mumford and sons and knowing something well

I was listening to Mumford and Sons for the billionth time in the car, and as the first plucked notes of Sigh No More came through the speakers, I was struck with this feeling.  It’s hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.

It was a feeling of comfort, like something you know so well that it never fails to wrap its arms around you, hold you tight and close to its heart, and soothe you, whispering.  Folds of melodies and harmonies slowly pull me in, wind their way around me, and settle me down in their familiar fabric.

Sigh No More is a favorite shirt that you got years ago and can’t stop wearing, no matter how faded the dyes on the T-shirt become and how thin the fabric wears between your fingers.  You rub the corner of it, and it’s so comfortable and familiar that it makes you smile.  You’ve worn it so long that it has more than become your shirt.  Friends know it well and it reminds them of you easily.

Or it’s a figurine that someone carved for you out of wood.  You know it so well now that you’ve almost forgotten the story behind it, but not quite.  You trace its figure between your fingers and you know that every inch of it is wired into your tactile memory.

Or, most accurately, your favorite book that you’ve read so many times that the binding is starting to break, the pages are turning yellow, the ribbon bookmark has frayed at its edges, and the corners of the cover have bent and rounded.  You know every word, trace them with your finger, find the places where you’ve annotated with pencil, the eraser marks.

I remember the joy of first hearing the CD, and the countless loops I subjected my family to.  I remember first reveling in the voice and the passion behind it, listening to the CD again and again until I learned each line and strum.  Catching the references to literature and history, grinning at the lines from Shakespeare, trying to unravel Mumford’s spiritual state and battles through the lyrics, frowning at times and being moved by his own struggle.  Thinking it over and turning it around in my mind, deciding what I agreed with and what I definitely didn’t.  Learning to love certain songs, like Dust Bowl Dance, that I’d hated upon first hearing them.

And still the songs never grow old.  I never tire of hearing them.  Your shirt will fade and thin, and the figurine will wear away under the pressure of your fingers, like the stone stairs of a well-trodden castle staircase or the constant beating of waves against a cliff.  The songs do not physically change.  They’re recorded forever in the same state, the same notes, the same lyrics, the same breaths.

But my perceptions change.  As I grow, the songs change and touch my heart in different ways.

And today, as I was sitting at work with my headphones in, I finally recognized the few words that had been previously ambiguous in one of the songs, I Gave You All – “brass wires”.  I didn’t know that I hadn’t known them.  I found something new in the middle of something I knew so well – another whittled facet to the figurine, a tiny tag on the inside of the shirt that you hadn’t noticed before.  And that’s the fun of getting to know something complex.  It will always surprise you.  Caravaggio’s masterpiece reveals something new even after years of drinking it in with your eyes.  Your best friend of fifteen years pulls out a talent you never knew they had.  A single Bible verse shows you something different when you need it the most.  Even though you know every single line of your favorite movie, you finally see something in the background that foreshadows the end from the very beginning.  Every time you read that novel, something new jumps out at you, arrests you, and draws your attention.  A harmony finally clicks for you, you hear an instrument that had hidden from you in the depths of the song, and you find a reference that you didn’t understand before.

It changes as you do.  That’s why it’s worthwhile to do things again, to re-read, re-view, re-listen, re-touch.  That’s why the most beautiful and complex things can never be fully understood or known – while we’re stilll earth-bound, anyway.  That’s why it pays to pay attention, and that’s what’s so lovely about loving something.  So I’m going to get back into my car, turn up the volume, and sink down into the undulating waves of sound and word.

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Re-read this: something you haven’t read in years that impressed upon you.

Hear this: Sigh No More ;

I Will Wait, the new single:

Hoo.  I’m already moved to near-tears by the lyrics. Okay.

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shakespeare and co

When we first set foot in Paris, it was hot, we were dragging our luggage, and we didn’t know exactly where our hotel was.  But I didn’t care.  My first impression of Paris as we stepped out of the train station, despite the stress that my parents felt, was untainted.  I took in the cyclists, and the cafes, and the lampposts, and the trees planted every so often, and the effortlessly elegant natives that crossed the street with us.

There are a lot of beautiful people in Paris.  It’s sort of unfair, how attractive they are.

We finally caught a cab, and I cobbled together a sentence in French from my crash course and knowledge of Spanish, much to the delight of our cabbie.

We wandered that day to the Louvre and down to Notre Dame.  I think we walked the whole way, since we hadn’t bought our Metro passes yet.  It was gorgeous, and I loved it, even though I was incredibly out of it.

This is where my favorite discovery came.  I ended up going here twice.  Shakespeare and Co, an English-language bookstore in the heart of Paris.  My professor had mentioned it to me before and it sounded fascinating – who wouldn’t want to visit a bookstore that famous expats of the 1920s had frequented? Seriously.  Just imagining all of them converging on that one city, creating, thinking, writing… Ugh.

(On a related note, I saw Midnight in Paris shortly after I got home… OH MY GOSH.  It was brilliant.  I actually threw a pillow across the room when T.S. Eliot popped up.  But I’m getting sidetracked…)

This bookstore.  It’s… it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve been.  And that sounds odd, having seen monuments and architecture and museums.  But I cannot even describe the atmosphere there.  For a book lover, it was absolutely mind-blowing.  Books were organized enough to be found but not enough to give it an atmosphere of sterility… The whole place was just breathing.  Everyone inside that store was there because they wanted to be, and nobody was in a rush.  A love for books just permeated the whole place.

I could have stayed there forever, and I mean that.  I really do.  My family had to drag me out of the shop.  Everything about it was perfect, and I’ve never been anywhere like it.  It’s almost entirely classics, and the atmosphere is… homey?  There are signs, and little sections you can visit.  Hanging above the stairs is a sign that reads “Be not inhospitible to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.  They have a section called “BEAT” and one simply titled “LOST” for Joyce, Hemingway, and their whole generation.  There’s also a well in the floor labeled “FEED THE STARVING WRITERS” and a cell filled with poetry.  Did I mention the entire Shakespeare section?

The best part about it, though, was the way that they encouraged reading and, further, writing.  They fostered creativity in that spot.  Upstairs, they had two reading rooms, a chess board, a piano, a typewriter, and the kid’s section.  There are so many places where you can write, though.  By the typewriter and the YA section, you can just leave notes, scraps of paper, and bits of prose and poetry, tacking a little bit of yourself up on a Metro ticket or shoving your soul into a crack in the wall.  A mirror in the poetry section also urged you to leave your own poems.

It was beautiful, and alive.

And so began a new adventure, which was chronicled with just as much love and affection as the last.  More later, maybe.

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neolithic monuments, the avengers, and God

On our very first day in Ireland, when our nascent jet lag was quickly worsening, we visited Knowth, a section of Neolithic monuments found in Brú na Bóinne.  They’re some of the oldest structures in Europe.  Neat, right?  And internally, the structure of the tombs looks just like this:

Knowth – symbol at center

There’s a cross in the very center of the tomb, which was very possibly a religious meeting place for the ancient Celts.  Accident?

I think it’s like those proteins in your body, Laminin, that hold you together on a molecular level – they’re cross-shaped, too.  The very structures that keep your body connected and functional reflect the very thing that keeps us connected and functional.

And I don’t think that these burial grounds are a coincidence either, because I don’t believe in coincidences.

There are repetitions in life, things that cycle over, and why should we pay attention to them if they aren’t meaningful?  This symbol might have been just another way that God prepared the hearts of the Celts to receive Him, like in the case of St. Brigid. (Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints and also the name of a triune Celtic goddess.  The saint used this connection to help explain God to the people of Ireland.)

He’s left his marks all over this world, and he’s actively moving within it.  And I forget! How could I?  But the last time I prayed was last night, asking God to help me get some sleep.  Like there’s nothing more important to talk to God about.  He, and all of Christianity… It’s so important, so powerful, and so deep, like ancient magic, as Aslan would say.  And we undermine it.  Thinking of the violence in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics is heartbreaking, because both claim to be Christians, but they’re killing each other over religion!  Of course it mostly has to do with the English/ Irish hostility, but it’s always summed up as Protestants vs. Catholics.  And God is bigger than that.  He’s bigger than squabbles, rituals, cathedrals, and we humans who try to get to heaven on our own.  And thank goodness, because who would be willing to serve a small god?

I’ve seen the Avengers twice now, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Yes, they were awesome, and it was fun to see the dynamics of the new team, but they also brought up a lot of interesting questions about power, kingship, and who is fit to rule – especially with Thor and Loki.  I was acutely reminded of the brothers, Edmund and Edgar, in Shakespeare’s Lear.  One of the very first things Loki says (after killing a few people) is that he’s come with glorious tidings, to free the people from freedom.  And that sounds awful.

Later on, in Germany, he proclaims that “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation”. And although this is coming from the mouth of a crazy, villainous, mass-murdering Norse god, he’s absolutely right.  It’s true.  We will always serve something, no matter what – ourselves, our jobs, other people, our obsessions.  We are never free.  That’s terrifying.  But here’s where Loki twists it.  He wants to be the one to rule, and that isn’t right either.  That is what serving a small god looks like.

In response to Loki’s adamant declaration of power, an old German man refuses to kneel, saying that we weren’t meant to be ruled by men like Loki.  And that’s precisely right.  Yes, we were made to serve, but not just anyone.  We were made to serve a perfect, living God who loves us more than we can imagine or reciprocate.  God doesn’t look like Loki, or even Thor, even though the “god of thunder” points out that a good leader understands he is not above his people.  Thor was right about ruling, in this case: a ruler can’t think himself better than his subjects, because people should be treated equally, and power in man’s hands quickly becomes corrupt if not wielded with humility.

But God is no tyrant, and He is better.  He is what’s best for us.  It’s not prideful, because it’s true.  It’s beautiful, how he rules.  And it makes sense why we can’t be Him, and why we are hard wired in our very cores to serve.  We yearn for God, and not just to serve as a slave, but to love and be loved as a child.

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Read this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

King Lear, or any of the history plays… or tragedies, for that matter…

See this:  Avengers!

thoughts on travel

Hello, my dears! Or rather, Guten tag… 🙂 right now, I’m on an Austrian train from Salzburg to Vienna, have finished with my school trip to Ireland (which was amazing) and am about a week into my family trip.  I’ll try to post as often as I can, because I have a lot to say, but we shall see.

This is where I went to church this morning:

It was lovely, and the choir may have honestly been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.  It was also entirely in German, but oh well.  Details.

I thought I’d briefly type up some of the things I’ve learned thus far while travelling.  Maybe it won’t be brief.  But here are my reflections:

Pack light.  With all of the stairs, trains, and cobbled streets, the last thing you want is a giant suitcase.  Mine, regrettably, seems to be growing with each stop.  I just keep sitting on it… Also, you don’t really need everything you think you’ll need.  Vacuum bags are a thing of beauty.

Another reason to pack light is that you’ll buy things.  And you should.  Not the stupid knick knacks that they sell at souvenir shops.  But if there’s something thats sort of expensive but that you’ll a) never see again b) use a lot c) cherish for a long time, buy it!  I ended up going into a tiny Parisian shop that sold dresses and coming out wearing one of them.  But it’s designed and made by a local woman, so I’m sort of excited about that.

Accept that you will lose something.  Like maybe a brand new CF card.  Or the food your brother steals from you.  Or all of your socks.

Accept that you will be a tourist.  That always makes me feel awkward, going to a sight and taking lots of pictures and speaking loudly in English, but I just had to say screw it and smile when my mom points the camera our way.

Be a good tourist, and not an ugly American.  That means being quiet (such a struggle for me…) and being aware of cultural differences, like bathroom fees and opening train doors…

Unfortunately, you’re still going to offend someone.  Like the very angry bathroom attendant who yelled at me when I didn’t have money to pay the optional fee.  I didn’t know!  Oops.

Make friends!!!  This one is my favorite.  People have so much to say.  Just start talking to someone.  If they’re unfriendly, then all you’ve lost is their opinion of you – and who cares.  They’re a stranger, let them think you’re weird or awkward.  If they’re friendly, though, you’ve gained a connection, a friend, a way to pass the time, and all of the stories that they tell you.  Be safe, CLEARLY.  But chatting with your cabbie, listening to the stories of two old Irish men revarnishing a Presbyterian church, getting emotional with someone about the Gutenburg Bible at TCD, or talking to a dapper British man reading Roald Dahl at a Parisian laverie? Probably okay.

Try to learn the basics of the language.  I haven’t been very stellar with this one this time around, but I can say “please” and “thank you”, apologize (sort of), say “it’s good”, and greet people.  My accent may be awful and embarrassing, and I’ll probably make some hilariously awful slip ups, but most people appreciate the effort.  Well, some people.  It’ll be a mess when we switch countries.  Oh well…

Be aware of the homeless.  This one doesn’t just apply to traveling.  Okay, if I could, I’d give money to every homeless person or street performer I came across.  Maybe not the rude ones.  But I feel for them, and I really want to help them.  Money doesn’t do much, but it’s one of the only ways I can show them that they are loved.  I’ll never forget.  We were walking into the subway system in one of the cities when this very sweet man asked for money.  We moved on, since I didn’t have any, but I got some and ran back to give it to him.  He kissed my hand and absolutely beamed.  Not because it was a lot of money, but because I went back for him.That said, be careful (girls especially).  Don’t be stupid, and don’t talk to people when you’re alone.  Some homeless people will hassle you, and many are mentally unbalanced, so don’t disregard your own safety in your generosity.

Wander.  Dear heaven, wander.  This is some of my favorite advice, because I’ve found some of my favorite places this way.  Stray a bit from the beaten path of touristy areas and find somewhere cool.  Shakespeare and Co is the most wonderful place in the world, and I LOVED IT, and I wanted to live there… I’ll probably write a whole post on it.  UGH.  And in Salzburg, we walked through an outdoor market and bought food from lots of different stalls, then stood around a table outside to eat. We had fried chicken, pretzels, and raspberries, and it was lovely.

Be patient with your fellow travellers.  This is something that I have not been, and I’m so sorry for that.  When you’re with someone constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sharing rooms, you might start to wear on each other a little.  And that’s normal.  Be gracious, and forgiving.  Try not to fight (or apologize after you do).  Give each other space and alone time.

Don’t sleep in.  Also ridiculously difficult for me.  But when you roll over in bed, and it’s deliciously comfortable, and you’re warm and sleepy and never want to move, try to remember that you’re in a new place that begs to be explored.  (this is a bit of a confession/ self-reminder since it took me 30 minutes and my entire family yelling at me and pulling off the covers for me to get out of bed…)

Do your research.  It will help you be a savvy traveller, and you’ll feel super cool when you know your way around and have tickets and things planned out.  It also makes things less stressful.

But embrace when things don’t go according to plan.  I say when, because they won’t.  Make the most of it, though, and see where the changes take you, because it might be better than what you originally planned.  One day, our episode of Awkward Adventures in Germany was entitled “We don’t get off of trains when we’re supposed to”.  So it turns out that doors don’t actually open automatically… Another American was very upset about it.  And we were too, to a degree.  But we were sitting (serendipitously) next to a wonderfully sweet stranger from the Railway Advisory, and he helped us.  That day was also one of the most fun I’ve had with the jokes that happened and the people we met (Too late…….).

Record your adventures.  Take pictures (but don’t spend so much time behind the lens that you miss out!).  Keep a travel journal.  Don’t say, “I’ll remember”.  You won’t (I’ve forgotten many things this way).  Write it down.

Finally, consider it a beautiful, glorious thing that God is the same in any language.  Christianity allows people to keep their culture and individuality while still being a part of the same family, and it’s amazing to meet and see others who worship the same God all over the world.

That’s all for now!  And I realize that wasn’t brief at all.  OH WELL!  I’ll write more soon with excerpts from my Ireland travel journal and places I’ve been (SHAKESPEARE AND CO).  Until then!
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the poet

The Diviner

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

~Seamus Heaney

Excuse me while I try to form my feelings and hazy ideas into something that makes sense.

So the week before Spring Break (two weeks ago, I suppose), we were talking about Seamus Heaney in my Irish class.  I adore Heaney, and his poetry is beautiful and meaningful and very much a living thing.  Among all of the things that he has to say about life and Ireland and all the rest, something that struck me the most was his talk of the role of the poet.

Now by poet, I don’t mean strictly someone who writes poetry.  That sounds funny.  Let me explain.  I mean “the poet” in a broader, more ancient sense, one that encompasses more than rhyming or what you may normally associate with poetry.  I mean the poet as a sort of epic hero, who brings truth to his people, sometimes painfully.  This is the traditional Irish view of the poet, or senchaí: someone with great power that speaks the truth, even to the king, and that some fear.  He has the power of sight, and can use his words in satires against his enemies.

Or like the Oracles of Ancient Greece: someone who is chosen to be a mouthpiece of the divine, someone who is spoken through. Which brings me to the most important parallel to the poet, the true calling of such a person: the prophet, someone who carries the truth from God to the people.  Although this brings to mind the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke with God (how amazing!), you can still be a prophet today.  Anyone that God uses to speak through is a prophet, and God most certainly still speaks to people.

And around this time in my class, as we’re talking about poetry being made up of partly scop, or craft (being a good writer), and partly vates, or prophesy or vision, speaking the truth, I start freaking out.  Really freaking out, and zoning out of some of the discussion or being way too much into other parts of it.  I can feel myself getting excited all over again as I type this.  I’m looking at my paper right now, and I have little notes scrawled all over it, like:

my heartbeat shakes my whole body in trembling rhythm with the hand of God,

Or this overly-excited realization of the poet’s job:

poet as a go-between!
a translator of truth!
a diviner!
a mouthpiece!
a prophet! an oracle!
a tool in the hands
of He who holds all Truth
a liminal, ferried between
two worlds,
granted another sight by the
Everlasting

poet as messenger
of the eternal, birthright
of an oracle
why am I almost twitching?

a mortal body and an
eternal soul,
like all the amphibians of humankind.

and I am suddenly restless,
yearning, churning, swelling
with a feeling I don’t know
and a desire for something past
this mortal coil.
My heart is beating with desperate purpose.

So, I was freaking out.  And still am.  Because I couldn’t, and honestly can’t, imagine a greater purpose than being spoken through.  The lump in my throat tells me that I desperately want that, to have a purpose, to have this purpose, but I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

We read another poem that day called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” (click), where a bird makes a nest in St. Kevin’s hand and he is responsible for their lives and can’t move until they leave.  I talked to my professor about the role of the poet and such things after class on my way to study for my calc exam (that was easy to focus on after all of this).

I wrote down all that I could remember of what he said.  He looked at me and told me that the calling of the poet is not an easy one to accept.  He asked me to remember St. Kevin.  What did he do?  He went out to the wilderness and hid away from everyone else.  But God found him anyway.

You were made with a purpose, and you’re here for a reason.  I watched the movie Hugo a few days ago (which I heartily recommend), and was nearly moved to tears by certain parts of it.  There’s one part in there where Hugo and Isabelle are talking about purpose.  Hugo looks at people like machines and wonders if they too become “broken” when they lose their purpose.  It’s beautiful.  And then he says this:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason too.”

You are not an extra part.  I really identify with Isabelle.  I wonder what my purpose is, too.  But I know that I have one, because God has given me one.  We were each made for something.  And I trust that He will help me find that something.

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See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdEXHIuTxw  Seriously, watch this movie.

a confession

Hear this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpI5tJoncS0  <<Pertinent and on repeat.

Okay.

Lately…

I’ve been feeling a certain unrest in my soul.  By lately, I don’t mean the-past-week lately, although it’s certainly been resurfacing within recent weeks.  I want to do something important- something that matters.  I was talking to my friend about this, and she pointed out that that unrest wasn’t necessarily a bad thing- that in those moments, we don’t become complacent, but instead notice the things that we need to change and fix.  And I completely agree.

But I’ve been entirely too hard on myself.  I beat myself up all the time for not doing anything important, for not doing as well in school as I think I should do, for being less than others are.  I want to be great, and that sounds terrible as I type this, but this is a confession of sorts.  As I read these fantastic authors’ work, Dostoevsky, Keats, Joyce, Dickens, Shakespeare, Eliot, Donne, Lewis… I can’t help but want to join them in some way.

Is it bad that I yearn for greatness, to make a difference, to be known or remembered?  Not necessarily.  But my motives bear an explanation.  What has been driving me to such distress?  Do I crave this because God has placed it in me and because I want to say something important, change people’s hearts, and speak his truth as an instrument of his will?  Or do I simply want to make a name for myself, draw attention to my own talents and abilities, and be remembered by humanity for my skills and intelligence rather than the Holy Spirit inside of me?

I want to know I’m doing something important.  I want to have a purpose in this life.  And yes, I know my purpose is to praise God in whatever I’m doing, but it’s frustrating not knowing what he’s created and formed me for.

Comparing myself to others to gauge my own worth or progress isn’t helpful, either.  In fact, it’s terribly detrimental.  Whenever I try to measure myself off of others, which is something I struggle with every day, I can never come close.  I end up feeling stupid, out of place, and worthless, and that’s certainly not a good place to be.  I read the work of these beautiful, fantastic, amazingly brilliant authors and think to myself almost every day, I will never measure up.  I could never create such a thing of beauty as they have already, so why try? 

I focus in too closely on myself and let this selfishness grow until these worries consume me, pull me down, and pull me away from the problems of other people.  I could be showing them the love of God, but instead, I tear myself down from the inside out with worries about the future, about my calling, and about what I do with myself right now.

And… here’s the thing.  I’m not writing the next great American novel right now.  I haven’t produced anything radically world-altering or brilliant.  I don’t do something every day that would be considered successful in the eyes of the world… and that’s okay.

Trusting that God will guide me is hard, because I’m fallible, and I’m human, and I doubt and forget what he’s done for me every single day, getting mired down in stupid things.  But I’m trying.  Scratch that.  I don’t have to try, because nothing that I do could get me any closer to God.  He’s already done and given it all for me.  In my weakness, I rely on His strength.  And I’m not saying that I won’t relapse, or that everything will be fixed tomorrow.  I will, and it won’t.  These are things I struggle with all of the time, doubting and idolizing my intelligence or personal glory above God and His power and plans.

But He is changing me, and will show me what He has planned for me in His timing.  That’s a beautiful thing.  And although it’s dreadfully hard to rest in this uncertainty, He makes it a possibility.

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Read this: “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.” Hamlet, V.i

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will” V.ii

We’ve been in Hamlet for my Shakespeare class (it’s GREAT, I have a minor crush on him… problematic?), and he’s got a lot to say about fleeting greatness and God as the orchestrator of fate.  Well, he gets there.  Eventually.

shakespeare

“I can remember at school how we would read together in class an Ode by Keats, a Shakespeare sonnet or a chapter of Animal Farm. I would tingle inside and want to sob, just at the words, at nothing more than the simple progression of sounds. But when it came to writing that thing called an Essay, I flubbed and floundered. I could never discover where to start. How do you find the distance and the cool to write in an academically approved style about something that makes you spin, wobble and weep?” –Making History, by Stephen Fry

WARNING: this is a ridiculously long post in which I obsess over and fangirl about the intricacies of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Prepare yourself or ask me later…

I’m taking a Shakespeare class right now, and it’s quickly risen to become my favorite. It’s actually fun to do the reading. Granted, it becomes a little bit awkward when someone walks in and catches me reading Richard II in a kingly British accent or angrily yelling Shylock’s lines to myself from Merchant of Venice, but it’s worth it.

I’ve learned a few general things about Shakespeare’s plays as a whole already: Firstly, they’re made to be seen. We haven’t watched any in class, yet, but our professor always talks about viewing the plays. He excitedly tells us to watch as we read and listen and create these worlds in our own minds.

Secondly, and most amazingly, these plays are so layered. This is why I’m glad I’m taking this as an actual class, because each allusion that we pick up and explore, every plot symmetry and carefully placed speech, every piece we dig up from the play makes it even more beautiful than it already was. What seemed like simple entertainment at first grows and flowers and shows you that there’s even more behind this play than beautifully poetic words and clever plots and characters. It’s absolutely MIND BLOWING.

We just finished Merchant of Venice, and I was loath to leave it behind and move on to the next play. On the surface, it’s a play with several different subplots: Antonio, a merchant, becomes indebted to the Jew, Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh from him if he cannot pay his dues. Bassanio, Antonio’s best friend, sails to Belmont, a magical kingdom where fair Portia is bound to only marry the man who can choose the right casket. Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, falls in love with Lorenzo, a Christian merchant. And in the end, fair Portia is evidenced to also be clever, brilliant Portia as she poses as a lawyer and saves Antonio’s life with her wit.

But there’s more. There’s so much more that my notes slowly converted themselves into a dance of arrows and lines and deeper connections and dichotomies.

The play opens with Antonio’s isolation and a description of ships on the sea. Antonio is a closed-off riddle, just like Portia’s caskets. The opening lines paint ships as people, and talk of them being opened. Antonio, too, needs to be opened to solve the riddle of his heart, and later in the play, he very nearly is (pound of flesh).

Also, the myth of Jason and Medea circles through and haunts the entire play. Jason quests for the fleece just like the men quest for the women’s hearts. Medea, instead of just being a fairy-tale princess, is also a cunning sorceress, just like Portia is an interesting mix of damsel and savior. In the Jason story, Medea ends up renewing Jason’s father by cutting him up first. Like taking a pound of flesh. Sort of.

And speaking of a pound of flesh, that also alludes to Communion, eating the body of Christ. Which segways into the Jewish and Christian themes in the play and shows those dichotomies.

And when we dug into a seemingly pointless scene of “comic relief”, we discovered all of the major themes of the play. All of them. And they’re all dichotomies: Shylock and Jessica as an expression of New Comedy. Portia’s father and Portia. Old Testament and New Testament. Judaism and Christianity. Justice and Mercy. Old and New, Law and Gospel. Not only is the play split, but each of the characters is divided into two sorts of people, reflecting the schismatic nature of the human heart (the raskol – see? I can relate anything back to Crime and Punishment…). But. Like the Old Testament is taken in and made new by the New Testament, all of these things can be taken in or work together in a new way. It’s absolutely brilliant.

I’m sorry this is so long. I couldn’t help myself. Ask me and I’ll give you the SparkNotes instead of the word vomit. But, in any case, Shakespeare is far more brilliant than I even knew.

And during our last class, my secular professor told the entire class to go home and read 1 Corinthians and Romans. Now that’s beautiful.

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Read this: The Merchant of Venice : http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/full.html