The Taser's Edge

Starting With the Broccoli Psalms

As I mentioned earlier, the primary way in which I am preparing for my upcoming CPE residency is learning the Psalms better.  I am trying to read at least a little bit each day from one of the books that I gathered around me.  And today I began C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms.  So far, so good.  I am reminded why I like Lewis so much, and that I shouldn’t have left him for so long.  Quotes and random commentary follow:

1–>”This is not a work of scholarship…I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself.”  Okay, that second sentence isn’t quite true, though it does sound great.  Lewis seems to have read the experts; he just doesn’t want to speak as if he himself were one of them.

4-5–>”It is (according to one’s point of view) either a wonderful piece of luck or a wise provision of God’s, that poetry which was to be turned into all languages should have as its chief formal characteristic one [i.e., parallelism] that does not disappear (as mere metre does) in translation.”  In the semester-length class on Hebrew poetry that I took at Duke, we talked about the question of whether Hebrew poetry actually exists, whether all of Scripture might actually be poetry, and the various types of parallelism outlined by various scholars, but we never talked about the divine work going on inside Hebrew poetry’s formal structures.  Thanks for reminding me of something so central to any study of Scripture, dear St. Clive of Oxford.

5-6–>On the same tack, Lewis points out that Jesus, “soaked in the poetic tradition of His country,” himself taught using parallelism: “For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:2).  More wonderfully, Lewis opens up the life of the holy family by comparing Jesus’ own use of parallelism in his teaching to that of his mother in her Magnificat: “That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hands of all that hate us.”  Why not read this, asks Lewis, as showing how a human Son learned and received his personality from His human mother, just as all human sons raised by their mothers do?  An intriguing trail to follow.

6-7–>(This is where the title of this post comes from): “And I begin with those characteristics of the Psalter which are at first most repellent.  Other men of my generation will know why.  Our generation was brought up to eat everything on the plate; and it was the sound principle of nursery gastronomy to polish off the nasty things first and leave the tidbits to the end.”  He is being honest.  The first three chapters after this “Introductory” are “‘Judgement’ in the Psalms”, “The Cursings”, and “Death in the Psalms,” only then followed by “‘The fair beauty of the Lord'” and ‘”Sweeter than Honey.'”

And then a final wonderful question, which concludes the chapter, from someone who isn’t supposed to believe in Purgatory:

“Shall we, perhaps, in Purgatory, see our own faces and hear our own voices as they really were?”

a poetry
January 14, 2009, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Poetry, Religion | Tags: , , , , ,

This semester I am taking Introduction to Midrash with Rabbi Steven Sager.  His reading assignments are brief so you can actually enjoy them.  The other great part of short readings is that I can share them.  For the first week, part of the reading was this poem (if it has a title, then I don’t know it) by Yehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet.  You can read more about him here and here.  The main event:

I filtered out from the midst of the Scroll of Esther the sediment
Of crude joy and from the midst of the Book of Jeremiah
The wail of pain in the guts.  And from the midst
Of the Song of Songs the undending search
After love and from the Book of Genesis
The dreams and Cain and from the midst of Ecclesiastes
The despair and from the midst of the Book of Job Job.
And I pasted up for myself from the remnants a new Bible.
I live censored pasted limited and in tranquility.

A woman asked me last evening on the darkened
Street about the well being/peace of another woman
Who died not in her time and not in anyone’s time.
In the midst of great weariness I answered her:
She is well/at peace, she is well/at peace.