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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Fenimore Cooper in the Easter Palace


Here during Easter week we have: what may become an Annual Rant Against Fenimore (really, I love him, honest); a poem from my little class on the great religious poets; a good-for-the-season rant from Luther about God, writers, and asses' ears; a cautionary quote; the veritable key to good health; a silly joke that will make you laugh if you are lucky enough to be a silly person who has not heard the joke; and important information about Bun Houses. This is as close to a card from me as anybody is going to get!


For the past six weeks I've taught a class on sacred poetry--Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Czeslaw Milosz, Kathleen Raine, Charles Causley, and more--at Christ Church Cooperstown, where James Fenimore Cooper was Senior Warden and church renovator. Fenimore is always the writer when locals think of "the writer." People throw him up in my face at parties! He meets me everywhere in the landscape, and even his respectable though moldering bones don't seem to get any peace but have to be mentioned at every twist and turn of life...

His angels and demons of good and evil appear to still be around as well, only they aren't just called Indians anymore--they appear under many guises and fly about near and far, bearing love or terror through the shattered world.

When I am irritated beyond bearing with Fenimore's omnipresence, I beard him in his den by reading that marvelous document, Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, by Mr. Mark Twain. This I find to be consoling and amusing, without fail. I highly recommend it. I may even have recommended it before.

Here is one of the poems that I brought to my class. It is not by Fenimore Cooper. One really must thank heaven for the smaller mercies.


Three masts has the thrusting ship,
Three masts will she wear
When she like Christ our Saviour
Walks on the watery stair.

One stands at the fore
To meet the weather wild
As He who once in winter
Was a little child.

One grows after
From step to the sky
For Him who once was keel-hauled
And hung up to die.

One stands amidships
Before fore and mizzen
Pointing to Paradise
For Him who is risen.

Three masts will grow on the green ship
Before she quits the quay,
For Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Blessed Trinity.

And that flourishing little poem is by the late Charles Causley, sailor and teacher and poet to Cornwall and the world.

Here's a bit off the back of my copy of his Collected Poems, 1951-1975, a lovely edition from David R. Godine. (There's a newer Collected as well.) Causley is one of our language's last great popular poets: his verse rhymes; he employs traditional forms such as the ballad; he writes of the sea, of children, of war, of Cornwall where he has always lived and taught. There's also this note from Derek Parker: The truth about Causley is that he is simply the best poet of his kind we have had since the turn of the century.

Happy Easter to you, near and far. May your ship grow green...


"You know what one of my heroes—a hero, notwithstanding all the warts—said about those who were delighted about the success of their books? Luther advised them to grab themselves by their ears, and if they grabbed themselves well, they would discover a pair of long, shaggy donkey ears! He didn’t think that an author determined the value of a book. He certainly wouldn’t have thought that that the market determined it, or committees who decide about awards, or even the true connoisseurs of good books. In his mind, God determines a book’s value—a tough critic, but a generous one too."
--Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Zondervan; The Archbishop's Official 2006 Lent Book)

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

I tend to find troublesome the fact that many novelists and poets and playwrights like to pontificate about politics. But I think Easter is probably an appropriate time to remind ourselves that the religious tolerance and freedom of speech that our founding parents held dear as self-evident and precious goods are fragile: "Iran’s supreme leader instructed Muslims around the world to serve as executioners of the Islamic Republic—and they did, killing not Rushdie himself but his Japanese translator, and stabbing the Italian translator, and shooting the Italian publisher, and killing three dozen persons with no connection to the book when a mob burned down a hotel because of the presence of the novelist’s Turkish translator."
--Mark Steyn, in City Journal


Hot cross buns are breakfast at the Palace this Friday: "If properly made on the actual day -- Good Friday--they are supposed to protect the whole family from fires, rats, accidents and shipwrecks." --Caroline Conran, British Cooking

Fires, rats, accidents, shipwrecks. Why wouldn't you eat them?


What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole? That's right, hot cross bunnies...


And now, from Hillman's Hyperlinked and Searchable Chambers’ Book of Days: Whether it be from failing appetite, the chilling effects of age, or any other fault in ourselves, we cannot say; but it strikes us that neither in the bakers' shops, nor from the baskets of the street-vendors, can one now get hot cross-buns comparable to those of past times. They want the spice, the crispness, the everything they once had. Older people than we speak also with mournful affection of the two noted bun-houses of Chelsea. Nay, they were Royal bun-houses, if their signs could be believed, the popular legend always insinuating that the King himself had stopped there, bought, and eaten of the buns. Early in the present century, families of the middle classes walked a considerable way to taste the delicacies of the Chelsea bun-houses, on the seats beneath the shed which screened the pavement in front. An insane rivalry, of course, existed between the two houses, one pretending to be The Chelsea Bun-house, and the other The Real Old Original Chelsea Bun-house. Heaven knows where the truth lay, but one thing was certain and assured to the innocent public, that the buns of both were so very good that it was utterly impossible to give an exclusive verdict in favour of either."


"Karaka dubrovnik," a royalty free photograph by Jeffrey Krvopic of Dubrovnik, Croatia, shows a replica of a sixteenth-century ship.


  1. happy easter to you as well. How is it that it is Easter in your palace (per your blog date) whilst here it isn't even Good Friday yet?
    Mysterious universe.
    Sunlight today, more storms coming. Our ground is more water than earth these days, and shifts as we walk.

  2. Yes, and it's always 2:00, too.

    Paradoxically, though, I'm afraid I'll have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter, just like everybody else...

    Hope the house and bookstore stay firmly planted in the rains!

  3. What, no Hopkins? I would have loved to have been in your class. You'll have to take it on the road. Please. Hey, wouldn't you know that the other writer I most dislike is Fenimore C. himself. I once, unable to finish one of his books(the one with Nattybumpo, can't remember the name), banked on being able to answer the requisite 2 out of 3 final exam questions in an American lit class. Two of the three were on...ta da... 'Last of the Mohicans' or whatever the Nattybumpish one is. Cursed prof, cursed JFC. Oh, and Happy Easter to you, too, now that I've insulted your taste and your hometown in one blow. So sorry, darling Chatelaine, I didn't mean to.

  4. Yes, Hopkins! We ended with ecstatic poems, so I had to have Hopkins and his wimpling wings. The first day I did "Spring and Fall," and later "The Windhover" and another one--hmm, can't remember which one.

    Insults to Cooper are always welcome. He dominates the village, even now! And he is certainly capable of absurdities and turgid prose and peculiar, peculiar "females." I have, however, read all the Leatherstocking tales. All of 'em. Fenimore has his own little Romantic beauties, and he's dratted important for American literary history. But I still love Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses.

    You knew that you were tempting fate when you evaded Fenimore, didn't you? Thou shalt not evade thy fate! It's in the fine print somewhere in the English Department. And so you went to your Doom, poor child. I expect you've gotten over it by now.

    I wouldn't admit to a mostly snowbound, decidly cool Yankee village being my "hometown." That would cause all my ancestors to spin simultaneously in their warm graves--at least the last three centuries of ancestors, or thereabouts--and might cause damage to Earth's orbit.

  5. Do those charming garden gnomes snack on hot-cross buns as well as some Texas BBQ? And where do hot cross bunnies come into play? Such strange questions, no doubt needing equally odd answers. (Tee hee. Equally odd)

    The world has not stopped spinning or shown any abnormal behavior as of now, so apparently no one has affended any anscestors.

    Enough wierdness for now. I have decided that spewing random sentences into cyberspace is quite calming. Maybe it's from the clackety- clackety- thwonk of typing. Who knows? Mayhap I have invented a new form of relaxation- Random Typing Yoga.

  6. I have an idea that they don't bake in Texas. No, not right. Scads of air conditioning. So they probably do eat hot cross buns with fresh fruit salsa.

    Hot, cross bunnies: I don't know how often they are to be met, or why, other than in jokes. But I'd imagine that there are quite a few in Texas during June, July, and August.

    Keep up the random typing--after all, they say that monkeys, given world enough and time, can reinvent Shakespeare. Though I doubt. However it is, you are infinitely more talented than legions of monkeys, so who knows what you may do with your typing yoga... Sounds a bit like the craze for "automatic writing" a century back. It did a lot for Yeats.

  7. I can't tell you how excited I am to be assured that I am more talented than legions of monkeys. Although they do seem to be smarter than some people; maybe they can't do algebra, but they don't murder or shoot other monkeys.

    Coming soon to an independant bookstore near you:

    TYPING YOGA: The Whos, Whats, Wheres, and Hows of this fantastic remedy!!

  8. No doubt you are also more talented than legions of people who are all grown up and civilized and so on!

  9. since Hopkins got a look in how about Juan de la Cruz or was he too difficult to teach, or translate? hmm

  10. I stuck to poems in English by British and American writers plus a smattering of translations by well-known British and American writers. That's just because there's an endless amount of material, and one can give a kind of shape to literary history with a smaller wedge of the great pie... But maybe next time will be all translations.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.