Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Readings and thoughts for the first day of Christmas

"The Angel Door"
Here is a Christmas commission by a friend from college, artist
Mary Boxley Bullington. I suggest to those of you who love
and collect art that she is highly collectible and, indeed,
under-valued at this time. Her work is full of energy and beauty.
Click for a large version.

I heard this sung by Fr. Mark Michael last night, in a church that has for several centuries been a notable home to writers--novelist James Fenimore Cooper, nature writer Susan Cooper, poet W. W. Lord, essayist Fae Malania, children's author Paul Fenimore Cooper, and many more. It is one vision of things that have eternal life and power:
The Proclamation of Christmas

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image. Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant. Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel. In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary. Today is the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
And here is a clip from the discussion of another vision of immortality--cultural immortality--yoked to its debunking:

On the presumed immortality of fame as a cause of art and cultural significance.
Fame, according to Socrates, is therefore a form of reproduction. For those who can achieve it, it is far superior to the messy biological kind. Who, when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod and other great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory? Socrates is here expressing a fundamental belief of the Greeks: that acts of heroism or epic poems are not only nobler than mere sprogs, but also considerably more durable. Where living things fall like leaves in autumn, our cultural objects can endure. Kingdoms, titles and honour survive to be passed from one generation to the next; stories persist to be told by new generations of bards; bronze statues do not fall sick. Unlike human children, cultural offspring promise to be ‘everlasting’.  --Stephen Cave, Everlasting glory: There are few fantasies so absurd as the idea of living on through fame. So why does immortality still beckon?
Thoughts on literary immortality

Mary Boxley Bullington,
Winged Creatures,
Acrylic and mixed media collage on paper, 22" x 25"
December 2014
Some day the glacial lake some hundred yards from my door will vanish; some day a mountain may stand where it sank in earth. All things on Earth pass and change, as do we. 

Stephen Cave's vision of humanity's striving to be noble (or simply plain old famous for being famous, like a Kardashian) or make lasting art as an absurd quirk of biology and evolution is interesting, but in the end it means little to me. I do not write for glory or to have my name enrolled in stone. I write because it gives me joy, and because as I pursue something larger than myself, I also become larger than myself. What I am on the inside is then better and bigger than it was before. So I write to redeem the time and give a gift to a world in which I have sometimes been harmful or mere useless lumber--as we all are at times, more or less. 

In thinking so, I am far closer to the sentiments of a figure like the ignored, scorned, solitary artist of Hawthorne's "The Artist of the Beautiful," who creates the beautiful mechanical butterfly that flies with grace and natural motion but who also catches a "far other" butterfly--who becomes greater than he was before because he has participated in creation. The soul has long been compared, in art and words and on tombstones, to a butterfly. Like Hawthorne, the artist gives the creation of his heart and soul away, knowing it may be accounted a trifle, knowing it may be mocked. But he gives it freely in love.

Christmas wish

Experience sublime and beautiful things and be alchemically transformed to metaphysical gold, be in surpassing peace, love one another, be merry...

Butterflies on Mary Boxley Bullington's
cherry tree in Roanoke, Virginia.


  1. Thank you for sharing so much of my work on your blog, Queen Marly. Ma the Balrogs never come nigh you! Merry Christmas!

    1. My Balrogs only eat spammers...

      You are very welcome, Miz Mary B! Merry Christmas to you and the kitties.

  2. Glad you can penetrate my typos--ma = may, etc. And love your comments accompanying my work, especially from Marly’s blog, 12-25-14:

    “I do not write for glory or to have my name enrolled in stone. I write because it gives me joy, and because as I pursue something larger than myself, I also become larger than myself.” And regarding my butterfly ornaments and my collage “Winged Creatures”: “Experience sublime and beautiful things and be alchemically transformed to metaphysical gold, be in surpassing peace, love one another, be merry...”

    Butterflies certainly must be alchemical critters, metaphors for the flux of life--and death, and symbols of resurrection. Thanks for reminding me.

    1. You are then an alchemical lady, Miss Mary, and a wearer of the cauda pavonis... the alchemical stage where all the colors appear and shine as a great bouquet.

    2. That is, you are now wearing a peacock's tail for your hat!

    3. Thank you, Miz M! But as you know Mister Chaucer debunked Fame in his unfinished poem, "Hous of Fame," the one in which he is unceremoniously collared by a giant eagle and flown over the said hous to scrutuinze its pantheon of apotheosed humans and pagan gods (including Mars with his "grisly cart" of mangled corpses).
      You have done very well to reproduce in the messy way 3 times and raise 3 mortal children who can hug you much more warmly than bronze figurines, however beautiful. May you attain fame as well in your lifetime--because after that, I daresay you won't care very much, even if you are "stellifyed" like poor old Io. The value in being a fully engaged full-time artist, meantime, is as you say, is in the joy, sweat, and terror of attempting to achieve duende. (Please retrieve that episode of your blog for me--I think of it often as I work, because it reminds me why I'm in a messy, dirty studio and not making real money doing something halfway sensible!) You know better than anyone artists are all Fools, stepping off the cliff into thin air, while looking back at their playful little dogs.

  3. Duende! I shall look for it...

    And yes, the Fool card is always close by. In fact, I'm working on the Fool poems this morning.

    Too bad Chaucer couldn't have debunked it permanently, but our own age is fame-mad, celebrity-mad...


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.