Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmastide 2016: The Seventh Day

Welcome to the seventh day of Christmas 2016, the last day of the year. That means it's also New Year's Eve. In much of Christian Europe this day is also known as Silvester or the Feast of Sylvester. Some of the more interesting iterations of celebrating the arrival of the new year occur in the Celtic nations of Scotland and Wales. The day is known as Hogmanay in Scotland. It's a nice blend of old and new elements including fireworks, bonfires, torchlight processions, partying, and the driving out of trolls. In Wales "New Year's Eve" translates to "Nos Galan," a day to pay off all debts, visit from house to house (first-footing) to sing carols, exchange gifts, drink a refreshing beverage or two, and enjoy mincemeat pie and rice pudding.

Postkarte no. 305 Hans Kalmsteiner. ART & ARTISTS: Wiener Werkstätte postcards – part 1:
Weiner Werkstatte postcard No. 305                                     Heines Kalmsteiner

The great musical tradition of Wales has provided us with the melody for the most appropriate carol for the day, Deck the Halls. A wide variety of lyrics emerged over the last three centuries. The video below provides one example and a partial translation. The video concludes with the more familiar "Deck the Halls" lyrics written in 1862.

Cold is the man who can't love,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
The old mountains of dear Wales,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
To him and his warmest friend,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la,
A cheerful holiday next year,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Cold is the snow on Mount Snowdon,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Even though it has a flannel blanket on it,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Cold are the people who don't care,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la,
To meet together on New Year's Eve,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmastide 2016: The Sixth Day

Today is a quiet day in the Christian calendar, a day without a feast or commemoration, We'll take the opportunity to focus on what has become the song of songs for Christmas in the last 75 years. It is White Christmas, written by Irving Berlin and debuted by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn. He reprised the song in a 1954 "remake," White Christmas, but the film, even in color and the first in VistaVision, simply doesn't hold up to the original for most film buffs. To be fair, there is enough divergence in the story lines and music to make both films enjoyable, a point that may be vigorously discussed by those who choose to have a "battle of the films" on some cold evening during the holiday.

In 2012, the political observer, Mark Steyn, who also happens to be an expert on the history of popular music and musical theater, made some fine observations about White Christmas as the song of songs for this season. It's not only that - the 1942 recording by Crosby still ranks as the best-selling single worldwide with sales exceeding 100 million copies



Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmastide 2016: The Fifth Day

As we approach the midpoint of this holiday season it's time for a childhood memory. In days of old the milkman delivered dairy products door-to-door in the early hours of the morning a few days each week. It was my responsibility to retrieve the goods from a small insulated box the Potomac Farms Dairy provided to its customers. One morning, probably during the week before Christmas in 1953, I popped open the lid to that box and found this around the neck of one of the bottles:

It was a nice gesture on the part of the company and a treasure to at least one seven year old. For a few years the decoration appeared in our Christmas yard under the tree. Beginning in 1956 Santa and his elf moved to a prominent place on the tree where they have cheerily greeted family and friends over the last sixty years. Here they are in 2016:

Today, our adult children are quick to notice this tradition when they arrive for a holiday visit. I have yet to decide how to divide this artifact into three sections so the "kids" can carry on the tradition with their families.

In keeping with the family theme of this post here is a seasonal selection paying homage to my Welsh ancestors:

Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon;
Breichiau mam sy'n dynn amdanat,
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron;
Ni cha' dim amharu'th gyntun,
Ni wna undyn â thi gam;
Huna'n dawel, annwyl blentyn,
Huna'n fwyn ar fron dy fam.

Huna'n dawel, heno, huna,
Huna'n fwyn, y tlws ei lun;
Pam yr wyt yn awr yn gwenu,
Gwenu'n dirion yn dy hun?
Ai angylion fry sy'n gwenu,
Arnat ti yn gwenu'n llon,
Tithau'n gwenu'n ôl dan huno,
Huno'n dawel ar fy mron?

Paid ag ofni, dim ond deilen
Gura, gura ar y ddôr;
Paid ag ofni, ton fach unig
Sua, sua ar lan y môr;
Huna blentyn, nid oes yma
Ddim i roddi iti fraw;
Gwena'n dawel yn fy mynwes
Ar yr engyl gwynion draw. 

Sleep my baby, at my breast,
'Tis a mother's arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always you'll keep,
In sleep gentle, mother's breast nigh.

Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.
A smile I see in slumber deep,
What visions make your face bright?
Are the angels above smiling,
At you in your peaceful rest?
Are you beaming back while in
Peaceful slumber on mother's breast?

Do not fear the sound, it's a breeze
Brushing leaves against the door.
Do not dread the murmuring seas,
Lonely waves washing the shore.
Sleep child mine, there's nothing here,
While in slumber at my breast,
Angels smiling, have no fear,
Holy angels guard your rest.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmastide 2016: The Fourth Day

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on the fourth day of Christmas.

Massacre of the Innocents                                    Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1515

Music for the day is the "Coventry Carol" , a song from the mystery play, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. Guild plays in Coventry, England, date to the 14th century but the documentation of their contents did not appear until the mid 1500's.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his owne sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.


Photos and Illustrations:
Massacre, National Museum, Warsaw

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Oscar Levant: A Fine Blend Of Genius And Insanity

Indeed there will never be another entertainer quite like Oscar Levant (1906-1972).  He was a classically trained concert pianist, composer, author, actor, dancer, and comedy genius. The one thread moving throughout his working life was mental illness, a condition that eventually became the core of his stage persona. It was an odd therapeutic for Levant and it brought laughter to millions. Today he's likely unknown to more than a generation of Americans but that doesn't mean he's ready for history's dustbin. Quite the contrary. There must be something important about Oscar Levant if Hollywood director Ben Stiller may be developing a film based on the entertainer's life.

Although Levant's presence on the entertainment spectrum is broad, his greatest impact was as a concert pianist, comedian, and author. He was trained in classical music in Pittsburgh and New York and divided his musical time between Hollywood and Broadway as a young performer and composer. He became a close friend and associate of George Gershwin and his extended family of stars and admirers. With Gershwin's early death in 1937, Levant would become known as the finest interpreter of his work for almost two decades until the end of his own career as a concert performer. Levant's Hollywood association not only led to his role as a composer but also as an actor. Although his filmography is short it contains a host of memorable, mostly comedic scenes involving song, dance and wit. Here are two clips of Levant at his best:

From the 1951 film, An American in Paris,

Next there is Levant, the radio and television personality. From the 1930's into the 1950's he was featured regularly on several radio programs and made frequent guest appearances on others. His knowledge of Hollywood personalities combined with his musical talent, quick wit and self-deprecating  posture made him a hit from coast to coast. That status also made for an easy transition to television. 

Finally, there is Levant, the writer. He produced three memoirs, two of them best-sellers. His Memoirs of An Amnesiac (1965) is a recollection of his often weird and tattered life as well as a tour de force of wit and wisdom aimed at Hollywood's famous and infamous personalities beginning in the 1930s. His The Unimportance of Being Oscar appeared in 1968. Although both books are a bit dated, readers with some knowledge of popular culture and politics from the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930's to the entertainment world of the 1960's would certainly find both books entertaining reads.

After hosting his own syndicated television program from Los Angeles in 1958-59 he made several noteworthy appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar where he openly discussed his mental health issues. By the early '60's his mental and physical condition deteriorated significantly, his drug dependency increased, and he withdrew from public life. Here is one of his last television appearances:

There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.
                                                                                   Oscar Levant, 1959

Happy birthday, Oscar!


ClassicalNet biography, Oscar Levant, Oscar Levant

Christmastide 2016: The Third Day

On this Third Day of Christmas in the Catholic, Episcopalian and Lutheran traditions we celebrate the feast day of  John the Evangelist and Apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

File:Zampieri St John Evangelist.jpg
Saint John the Evangelist                                                           Domenichino (1581-1641)


Photos and Illustrations:
Domenichino painting, National Gallery, London

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmastide 2016: The Second Day

On this Second Day of Christmastide, the Christian world in the west celebrates its first martyr, Saint Stephen.

St. Stephen detail, Demidoff Altarpiece                                      Carlo Crevelli, 1476

File:Paolo Uccello - Stoning of St Stephen - WGA23196.jpg
Stoning of St. Stephen                                                          Paolo Ocello, ca. 1435

His death in the name of charity has led this day to be associated with the distribution of food and other essentials to those in need. A thousand years later stories about the life and death of another generous Christian, Wenceslas of Czechoslovakia, would eventually lead to the writing of a mid-19th century Christmas carol that forever links the two martyrs.


Photos and Illustrations:
Demidoff Altarpiece, The National Gallery, London
Stoning,, painting is in the Duomo di Prato. Italy

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

The Holy Family                                                             Salvadore Dali, 1959

As Christmas Day comes to a close in the eastern U.S. we recall a day of gathering for family and friends, prayer celebrating Christ as the focus of the day, a wonderful dinner of beef and turkey accompanied by all the traditional sides, the giving of gifts, and much laughter shared over wine, dessert, and coffee.

In the day's last hour there is restored order. With clean house and washed dishes it is time for subdued conversation, quiet music, a good book or simply contemplating the faces in the flames dancing in the fireplace. It is a time for memory and imagination.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Sun Stands Still - Winter Solstice 2016

The winter solstice in the eastern United States arrived about two hours before sunrise today. For those who don't care for winter - I'm one - this is a happy day because days will now be getting longer all the way until the summer solstice in June. Over the next six months in the northern hemisphere the sun reaches a bit higher in the sky each day. And as the days lengthen, the increased insolation means higher temperatures. It's a wonderful prospect around our house. In fact the rebirth of the sun hasn't gone unnoticed by humans over a long, long time. If you ever wanted to know more about the science behind the solstice or these cultural responses. . .




The Druids

Google's Doodle


The Feast of Juul



Dia de Santo Tomas en Guatemala

. . . check out The Telegraph's article, "When is the winter solstice? Everything you need to know about the shortest day of the year."  The Telegraph doesn't like ad blockers so you'll have to close their popup notice if you have one installed.

The winter solstice is also know as Midwinter is some circles. Here is unquestionably the song of the day, In the Bleak Midwinter, a perfect blend of nature and the "coming of the light" in the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.


Photos and Illustrations:
Simon Banton, Sunset at Stonehenge 12/20/2009.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Fourth Week Of Advent: Magnum Mysterium

Wheaton College Advent Devotional

Oh Great Mystery...

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Jesum Christum.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
 was worthy to bear 
our Saviour, 
Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Erskine Caldwell's Window On The South

The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice in the Depression-era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the polite Southern term for the Civil War. They had everything to do with being a "PK," a preacher's kid who moved with his family to a number of churches throughout the South before settling in Wrens, Georgia when he was fifteen. Still, his father preached on long circuits and was happy to have his son accompany him. Caldwell later wrote that his father traveled so regularly that he could determine the destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. 

On these travels Caldwell observed the raw realities of the human condition in the South. After he left the South in the late 1920's, his vivid observations would be recorded in both fiction and non-fiction in an attempt to raise public awareness and appeal for reform. He is best known for his novels,  Tobacco Road (1932) and God's Little Acre (1933). An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933.  God's Little Acre remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.

A very loose 1941 film adaptation of Tobacco Road directed by John Ford contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. Furthermore, his "in absentia" crusade for improving conditions did not sit well with many Southerners. They were also uncomfortable with his depiction of sex and violence that frequently placed him in conflict with censors across the country.

Caldwell was born in Moreland, Georgia on this day in 1903 and died in Arizona in 1987. He remains an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists. Readers who enjoy Southern history and seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of its early 20th century human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.

Read more about Georgia's Erskine Caldwell in this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia. The volume is also the information source for this post.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Gaudete Sunday And The Third Week Of Advent 2016

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Here is the chanted Introit - with translation below - from which this Sunday gets it name:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
                                                                           Philipians, 4:4-6: Psalm 85(84):1 

Madonna in the Rose Garden            Stephan Lochner, ca 1448

Prepare the way by proclaiming good news.  The early church gave the title "Gaudete" to the third Sunday in Advent. The word simply means, "Rejoice!" When you are joyful about something, you share that good news. Think of the custom of the family Christmas letter. Many families will send out letters during these holidays, summarizing the joyful family news of the past year: the birth of a grandchild, a new job, etc. If such joyful events are considered worthy of sharing, how much more the goo news that the Son of God came into our world to save us from sins! Moreover, he is coming again to take believers to an eternity of glory. That is good news believers need to hear again and again. It is a message that we with joyful faith yearn to share with a world that is in desperate need of some good news.
The joyful nature of this Sunday is illustrated by the lone, rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath. It hints of the joyful birth that we are soon to celebrate.

It is our hope that your week has been filled with rejoining.



"Prepare the way..." quote, Gaudete Sunday Bulletin, Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, Covington, Georgia, 2013

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent 2016

In lighting the second candle of the Advent wreath today, we acknowledge the messengers sent to prepare the way for Christ. John prepared people for Christ's first coming. Today's messengers prepare people for Christ's return. God wants us to view these messengers as evidence of his love. He wants us to listen to their message, through which God himself makes us ready.

John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord by preaching repentance. 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.’” 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Holiday Punch: Booze, Fruit, Socks, Nylons, And A Dash Of Battle Dirt

The brisk winds and cool temperatures sweeping across Atlanta today reminded me that only a few weeks remain to brew up a delicious Savannah tradition for the coming holidays. I'm sure the old money - and new money wannabes - have already set aside a batch for Christmas, New Year's Eve , and Twelfth Night gatherings. Of course the batch were talking about is Chatham Artillery Punch, by far the city's most historic and memorable beverage.

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the so comfortable but long-gone Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf only it was better. Much better. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than enjoying one cup of this wonderful drink among family, friends and colleagues.

I'm sure the ingredients varied over the years depending on what was at hand but the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely, Although a 2006 Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch that year we're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week, but one month is better. Careful sampling is permitted to insure the fermentation process is working. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice - anything smaller will dilute the punch -  add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. here is a point - say after two months - at which the punch becomes a lightly fruited rumtopf, a perfect topping for ice cream or bundt. To be honest, I suspect using it in Old Savannah as something other than a beverage would be a sacrilege.

Regardless of how you plan to enjoy Chatham Artillery Punch, know that your expense and anticipation will be rewarded. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

C.S. Lewis: Aiming For Heaven

Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales
                                                                           C.S. Lewis

I was introduced to the mind of C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis through a gift. My best friend gave me a copy of The Four Loves as medication for some perplexing developments in a relationship with Marti, the girl of my dreams at the time. Eventually, Marti moved on with a professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill. I was left with a life-long literary relationship with Lewis and can only trust that Marti found equal satisfaction. C.S. Lewis, one of the last century's leading scholars, novelists, and Christian apologists, was born on this day in 1898. Many readers likely know his name and even more know some of his work - The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity - but many may not be familiar with the depth and breadth of his literary accomplishments.

C.S. Lewis                                                        National Portrait Gallery, London

mmersed the the world of the university scholar where he was a close friend and colleague of J. R.R. Tolkein, Lewis enjoyed the community but also appreciated his privacy. For that reason, very few interviews and recordings of the man survive. One tape still with us is a fifteen-minute talk he gave over BBC Radio during a three part series of presentations between 1942 and 1944. The recording reveals the great warmth, friendliness, and integrity of the man.

The talks soon appeared as three separate books shortly after World War II. In 1952, the series was edited into a single book, Mere Christianity. It's now considered a masterpiece in Christian apologetics.

If you cannot enjoy a Lewis book you simply haven't read enough of his work. And there is enough to accommodate readers as his Wikipedia bibliography has almost eighty entries of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Choose...and enjoy.

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither

                                                                                C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 28, 2016

William Blake: An Unmasked Rebel In Eternity's Sunrise

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour

                                               from Auguries of Innocence, William Blake, 1803

On this day in 1757 the British artist and writer, William Blake, was born in London. He is without a doubt my favorite anarchist. He helps me dream.

In his own time he was so eccentric his neighbors and friends thought he was a madman. As an engraver and illustrator he was caught between the decline of the guilds and the rise of industrialization. It was a time when men saw the value of their labors swept away from the cottage and into the factory under the watchful eye of the manager. For workers, the loss of autonomy, the shift in control and production, and the helplessness in the face of change led to a revolt against the Age of Reason and a rage against technologies it spawned. Two centuries later he would be recognized as both one whose vision, imagination and sensitivity were unmatched in the age of Romanticism, and a truly unique influence in the history of the Western world.

There is one certainty about Blake's work and that is its complexity. He is by far one of the most interesting visionaries to come out of the West and its traditions. I hope you will take time to examine him and his extraordinary contributions to our experience. To explore his work appropriately is beyond the intent of this blog and capability of its author. For readers who want to learn more about Blake, to me there's no finer work available than Jacob Bronowski's A Man Without A Mask, published in 1944, and it's expanded version, William Blake and the Age of Revolution, published in 1972.

William Blake                  Thomas Phillips, English, 1807

I have learned much from the artist and philosopher, William Blake, in an effort to balance my life between intellect and emotion. So far it's been a beautiful, productive, and fascinating journey. These works have been a part of that experience:

In the following illustration Blake depicts his character, Urizen, [You rising] as reason shaping the world and its experience. This engraving is also interpreted as God the Father [and often God the Son] as divining existence. It is a prime example of the complex and often confounding world of Blake's imagination.

The Ancient of Days                                                                  William Blake, 1793

Here Blake depicts Isaac Newton [and the Age of Reason] at the bottom of the sea shaping (the dividers, once more) the world of humankind on the earth. Newton has turned his back on the organic beauty of God's natural world. 

Newton                                                                                 William Blake, 1795

Here, the Angel of Peace descends forcibly out of heaven illustrating God's reason (the dividers) brought into the world in the form of his Son to reconcile Nature (the recline female nude) and a redeemed humanity 

The Descent of Peace                      William Blake, ca. 1815

One of Blake's most familiar pieces is his preface to Milton A Poem. The preface says much about Blake's philosophy opposing the Age of Reason as embodied in Greek and Roman thought and the dangers a reliance on intellect can bring to a world based equally on emotion. Furthermore, the preface is a perfect illustration of Blake's religious mysticism as well as his veneration of Milton.

The stolen and perverted writings of Homer and Ovid, of Plato and Cicero, which all men ought to contemn, are set up by artifice against the Sublime of the Bible; but when the New Age is at leisure to pronounce, all will be set right, and those grand works of the more ancient, and consciously and professedly Inspired men will hold their proper rank, and the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration, Shakspeare and Milton were curb'd by the general malady and infection from the silly Greek and Latin slaves of the sword. Rouse up, O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings! For we have hirelings in the camp, the Court, and the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress mental, and prolong corporeal war. Painters! on you I call. Sculptors! Architects! suffer not the fashionable fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertising boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ and His Apostles that there is a class of men whose whole delight is in destroying. We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but just and true to our own Imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live for ever, in Jesus our Lord.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills.

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Would to God that all the Lord's people were Prophets. Numbers xi, ch. 26

Readers may be more familiar with Blake's poem through this medium:

As this tribute comes to a close, I'd like to reference one of Blake's poems that virtually all children read before the end of their middle schools years a half century ago. It's remarkably simple in form yet its questions brim with imagination and wonder. I so hope that "The Tyger" is still read and heard by young students so they can remember its message over their varied lifetimes.

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake                            John Linnell, English, 1863

He who binds himself to a joy
Doth the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise

                                                                              Eternity, William Blake, 1803


Photos and Illustrations:
Blake portrait, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Newton, Tate Gallery, London,

Text:, Blake entry
Jacob Bronowski, A Man Without A Mask, Seeker and Warburg, London, 1944

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Arrival Of The Light Of The World

The word, "advent," comes from the Latin "adventus," meaning "arrival." Today in the Christian world we mark two beginning, that of a church year as well as its first season, Advent. The four week journey through the season anticipates both the birth of Jesus Christ as the Light of the World and his return at the Last Judgement.

As we enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmastide, it is time once more to explore almost two thousand years of words, music, and visual arts created for this holy time.

The Descent of Peace                                       William Blake

I give you the end of a gold string.
Only wind it in a ball,
It will lead you to Heaven's gate
built in Jerusalem's wall.
                                                      from William Blake's poem, "Jerusalem"

Today's music is a plainsong dating from the 7th century. Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night.

Here is some background on the hymn including its original text and an English translation. For a more detailed exploration of the hymn and its variations over the past 1500 years, go here.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thank You, Mr. Carrier!

High temperatures across the nation have been mostly above normal this year. Across the South they were downright stifling from Memorial Day through September. That means we should take an even longer moment today to remember and thank Willis Haviland Carrier for his contribution to comfort through an invention we've appreciated for more than a century. In fact, I think it's appropriate to say that Carrier made the South livable in terms of industry, commerce, and housing. Without his genius the region's development in the 20th century would have emerged at a much slower pace if at all.

On this day in 1876, Carrier was born into an old New England family. A few years after graduating from Cornell with an engineering degree, he designed a system of conditioning air - the key was humidity control - in a stiflingly hot and humid Brooklyn printing plant. The new environment ensured stability in the paper and the perfect alignment of four-color printing. It was soon a huge success in several industries. By the 1920s, air conditioning became popular in retail trade and entertainment, especially the movie theater. It was a small jump from commercial systems to home systems. By the 1930s, air conditioning began a slow but steady increase in usage until the post World War II era when it boomed. Carrier's application would have far reaching impacts on the American experience. For one, his invention made the South a more comfortable and attractive place in which to live and work.

Carrier in 1915

Just how significant was it for the South? One of the most significant books in the historiography of the region, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips's Life and Labor in the Old South, begins with these words:

Let us begin by discussing the weather for that has been the chief agency in making the South distinctive. ... The summers are not merely long but bakingly hot, with temperatures ranging rather steadily in the eighties and nineties of the Fahrenheit scale.

The early 20th century single story Southern home, with its high-roof, wrap-around porch, and traditional "dog trot" breezeway, was a vernacular response to that baking heat. Homes of this type can still be found throughout the South, in fact, contemporary construction in the region often incorporates its features in vestigial form. But what has made the South so popular these days? I believes in particular the natural climate remains a significant draw, especially now that the social and political climate of the New South welcomes all Americans. Still, Southerners must deal with the heat. From an environmental perspective, air conditioning made the South livable and workable year round. Carrier's invention not only improved productivity but also attracted a multitude of new industries. Today, we take this livelihood and comfort for granted across the nation giving it attention only when it's either time to change the filter or repair a compressor.

Carrier posing with a 1922 model chiller

For more information on the impact of air conditioning check out these sites:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Due to scheduling issues our Thanksgiving celebration occurred over two days this year.We had a wonderful dinner each day for a total of fourteen people. Old traditions held strong including the preparation of more than enough food and trimmings to last through the weekend for us and any guests interested in a sweet and savory leftovers. There was one omission this year: Maryland Skipjack oyster dressing. I survived without it but do look forward to sharing it with friends and family at Christmas. 

As this day for thanks comes to an end and the faces in the fireplace like the flames settle quietly to ash we trust that your day was enjoyable, fulfilling, and reaffirming. Here are some words and music for the close of the day:

a prayer for thanksgiving by Martin Luther...

God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, You looked upon all that You created and declared it good. Grant that we, this day, might regard Your creation with the same esteem and appreciation, seeing You at work in every daily operation. Help us to give thanks as we recognize Your loving work in all abundant blessings. Most of all, let us see not only Your creation, but also its redemption, through Jesus Christ. Amen

...and a song of thanksgiving arranged by the renowned British composer, John Rutter:

We trust your experience today exceeded all or your expectations.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Commemorating A Birthday For A Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia.

Sketch and signature, Mercer grave, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

John Herndon "Johnny" Mercer, the great American songwriter and favorite son of Savannah, Georgia,, was born on this day in 1909. Over three decades he wrote the lyrics to thousands of songs, collaborating with the country's top music writers including Harold Arlen, Bernie Hannigan, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Gene DePaul, Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, Rube Bloom, and Matty Malneck.

In 1971, Mercer appeared in what he called a "parlor evening" performance as part of the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists Series. At the end of the program, he delivered an unforgettable medley of his "bread and butter" songs. I'd say most songwriters and performers would be pleased to have five songs in such a list. Mercer had twenty-nine. Regardless of your age and interest in popular music and jazz, you may be surprised at how many of these songs are still with us:

Lazybones (1933), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Goody, Goody (1936), music by Marty Malneck

Too Marvelous For Words (1937), music by Richard A. Whiting

Jeepers Creepers (1938), music by Harry Warren

Satin Doll (1958), written with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (1938), music by Harry Warren

That Old Black Magic (1943), music by Harold Arlen

Accentuate the Positive (1944) music by Harold Arlen

Fools Rush In (1940), music by Rube Bloom

I Remember You (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Day In - Day Out (1939), music by Rube Bloom

Dearly Beloved (1942), music by Jerome Kern

Come Rain or Come Shine
(1946), music by Harold Arlen

Tangerine (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Hooray For Hollywood (1938), music by Richard A. Whiting

Laura (1945), music by David Raksin

Dream (1944), words and music by Johnny Mercer

On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (1946, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Harry Warren

Something's Gotta Give (1954), words and music by Johnny Mercer

One For My Baby (1943), music by Harold Arlen

In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
(1951, Academy Award for Best Music, Oroginal Song), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Skylark (1941), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Autumn Leaves (1950), music by Joseph Kosma

I Wanna Be Around
(1962), words and music by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt

Blues in the Night (1941), music by Harold Arlen

Charade (1963), music by Henry Mancini

Summer Wind (1965), music by Henry Mayer

Moon River (1961, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

Days of Wine and Roses (1962, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

That's plenty of "bread and butter" on one man's plate, but we need to keep in mind that he had seven more songs nominated for an Academy Award that never made it into the medley. What a talent.

Mercer had a wide-ranging career as a prolific lyricist and songwriter, popular singer, and music industry innovator, entrepreneur and benefactor before dying in Los Angeles from brain cancer in 1976. Forty years after his passing hardly a day passes that even a casual music listener will not hear a Johnny Mercer song. For those who enjoy the Great American Songbook and jazz/pop vocals, the Mercer magic remains very much alive in contemporary music. Looks like the man once described by the lyricist, Yip Harburg, as "one of our great folk poets" will be around for a long, long time. How lucky we are!

About two years before his death in 1976 Mercer recorded several of his best compositions that were released on the album, Johnny Mercer Sings Johnny Mercer.  And here is the old music master singing one of his Academy Award winning songs:

Yes, he'll be around a long, long time.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

A big "Thank You" to our veterans!

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I on "the eleventh day of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month" of 1918. Today, this holiday honors the men and women who have defended the United States through service in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

On this day I think of the sacrifices made by many friends who served in Vietnam and of all those who have served in the defense of the United States. In particular I think of family and the service of a great uncle in World War I and two uncles in World War II. 

My Great Uncle George, standing on the left with his fire brigade in Jacksonville, Florida, served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in World War I, the Great War. To him, this day was Armistice Day. I was ten when he died and didn't know him, but much of what he was as a veteran is present in my house. His portrait hangs just off our foyer. The pocket Bible he carried is in a keepsake cabinet nearby along with his military issue binoculars and a silver-plated swagger stick - a gift from his unit - made from machine gun shells casings and the Seal of the U.S. Army. The last item is one he never saw, but it summarized everything he did as a soldier. That item is the flag that covered his coffin. To my knowledge, it's still in the original triangle fold made the day he was buried sixty years ago.

The other family veterans from the world war era I knew very well.  Uncle Hollis, better known as "Red," and Uncle Charles, both served in the Pacific during World War II. In 1943-44, Red was assigned to Barber's Point Naval Air Station in Hawaii while his brother-in-law, Charles, served at Pearl Harbor. The facilities were a mere five miles apart but almost one year passed before they knew they were neighbors. On hearing the news, they resolved to meet for a photograph at the first opportunity. Here's that photo, taken at Waikiki with Red (l) and Charles (r) together at last. 

Both returned safely to their Potomac Valley hometowns in western Maryland but a declining economy in the region forced them to relocate to better job opportunities. Red moved his family to Ohio where he had a very successful career with Goodyear. Charles took his family to the booming oil industry in Houston, Texas, and work prospered in real estate management. Both are gone now, along with their wives, Edith and Dorothy.  All  four of them were fine examples of the Greatest Generation.

I never experienced military service and will never know how it shapes a person inside and out but I do know that every veteran has paid a very personal price that enables us to enjoy life in this bountiful nation. On November 11 - Armistice Day or Veterans Day - we should take some time to remember those who have served their country and its people. I offer up to all of them my sincerest admiration and thanks on this day and every day.