Monday, May 12, 2008


Joy is much harder to capture in words than fear or sorrow। And by joy I do not mean contentment or happiness, but a deeper feeling, echoed in passages like Romans 8:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, waiting in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, for the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God। For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord।” (NIV version, 8:19 ff.)

What is the Kingdom of Heaven but the indescribable joy of inseparable, insuperable eternal love, the very thing we craved from our first banishment from the dumb joy of the womb?

Keats comes closest, in of all places, his “Ode on Melancholy,” where the sorrow-tinged exaltation of which he speaks approaches Joy:

“But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud...
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes।

“She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine।”

Schiller's Ode to Joy, made famous by Beethoven's 9th, falls short of this standard:

Let the cosmos embrace you, you millions!
This kiss goes to the entire world!...
Whoever has had the great fortune
To know true friendship
Whoever has won the love of a devoted wife,
Add his to our jubilation!

(My translation, excerpted from the second stanza।)

This ode, written on the cusp when the Augustan age gave over to the Romantic, still contains more subject-object distance from joy than Keats। As such it may be that only my anachronistic eye fails to feel the joy of this piece, though the music certainly conveys it—music based on a German beer song, incidentally.

Yesterday I was sitting on an old redwood log facing a pasturer where wild turkeys flocked and deer feasted on the long grass। Stellar's Jays, supernaturally blue, hopped and pecked in the grass beside a robin। I listened to the bird song and wind and nothing else। I took my shirt off and lit a hand-rolled cigarette and guiltlessly enjoyed the smoke and the scene, experiencing a richness beyond words। In the distance small whitecaps erupted on the royal blue Pacific। There was nothing I wanted or didn't want, and to illustrate the paucity of words, I can only say I felt like I was in a Disney movieमूवी

This is in part what Eliot meant by “the timeless moment,” that out-of-self experience of all- encompassing joy. When my cigarette was done I wandered out into the pasture, staring at blue-eyed grass and yellow-eyed grass and the lavender and white profusion of wild radishes. A six-point buck pranced away at my approach, his body leaping, his neck proudly erect like a war horse. Joy in his motion, joy in his freedom, joy in his perfection.

It is in our most extreme states that our hearts turns toward the numinous. If we think of God at all, we are most apt to think of him in our deepest sorrow or greatest joy.

There is a great moment in “The Screw Tape Letters” where the protagonist is being oppressed by a demon with a mild depression, and he decides to go for a walk in the country. The beauty of nature transports him out of himself and back into awareness of God.

Afterwards the demon is scolded by his superior: “How could you possibly let the subject do something he enjoyed? You risked him getting out of himself. We want his pleasures circumscribed—the club, television, liquor, not something so dangerous as nature. You fool!”

Exactly. Extreme joy and sorrow are two paths to the same place, another point made in Eliot's “Four Quartets,” though not so directly; in its famous conclusion, sorrow and joy, earthly suffering and isolated moments of transport are fused:

“All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”


An old friend from the LitNet, Seth Abramson, gave me joy by getting three poems into the top print journal, Poetry, something most poets would give their eye teeth for. After all, we don't need them to see।

There's a new thread where I defend Eliot again, a sign of my improved mood, that you might find entertaining, as it begins with the usual charge of anti-Semitism and ends with a बर्डwalk into psychiatry.

I do enjoy comments but it seems that comments are inversely proportional to the length of my posts, so today's is shorter।In destroying my deer netting overnight, the cats' trampling of my little flower garden actually increased. Back to square one.

Although the Lakers lost yesterday they took it to overtime in hostile Utah, so I am still upbeat about their chances।

Next Saturday we plan a housewarming party not only to celebrate our new digs with the expansive ocean view, but to honor Kathleen's birthday, although her beauty is ageless।

Thine in Joy,



  1. Anonymous7:33 PM PDT


    "This is in part what Eliot meant by “the timeless moment,” that out-of-self experience of all- encompassing joy."

    The 'transpiring' character of time (i.e. history) is perhaps the root of all anxiety, greed (storing up for an unknowable future), evil (a fear-based need to neutralize unknown, looming spectres). As you imply here, joy may arise from a sense of timelessness, a suspension of time-anxiety.


  2. Amazing back & forth on Eliot in the threads, CE.

  3. Norm, given human nature, even if time's winged chariot were not pursuing us, I think we would still envy and bicker--unless a miraculous change in our natures should occur.

    Sam, didn't know you were following the Eliot threads. There's another thread apropos on elitism. I posted links in the next blog post, above. Always good to see you here.

    The Appalachian issue of Blue 5th rocks. Check it out, folks:



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