Officially, true beauty-the kind Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas referred to, is quite an objective concept. John Keats, in his “Ode on A Grecian Urn”, and Emily Dickinson, in her “I Died For Beauty,” wrongly see beauty and truth as synonymous. Of the three transcendentals, beauty, truth and goodness, all are based on an objective standard. but it’s understandable that one could see them from a subjective point of view. I recently read something in an article in Communio Magazine, that said that St. Thomas argued that it was very important to recognize truth’s subjective dimension. In its everyday usage, of course, “beauty”, outside a theology or humanities classroom, is an undeniably subjective concept. As long as that’s understood, it’s quite nice for different individuals and groups to have differing standards of what strikes them as appealing. Since I’ve always been quite obsessively interested in the humanities, this is such an interesting concept for me. Man’s understanding of a rightly ordered relationship among the transcendentals has quite dire consequences morally and ethically. A people who admire and respect ugliness in art will also admire ugliness in life in general. They will see the false as true and the evil as good.
Of course if I were ever to have the absolutely ultimate party, I should have to invite Beatles John Winston Lennon and James Paul McCartney to represent my favorite band. It would be only right to make them sit next to each other. Their combined intelligence and creativity as well as wit, humor and imagination would be bound inevitably to provide one and all with quite a fine time. If I allow them to sit right next to Lewis Carroll, that would really make for such an interesting collection of insights. Everyone knows how intensely significant an influence Carroll always was on the 1960’s musical world. The threesome could take us on all sorts of misadventures throughout both Pepperland and Wonderland. Woody Allen would be quite an exceptionally interesting guest too. He and I are both neurotic bespectacled native New Yorkers. We also share an interest in dwelling upon mankind’s much bigger, more significant questions about the ultimate meaning of life and death. We most certainly don’t have any of the same answers, though, unfortunately. Perhaps I should be more comfortable in the company of the typical character Allen played in his movies than with the real Allen. Each of the characters he played is quite a perpetually befuddled eternal square stranded in a world that’s utterly over his head. There’s a side of me that’s very much like that. An accomplished jazz clarinetist, he, along with Lennon and McCartney, could provide quite a show. In order to ensure that there will be women in attendance I could invite Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen and Flannery O’Connor. Austen could give our festivities a bit of a sense of propriety and a dose of what life was like during England’s Regency period. She was known for her having been supposedly quite stuffy but I’ll bet she could really cut a rug. The Misses Dickinson and O’Connor, by explaining to us all exactly what was going on in their perpetually lopsided literary works, could give us all sorts of insights into human nature. Dickinson was quite the dysfunctional recluse, and O’Connor a strict orthodox Catholic, but I should assume each of them could swing from the occasional chandelier or two every once in a while too. The last name on my guest list would be Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the thirty fifth president. R.F.K. has the distinction of being the most interesting of all the famous people I’ve met in person. I met him at his last St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a few months before he died. I was only in the third grade then. Kennedy also was quite charming, witty, intelligent and articulate. He could explain just exactly what it is about the Kennedy mystique that has always kept people so enraptured throughout the course of the past few generations. A consummate politician and statesman, he could also be an effective moderator among the others.
I went to Lindenhurst last night
I thought I Heard the bells
Ring out loud at O.L.P.H.
The town was Dark and still.
I then went back to East Elmhurst
Outside St. Gabriel’s
And no one Recognized me there.
I felt a Solemn chill.
“Perhaps I’ll come back Someday soon”,
I thought as I did leave.
“I don’t belong Here anymore”,
Was all I could believe.
I have there now no Friend or foe
But only Tales to tell
Of life that was once, long ago,
A world I once knew well.
It’s a bright morning, seven a.m. April 16, 1862, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily Dickinson and her older brother Austin are to spend the day at his house celebrating his thirty third birthday with their family. For a while she is left alone. She contemplates her poem number 449. Death for beauty meets death for truth. Engrossed in a mystical vision of their confrontation, the consummate poetess loses all track of time. At about noon, Austin and their sister Lavinia arrive at the house and are stunned. Why had she entirely ignored the candle?
I have included a link to Dickinson’s poem, with an explanation of it, in order to give some insight into the circumstances surrounding my story.
Henry first saw Jane one fine spring afternoon at the Copiague Memorial Public Library on Deauville Road. Her gingham blouse and calico skirt put the finishing touches upon her lovely light brown eyes and hair. He noticed that she was reading Emily Dickinson while he was reading Robert Frost. As far as he was concerned it was true love at first sight. Daily he returned to visit his favorite haunt in case she showed up. Occasionally he talked to her for a few minutes at a time. Eventually they fell in love and got married. That’s all it took.
Although I’ve always so thoroughly enjoyed music, and can play the guitar, I’ve also, for as long as I can remember, been quite smitten with writing and public speaking, especially as an adult. One of the most significant things people find out about me after having gotten to know me for even only a very short time is my absolutely insatiable need to be as articulate as possible. Absolute clarity of speech and of thought, at all times, is of the utmost urgency. As a kid I was always quite a compulsive bookworm, constantly reading everything from dictionaries and encyclopedias to cereal boxes. The Beatles, and other singers and musicians of their era, have always been my favorites. The music of the 1960’s, to quite a great degree, was about story telling. In many was it was kind of like the Norton Anthology of Literature set to musical accompaniment. As my taste in music inspired me to learn to play the guitar, my taste in literature, combined with my musical interests, inspired me to write. Great literature uses imagery in order to tell a story and to make a point. Who can possibly avoid being intrigued by Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” or Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”? There’s another poem of Dickinson’s that opens with the line, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”. That’s what great fiction is about. Most people generally like to receive a message or lesson in narrative rather than didactic form. Another means of expression I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed is a good debate. Although I was never on a debate team in school I always got quite enthused, especially as an adult student, with all kinds of debates about the culture war in this country. Over the course of my adult lifetime, theology and philosophy have always obsessed me but I also made sure I took a wide enough variety of other classes in the humanities and social sciences that would allow me to have a real understanding of all that’s going on in the world. I’ve always been quite a staunch conservative and my interest in expressing myself, from specifically that point of view, is quite a trademark of all my efforts at speaking and writing. Although things can get a bit polemical at times when I’m up against someone with liberal ideas, I think I do a relatively good job of avoiding trouble. For approximately the past twenty years I’ve been a lector at the churches where I’ve been a parishioner. I tend to feel very much more comfortable reading from a prepared text than with impromptu or extemporaneous speech. That’s why I’ve always especially enjoyed writing because I can have a lot more time to think something over by way of a rough draft before it’s officially ready. I’ve always enjoyed combining my interest in writing fiction with my interest in debating about things like theology and philosophy. Many of western culture’s greatest writers, from Shakespeare and Milton to Tolkien and Lewis have dealt with life’s biggest questions by means of prose and poetry. Although, unfortunately, I’ve never officially published anything I’ve written, It’s a good way to keep my mind active and continuously to raise people’s eyebrows.
Ever since I was still only a little kid, I’ve always been quite the compulsive bookworm. When my parents, Mary Anne and I used to go back and forth to northeastern Pennsylvania regularly to visit relatives, I spent each entire trip reading billboards and other signs along the way. I can still remember being quite mesmerized over what Cutty Sark could possibly have meant. Whenever I ate or drank something I paid quite an inordinate amount of attention to abbreviations like oz. and lb. on the labels. In school I developed quite a reputation for having won virtually every spelling bee in Queens and Suffolk County. I was the kind of kid whom my teachers, on standardized tests, always gave credit for having been around five years above the average reading level for my age range. I can remember having read, at St. Gabriel’s and the local East Elmhurst Public Library, books and stories like “The Five Chinese Brothers”, “Skeeter Chariot High In the Sky” and the collected works of Dr. Seuss. I first heard of Edward Lear at St. Gabriel’s, when I read his “There Was an Old Man With a Beard..” poem. In the sixth grade, Brother Thomas made my classmates and me read, among other literary works, Steven Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage”, and Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Corey” and “Miniver Cheevey”. Throughout my days at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School and Farmingdale College, I was exposed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, Blake, Joyce and countless other writers. The Beatles, and other singers and bands from their era, have always been my musical favorites. The songs of the 1960’s reflect quite a lot of classic literary influence. Joan Baez’ “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving” is based on Byron’s poem. Yoko Ono’s “Who Has Seen the Wind” is based on Christina Rossetti’s poem. The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” come right out of Lewis Carroll. I’ve heard that Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was derived from an old medieval or Elizabethan poem. As with my taste in show business and pop culture, I tend to be a bit of a literary snob. The majority of the writers who really interest me are from the distant past. Because of my pathological aversion to change-I’m ever the stick in the mud-my reaction to someone’s “We need another Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost” would be quite a resounding “Whatever good would that do? We already have the real Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost”. When someone else has nothing to do he may eat, read the sports page. or watch television. When I have nothing to do I read the collected works of the Brownings, Brontes or Shelleys, or some other classic author. Right now I’m reading Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”. I have to be careful though. Once I tried to read seventy five pages James Joyce’s “Ulysses” over the course of a day. I got an unbearable migraine that lasted for three days. I always have to laugh when I’m in a book store and see books by and about everyone from Tim Conway to Suzanne Somers. I enjoy all kinds of reading material, ranging from biography to poems, novels, philosophy and theology. Because of my having always been smitten with the humanities, people often take it for granted that I majored in theology and philosophy in school. As a lay Carmelite I really have to keep up with developments in Sanjuanist and Teresian theology. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t fit in very well with a lot of the people I’m expected to associate with but you never know when my interest in classic literature can come in quite handy. On New Year’s Eve Steve an I went to a party in the neighborhood. Although everyone else there, unlike me, was married with children and enjoyed sports, I ended up getting into a really interesting conversation, with a guy named Kirk, about the collected works of Flannery O’Connor. Not many people could have kept up with someone who wanted to talk about her.