(I’m on vacation this week with limited web access, so I’ll just leave you with this piece by a great master of rhyme, Rudyard Kipling.)

Having Decided To Stay - Bryana Johnson - L'Envoi

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew!

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from — Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!

(Rudyard Kipling)

Staying Power

Having Decided To Stay - Bryana Johnson - Jeanne Murray Walker



I discovered this stunning piece on Jeanne Murray Walker’s website. Originally published in Poetry Magazine, it is a poem to knock the breath right out of you, wrapped up in a magnificent crescendo but also alive with phrases and half-thoughts that stand alone.





In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International
Convention of Atheists.  1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside and question the metal sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can’t go on like this, and finally I say

all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God.  And then as if I’m focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It’s the attention, maybe, to what isn’t

there that makes the notion flare like
a forest fire until I have to spend the afternoon
dragging the hose to put it out.  Even
on an ordinary day when a friend calls,

tells me they’ve found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which–though they say it doesn’t
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God’s not fire, say anything, say God’s
a phone, maybe.  You know you didn’t order a phone,
but there it is.  It rings.  You don’t know who it could be.

You don’t want to talk, so you pull out
the plug.  It rings.  You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbered up
metal bits.  It rings again.  You pick it up

and a voice you love whispers hello.

(Jeanne Murray Walker)

BOOK REVIEW: What’s Wrong With The World (G.K. Chesterton)

Having Decided To Stay - Bryana Johnson - What's Wrong With The WorldIt had been awhile since I read a book by Chesterton that wasn’t poetry.  When in Portland this spring I found What’s Wrong With The World on a shelf in Powell’s City of Books, I knew it would be a high priority on the waiting list.

In his title, Chesterton asks a probing and universal question that has been associated with his literary image ever since.  It is important to note that, rather uncharacteristically, he seeks to answer this question without reference to particulars of dogma or doctrine. He explains in another place why he chooses to do so. In fact, this essay titled What’s Right With The World should be treated as an introduction to the text of the book, as apart from it a reader may not be able to understand the full import and implication of the longer work.

Here is a portion of that explanation:

What is wrong with the world is the devil, and what is right with it is God; the human race will travel for a few more million years in all sorts of muddle and reform, and when it perishes of the last cold or heat it will still be within the limits of that very simple definition. But in an age that has confused itself with such phrases as ‘optimist’ and ‘pessimist’, it is necessary to distinguish along more delicate lines.

These “more delicate lines” make up the structure and backbone of the book, What’s Wrong With The World. They are summarized at the beginning of the book as follows

It is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease… Exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would regard as worse maladies; are offering ultimate conditions as states of health which others would uncompromisingly call states of disease.

In other words, what is wrong with the world is not only that no one can agree on what would set it right, but that everyone has a conflicting view of what right even looks like. Building on this intriguing premise, Chesterton then presents a fascinating collection of related essays exploring social issues from feminism to education to class warfare to divorce to home ownership.

While I found just about every one of these little essays enjoyable, some of the ones I especially appreciated were those dealing with feminism – what Chesterton calls, “the mistake about women.”  Although his views would be considered radical and archaic by most Westerners today, Chesterton is no chauvinist. On the contrary, his gentle arguments against the movement for women’s suffrage and the push for women to join the workforce are based entirely on his very exalted opinion of the female and of her grand purpose in the scheme of things. In fact, when Chesterton gets done talking about feminism, everybody ought to want to be a girl! Even if you disagree with him, you are forced to respect his kindly and deferential manner of stating his case.

Another cause he champions valiantly and well is that of “wild domesticity” – the importance of home ownership and children and responsibility and autonomy to men and women. A man who owns a home is a free man during at least some part of his day, Chesterton asserts. He has a kingdom to rule over and the probability of adventures and the right to paint his front door green with purple spots if he wants to.

Chesterton is characteristically sweeping in his statements. When a good idea hits him, he doesn’t pause to deliberate over the details, but lays out his theory in whole, and in a grand and masterly fashion. Whether or not he is always right is, of course, up to the reader to determine. However, it can be safely said that he often is not satisfactorily exhaustive in his explanations of stunning generalizations.

Mainly for this reason, I give What’s Wrong With The World 4 out of 5 stars.

I’m still working through my summer reading list and have been maintaining a goodreads account to track my want-to-read lists, progress and reviews.  I find goodreads an extremely practical way to keep up with every form and fashion of reading plan, and highly recommend it.

What words have you been poring over this summer?