Thursday, 2 October 2008

Dead Poets Society.

'So careful of the type?' but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, `A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go.
'Thou makest thine appeal to me: I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath: I know no more.'
And he, shall he, Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law- Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed-
Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills? No more?
A monster then, a dream, A discord.
Dragons of the prime, That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match'd with him.
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.

Tennyson wrote "In Memoriam" after he learned that his beloved friend Arthur Henry Hallam had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a fever at the age of 22. Hallam was not only the poet's closest friend and confidante, but also the fiance of his sister. After learning of Hallam's death, Tennyson was overwhelmed with doubts about the meaning of life and the significance of man's existence. This is a very small extract, the whole of which TS Eliot found famously to be rather opaque, but which is better understood as being a long elegy followed by an epithalamion, or a wedding poem, celebrating the wedding of Hallam and the author's Sister. The poem begins in grief and passes to resignation, before finally accepting the transcendent survival of humanity Tennyson, though, comes to a belief in eternity through the emerging theories of evolution coming to the fore at that time, 'believing where we cannot prove' becoming belief in the immortality of humanity through the evolution of the race, rather than through the immortality of the soul.

In the extract above, the author quotes a feminised 'mother nature' if you will, saying that she does not attend herself to the survival of the species but bestows life and death at random, or at the most as she pleases, which is descriptive of the contributory factors in Victorian Humanism, as the educated world came to an understanding of how arbitrary the world seemed, so God was replaced by the spirit of Man. The monstrous nature of unredeemed humanity therefore is challenged in 'nature red in tooth and claw', eventually rendered to fossil or ash. Our advanced nature returning to fossil is terrible to Tennyson as our advancement has not overcome death, merely leaving us to perish as 'dragons of the prime', for at the end, we die whether we are Victorian clubmen or prehistoric creatures.

Tennyson, we would say, came to the wrong conclusion. He replaced God with Victorian Humanism and the fleeting God of the development of Science and medicine, as had happened two and a half thousand and four hundred years before. But had he been reading the Novus Ordo funeral rites? Had they destroyed his faith in God and smoothed his grief into resignation? One of the beauties of the pre-conciliar liturgy (whatever that might be, but we will pretend, for the sake of convenience that everything changed one day in 1969) was the rite of funerals. The Mass and the absolutions moved, by virtue of the Psalms and readings employed, from sorrow and grief to a security in eternal life, backed up by constant scriptural references, thus becoming a microcosm of the fuller process of grieving we undergo as sentient humanity.

I know that there are thousands of good men up and down the country who conduct funerals meaningfully and well from the 'new' books and this is by no means an attack upon them, simply a reflection that there was, in my opinion, once a better form of words, indeed I would rather have the graveside rite from the BCP than the Novus Ordo and I know of at least one RC Priest with trad leanings who does just that, with one or two changes. At the heart of this is, in my opinion, the emasculation of the Psalms and the general overriding feminisation of the liturgy. We are scared to speak of eternal truths and it takes guts to show our faith in processions and plainchant, lest we scare away a nation used to prayer trees and praise bands. We shy of a confessional for a people more accustomed to corners of Churches with soft furnishings, nice books, tea lights in coloured glasses and all the assorted naffery of the new Church. The sacrifice of the Mass - the redemptive sacrifice of Christ in agony on the cross to assure the salvation of the world - has become cosy and a shared meal and the psalms are presented as part of the bland wheel of readings rather than as a unique part of the wheel of fire which is presented in the Bible and which charts the redemption of the world. It seems that in the short life we have we are content to offer an anodyne, false, misrepresentation of the deeds of Christ and the Saints because we do not like the reality.

How many times have I heard people when confronted with a part of the Faith they do not find squaring with their view of 'what Christ would have done' ignoring it, sneering at it's incompatibility with their own self created world, backed up by the soft fabric and tea light brigade! We have emasculated Christ and are breeding a nation of Tennysons, content to ignore the Church for novelty when we should be constantly, in all our liturgies, reminding this transient life that we are here, redeemed by God's grace and are here to give Him alone glory, not ourselves and our heretical little Churches where each Vicar is their own Pope, deciding on Doctrine and belief as it suits them.

This is the problem with blogs, no? You end up thinking you might talk gently of Tennyson and you end up ranting about the state of the Church.