ‘my favourite’ even if I do not necessarily admire their inherent goodness.

Recently I have come to a conclusion, which is to be my working hypothesis until disproven: I admire brave characters.

I have long known that bravery is one of the traits I admire the most. It is the reason I feel drawn to the “Invictus” poem even though I disagree with its theology.

It’s the reason I was obsessed with the television series Merlin as a teenager even as I rolled my eyes at the suspension of disbelief required, read the ‘Pagan’ chronicles under my bedsheets even though I flinched at the anti-Christian elements, and the reason I find myself at the age of 23 coupling drawings of Severus Snape with suitable quotes to post on DeviantArt.

I am invariably attracted to bravery.

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“Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

I recently finished reading an encyclopedia on C. S. Lewis, and I am overtaken with love for all things literary at the moment. Words are so beautiful – I could talk about their beauty all day long. I am forever grateful that God chose to reveal Himself through writing as well as in person. Because words lend themselves to pondering, to images, to thoughts and to creation.

C. S. Lewis was not a fan of “modern literature” so it is rather ironic that what I am about to share is my love for one of T. S. Eliot’s poems. T. S. Eliot was a very modern poet, and when I use that word, I mean ‘modern’ style, not that he is a contemporary writer. The modern style can be jarring. It puts onus on the reader to interpret, to come up with meaning, and to analyse.

But look at these words friends, and the liquid pictures they create! What is not to love?

Below are excerpts only – I encourage you to read the entire poem. It greatly influenced the song ‘Memory’ from the musical CATS.

 

RHAPSODY ON A WINDY NIGHT – T. S. ELIOT

Twelve o’clock. 

Along the reaches of the street 

Held in a lunar synthesis, 

Whispering lunar incantations 

Dissolve the floors of memory 

And all its clear relations, 

Its divisions and precisions, 

Every street lamp that I pass 

Beats like a fatalistic drum, 

And through the spaces of the dark 

Midnight shakes the memory 

As a madman shakes a dead geranium… 

The memory throws up high and dry 

A crowd of twisted things

A twisted branch upon the beach 

Eaten smooth, and polished 

As if the world gave up 

The secret of its skeleton, 

Stiff and white. 

A broken spring in a factory yard, 

Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left 

Hard and curled and ready to snap… 

The lamp hummed: 

“Regard the moon, 

La lune ne garde aucune rancune, 

She winks a feeble eye, 

She smiles into corners. 

She smoothes the hair of the grass. 

The moon has lost her memory. 

A washed-out smallpox cracks her face, 

Her hand twists a paper rose, 

That smells of dust and old Cologne, 

She is alone 

With all the old nocturnal smells 

That cross and cross across her brain.” …

The lamp said, 

“Four o’clock, 

Here is the number on the door. 

Memory! 

You have the key, 

The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair, 

Mount. 

The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall, 

Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.” 

The last twist of the knife. 

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Invictus

It’s Friday, which means sharing something I love. It isn’t easy to share this poem. You see, it’s not very ‘Christian’.

In fact, the narrator seems determined to defy God, refusing salvation and clinging to his own strength and fearlessness. It is a poem that praises humanity and the human condition, and exults it to a status far above any deity that may exist.

And yet, I like it.

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