The Sestina of a Lifetime

If you are not aware of the poetic structure of a sestina, it is a poem of highly structured word repetitions (6 words) following this pattern of retrogradatio cruciata: wherein all six chosen words appear in every end-position possible within 6 stanzas of 6 lines.

Table of sestina end-words (columns for stanzas, rows for lines, order+word listed as number+letter)
OneTwoThrFourFiveSix
1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B
2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D
3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F
4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E
5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C
6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A

This is followed by a final 3-line stanza, the envoi, containing the 6 words again in this order: 2-5 / 4-3 / 6-1.

You might surmise by now that a poem with such rigid and repetitive structure that lasts for a significant number of lines (39 in total) is good for expressing something about the more repetitive things in life. I’ve seen good ones about a long train ride with strange people (Sestina of a Train by Al Purdy), and obsessive lovers who can’t stop thinking about each other (The Lover’s Sestina by Bruce Meyer). Both poems capitalised on the repetitive aspect of the sestina form to create that (oppressive) feeling of reading the same words over and over. But I really wanted to try a sestina in which the words clearly repeated without such a heavy feeling of them repeating. For this I had to choose the kind of words that could have varied meanings. I did “cheat” in that I intentionally chose to make one of the six words change throughout the poem, but I decided that before even beginning to write. Besides that disclaimer, I don’t want to over-explain the poem. Here is my attempt:

The Sestina of a Lifetime

9 months she ate the things she craved to eat.
On Monday noon he heard the doctor call,
with trepidation rushed in from the hall,
to see his babe emerge from head to feet,
untangled from the womb to be set free:
To hold her was to see her as The Only.

They sent her off to school when only 5:
a sandwich, fruit, and cookie she would eat,
then play with friends outdoors when time was free.
When bullies nasty names of her did call,
her mother taught her how to turn defeat
into the courage shown in concert halls.

Then, fresh-faced from her graduation hall,
she joined a firm to ‘start her life’. Only,
Monday mornings she would drag her feet
and wonder, “Eat to work or work to eat?”
She’d close her eyes her childhood to recall,
and wonder how she squandered times once free.

When dreamy man her passions did set free,
they tied the knot and filled a banquet hall.
Guests watched as pastor at the altar called
them husband wife – each other: one and only.
They barely sat to celebrate and eat;
their life would start once they had thrown their fête!

But changing diapers proved to be a feat
from which young parents struggled to be free
when seven mouths would cry, “I want to eat!”
Then soon their children passed through college halls,
and once again they were each other’s Only,
except when grown-up children came to call.

On Friday night she got a sudden call:
his heart attack had brought him to his fate,
and once again she lived with herself only,
until her soul fled too. Finally. Free.
Some tears were shed by loved ones in the hall,
then dust to dust and soon the worms would eat.

All counted, would you call your life as “free”?
Which Way goes your feet walking down the hall?
These questions, only, away at you to eat.

A Matter of Semantics

Much of history, theory/theology, knowledge, and life is distorted when you don’t call a thing by its proper name.

Was the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1937 part of “World War II” or was it just a “Sino-Japanese War?” If you call it the Sino-Japanese War, then why is the end of WWII marked by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Taking this timeline, WWII starts with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and ends with America bombing Japan… Why does that not quite line up? Perhaps until the world saw little Japan’s powerhouse war-waging capability, they dismissed Asian wars as regional affairs, not world affairs. In this case, even after the fact, Asian wars were not considered very important on the world stage; the fighting that broke out along the Eastern coast of Asia from Manchuria to Indonesia did not count as the start of WWII, but the regional wars of Europe did. This is not to say “change the history books” but to point out that simply naming something is actually not so simple.

(Blue indicates the extent of Japanese expansion in WWII)

Is a baby baptism and a baby dedication the same thing? Both may be done in the same spirit, but calling a baby who has been dedicated to be raised to know and fear God a ‘baptised’ child is vastly different from calling that baby a child whose rearing has been dedicated by the parents to God’s guidance. That is, if ‘baptism’ is to be an outward ceremony and declaration of a voiced decision to follow Christ by the one being baptised.

How far before love becomes idolatry? One is noble, the other hideous, taking the place of God. There is a difference, but it may not always be clear.

Semantics is a defining matter.

A Crushed Spirit

Spotlight on Proverbs 17:22 KJV with Strong’s #s

A merry<08056> heart<03820> doeth good<03190>like a medicine<01456>: but a broken<05218> spirit<07307> drieth<03001> the bones<01634>.

My interpretation after reading Strong’s references

A . glad/rejoicing . heart/will . makes well . like a cure, but . an afflicted spirit/a stricken breath . withers the self.

ESV

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Why do I post this? The quick answer is that the phrase resounds on my mind. A crushed spirit can really sap your strength to stand up. But I find the causation in this verse hard to process. A joyful heart is a cure, but a crushed spirit withers you; so how do you get cured of a crushed spirit? How does one get from crushed spirit to joyful heart, if a joyful heart is the cure? There seems to be a missing step.

The only way to bridge this that I can see is to begin to get a joyful heart even while your spirit is crushed. How so? Imagine stricken and asthmatic weeping, drawing tight rasping breaths that sap all your energy. And now, will yourself to rejoice in the salvation that the Lord has given in Christ. Not easy. Thankfully the Father gives mercy even for our inability to rejoice in His love. And he is pleased by perseverance in this matter, I know. No lies, Satan; no matter how crushed our spirit, there is much to rejoice about.

 

P.S. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”  – Paul, Philippians 4:11

As for me, I must learn in whatever situation I am to be content. (Learn again and again and again…)

Hope

You know chick flicks? They’re mostly run-of-the-mill pieces of mediocrity that directors make to guarantee some femme group-spending on a ladies’ movie night. On the contrary, there’s something to be said for the power of a feel-good flick watched with good girl friends.

Realist movies aren’t as fun to watch as the unrealistic fast food of a chick flick.

[Below are spoilers for the movies Alfie and Sweet Home Alabama.]

Take Alfie – despite the possible chick flick designation for having Jude Law in the cast, this movie ends as a downer. Alfie’s really messed things up for others and himself with his playboy lifestyle that includes personal attachments to many women. He thinks it’s ok; he always makes it clear beforehand that he’s not the type ready to commit. Still, the movie ends and he is lonely and guilt-ridden. Realistic? Maybe. Droll? Definitely.

Take Sweet Home Alabama – despite definite chick flick flavours such as good-looking screen personnel and a fairytale storyline of economic success and ‘true’ love, it does kind of subvert fairytale romances of the urban fashionable blue-blood strain where the rich marry each other or some poor girl or boy. (It does upkeep the childhood sweetheart fairytale though.) In any case, we admittedly hope for our own fairytale.

Back to the point. “S/he/It is so real.” That’s what we say when we’re impressed with how something has moved us deeply. Like when something has the raw power to connect with a part of ourselves that we believe to be ‘real’. What is real? We keep returning to the chick flick; whether we say it is real or we don’t, we include it in the functions of our life.

Perhaps the ‘real’ thing we see in chick flicks is the hope it inspires. That hope may not be for any realistic target, but the act of hope is viscerally real. And hope is far more appealing than despair.

Discipline and Punish

Positive reinforcement. Encouragement. Suggestions. Warnings. Consequences. Time outs.

Some educators and parents I have come across in Canada/North America tend to be more lenient than your average Asian (or other culture) regarding discipline. Some don’t believe in punishment. ‘Learning should be positive.’ Aye, instead of telling people what not to do all the time, we should be suggesting what they should do. That is a splendid way of being positive yet corrective. Still, I submit that punishment in the right context is essential for a good parent/educator:

  1. Punishment must exist in the context of unconditional love. (Love the person, not the behaviour.)
  2. Those subject to punishment must be made aware of the possibility and consequence of punishment.
  3. Punishment should take the individual into consideration. (What is the person’s track record?)
  4. Punishment must be proportionate to the transgression.
  5. Punishment needs to be reasoned, not emotional.

I am inclined to claim with confidence that punishment meted out from someone also giving unconditional love is more appreciated than tolerance from someone not giving an assurance of unconditional love. I feel this topic is too vast for me to expand upon with the amount of thought I have given it (some 15 minutes on and off) but that bold line, that punishment must exist in the context of unconditional love I believe to be key. Without unconditional love there is nothing to discuss as far as educational/growth related punishment goes. (Not really talking about legal punishment.)

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The system that God has going with us reflects all these things. Given, the ultimate punishment for sin (death) Christ himself suffered for us [1], but God allows suffering (a consequence of punishment) to take place in the world (suffering being the residue of sin/misbehaviour) for our good [2]. We are made aware of eternal life vs eternal separation from God through God’s revealed word, but even without it, we are aware of our mortalness [3]. God deals with each person according to the individual and everything we do is relevant. [4] God does not function according to moods as we do [5].

[1] This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
[2] For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 6:23. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… -Romans 5:3-4
[3] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. -John 3:36
[4] Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.” – Ezekiel 33:20 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. – Matthew 16:27
[5] “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 20:21  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

Disclaimer: This post has barely anything to do with Foucault’s text. I just wanted to make a literary reference to a text that gives a negative idea of discipline and punishment for the purpose of ironic juxtaposition.

If life is painful and God is loving…

… why would LovingGod let us have PainfulLife, knowing we would screw up and let the world run amok with sinfulness?

Children. That’s the thought of the day.

It came from somewhat unrelated reading on Augustine’s Confessions, quoted below for your perusal, if you’re interested in the thought process. The Confessions are basically Augustine’s prayers of confession to God that he recorded.

In those years I lived with a woman who was not bound to me by lawful marriage; she was one who had come my way because of my wandering desires and my lack of considered judgment; nevertheless, I had only this one woman and I was faithful to her. And with her I learned by my own experience how great a difference there is between the self-restraint of the marriage covenant which is entered into for the sake of having children, and the mere pact made between two people whose love is lustful and who do not want to have children – even though, if children are born, they compel us to love them…

I say this reading is unrelated because the main thing I wanted to draw from it was the idea of people wanting to have children and bring them up. The average person knows their share of pain in life, though some people lead more painful lives than others. Still, no one will really stop a decent kid-loving person wanting to have children with an accusatory, “Now why would you subject kiddie-winkies to the pains of living?”

In fact, we do realise that loving parents want us to be with them,
want to provide for us,
want to always be there for us,
want us to be responsible,
want us to obey them for our good,
want us to face challenges and grow stronger,
want us to enjoy the gifts they make available to us,
want us to trust them,
want to trust us,
want to deal justly with us when we do wrong and to forgive us when we are willing to change,
are pleased to have us reflect their good attributes,
and much more.

A person with parents who really care and love them is not known to let the harshness of life be an issue in determining their estimation of their mother and father’s love. I think a similar principle applies to God although a Heavenly Father is different from a father.