Several years ago, I noticed a poster on a friend’s wall: John William Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece The Lady of Shalott:
I was impressed by the passionate atmosphere in the piece, and could only wonder at the story behind it until I heard Loreena McKennitt’s hauntingly ethereal setting of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s great poem, “The Lady of Shalott.”
This is still one of my favorite songs, and the lyrics (just Tennyson’s words set to music) are some of the best English poetry I know. For example:
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.
Perfection. I know that feeling; it’s why I love The Truman Show. No emo band ever wrote anything half so honestly heartbreaking.
And I’m also impressed that such a minor anecdote from the Arthurian legends could spawn three great works of art in such disparate genres: poetry, painting, and pop music. That’s significant, methinks.
Have you ever heard of Eric Coyle? He was a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, around the same time I was. He was a self-described average student who “woke up” one day and decided to become extraordinary. He worked his way up to taking 64 credits per semester, and got A’s. He graduated with five degrees and went to Georgetown.
When this all happened in 1998, I remember seeing it on the NBC Nightly News. Here’s an excerpt from a story about him from The New York Times:
”It was then that I realized that there was injustice in the world and that if you wanted to be in a position where you could fight against it you would have to work terribly hard,” Mr. Coyle said. ”You would have to make sacrifices. In my case, I would have to go to law school — one of the top law schools. And to get in I would have to exceed any demands that any law school could make on me.”
”I have fun going to school,” Mr. Coyle said. ”I’m not this smart guy. I’m just average. But I got motivated.”
This isn’t a great video, but I remember my parents playing a record of this song for my brother and me when we were little kids. I thought it was hilarious then, and now, listening to it tonight for the first time in at least twenty years, it still made me laugh. Ladies and gentlemen, Harry Belafonte and Odetta singing, “There’s A Hole In The Bucket.”
LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE:
When William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he gave a speech that was only a mere four paragraphs long. You can listen to it at the Nobel Prize Web site; it only lasts three minutes.
Like many short works, though, it packs in a power whose magnitude leaves me blissfully dizzy. A quote:
I decline to accept the end of man….I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
Did you know that The New York Times puts a classic crossword puzzle from its archives online each week? Of course, I’m assuming you’ve seen the riveting, rollicking documentary (really!) Wordplay. If not, watching it might help inspire you to tackle those NYT toughies.
- POLITICS AND SOCIETY:
- “You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down–up to a man’s age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order–or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
-Ronald Reagan, “A Time For Choosing,” 1964
- “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life.”
- -Ezra Taft Benson, “Jesus Christ–Gifts and Expectations”