All posts by Brendan King

An Interview with Poet Rhina Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat, a Dominican immigrant to the United States, has been publishing her poetry since the 1940s. She has translated many of the greatest works of Spanish and Latin American poetry into English, while also translating the poetry of Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur into Spanish. Espaillat has also taught classes at the Westchester Poetry Conference about how to introduce Spanish poetic forms into English language poetry. The following interview with her, which took place at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend Indiana, is well worth watching: https://youtu.be/0gmG4Rkq9ao

A Parody of Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Fried Beauty.”By R.S. Gwynn.
Glory be to God for breaded things —Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh, Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim With french fries, fritters, life-float onion rings, Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye, That in all oils, corn or canola, swimToward mastication’s maw (O molared mouth!); Whatever browns, is dumped to drain and dry On paper towels’ sleek translucent scrim, These greasy, battered bounties of the South: Eat them.

The West Chester Poetry Conference

In 1995, poets Dana Gioia and Scott Peich realized, after working their way through a bottle of Pinot Noir, that there was no place in America where young poets could go to learn the traditional craft of poetry in a systematic way. In response, they created the West Chester Poetry Conference, which is still going strong after almost thirty years. Here is a video about it: https://youtu.be/8liu875rPsQ

An Interview with Poet Dick Davis

As Iran is again in the news, I am going to post the following interview with English poet Dick Davis. Davis lived in Tehran during the reign of the last Shah and married an Iranian woman. Since the Islamic Revolution made him and his wife into exiled, Davis has used his knowledge of bother the language and the culture to become the greatest living translator of Persian poetry. In the following interview, Davis discusses his poetry book “Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz.”
https://youtu.be/zTMA-T7Qb8s

Why the Hammer and Sickle Should Be Treated Like the Swastika

If someone were to ask you to think of either extreme of the political spectrum, odds are you would immediately picture a swastika at one end and a hammer and sickle at the other. Regardless of your views on the left-right paradigm or whether or not you subscribe to horseshoe theory, we (rightfully) tend to perceive fascism and communism as the standard ideologies of the extreme.

https://fee.org/articles/why-the-hammer-and-sickle-should-be-treated-like-the-swastika/?fbclid=IwAR1Hl3A3XzEklDJKrsvbR9gjn4EEkoA9gdF7RmCXf4sFodfbGG4YSxRkPNA

Japanese Chess

This article appeared in an 1869 issue of the British periodical “Chess World”.

“JAPANESE CHESS.”

The following interesting article appeared lately in “The Philadelphia Daily Bulletin” :—

All of our readers, of course, remember the visit of the Japanese Embassy to our shores eight years ago. On their arrival in this city we determined to convert them into a grand means of communication between Oriental and Occidental Chess, and we entertained strong hopes of embellishing our column with a Japanese Gambit, between two leading players of the Sho-ho-ye, or some other Japanese Club. On being introduced into the quarters of the Embassy, we learned that the game was almost exclusively confined to the middle and lower ranks—a striking illustration of the semi-barbarism of these islanders.

A set of Japanese Chessmen, which we borrowed from a friend for the purpose, served as an interpreter, and very effectually too, for our strange guests immediately turned them out on the table and explained their use. In the absence of a board, they asked, in very intelligible English, for a piece of paper, and with marvellous rapidity laid out a “board,” writing the names of the pieces with great neatness in their appropriate squares. We prize this “autograph” Chess Board very highly as an interesting memento of the Embassy.

The delegation that visited the Philadelphia Chess Club consisted of eight of the soldiers, each carrying his long, heavy sword in one hand, and some of them a light fan in the other. After a few minutes spent in salutations, two of them took their seats at the table which had been prepared for them, and the first game of Japanese Chess ever played in a Christian land (except such as may have been played within the seclusion of the Japanese quarters since the Embassy reached America) was begun.
The players, one of whom, Yamada Woomagen, was a fine looking man, drew for the first move, by tossing a Ho-kei, or pawn, into the middle of the board (à la Mercantile Library fashion), the move being governed according to the side falling uppermost, and the game proceeded by the advance of the pawns, followed by the different pieces.

The board and pieces being carefully marked and numbered, we had hoped to make some record of the game, but owing to the game’s intricacies and peculiarities, and to the extraordinary rapidity of the play, we were soon hopelessly bewildered.

As the game progressed it was soon apparent, from the expression on the faces of their companions that one of the players was speedily gaining ground, and they all laughed heartily, but most good-naturedly, when the loser arose from the table, with the simple remark, “He beat me. ”

This game was not played out to a mate, and they accordingly agreed to play another game, the loser in the first game yielding his place to one of his companions, Sano Kanaye, who, from his greater proficiency in English, acted as interpreter to the party. He seemed to play a bold game, and in fifteen minutes he announced “Ote!” which signifies killed, suggesting a significant analogy with the mat of the Persians, which bears the same meaning.

Our visitors stated that there were in Jeddo seven ” Chess masters,” appointed by the Government, to instruct the people in the game, and that there were many Japanese books on the game, some of which they promised to send to us when the Niagara returned from Japan. The Orientals, however, have poor memories.

They described to us another Japanese game, somewhat similar to draughts, played on a board “nineteen squares each way,” making altogether three hundred and sixty-one squares.

Some of them expressed, much curiosity to learn our game, and took in some elementary lessons, which were given them, with remarkable aptness. They were much gratified by a present of a set of Chessmen and a copy of the “Handbook,” which will probably become a text book of the Japanese Chess College at some future day. After partaking of an impromptu collation and recording their names on the register, our visitors took leave of us in high spirits and with many expressions of pleasure at their visit, leaving with us a most agreeable impression of their gentle, cheerful politeness, and their aptness and intelligence in acquiring and communicating knowledge.

Benjamin Franklin’s “The Morals of Chess”

“The Morals of Chess”
By Benjamin Franklin.
First published in “Columbian Magazine”, December 1786.
Playing at Chess, is the most ancient and the most universal game known among men; for its original is beyond the memory of history, and it has, for numberless ages, been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these northern states. It is so interesting in itself, as not to need the view of gain to induce engaging in it; and thence it is never played for money. Those, therefore, who have leisure for such diversions, cannot find one that is more innocent; and the following piece, written with a view to correct (among a few young friends) some little improprieties in the practice of it, shows at the same time, that it may, in its effects on the mind, be not merely innocent, but advantageous, to the vanquished as well as to the victor.
The MORALS of CHESS.
The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions. For life is a kind of chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effects of prudence or the want of it. By playing at chess, then, we may learn:
1. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action: for it is continually occurring to the player, “If I move this piece, what will be the advantages of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?
2. Circumspection, which surveys the whole chess-board, or scene of action, the relations of the several pieces and situations, the dangers they are respectively exposed to, the several possibilities of their aiding each other; the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or the other piece; and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.
3. Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game, such as, if you touch a piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down, you must let it stand. And it is therefore best that these rules should be observed, as the game thereby becomes more the image of human life, and particularly of war; in which, if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy’s leave to withdraw your troops, and place them more securely; but you must abide all the consequences of your rashness.
And, lastly, we learn by chess the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearences in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favourable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes of victory by our own skill, or, at least, of giving a stale mate, by the negligence of our adversary. And whoever considers, what in chess he often sees instances of, that particular pieces of success are apt to produce presumption, and its consequent, inattention, by which more is afterwards lost than was gained by the preceding advantage; while misfortunes produce more care and attention, by which the loss may be recovered, will learn not to be too much discouraged by the present success of his adversary, nor to despair of final good fortune, upon every little check he receives in the pursuit of it.
That we may, therefore, be induced more frequently to choose this beneficial amusement, in preference to others which are not attended with the same advantages, every circumstance, that may increase the pleasure of it, should be regarded; and every action or word that is unfair, disrespectful, or that in any way may give uneasiness, should be avoided, as contrary to the immediate intention of both the players, which is to pass the time agreeably.
Therefore, 1st. If it is agreed to play according to the strict rules, then those rules are to be exactly observed by both parties; and should not be insisted on for one side, while deviated from by the other: for this is not equitable.
2. If it is agreed not to observe the rules exactly, but one party demands indulgencies, he should then be as willing to allow them to the other.
3. No false move should ever be made to extricate yourself out of a difficulty, or to gain an advantage. There can be no pleasure in playing with a person once detected in such unfair practice.
4. If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or express any uneasiness at his delay. You should not sing, nor whistle, nor look at your watch, nor take up a book to read, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your fingers on the table, nor do anything that may disturb his attention. For all these things displease. And they do not show your skill in playing, but your craftiness or your rudeness.
5. You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary, by pretending to have made bad moves, and saying you have now lost the game, in order to make him secure and careless, and inattentive to your schemes; for this is fraud, and deceit, not skill in the game.
6. You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or insulting expression, nor show too much pleasure; but endeavour to console your adversary, and make him less dissatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression, that may be used with truth, such as, You understand the game better than I, but you are a little inattentive; or, You play too fast; or, You had the best of the game but something happened to divert your thoughts, and that turned it in my favour.
7. If you are a spectator, while others play, observe the most perfect silence. For if you give advice, you offend both parties; him, against whom you give it, because it may cause the loss of his game; him, in whose favour you give it, because, though it be good, and he follows it, he loses the pleasure he might have had, if you had permitted him to think till it occurred to himself. Even after a move or moves, you must not, by replacing the pieces, shew how it might have been played better: for that displeases, and may occasion disputes or doubts about their true situation. All talking to the players, lessens or diverts their attention, and is therefore unpleasing; nor should you give the least hint to either party, by any kind of noise or motion.— If you do, you are unworthy to be a spectator.— If you have a mind to exercise or show your judgments, do it in playing your own game when you have an opportunity, not in criticising or meddling with, or counselling, the play of others.
Lastly. If the game is not to be played rigorously, according to the rules above mentioned, then moderate your desire of victory over your adversary, and be pleased with one over yourself. Snatch not eagerly at every advantage offered by his unskillfulness or inattention; but point out to him kindly that by such a move he places or leaves a piece in danger and unsupported; that by another he will put his king in a dangerous situation, &c. By this generous civility (so opposite to the unfairness above forbidden) you may indeed happen to lose the game to your opponent, but you will win what is better, his esteem, his respect, and his affection; together with the silent approbation and good will of impartial spectators.

C.S. Lewis vs. Women’s Ordination

“Priestesses in the Church?”

by
C.S. Lewis

[Originally published under the title “Notes on the Way,” in Time and Tide, Vol. XXIX (August 14, 1948), it was subsequently reprinted with the above title in the posthumous God in the Dock book, published by Wiilliam B. Erdmanns, Grand Rapids, MI).

“I should like Balls infinitely better,” said Caroline Bingley, “if they were carried on in a different manner … It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, I dare say,” replied her brother, “but it would not be near so much like a Ball.” We are told that the lady was silenced: yet it could be maintained that Jane Austen has not allowed Bingley to put forward the full strength of his position. He ought to have replied with a distinguo. In one, sense conversation is more rational for conversation may exercise the reason alone, dancing does not. But there is nothing irrational in exercising other powers than our reason. On certain occasions and for certain purposes the real irrationality is with those who will not do so. The man who would try to break a horse or write a poem or beget a child by pure syllogizing would be an irrational man; though at the same time syllogizing is in itself a more rational activity than the activities demanded by these achievements. It is rational not to reason, or not to limit oneself to reason, in the wrong place; and the more rational a man is the better he knows this.

These remarks are not intended as a contribution to the criticism of Pride and Prejudice. They came into my head when I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests’ Orders. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation. My concern with the proposal is of a more theoretical kind. The question involves something even deeper than a revolution in order.

I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people. Indeed, in a way they are too sensible. That is where my dissent from them resembles Bingley’s dissent from his sister. I am tempted to say that the proposed arrangement would make us much more rational “but not near so much like a Church”.

For at first sight all the rationality (in Caroline Bingley’s sense) is on the side of the innovators. We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone. No one among those who dislike the proposal is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office. What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men? And against this flood of common sense, the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse.

That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost “a fourth Person of the Trinity”. But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months” inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross.” But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all “prophesied”, i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.

At this point the common sensible reformer is apt to ask why, if women can preach, they cannot do all the rest of a priest’s work. This question deepens the discomfort of my side. We begin to feel that what really divides us from our opponents is a difference between the meaning which they and we give to the word “priest”. The more they speak (and speak truly) about the competence of women in administration, their tact and sympathy as advisers, their national talent for “visiting”, the more we feel that the central thing is being forgotten. To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East – he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as “God-like” as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round.

Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in heaven” as to “Our Father”. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask “Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?”

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.

As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. Lady Nunburnholme has claimed that the equality of men and women is a Christian principle. I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless “equal” means “interchangeable”, equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.

This is what common sense will call “mystical”. Exactly. The Church claims to be the bearer of a revelation. If that claim is false then we want not to make priestesses but to abolish priests. If it is true, then we should expect to find in the Church an element which unbelievers will call irrational and which believers will call supra-rational. There ought to be something in it opaque to our reason though not contrary to it – as the facts of sex and sense on the natural level are opaque. And that is the real issue. The Church of England can remain a church only if she retains this opaque element. If we abandon that, if we retain only what can be justified by standards of prudence and convenience at the bar of enlightened common sense, then we exchange revelation for that old wraith Natural Religion.

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, “not near so much like a Ball”.

And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think. The Church ought to be more like a Ball than it is like a factory or a political party. Or, to speak more strictly, they are at the circumference and the Church at the Centre and the Ball comes in between. The factory and the political party are artificial creations – “a breath can make them as a breath has made”. In them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety only with “hands” or voters. I am not of course using “artificial” in any derogatory sense. Such artifices are necessary: but because they are our artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap and experiment as we please. But the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety-namely, courtship. We cannot shuffle or tamper so much. With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.