Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
~ William Carlos Williams, excerpt from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower“
I recently reviewed an old post somebody clicked on and I added a 2020 update, so my mind has been on the multiple assaults, both blatant and subtle, against the American people that have been taking place, and not just this year, but since Socialism began to infect our nation, circa the latter nineteenth century. Here is the post and comment.
Both the amount and variety of the attacks to date, attacks on our history, founding documents, traditions, and Judeo-Christian philosophical roots, can seem so overwhelming just now.
Demoralizing as well, as anti-America forces have also corralled much of the media into their camp and have silenced as much of the opposition as they can get away with.
The Fourth Estate has become a Fifth Column, only not so subtle anymore but clanging, banging, and threatening as it pushes the Big Lie(s) as far as it can in what seems might possibly be the waning days of the Republic. Time will soon tell.
In this regard, I think of the influence of the words of a high-level government official in a previous administration who famously said that fundamental transformation of a nation is best made from “top down, bottom up, and inside out”.
What makes it harder for us in 2020 is that the transformation agents are not only ideologues in high places but also thugs on streets and, arguably, software in computers along with the usual propaganda and any other word-fare that feeds the beast.
In short, so much varied evil is taking place just now it is hard to comprehend it all–and to remain clear-thinking and focused in a world that will never likely be “normal” again.
And it is hard to remain hopeful.
And yet God laughs at those who monger evil. As put in Psalm 2:
Why are the nations restless
And the peoples plotting in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers conspire together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed […]
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them…
As Bible commenter Matthew Henry writes on those verses:
The enemies rage, but cannot vex God. God sits still, and yet vexes them, puts them into a consternation…and brings them to their wits’ end: his setting up this kingdom of his Son, in spite of them, is the greatest vexation to them that can be. They were vexatious to Christ’s good subjects; but the day is coming when vexation shall be recompensed to them…They are certainly defeated, and all their counsels turned headlong…
As the prophet Jeremiah encourages:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
The Words Remaining
When many people today rarely take time to read and think about anything other than the words and images whizzing by on controlled media mechanisms, it is hard to remember that it is not the max, 280-character Twitter comments, seven-second sound bytes, noble-seeming slogans, political signs, and ideological manifestos that remain of each of the dark pages of mankind’s history that most inspire and inform those engaged in their own battles later on, it’s the poems, diaries, novels, plays, and religious texts of the resisters that are discovered in the ashes of the burn piles and in the cracks of the hiding places that cry out both warning and wisdom to future citizens facing whatever and whomever Evil sends to destroy next.
I try to keep this in mind when I engage in my own genre of communication, encouragement, that can seem such a weak response when the sights, sounds, and words of said Evil can become so overpowering and the tyranny of the urgent keeps shoving us to the base of the brain to live in fear and trepidation (the easier to control us by).
I mean, it can be very tempting and (momentarily, at least) oh-so–satisfying to just let loose the hounds of rhetoric against the destroyers, right?!
But that leaves one scrimmaging around in the “base,” too, thereby often blocking the words of wisdom that promote a far-better and longer-lasting way out when cooler heads and hearts prevail.
And, deep down, I continue to encourage because I know, too, that it’s often what seems weak and perhaps foolish to the world’s control-mongers that can confound them, even, ultimately, defeat them.
And they also serve who encourage.
It’s not only the power of boots on the ground but also the power of troops flanking the sides and other kinds of support from “behind” (and “inside”) that, combined, most effectively and efficiently overcome evil. I recently offered a few comments on that, and here are a few more words of encouragement from the same source featured in that post:
Let no one deceive himself. If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of his world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” 20 And again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”… (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)
From that same font of wisdom pertaining–but not limited–to 2020 (because our real enemy always prowls about seeking whom he may devour) here is a link to the rest of the 66 books gathered together in an inspired anthology of historical, literary, prophetic, expositional, and doctrinal books and letters for further study, encouragement, and guidance.
But there are myriad other sources for clarity and help, many also often overlooked for their power, for example, the Williams’ poem cited atop (and explained below), for it, too, is a timeless and encouraging comment on what words remain long after each struggle is past–or come fresh from the front lines of the current one–words that help us now, too.
Specifically from Williams’ poem the words remind us to look beneath the surface of things to their substance, whether truth or deception, for therein sounds the clarion call.
Unlike the “news” Williams refers to, other genres of writing (such as poetry) can help us better comprehend the universal themes of life such as good versus evil, love versus hate–freedom versus slavery–and every nuance in-between.
Such works take us to the treasures of knowledge beneath the surface and give us a breather from the fast-moving electronic words and images (that so easily snare eye and mind with so much blink and shine) to a consideration of more powerful inspirational and transformational ideas from antiquity as well as from now.
If we allow.
Of course not only deception but also truth is presented in bits and bytes, brevity, as Shakespeare wrote, being also the “soul of wit”.
But whatever the themes and intents of the writers, and whatever the genre by which presented, we are still charged to discern.
But back to poetry and other sources of what sort of news is found there.
Although we look for the facts in reports, it is also found in poems, though it might take more discernment to ascertain. As Williams put it:
It is difficult to get the news from poems…
Because poetry (as well as other forms of literature) is like a rock skipping across the surface of water, each word touching only a bit of surface but kept aloft, however briefly, by the depth of meaning beneath.
And here’s my personal pitch for plumbing the depth: there’s more to meaning than what glances off the surface…
… because poetry is describing one thing in the language of another dressed up in imagery and rhyme (or not) that prompts further investigation.
If we are looking only for the “who, what, when, and where” information of, say, a straight news piece (or what we think is real news), we come up short of the meaning of the “how” and the “why” wherein dwells the substance.
Or perhaps what meaning bubbles up is simply a single moment in time standing on some shore of discovery suddenly aware of something profound. Another Scripture touches on this:
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead… (Romans 1:20)
Consider, then, what remains of the rest of Williams’ words:
…yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there (in poetry…diaries, plays, novels, essays, religious texts…).
For in them is the news that unites us with the common struggles and triumphs of mankind, that which both guides us and damns us if we don’t heed both wisdom and foolishness that have gone before told by the words that remain.
Or, perhaps, in the shimmering spaces between, beneath, and alongside the lines, there is that meaning that delights us by other depths of discovery we might have overlooked had we passed on by, not touched down, or in some other way failed to pause and consider.
I encourage you (and me), then, to unhook from the demands of what shines and dings and, well, step onto another path for a few moments, for we never know what we might discover.
As the poet Robert Frost put it:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (“The Road Not Taken”)
(Frost, who, himself, took a moment then and there in another greeny place with perhaps a river near and discerned something new yet timeless to prompt him onward– and to share with us here and now.)
Who knows, we might even get a better glimpse of God, who “spoke” His own words in a place outside of time and matter, words that had the power to, well, create both…
…and to launch inspiration, comfort, guidance, and/or encouragement told for all with ears to hear that if we, too, come upon some flowering field, yellow wood, or glistening water (and they abound in His creation) we, too, can discern some invitation to dip into the quieter messages away from the cacophonies of the harrowing, narrowing demands of the world’s noisome frays…
…and that might make all the difference…
God knows we are in desperate need.
Here’s a little invitation God, Himself, in His unique “genre,” provided for another seeking His words, as related in 1 Kings 19:9-13:
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”…
Thank you Phyllis for these comforting words. There is certainly something in the air and it will lead to a climax. The end will be cataclysmic, beyond anything we can possibly imagine. Psalm 94 is particularly apt, for example: ‘Shall he who implanted the ear not hear, he who fashioned the eye not see? Shall he who instructs nations not punish? The Lord, the teacher of all people, knows human plans and how insipid they are.’ (vv. 9-11 NJB).
Psalm 94 is a good addendum, as no evil is hidden from God and will eventually, too, be revealed to all.
Until the appointed time, though, God still has His arms open wide for prodigals (the ring rests polished in its case, the calf fattens in the field).
And this is certainly one of those seasons prompting return!
Cheers and blessings,