Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring, Sprang, Sprung Rhythm: The Jesuits Gave us a Pope and a Great Poet for Spring

Much is being made of Pope Francis being the first pontiff of the Americas, the first non-European pope. I think that pales in comparison to being the first Jesuit.

The Guardian had an interesting voting interactive before the election. For each of the 115 cardinals they had some background, and listed the one thing each had stated as a priority. For the Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio, that was "reforming the Curia."

A Jesuit reforming a power structure is the ecclestiastical equivalent of bringing coals to Newcastle. The Jesuits wrote the book on intrigue and power. "God's Marines," an elite order of priests founded by Ignatius of Loyola during the Counter-Reformation, are characterized by their absolute obedience to the pope. Aligning with the main power base is part of what has made them powerful through the centuries.

Oxford Dictionary: dissembling or equivocating, in the manner once associated with Jesuits.

Merriam-Websters: given to intrigue; sly

Cullen Murphy examined the adjective "Jesuitical" in Slate back in 1998: "Very early, owing in part to English Protestant propagandists, the word "Jesuitical" came to characterize a form of argument designed less to seek the truth than to make a case, a form of argument that was aggressive and clever but perhaps not always sincere--indeed, one that was at times cunningly equivocal or downright deceitful. Aside from pure anti-Jesuit animus, this nuance probably arose from the work of some 17th-century Jesuit theologians who imperfectly employed a method known as "casuistry" in resolving questions of moral theology--an approach that gave the broadest possible leeway to individual behavior.

William Safire argues that "Jesuitical" has by now developed a sense devoid of any overtones of prevarication: "subtle, intricate, moralistic reasoning, informed by a rigorous logic" is his definition. I am not as sanguine as Safire, and believe that using the word will always carry some slight risk: It may be wielded as a slur and received as a compliment, or vice versa."

That's the philosophical side. And I don't doubt anti-Catholicism has played a role in their image.

As for their power and influence, there have been lots of conspiracy theories through the years. The Church proclaims that tracts like the Monita Secreta—where one Superior General of the Jesuits leaves instructions on how to acquire wealth and influence for the society—are hoaxes meant to make the order seem sinister.

Nontheless the idea of power and Jesuits seeped into popular culture. Alexandre Dumas, for instance, makes Aramis maneuver to become the Superior General of the order in the sequel to The Three Musketeers so that he can carry out the highest of political intrigues.

Colleges & Poetry
Of course the Jesuits are also known for their excellence in higher education (and subsequent sports teams), giving the country Georgetown, Boston College, Fordham, Gonzaga, among others.

And they were blessed to have one of the truly great poets of the English language in their ranks, Gerald Manley Hopkins.

An English convert during the Oxford Movement, Hopkins was drawn to become a priest and chose the Jesuits. By all accounts he was a sensitive and tortured soul who could not reconcile his homosexuality with Victorian times or his adopted religion.

He had an extraordinary ear for the sounds of the English language and more uniquely, for the pressures and releases of its internal rhythms. He codified and or coined "sprung rhythm" which imitates natural speech with stressed/nonstressed fixed feet. Hence why he sprung to mind today, the vernal equinox, the first day of Spring. "What is all this juice and all this joy?"

I'm sorry to say that Hoplins died in Dublin, where he had been teaching, at only 44. He had been miserable there, finding no warmth or companionship amongst the Irish.

Two years ago on this change-of-season day I had a typo in a post, calling it the "verbal" equinox. That seems about right to honor Hopkins's poetry.


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring—
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush ;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing ;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue ; that blue is all in a rush
With richness ; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy ?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

 Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

The Windhover 
To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, 
   kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.