Remains, sufficient of itself to raise
That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp my intended wing
Depressed; and much they may if all be mine,
Not Hers who brings it nightly to my ear.’
This citation is John Milton speaking in his own person in Book 1 of his epic poem Paradise Lost. He is saying that unless, as he believes, the creative act of writing is being Providentially gifted to him ‘nightly’ by a Heavenly Muse; then he fears he may not in himself have sufficient stamina and creative ability to complete his poem.
John Milton’s poem runs to 10 books; each being about a half an hour read – when one is accustomed to his style and language; and rather longer for people less initiated.
So he had quite a task ahead of him when he set out to write about Adam and Eve and The Fall of Man so as to, as he words his mission, ‘Justify the ways of God to men’.
Have you ever noticed, that when once you have written something say two or three sides of A4 long and perhaps posted it online or emailed it to a friend; that were you then to go to eBay a few hours later and browse the books for sale there (as I do occasionally) – have you ever noticed that the book titles which are offered to you (particularly so when you are signed in and so identifiable) – that these titles are conditioned quite heavily by the topics of your recently wrote about and the subjects you mentioned in that writing?
This experience can become uncanny; almost like a déjà vu, and it can disturb and edge you towards paranoia, even when you accept and realise that this echoing of discussions is done by way of extractions of ‘aggregated data’ from your web communications. Winston Smith himself would have appreciated it; and would have put it down to Big Brother sat in Room 101!
I write about the sinking of the Titanic; and lo, books about The Titanic and about Titans, arise as my ‘best matches’; even though I am not at all interested in reading about that disaster. I write about a movie; mention in passing say John Travolta and his performance; and thus this mention cues up titles on movies, actors and on peripheral topics in my ‘best matches’. I don’t need to carry on; you get the idea.
This is online life for those who live it; and nothing less is expected. Yet offline life is bizarrely an antithesis to this experience. I go to my local news store and stationers’ in my home town whereabouts there are perhaps 2 or 3 thousand magazine titles available at any time on offer for sale. Like The Ancient Mariner my experience in the store is his in the ocean;
‘Water, water everywhere; but not a drop to drink’
99% of the titles in the news shop are related to hobbies, pastimes, holidays, games, music, DIY, gardening, make-up, hair, gossip, and so on; and I think one or two titles – maybe with latitude half a dozen – fall into the area of serious pursuit of existential and religious/philosophical issues which are pertinent to contemporary life.
Now I know that there are hosts of serious journals aimed at academics which do not make those shelves for lay persons in town. They would not be bought. They would be priced to dearly. Few persons would want to read them. But I am not much interested in academic life and its discussions. I mean something a little different.
I mean that even the magazines with ‘pretensions’ to discussion of the topics I am seeking to find; are relentlessly adulterated by demagogic solicitations and flatteries. The magazine New Scientist for instance, which I might buy were it more restrained and temperate, for its title pages showed these headline images in recent weeks
To those of you who read this I hope I don’t have to say much more about the world of magazine life to make my point.
Say 1% (generous) of magazines – like New Scientist, – even touch the cusp of what I am seeking; 99% in all, to place them in a single swathe, are little better than distractions from life as see it. I feel I am being snobbish and feel a little ashamed.
There is naturally and of course room in life for gardening and for baking and for what many of this great swathe of magazines attend to. It is their utter usurpation of the newsprint and glossy pictures on the magazine shelves; so that out is extruded into oblivion any striving to be serious and earnest about things in one’s community.
Shakespeare wrote wisely when he wrote in Twelfth Night: ‘Because thou art virtuous; dos’t thou think there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ But he did not write that it ought to be ALL cakes and ale.
Today my wife and I went to Abergavenny, a vibrant market town in East Wales near where I live. We had hoped for a leisurely day out looking around, maybe buying a book or two and so on. There was a Food Festival in action there and the place was more crowded than I had seen the place in say twenty years. Traffic and jaywalking, full car parks and stalls upon stalls of steaks and cookies and fruit and veg and breads and dainties and delicatessen.
Now cookery shows are big in UK on TV here; and get huge audiences. This fact perhaps accounted for some of the huge crowds at Abergavenny I guess.
Abergavenny is a bit off the beaten track but numbers had driven down from the UK’s metropolises and the hotels there were fully booked up – all to enjoy a food fest. No signs of ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ here, though to be fair I did see one church building emptying out after Sunday service.
Back to John Milton and his Paradise Lost and his Muse whom he felt delivered to him nightly what he ought to write. I myself make a dabble at poetry; nothing anywhere on the scale or merit of Milton and the other giants of the Canon. I do let my poems lie for some time though, and then I revisit them months afterwards, to revise them in a sober light. I find that in my small and insignificant way by my revisiting them; and in revising my poems at times I have an inkling I am benefitting from what might be called a bit grandiosely a dropping of manna from heaven.
Shakespeare again in his Hamlet wrote that a performance artist should ‘suit the word to the action the action to the word’; which is also excellent advice for the would-be poet. It feels sometimes to me that words are being dropped into my lap, my consciousness, from an unknown source as I go rewriting and considering fairly idly. This might be fancy and wholly fantasy, it might just be wishful daydreaming; but nonetheless it is my experience.
Jesus has promised us that he should be sending to us a spirit and that
‘………when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come’
This spirit is like
‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’
And is this not like the experience Milton had concerning his composition and in a much lesser way what I am trying to convey here?
But yet, even were you to scoff and not to allow such a thing you might want to consider an alternative. That a person having a privilege of attempting service to the Lord Jesus, and who has tried also to become instructed in his teachings and to follow his Word and gospel in the lowly way s/he is best capable of; does not such a person have a grounding; a bedrock on which to stand securely and from which to look at life?
If so, then such a person has a set of beliefs; and a set of teachings which justifies these beliefs in such a way that one’s feeling are at rest when one finds oneself most in harmony with Jesus and with his word and teachings.
And this sense of harmony in oneself and this sense of being able to allow, to approve, and to a point understand and adopt this recommended Way of Life, is a valuable prerequisite for anyone wanting to get down on paper emotions and thoughts in figurative language, and to use lively images and descriptions in verse of those life situations of men and women observed by one. (I feel assured this is the case.)
To close now – again to Milton – and to his Paradise Lost;
Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heaven firstborn,
Or of the Eternal coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity, dwelt then in thee
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
Or hear’st thou rather pure ethereal stream,
Whose fountain who shall tell? before the sun,
Before the Heavens thou wert, and at the voice
Of God, as with a mantle, didst invest
The rising world of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless infinite.
Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap’d the Stygian pool, though long detain’d
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight
Through utter and through middle darkness borne,
With other notes than to the Orphean lyre
I sung of Chaos and eternal Night;
Taught by the heavenly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to re-ascend,
Though hard and rare: Thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital lamp
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