Since we have been discussing aesthetics and ethics, this debate on sacred music and chant is highly appropriate. This may set the tone for what follows:

"It is only natural that the worship of God is to be expressed in song. ...praise cannot be reduced to the 'language of this world,' stripped of all balance, rhythm, and harmony. The word of God and man's response to it ....is not the reflection of an 'ordinary' conversation. As soon as the word becomes identified with the contents of its message, it calls for order (rhythm) and melos (arrangements of pitch), i.e., a musical form. In this way, the perfect word, the fully developed word, most always has the nature of song."--quoting Drillock
A reflection of this thought is easily available to anyone familiar with good poetry reading, and is further reinforced by the knowledge that epic poetry such as The Odyssey was always sung....
The old heroic poetry was of a different character from the 13th century hymns and chants, in that it was composed at the moment of the performance. The act of writing it down adds a solidity that was not present in the ancient poems, which were performed live by poets who took their audience's tastes and mood into account, extending or shortening segments accordingly. (See Albert Lord's The Singer of Tales.)

That said, there is an excellent point here -- one that Joe and I were discussing the other day. The more binding poetic forms create a power that isn't present in everyday language. It is, indeed, the natural language for prayer and sacred meanings. The Ynglinga Saga states that Odin spoke everything in rhyme, so that his words gave the form to the poetry of the skalds who followed him.

The greatest poem of the 20th Century, The Ballad of the White Horse, has three forms -- or rather, one basic form, and two extended versions. Usually the longest is used to draw out the mind along an image, so that a stanza of the second-longest can follow to seal the image in the mind.
A bronzed man, with a bird's bright eye,
And a strong bird's beak and brow,
His skin was brown like buried gold,
And of certain of his sires was told
That they came in the shining ship of old,
With Caesar in the prow.

His fruit trees stood like soldiers
Drilled in a straight line,
His strange, stiff olives did not fail,
And all the kings of the earth drank ale,
But he drank wine.
I often think of those lines when Eric stands forth to proclaim the glory that was Rome: and honor him for it.

The words convey a meaning, and the meaning a purpose. That is what words are for.
"One ....would have to add that 'word' in the biblical sense (and also the Greek sense) is more than language and speech, namely, creative reality [In Hebrew, 'dabar'].... For "word" in the sense of the Bible is more than "text," and understanding reaches further than the banal understanding of what is immediately clear to everyone.
"Word," in other words, is logos. It is more than the written word: it is the reason for the words.

Silence is not broken for no cause. Not by God.


A Mon Seul Desir:

I set out to find the song -- I've been listening to a lot of early music this week -- but the tapestry is at least as noteworthy.

Officers of the Court

Officers of the Court -

Grim is occasionally fond of recounting a tale of John Randolph. A guest is coming to dinner; Mr. Randolph is not prepared to receive him; he opens the door to the guest and says, "Sir, I am not home"; the guest leaves, without attempting to say in any way that Mr. Randolph is being less than truthful. Only Grim tells it with more elegance and fewer semicolons.

In my first job out of law school (a judicial clerkship), I learned that on some matters, a lawyer could make an assertion as an "officer of the court," and in the absence of a dispute, this would be accepted as true. As with the Virginia gentry standard, this assumption was made without any regard to the attorney's actual reputation for truth or untruth. I don't doubt it arises from the same source: when class was far more a reality than now, lawyers were gentlemen by birth, and treated as such. (In British courts, lawyers are still wearing robes and wigs in court - for no better reason I know than that gentlemen once dressed that way.)

I've got a case now, away from my home station, in which I think the other side's staff judge advocate has an office policy that creates a legal issue (and I'm not saying what the policy is, nor the issue, nor even where it is). In my brief to the judge, I simply asserted that opposing counsel told me about the policy, and went on to what I think the issue is. In response, the other side didn't say, "Yes, we do that," or "No, we don't," but simply said, "Joseph W. isn't producing any witnesses to our conversation, so he can't prove what he says."

Don't fear for me - I've got ways of proving it, all right, even if the old doctrine doesn't apply here (and I'm not going to stand on it, anyway). I'm not claiming the profession has fallen to new depths, either - courtroom duels used to lead to actual duels, a couple of centuries back, when the advocates didn't remember how to separate the personal from the professional (a longstanding issue in our profession). One of us two lawyers is about to learn something. I mention it simply because some here might be interested in the standard, and this is what brought it to my mind.

In googling the Randolph story, I ran across a lengthy Vanderbilt law review article on the subject of social norms and the legal profession, with a long section on honor and shame, but time does not permit me to study it right now.

(Let me say also - I am not going to be using this weblog to do advocacy on the public for my cases; and whoever catches me doing it is free to deal me a mighty thwack.)

Independence Day

Independence Day:

A merry, and free, one to all of you.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it....


Catching Up:

One of the things I've been catching up on since getting back is Schlock Mercenary. This one has a certain high quality.



Eric often tells me, and rightly, that we live in an age in which the great things are there for those who have an ear. Here is one who has.

Get Some, Marines

The Taliban's No Good, Very Bad Day:

Get some, Marines. Our hearts are with you.



One thing that strikes me on returning to America is how much garbage is on sale. Every city and town is covered with malls and shopping centers. Some of this stuff is more expensive than other stuff, but oddly, almost none of it is actually of high quality. The expensive stuff at the high-dollar mall in Atlanta is better than the cheap stuff at the truck stop, but it still isn't of the best quality.

It's not just that you can buy a better hat than you can buy at the mall; it's that the hat is so much better than what they sell that it's not in the same class. If you need a hat, then, you'd not go to any of these stores -- not malls, not truck stops, not shopping centers, not any place where you can buy things in person. You'd order it online or by mail from a craftsman.

You see people in these stores shopping with great intensity -- women in particular. I don't wonder at the teenagers or the twenty-somethings buying clothes, because presumably they are still establishing a wardrobe. However, you see women far older than that shopping with the same intensity. They must have closets full of clothes already.

I occasionally buy new clothes, when old ones wear out. That doesn't seem to be the reason they are buying these clothes, though; and in any event, the clothes are of the same low-quality as everything else. You can buy well-made dresses and tailored suits, but not here; and if you want rugged work clothes for knocking around in, these are not for that either.

What they appear to be doing is not searching for clothes, but searching for meaning. They are searching for a way to look that will make them feel a certain way. It is as if they think that looking and feeling a different way might make them actually be what they want.

The clothes need to be cheap and disposable, because the feelings change so quickly -- tomorrow she may need a different feeling, another skirt. The expensive ones are merely targeted at a wealthier market: for that market, they are just as disposable.

That is why they buy so many clothes, and why the clothes are so poorly made. The thing being bought is not the physical object at all. They are only talismans, like the hair of a frog. The real thing desired is the spell they want to work: the transformation, for a moment, into something else.

We spoke a while ago about the use of aesthetics to renew society. If you can capture the aesthetic in music and art, you can renew the world: but if you can then capture it also in clothes, you might be able to reach this entire group of people.

This also solves the funding issue, as large cultural movements require vast sums of money.

Now what we need is the poet, the artist, and the designer. What is the vision of beauty that they might chase, long enough for us to begin to introduce them to these better ways? For beauty underlies everything -- it is the vision of beauty that you follow that defines you.

It is also there -- in the consistent pursuit of a vision -- that the real transformation is possible. These pieces of poorly-made fluff have a power, if they are linked to a vision that can make you chase it far enough. A man who chases questing beasts, or fairy maids, will often find himself in elfland. So it is with other visions, if you dare to chase them far enough.

What, then, is the vision? Or are there several? What would move you in the right direction, and might move others? It is important to think about this, because it is the starting place.

Russian Pagans


The Latin word from which we derive "pagan" means something like 'of the countryside' or 'rural.' There are a few left:

More than 50 worshippers gathered in a sacred grove on a hot June afternoon outside the village of Marisola. The crowd, mostly women dressed in national costumes and colorful headscarves, stood on a glade opposite a spruce where men were busy conducting prayers.

The congregation kneeled while the men under the spruce, dressed in suits, white felt hats and linen towels cast over their shoulders, said prayers in a low, monotone murmur.

They prayed to Osh Kughu Yumo -- Mari for "Great White God" -- who was being revered that day as Agavairem, which means both deity of creative energy and the feast marking the end of spring labor.

The women lined up in the grass in front of piles of thick homemade pancakes, white cheese, dumplings and brown kvas, the fermented rye drink. Pots and kitchenware were adorned with burning candles, as was a makeshift table in front of the spruce.
This is not one of the "neopagan" faiths that have cropped up since the 19th century. Those were inspired by the Romantic movement in literature and music, which sought to infuse meaning into life through soaring emotion. This one is simply an old way, that has survived in a very rural region.

The Christian priests in the area have tried to sort out their own thoughts on the relationship between the faiths. The Russian Orthodox priest says he lets them come to church, and even be baptized, but believes they are lost souls who cannot be saved. The Lutheran they interviewed said that the problem wasn't that they weren't Christian, but that they weren't Russian: "Many Mari do not want to go the Orthodox church because it is perceived as quintessentially Russian. We, however, can offer worship in their own language."

Yet it is the poet they interviewed who spoke best, as poets will.
"You should not put too much significance in this," Dudina explained. "Our people have lived with the Russian church for generations, but our faith is older."

Christianity, she said, had not entered Mari rites, but rather the rites had entered Christianity. "There are so many pagan traditions in Christianity. Look at the Christmas tree," she said.
I remember another poet who felt that way:
He kept the Roman order,
He made the Christian sign;
But his eyes grew often blind and bright,
And the sea that rose in the rocks at night
Rose to his head like wine.

He made the sign of the cross of God,
He knew the Roman prayer,
But he had unreason in his heart
Because of the gods that were.

Even they that walked on the high cliffs,
High as the clouds were then,
Gods of unbearable beauty,
That broke the hearts of men.

And whether in seat or saddle,
Whether with frown or smile,
Whether at feast or fight was he,
He heard the noise of a nameless sea
On an undiscovered isle.