Saturday, October 26, 2013

Intimations of the Eschaton: Strange Platypus(es)

Who can catch a forest of falling leaves?

I think every New Englander is born hearing the drumbeats of Armageddon.  Those drumbeats are always there with them: a sound in the back of their minds.  The sound rolls on, soft but steady, without a stop; always heard and so never heard.  Every New Englander is a Puritan in the end: Protestant, Catholic, Agnostic -even Atheist...  Sometimes those drumbeats rise to the fore, and then the quiet hills and meadows erupt.  Ask Sasacus, Philip, Gage, Lee...

I think all of us have some intimation of the Eschaton.  It comes to us when we're not ready: the sudden crack of starry banners caught in a celestial wind.  Then we remember that we are in occupied territory; that we were meant to be more than what we are.  It comes most clearly in our dreams: the first time we fly among the clouds, the sword fight on the tips of the bamboo, the morning we drank from the Firefall and danced.  Look at our dreams, our legends, our deepest longings.  They don't all point back, some of them point forward.

Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Scribling Through Beowulf: Whiteboard Platypus


Trying to help the students envision what the monsters might look like.  Prior efforts can be found here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fall Comes to the Platypus: Fragments

It's another hot and green October in the American Southwest.  In Northern lands, the air is cooling and the leaves are changing while pumpkins ripen and cider mulls.  I caught a glimpse this summer of the old pumpkin patch.  Pumpkin picking was always fun -not to mention looking at all the weird and gnarly gourds.  If you could find the right place to stick those, they would dry and keep.  I never did find quite the right place.  Pumpkins occasionally got smashed.  More often they rotted and had to be unceremoniously chucked into the nearest patch of woods.  Still, their decaying bulk added that extra bit of color to that most colorful season.

How much do I really remember, and how much is pictures and endless re-tellings of the same tired old stories?  Augustine thought that memory was a sign of the soul's distention in time.  How far can the members of one soul stretch?  How do I re-member?

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Creative Platypus: Fragment

There was a time when I stood at the top of my drive way on a boulder (it was the highest point I could find) and looked out across the valley all the way to Monroe.  It was Autumn, and the leaves were turning so that all the miles beneath me looked like a bowl of Halloween candy or a fire in a painting hanging on the wall.  That's a trite way of putting it.  Could you have been there, and felt what I felt you would know it for what it was: what Moses saw in the cleft of the rock, or Isaiah in the Temple: the oblique angle of the eschaton, the hem of the garment of the LORD.  But how does one catch hold of falling leaves?  It's not the passing garment of a Jewish rabbi.  If I can but touch the hem of his garment I will be clean.  How do I touch the hem of his garment? 

The Ballad of William Goffe: Creative Platypus



The Ballad of William Goffe

I

Raise the cry in Narragansett
Sachem Philip treads the warpath
Come to drive out all the English
Burn their villages and townships.
Who has heard of old Sassacus
And the terrors of the Pequots
Knows but Philip’s little finger;
Like the bite of whips to scorpions
Are those sachems to his chieftains.
They will come with brands of fire
To the men who burned down Mystic.
Who of them shall bide his coming
In the hour of God’s judgment?

These the words that came to Hadley
With the fear of Philip’s legions,
Of the natives loosed upon them,
By the anger of Jehovah
At their arrogant presumption.
Now from feast they turn to fasting,
Turn from revelry to sorrow,
To beseech the Lord Almighty
That He turn from them his anger,
Spare them from the wrath of Philip,
From his sagamores and chieftains.

II

When the leaves first fell in autumn,
Came the rumor down to Hadley:
Now the natives are against you:
Mount the guards and stand your watches
For the Sachem Philip cometh
And his wrath is hot against ye.
So the men of Hadley labored
Night and day against his coming
Felled the trees and raised the fences
As a guard against his anger.
Thus the autumn turned to winter
And the winter into springtime
But the battle came no closer
And the citizens of Hadley
Now forsook their worthy labor
Left the guard and watchmen sleeping
All through April with her showers;
May and June came with the planting.
Then the call went down from Boston
To the councilmen of Hartford:
Send what men you have to aid us
For the native’s fury waxes
And his power is the greater.
May the Lord avert his coming
By the help that you may send us.
So the men of Hartford hastened
While the sun shone bright on Hadley
And the cornfields grew and ripened
Near the shadows of the forest.

III

Where, oh where now is the watchman?
Where the sentin’l on his marches;
Of his brother’s blood the keeper?
See him dozing by the corn-land
See him lying in the pasture?
Who, oh who with gentle prodding
Thus will venture to awake him?
Not the cries of all the mighty
From his slumber now will move him
Till the sound of golden trumpet
Comes upon him at the judgment.
There he lies with limbs akimbo
And his brains upon the verdure
Where the heathen ax hath dashed them
Like the blood of righteous Abel.
Raise the cry, oh men of Hadley
For King Philip is upon you
Come to slaughter all your children
Burn your village and its houses.

“Bring me fire,” cries the sachem.
And with vault of forest panther
Lights upon a sloping rooftop
Of a humble habitation
First that ever white-man built there
First to feel king Philip’s anger.
Now the town of Hadley blazes,
Now the people know their danger:
Grab the muskets, grab the water
All rush to the town’s defenses.
So the preacher in the chapel
Gathers to him all the children.
“Pray, oh pray now little children,
That the Lord above may hear thee,
Turn aside his awful anger
At the sins and fornications
Of His people who forgot him
’Midst the splendor of His bounty.
For perhaps He will relent Him
And for us raise up a Champion
Even in this dreadful hour
Bring the rescuer to Hadley.
So they pray now in a circle
With the women round about them
While outside the fire rages
And the men lie dead and bleeding.

IV

See them now across the river;
There they march, the men of Hartford,
With the gleam upon their iron
Shining like the stars at evening
‘Gainst the darkness of their raiment.
So they march in ordered silence
And the captains and the sergeants
Issue forth their clear commandments
With the sureness of Archangels
On the battlements of heaven.
“Who can tell us,” calls the captain,
“Whither now the town of Hadley?”
“Look no further,” cries the Chaplain
With his finger raised to eastward,
“Yonder burning is its landmark.
Haste, oh haste we now to help them
‘Fore the slaughter is accomplished.”
“Haste, oh haste” –a salutation
With the sound of distant thunder
Echoes back the preacher’s urgings
Down the valley of the river
And the men all stand in wonder
At its strange reverberations.
“Hear this voice, oh men of Hartford?”
Calleth out their brave commander.
“Throw from off yourselves this stupor.
Gird your loins and let us hasten,
‘Tis a sign from Lord Jehovah,
Let us not be slow to answer.”

V

Now the men of Hartford hasten
From their place across the river
While the town of Hadley burneth
‘Midst the slaughter and the pillage
Of her frantic sons and daughters.
Hear the banging on the church door
Of the tomahawks and hatchets.
“Get behind me,” cries the preacher
To his flock of ewes and lambkins.
Throws himself against the barrier
With his own weight blocks the portal.
Even now the heathen axes
With their dull reverberations
Strike and splinter all the timbers--
Throw them down: the preacher stumbles.
To the ground the natives dash him
Raise the tomahawk and hatchet
See, oh see the natives stand there,
Like a painting or a statue
’Midst the incense and the tapers
In the chapels of the papists
All of gold and ivory blazoned
So they stand now in their wonder
For behold the murky figure
Of an agéd apparition
Stands between them and the pastor
Dressed in weeds of antique sable
With his saber drawn before him.
All their eyes are now upon him,
Eyes of Christian and of heathen.
“Stand ye back, by God Almighty,
Who shall dare to touch His servant
Set upon the Lord’s anointed,
By this hand, myself will slay him.”
For one moment do they waver,
In their heathen hearts take measure:
Living man or apparition
Is this one who stands before them?
Then as one they turn to fleeing,
With the stranger striding after
And his voice the voice of thunder
Raging over many waters:
“Come to me oh men of Hadley,
Reck ye not of Sachem Philip,
He who took the head from Charles
Will not flinch from native chieftain.
In the scales of great Jehovah
Lies the balance of the battle.
Forward now at this new Marston;
See another tyrant toppled.”
At his voice the men make rally
As the Levites did with Moses
When he called them to the slaughter
’Round the gold abomination
fashioned by the hands of Aaron.
So they set upon the natives
on the sachems of King Philip.
In the front ranks fights the stranger
Where no weapon seems to harm him.
Blow of hatchet and of bullet
Are to him as straws and pebbles
In the hands of village children.
Still the natives’ strength is greater,
And the men of Hadley slacken,
As the numbers weigh against them
And the tide of battle turneth.
“Fight ye still, oh men of Hadley.
Fight ye still, your God will aid you.”
Cries the stranger midst the tumult.
“Hearken to him,” cries the pastor,
“For he seems the Lord’s own angel,
Sent to stride the fields of battle
In the hour of God’s judgment.”
One more push with all their straining
Make they now against the heathen
When from out the forest timbers
Come with cry the men of Hartford,
With their banner borne before them:
“He who transplants yet sustaineth,”
’Neath the grapevines reads the motto.
At the sight, the natives panic,
At the sight all courage leaves them,
Sends them back across the river
All in flight and with much slaughter.
And the word in Narragansett
From the few who lived to speak it
Told how Hadley was protected
By a grey and awesome spirit
With a voice that spoke the thunder
And a sword that flashed as lightning.

VI

Who can name for us that hero,
Tell for us his habitation?
When the townsfolk all came looking
Nothing sure could they discover.
And the year moved in its courses
And the strength of Philip wanéd
Till at last his people faltered
And the sachem found his ending
In the marshes of Rhode Island.
Then the tale was told in Boston
To the magistrates’ amazement,
How a hero came to Hadley
In the moment of her crisis.
And the Men of Boston wondered
At their curious deliv’rance.
But a lowly servant swore him
Till the day of his departing   
That his own eye saw the smile
On the lips of Increase Mather.