Friday, July 29, 2011

John the Divine

Here is an excerpt from my collection of essays, entitled, "The Moving Finger Writes," coming soon on This essay concerns the religious and erotic passions of one of my favorite poets, John Donne, famous for his use of "conceits," during the literary period known "metaphysical." 

In John Donne's poem, The Extasie," two lovers lie like statues, imbued with a sense of wonder. Sated by love-making, their souls have departed their bodies temporarily, and hover above, suspended in a sort of mystical communion. That their souls could indulge in this spiritual communication is due solely to their physical needs, and the sensual longing which attracted them in the first place.

The poet says, "We owe (our bodies) them thanks, be¬cause they thus/Did us, to us, at first convay, Yeelded their forces, sense to us,' (53-55).

This poem encapsulates Donne's life-long dilemma of reconciling the desires of the body with the yearnings of the soul. And in order for one to fully appreciate the ardent Donne of the Divine Poems, one must first experience the suggestive, even lewd Donne who wrote Songs and Sonnets, for it was a single mind which created them all, a mind belonging to a man whose feet were firmly planted on the earth.

That Donne was a man of passion becomes as obvious in his religious poems as it does in his love poetry and though he is never pious in a passive sense, the reader feels a certain distance in some of The Holy Sonnets, in which he characterizes his god as victim: "Loe, faithful Virgin, yeelds himself to lye/ In prison, in thy wombe;..." ("Annunciation," 5-6), and in "Nativitie," "There he hath made himself to his intent/Weake enough, now into our world to come;" (3-4), and in "Crucifying," "...Loe, where condemned hee/Beares his owne crosse, with paine, yet by and by/When it beares him, he must beare more and die" (9-11).

These poems, regardless of their chronological placement in his writing, are filled with awe and a hesitant familiarity.  He remains tentative and somewhat at a distance, and only occasionally intrudes himself into the poem with the personal "I."

Copyright (c) 2011 by G. Sue McGhee

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Your Face Tomorrow - a review

This review is from: Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear (Vol. 1) (New Directions Books) (Paperback). But, there's really only one way I can adequately discuss Volume I and that is to discuss the remaining two of Javier Marias's trilogy at the same time -- at least to some degree. Some of you may not have the stamina to pursue the other two in any case, so I will do my best to treat all three as one in a comprehensive discussion, rather than individually or in the order in which they were published.
Javier Marias is considered a genius by many and was Spain's hope for the 2010 Nobel Prize, which (unfortunately) went to the Peruvian conservative, Mario Vargas Llosa whose books I've never been able to finish because of the dark, unforgiving landscapes that plague his characters.

Reading Marias, however, is more like a romp through a lush playground of swings and slides. The anticipation is high in the beginning, but gradually we fall into a sort of passive walk around someone else's mind, an intellectual voyeurism that eventually numbs us into submissiveness the longer we read, until soon we've lost interest in the swings and slides and wander off with the writer into a rich labyrinth of words that makes us reach, question, deviate and learn.

We see everything through the eyes of Jaime (or Jacques, or Jacobo or . . . )Deza, an expatriate Spaniard living in London alone, with an estranged wife and children still living in Madrid. Deza is attractive and sharp and gains the attention of a man named Tupra, an enigma extraordinaire who remains an enigma throughout the three volumes of the novel. Nevertheless, Deza is eventually employed by Tupra through the recommendation of an elderly mutual friend named Peter Wheeler, who is, as I understand it, the reincarnation of Marias' mentor in real life, Sir Peter Russell.

Tupra, we suspect, is involved in a highly secretive organization supported by MI5 and MI6 and Deza is assigned the job of secretly analyzing and interpreting personalities of prospective employees, agents, enemies, even friends of the highly placed Tupra. Even with the long bouts of tediousness, the book moves along at its own respectable pace holding the reader's attention despite complex sentences and long paragraphs that contain repetition of phrases from earlier in the book -- phrases that become much like a refrain. It is not boring, fundamentally because of the intellect behind all the observation, a key word that bears repeating. He (Deza) "observes," without much action, but he observes with such a brainy substance. The language is leisurely and contemplative and wraps you up into a nice rich cocoon of contentment that you don't really want to leave even though the plot really doesn't go anywhere, except into a deep, shocking psychological territory that most of us have never been. The required resolution is there -- which becomes the surprising change that takes place in Deza, delivering him, ultimately, into a world he has consistently resisted throughout all three volumes.   

Those of you who want a captivating and complex intellectual mystery which involves questions of good and evil, action and non-action, and a skewed re-apportioning of moral responsibility, this book may be for you. If you're looking for a James Patterson murder mystery, skip it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

When the Eagle Flies with the Condor: a novel of the sixties

When the Eagle Flies with the Condor: A Novel of the Sixties
When the Eagle flies with the Condor, there will be peace and brotherhood among nations. This is a two thousand year old prophecy which goes something like this: the eagle represents North America today (and by extension other western, highly civilized and wealthy nations) and its emphasis on the intellect, science and wealth to the exclusion of the spirit. By contrast, the condor embodies a powerful spiritual connection to earth and our fellow creatures and represents not only the natives of Latin America, but the indigenous people from around the globe. It is the underlying theme of the novel, but the novel is about more than that. It is a story of brotherhood and love, revolution and war, survival and friendship, and begins with two coddled American youngsters whose father builds roads in an attempt to bring commerce to the natives of the backward and poverty stricken country of Bolivia. Their mother, uncomfortable and plagued with anxieties generated by constant political unrest, fills her days with trivialities and alcohol. The children's care-free lives are disrupted when they must return to the U.S. for reasons unknown to them at the time. What follows is the boy’s anti-social response to what he ultimately deems a godless universe and his sister’s painful withdrawal caused by fears of abandonment by her family. As the children move into adulthood, their reactions to these inimical forces result in his joining the army and deploying to Vietnam, and her returning to South America as a sort of apprentice shaman ministering to the needs of the natives by adhering to the teachings of the Kallawaya, the traveling medicine men who roam the cordilleras of the Andes. Their lives are played out against the backdrop of the 1960s and everything that volatile decade represents. They are players, yes, but they are astute observers as well, recognizing the similarities among the indigenous people of the world with their knowledge, latent power and untapped potential for good. Thus, the prophecy of The Eagle and the Condor comes into play with its message that at the beginning of the fifth Pachacuti, (the year 2000) the balance of power will shift and the indigenous peoples of the world will begin to resume their rightful place among nations.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Independence Day

I'm proud to be an American.   

Even though I feek slightly embarassed that only 58% (or so) of us knows the year of our  independence.  And,

only 76% of us knows from what country we GAINED independence.

Does this distress me?  Yes, a little. What it says to me is that the under 30 demographic does not study history enough and does not take their citizenship seriously enough. (I say that because the most ignorant group -- yes a harsh word -- was among the under thirty crowd).  We need better education, better teachers, more emphasis on history, especially as it relates to our own birth as a nation and more responsibility as citizens to learn about our past. 

Enough said!   Or is it? Come to think of it, I am a little ashamed of us.  We can do better.  We've been soft and haven't demanded enough of our kids, a subject that I expound on in much more detail in my blog,  "Where's the Sacrifice," dated 05-16-11.