Monday, May 18, 2009

Fearing the Forest for All the Trees

This is the squeamish feeling
The child's fear of going into the forest
For fear of unspeakable monsters and wild beasts
And the city of gingerbread tricksters
Home now is a word undefined
And its meaning must be improvised
But though we wander, we are not yet lost
For while the birds eat all our breadcrumbs
We still have our memories
And God's grace to guide the way

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Crow that Wished to Be a Songbird

I am the crow that
Wishing to be a songbird
Pretended to be a nightingale
When the other crows heard this
They laughed me to scorn
And then descended in a murder
To shatter my fragile wings
And devour me whole

Making my escape
Through the hollow of a tree
There I waited inside
Until courage again found me
Emerging from the bark and looking around
I noticed the songbirds were puzzled
By the sound of my course voice
Which was sung as if it might
Actually possess some beauty

Some of the songbirds made laughter
And some of them took pity
But none saw within my birdsong
Any measure of remaining dignity
And as to my own flock
Now they have abandoned me
And would rip me apart if ever they found me

Now I stand before you a broken crow
An unwanted thorn in the side of mediocrity
Unrecognized and unknown with a shattered jigsaw feeling
Scavenging the world for scraps of identity
But I know I'm not alone, and I know we're ever ready
To confound that dowdy flock with a sharp-honed nerve
Because we're painted birds by our own design

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Into the Horseman's Forest: Characterization in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (The Horror Movie Final Critical Analysis

Michael Bridgman
FVT 186 The Horror Movie
Final Critical Analysis
Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton


I. Introduction
Sleepy Hollow is a 1999 Gothic horror film directed by Tim Burton based on a short story by Washington Irving titled "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Released on the last Thanksgiving before the turn of the new millennium, Sleepy Hollow is a film that looks simultaneously into the past, present, and future of the American nation. Looking in every direction, Burton finds a nation of great promise, a nation filled with hope and anxiety that fails to live up to its ideals, but also a nation that with freedom always retains the potential for improvement. By selecting material so deeply rooted in the American literary tradition and collective unconscious, Tim Burton has afforded himself enormous potential for poignant commentary on the basic social fabric of the nation. Not one to waste such a precious opportunity, in Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton uses dramatic characterization to comment upon issues of religious tolerance, faith and reason, and political justice in relation to America's founding, and by extension, its normative values.

II. Characterization

Because the way we tackle each of these issues depends upon our underlying ideas about the nature of the world, the primary, and most direct form of commentary is made by way of the conflicts among the characters. In Sleepy Hollow, these conflicts are particularly poignant because the radical supernatural evil of the Headless Horseman and the dark forest he inhabits lay powerful challenge to the ontology of each.

First, there is Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), a bold but squeamish New York constable who is sent to investigate a series of gruesome serial murders in a small village named Sleepy Hollow in which the killer's modus operandi is to sever the heads of his victims in one clean stroke. An outspoken advocate of the use of the scientific method in forensic investigation, Ichabod quickly gains the ire of his superiors for openly criticizing their use of torture to force confessions out of suspected criminals, and is sent to Sleepy Hollow by the imposing and authoritative Burgomaster (Christopher Lee) as both test and punishment. A staunch critic of all lingering forms of superstition in the Age of Reason, Crane will accept no kind of belief but on the evidence of sense and reason. So when the people of Sleepy Hollow attribute the series of murders to the headless spirit of a Hessian mercenary brought back from hell, Ichabod will have none of it, insisting that "The assassin is a man of flesh and blood, and I will discover him."

Not surprisingly, this leads Ichabod Crane to quickly have infidel status attributed to him within the Puritan community, his unorthodox methods and advanced steampunk gadgetry seemingly bordering on alchemy. In terms of his worldview, Ichabod Crane says he believes in "Sense and reason, cause and consequence," a Newtonian clockwork universe in which rational inquiry is possible, but no God or supernatural power will ever intervene. While it is tempting for the contemporary viewer to assume that Ichabod is an atheist or agnostic, the extreme rarity of these positions in this historical period make it far more likely he is a deist, a philosophical position positing that the structure of universe is the product of a creator God, but that creator has left the universe to run self-sufficiently. In a series of dream sequences shown intermittently throughout the film, it is revealed that Ichabod's religious skepticism has its roots in a traumatic childhood experience involving horrific and fatal religious conflict between his father, a Puritan minister, and his mother, a white magic practitioner, and he later reveals that he lost his faith at the age of seven. Interpreting the dream, it seems likely this was because of Ichabod's rejection of the conception of God his father represents: holy but distant, morally concerned but ruthless -- a Puritan God not dissimilar to his own deist views apart from active agency. Even so, whatever Ichabod will not accept with his rational mind, his subconscious is more than willing to accept, making his bones to quiver at the mere suggestion of supernatural peril. This being the case, it is called into question of whether Ichabod's anti-supernaturalism is more directly attributable to his actual ontological beliefs, or his deep-rooted numinous fear of holy or unholy powers that rest outside of his control.

For Ichabod, then, the challenge of the Headless Horseman is the direct encounter with a fearsome power unexplainable by natural science. Galloping at full speed to sever the head of Magistrate Philipse (Richard Griffiths) just a few feet in front of Ichabod, there can no longer be any doubt that the Headless Horseman is the killer. And so, for the rest of the film, he does his best to reconcile a universe with both rational and suprarational elements. Encountering the barren and twisted Tree of the Dead as a transitional "gateway between two worlds," Ichabod discovers forensic traces at the Horseman's grave buried beneath that indicate that the dark rider does not murder at random, but is being controlled by the person who has stolen his head. It stands to reason, then, that Crane's use of scientific methodology in this investigation is not, in fact, misplaced, because the true culprit is flesh and blood. Still, Ichabod laments "I should not have come to this place, where my rational mind has been so controverted by the spirit world." Even so, the journey is fortuitous for Crane in that brings him together with Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), and the two form the kind of romantic bond that can only be borne out of shared adventure.

Katrina, the daughter and heiress of the wealthy Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon), is a lovely and free-spirited young woman who seems out of place among her protective father and possessive stepmother. Fond of reading the airy novels of the Romantic era, Katrina has a certain flair for adventure and romance pervading her every action. Introduced to the novels by her late mother, Katrina must keep her choice of reading material a secret because her father "believes tales of romance cause the brain fever that killed my mother." Here, Katrina's conflict with her father over his exaggerated notion of women's frailty acts as microcosm of gender conflict in relation to the Romantic era in general, and the Gothic novel in particular. The Gothic novel, after all, seeks to prove that its brave heroines and largely female readership are made of far more steely stuff capable of withstanding the most grim and horrible perils life has to offer, and Katrina herself is eager for the chance to prove her mettle.

Amidst an age when God and all things holy had been relegated to the edges of the cosmos by deism and its extreme emphasis on divine transcendence, one of the most important contributions of Romanticism to religion and spirituality was its renewed emphasis on divine immanence and the idea of the holy. Arguing that the evidence for the supernatural can be deduced or intuited from the natural world, many Romantic authors eventually came to believe that God is so deeply immanent within nature that God is nature, the position of Romantic pantheism. For Katrina, the impact of this zeitgeist as mediated through her mother's influence is to adopt a kind of Romantic paganism, practicing white magic in secret. Because Katrina is thematically linked by proximity of cutting to Ichabod's mother -- "an innocent child of nature" which the dream sequences make to symbolically represent a maternal conception of deity -- it seems likely Katrina conceives of the Goddess as immanent agent of maternal care for the world and its creatures. So too, the savvy viewer will also note the way the three witches of the film neatly conform to the pattern of the Triple Goddess in Wiccan religion: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Of course, despite constitutional protections of the freedom of religion, none of this is likely to go over very well in a community that displays paternalistic religion at its worst, so Katrina keeps her religion a secret.

Even so, because Katrina really likes Ichabod, and is pretty sure he has an open mind about these things, she is willing to more than subtly hint as to her religious affiliation. Respectfully giving him her copy of A Compendium of Spells, Charms, and Devices of the Spirit World, Katrina recommends that he "Keep it close to your heart, it is sure protection against harm." Ichabod, however, is reluctant to accept the book because of his rationalistic mindset, so Katrina gently challenges his sense of certainty. Throughout the film, Katrina and Ichabod engage in epistemic conflict over whether the imperative to follow reason is of prime importance, or whether other life imperatives (i.e. love, family, and ethics) hold the stronger claim. Concerned for Ichabod's safety against the grave dangers he faces, Katrina secretly casts spells both protective and medicinal in nature on his behalf. Later in the film, however, this leads to a great misunderstanding when, discovering a series of modified pentacles drawn with a watchful eye he perceives is for malicious intent, Ichabod comes to believe that Katrina is responsible for the Headless Horseman killings, but decides to leave town rather than press charges. Finally cracking open the book Katrina gave him while riding in the carriage, he discovers the spell in question is "For the Protection of a Loved One Against Evil Spirits", and is able to return to Sleepy Hollow just in time just in time to confront the real killer. In this way, Tim Burton makes an apt comment upon the dangers of a lack of religious awareness in a secular society, which can result in a different kind of religious intolerance rooted in ignorance.

For Katrina, the challenge of the Headless Horseman is the problem of ontic frailty by way of her adventures in the haunted forest. It is, after all, one thing to have a deeply Romantic notion of Mother Nature's nurturing benevolence, it is quite another to look out the window and see a dark and twisted wood. If Katrina sometimes comes across as naive, it is because she has a Romantic pantheistic worldview while living in a Dark Romantic universe. In such a universe, nature is always capable of inspiring a sense of awe and wonder, but not always by way of hospitality. While agreeing with Romantic pantheists in their emphasis that nature is a deeply spiritual force, the Dark Romantics emphasized that it exists in a state of mystery and decay in which all things are subject to transient fragility.

One of major problems with pantheism in general is that by aligning the divine nature so closely to nature itself, the problem of evil becomes almost irresolvable because everything that happens in the world is a direct extension of divine nature, so what once seemed immanent and caring is shown to really be distant and impersonal. As one early critic noted of the ontological implications of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Romantic pantheism, "'Take away the Father of the universe' and humanity 'becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum'" -- a remark anticipatory both of the horror and anxiety of the 20th century, and of the extreme popularity of Hansel and Gretel "in the age of existentialism and thereafter." (Cf. Lawrence Buell, Emerson p. 165 and Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor p. 59-63) For a brave but impetuous spirit venturing out into the woods like Katrina, these challenges hit close to home when, poised at the neck for a ceremonial killing stroke by the Headless Horseman, she is brought wide-eyed and terror stricken to the confrontation with her own mortality. Even so, the optimistic tone of the ending involving the formation of a surrogate family of adventurers consisting of Ichabod, Katrina, and Young Masbeth (Marc Pickering) suggests that she's not willing to give up her spirit of romance and adventure just yet.

Which brings us to the character of Young Masbeth, the surrogate son of the young couple, and by implication, the inheritor of their legacy. The adolescent son of a rugged father murdered by the Headless Horseman and a loving but long-dead mother, Young Masbeth finds himself an orphan. And while the exact nature of the relationship Young Masbeth had with his family remains largely unclear throughout the film, what is clear is that it has a number of parallels to Ichabod's childhood at the age he lost his faith. A quiet and soft-spoken lad whose difficulty finding trust can be seen in his fidgety reactions to the human touch, the viewer has to watch his actions very closely to really understand his character. But what Young Masbeth lacks in verbalization, he makes up for in bravery and sincerity that allow him to speak with his actions.

The most important line for understanding Masbeth's character is one of his first lines in the movie: "My mother is in heaven, sir, she has my father now to care for her." Or, to read between the lines, Masbeth has taken after a loving Christian mother, and believes in God's gift of eternal life. On a more symbolic level, this line establishes Masbeth as the point of reconciliation between the holy and transcendent paternalistic image of God and the immanent and caring maternalistic image of God. So too, the careful viewer will note that in this scene, Masbeth quietly withdraws to the middle ground for discrete intercessory prayer (cf. Matthew 6:5-6), and accepts Reverend Steenwyck's consolatory pat on the shoulder without hesitation even as the community walks away from the funeral without a word to him. In other words, this is the kid who attends church regularly, but always ends up with his back to the wall, and is respected only by church leadership who recognize his heartfelt sincerity in the faith. It seems like a small thing, really, but in their own way, kids like this represent the future of Christianity by way of their steadfast contributions, so it is well that he should do so.

Feeling a sense of duty to avenge his father's death (apparently, "turn the other cheek" does not apply to evil spirits, for whom Christian tradition reserves a sound ass-kicking), and needing a source of support to live on his own, Masbeth offers his services to Ichabod. While initially reluctant, Ichabod comes to accept Masbeth as his own, and becomes a father figure to him. Even so, Ichabod frequently makes some truly questionable calls in relation to Masbeth that makes the viewer wince over the kid's naive overconfidence in authority figures. Still, Masbeth is happy to accompany Ichabod throughout his investigation, his reactions to the constable's actions coming across halfway between mystified sidekick and uncommonly clever kid. So too, while he never really talks about his faith much, Masbeth's resolute courage in the face of grave peril act as silent witness to his unshakable confidence in the power of divine providence. Indeed, having suffered childhood trauma deeply akin to Ichabod's own and remained strong in the faith, Masbeth's mere existence lays implicit challenge to the legitimacy of his reasons for rejecting the faith.

Of course, it is important to emphasize that Young Masbeth has an unusually deep level of tolerance in matters of religion, and in life in general. Where others have very visceral negative reactions to Ichabod's unusual behavior, particularly in areas seemingly at odds with the Christian tradition of the sanctified burial of the dead, Masbeth mostly watches with wide and curious eyes that seem to ponder what he thinks about all this. At one particularly memorable moment in the film, Masbeth appears to break his generally tolerant attitude in stating his belief that the modified pentacle he discovers under Ichabod's bed is "the evil eye" and that "it is someone casting spells against you." However, upon later discovering that it is, in fact, Katrina who is responsible for the spell, Masbeth changes his mind owing to his confidence in her good character, and challenges Ichabod for believing that "a strange sort of witch with a kind and loving heart" could be responsible for the Headless Horseman killings. When Ichabod states that he has good reason for these beliefs, Masbeth responds "Then you are bewitched by reason!" In other words, if the imperative to follow reason blinds one to other, more basic imperatives of life, then its effect is no different from a spell that deprives one of clear understanding and personal autonomy.

For Masbeth, the challenge of the Headless Horseman is the problem of trust. As an individual who has always had great difficulty trusting other people (notice how in his first shot in the movie shows him to be fidgety even to the touch of his father), the shattering of his old life by the Headless Horseman comes as a great shock that undermines his confidence even further. Placing his trust in authority figures like Reverend Steenwyck and Ichabod Crane to be a reliable pillar in times of distress, even this confidence is undermined by the dramatic way the town authorities all meet their demise. Shown by the manner of their deaths to be of far less solid moral integrity than their reputations made them out to be, Masbeth's trust in humanity is undermined even further. So when Masbeth makes his remarks about the bewitchment of reason, Ichabod responds by saying "It is a hard lesson for a hard world, and you'd better learn it, Young Masbeth. Villainy wears many masks. None so dangerous as the mask of virtue." At this, Masbeth's eyes begin to well with tears, his confidence visibly shaken, so Ichabod places his hand upon his shoulder and he does not flinch. But where Masbeth's trust in men is shattered and shaken, the opportunity for strengthened faith and reliance upon the Rock and Mighty Fortress is afforded. And seen through the eyes of divine mercy, relationships with others is shown to ultimately be rewarding and worthwhile, despite the deep pain they cause. This too can be seen in Young Masbeth's sincere willingness to accompany Ichabod and Katrina at the film's ending to live with them in New York -- he even carries all the bags.

III. Results

In Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton makes reference to philosophical and religious conflicts of the last quarter of the 18th century to highlight the importance of both an immanent and transcendent conception of deity. In this way, Sleepy Hollow links itself with a recurring theme throughout Tim Burton's movies, the reconciliation of conflicting dualities without which the unity of the whole cannot function. Setting the rationalistic Ichabod in dialectical conflict with the Romantic Katrina over questions ontologically correlative to their views of divine transcendence or immanence respectively, the locus of the ensuing synthesis is shifted to Young Masbeth, who represents the future of the Church. Criticizing America's Puritanical religious heritage and its ideological heirs for paternalistic repression, Burton illustrates that this conception of religion is as inhibitive to the creative passions as it is to the internalization of divine grace. In ecclesiastical contexts, this criticism is of paramount importance as contemporary movements like the Emerging Church begin to reemphasize the importance of the arts, bring grace to ostracized individuals frequently taboo in other churches, challenge the political values of older generations of Christians, and reshape church structures along more fluid and organic lines emphasizing the importance of each member in the divine plan over a centralized hierarchy. In this respect, Burton's film can be seen as a true gift to the Church for exposing the ideological failure of America's Puritan upbringing, and demonstrating the need for new models of theology and ecclesiology to be implemented out in the real world.

At the center of these controversies is the question of the relation of God to the world. Against this backdrop, the Church is shown to be the ideological inheritor of the legacy of deism, which emphasizes divine transcendence and Romantic pantheism, which emphasizes divine immanence to do what it will in this cultural context. Emphasizing the importance of divine immanence in the equation, Tim Burton shows that both extremes are inadequate, and that a synthesis between the two is required. While Puritanism conceived of God as a strict and aloof paternalistic creator who held humanity over the fires of hell like a loathsome spider, this view could do justice neither to divine grace nor to God's verdict that the world he created and everything within it was "very good." (Cf. Genesis 1:31) And where deism reacted to Puritanism by philosophically removing the potential for divine agency for either harm or good, its ontology could not account for the encounter with divine immanence in religious experience, and it begat the overbearing repression of one of the most powerful spheres of human existence. Romantic pantheism, by contrast, was able to account for the experience of divine immanence, but not for either the substance or for the reality of evil. And where Romantic pantheism's ideological heirs in the form of Neopagan and New Age religions tend to take a very similar approach, they are plagued with the same problems.

Against these extremes between divine transcendence and divine immanence, the masculine and feminine ideas of divinity, Tim Burton emphasizes the need for finding some middle ground between these conflicting dualities. For many, the temptation in trying to resolve these issues is to either attempt a syncretism of Christianity and Neopaganism to allow for the feminine aspect of deity, or to reject the Christian God altogether in favor of the latter, or no God at all. Actually, this problem can be neatly resolved on a thoroughly Christian basis by emphasizing the theological tradition of Wisdom literature, a theme solidly rooted in scripture and in Judeo-Christian tradition. As N.T. Wright remarks about the Wisdom tradition in relation to the Gospel of John's Christology, "John probably expects some readers to see that this opening passage says, about Jesus himself, what some writers had said about 'Wisdom'. Many Jewish teachers had grappled with the age-old questions: How can the one true God be both different from the world and active within the world? How can he be remote, holy and detached, but also intimately present? Some had already spoken of the 'word' and 'wisdom' as ways of answering these questions. Some had already combined them within the belief that the one true God had promised to place his own 'presence' within the Temple in Jerusalem." (Tom Wright, John for Everyone p. 4)

Recognizing that a dark and chaotic universe is often in need of good housekeeping, and because this was a traditionally feminine role in their society, Jewish writers began to speak of a feminine aspect of the divine nature they called Wisdom, which carried out God's actions within the world. In Proverbs 8, for example, Wisdom is the agent of creation by which God formed the order of the cosmos, and who now adjures commoners and kings to pay heed to her good counsel. Linking Wisdom to the indwelling presence of God in the Temple of Jerusalem, itself the microcosm of the entire divine order, Wisdom was conceived not merely in terms of literary personification, but as the presence and power of God. In the New Testament, Jesus is widely seen as the locus of Wisdom on earth who embodies her rejection on earth only to be vindicated on high. In Luke 7:31-35, for example, Jesus concludes his remarks upon the hypocritical reasons given by his generation for rejecting his message by stating "Yet Wisdom is justified by all her children," effectively linking his identity to hers. In this respect, Wisdom theology in the New Testament may be seen as prototypical of the eventual formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, and lends it its theological backbone. Where Sleepy Hollow criticizes a strictly paternalistic conception of deity for facilitating the oppression of women by way of patriarchal church structures, Wisdom theology lays powerful challenges to these assumptions. As Ben Witherington III writes in the conclusion to his seminal study of Wisdom theology,

To those weary of oppressively patriarchal religion one can say that Wisdom as a personified attribute of God and God's creation does indeed have a feminine face in various places in the Scriptures which should not be ignored or minimized. If the biblical authors are indeed trying to tell us that God is the most personal of all beings and that all human beings are created in God's image, then the presentation of qualities or traits of God that are like human female as well as male traits should be expected. (Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom p. 386)

Of course, Witherington is quick to point out that none of the Jewish writers responsible for writing Wisdom literature would have taken divine gender language at face value, because God is literally neither male nor female, but rather is the life-giving Spirit who created both genders. Rather, "the data seems to provide warrants for analogies (God or Jesus is like a woman in this or that way), but not for female identity statements (i.e. God is a woman, God is a Goddess)." (Ibid.) So while none of this means we should start drawing circles and holding hands, it does mean that femininity is not some second-rate form of humanity, but is an integral aspect of the divine nature. Just as Wisdom theology provided a cultural bridge for Judaism and Christianity with the Hellenistic world in Classical antiquity, so too can it be used to bridge the gap of communication between the Church and the contemporary tide of matriarchal Neopagan religions. And while the Church has often marginalized the position of women within its power structure, this is a grave error because it frequently prevents them from carrying out their own divine calling. From the birth of Christianity until the present day, women have been among the most enthusiastic supporters of the work of Christ, and the Church would do well to remember this. And in the meantime, Christian women should take care not to allow poor translation and sloppy exegesis of passages in Paul's letters to keep them from the calling that is rightfully theirs (though that is a writing for another day).

In conclusion, Sleepy Hollow is a film that uses dramatic characterization to illustrate the inherent shortcomings of America's combined Puritan and deistic heritage in relation to issues of faith and reason, religious tolerance, and political justice. Highlighting the need for an immanent conception of divinity, the film contends that it is important to conceive of God in both feminine and masculine terms. And while the import of its message will be received differently depending on one's preexisting worldview, from the Christian standpoint the film illustrates the great importance of Wisdom theology in contemporary contexts. In this respect, Burton's film is a resounding success, and this author highly recommends it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Are You OK?

Are you OK?
Silently my heart sinks into shadowy fear
As I wait for an answer, the minutes pass ever so slowly
Against the ravages of time, I fear there will be no end to my tears

Are you OK?
I too am a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief
And though I no longer fear the Reaper's beckoning
The same cannot be said for a beloved one suffering

Are you OK?
The march of time has also taught me courage and enduring
So please answer truthfully when you speak
In this fallen world the only despair is lack of honesty

Are you OK?
I felt an ominous premonition while watching the movie screen
And though I lay in bed, I could find no rest
But while frightened, I know it's probably nothing

Are you OK?
Did you know I've spent my life surrounded by sickness and suffering?
Now miracles and tragedies are really nothing new for me
Just a little shock and a lot more grief

Are you OK?
Please answer, therefore, my solemn query
And answer it in a spirit of sincerity
Remembering always our shared friendship and piety

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Gaze - A Philosophical Fragment

The gaze is principally the kind of look that keeps me up at 4:00 A.M. pondering questions of moral ontology. If the eyes are both a source of great power and a window into the soul, then the gaze is a look that simultaneously wilts and pollinates its subject. The truth of the matter is that none crave too much attention or too little, but all desire a certain equilibrium within which to live their lives in comfortable repose. Depending upon the conditions, the gaze can be the source of pressure and confinement to both subject and onlooker, or the source of welcome relief. Because the human condition is bound up both in the mind and in the body, the human desire is for the affirmation of the total being, and it is well that it should be. The person of beauty wishes that someone would see past their looks to perceive them for who they really are. The homely genius wishes that someone would enjoy their company not just for thoughtful conversation, but actually find them attractive. The paradox of the gaze is that it conveys simultaneous information about its subject's objectivity and subjectivity, and about the perceived relation between the subject to their onlooker and to the world. To one inclined to thoughtful moral consideration, the standard of the gaze should be to take into account what messages they are sending either by looking or by not looking, always bearing in mind the categorical imperative. To those who are particularly perceptive, the ideal of the gaze should be to break through the objective barriers separating minds to look into the other's subjectivity, although this cannot and should not be attempted without a great deal of empathy. These too are immensely attractive qualities, and will not go unnoticed.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Letter to Death

Sweet mistress,
I beg your patience
Just a little while longer
Though many years you have courted me
Absence makes the heart go fonder

Yes, I know you are a persistent woman
And in the end no one can escape from your embrace
But if I could, I doubt I would want to
For though widely feared, there is still softness within your face

Of all the women I have ever known
None have surpassed you in fond affection or in patronage
And if I were to submit to your cold caress
I'm sure it would be paradise

But though I'm so lonely I think I might wilt
A holy leper left out in the storm
And though no one will ever dare touch me
I still have so much left to live for

It happened once upon a desolate Spring
That I fell lost and abandoned within the world
It was then that you came and taught me
'A simple craft will keep a man from want'

'Consider the spider as she weaves her web
Though lowly and despised by all that she sees
She mingles her pain along with her string
And with it she spins her glistening silk tapestry'

So I set forth in search of my magnum opus
And the sad veil of tears was lifted from my face
Everything fell away and I left myself behind
Abandoning my cares among the lilies

But now it seems I will forever be lonely
And I often use my hands only to bury my face
Even friends, alas, can open old scars
And I long for one solitary sign of grace

Merciful mistress,
You show mankind there is a set duration to suffering
Sweet belle of the ball, you save the last dance for everyone equally
Your cruelty you only show to the unsuspecting
You crush every oppressor and make desolate the throne of kings

To the lowly and downtrodden you give repose
To the sick and tormented you lend shelter from the sun
In your shadow is the awakening of wonder and beauty
You lead us to gardens in trembling anticipation of things to come

If there is terror in the appearance of your form
It is the reflection of our faces within your eyes
And though defeated, you are graceful
Waiting patiently upon the keeper of the keys

Your reputation has it that you laugh at all supplication
But I heard a rumor that you have lost your sting
So take me when you will, but tempt me no further
And lay me to rest by the garden gate