Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 May 2015

Memorial Day Musings

Two beloved poems come to mind on Memorial Day: Rudyard Kipling's Recessional (1897) and Gerard Manley Hopkins' The Soldier (1885). The former is responsible for the phrase "Lest We Forget." One of our local fire departments has a plaque aside the door that often features the names of recently deceased members. Below the name(s) are the words, "Lest We Forget." The poem is a reminder that the sovereignty of God surpasses pride-impaired temporal power.

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!


Kipling's poem considers the "universal," the attitude of the government or the citizenry as a whole. As earthly rulers receive authority from God, to God they must render an account. There are echoes of the 51st Psalm, the Miserere ("Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness") in the second stanza, and in the final stanza, the 127th Psalm, Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum ("Unless the Lord build the house").

Hopkins traditionally treats the "particular," so his poem extols the nobility of "any given" soldier, likening him to Christ in terms of His sacrifice. As in the first poem, pride also motivates the first-person plural subject, but Hopkins fancies soldiers as types of Christ regardless of their personal disposition toward Him or His ideals.

YES. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less; (5)
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.

Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss (10)
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.



The first word of this poem is peculiarly placed. By now, as a Hopkins fan, I should know better than to question him. I should just marvel at his Sprachgefuhl. It's the plain-and-simple affirmative, but the question he asks ("Why do we bless soldiers?") is ostensibly not a yes-or-no question. Perhaps it's the spontaneous, ebullient portent of a positive position ("Soldiers are manly, valuable, noble, and attractive, like Christ Himself").

The phrase "do all that man can do" reminds me of the former U. S. Army slogan "Be all that you can be." Do, be--recall, the military classified Sinatra "4-F," unable to serve because of his punctured left eardrum. He served, I suppose, by keeping the ladies interested in having someone to love, and the troops interested in having someone to fight.

1 comment:

  1. Reasons to Believe in Jesus

    Reasons to believe Jesus is alive in a new life with God can be found in quotes from two prominent atheists and a biology textbook.

    Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ, for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. Man is a useless passion. (Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, New York: Washington Square Press, p. 784)

    Among the traditional candidates for comprehensive understanding of the relation of mind to the physical world, I believe the weight of evidence favors some from of neutral monism over the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism, and dualism. (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, location 69 of 1831)

    And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. (Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )

    Sartre speaks of the "passion of man," not the passion of Christians. He is acknowledging that all religions east and west believe there is a transcendental reality and that perfect fulfillment comes from being united with this reality after we die. He then defines this passion with a reference to Christian doctrine which means he is acknowledging the historical reasons for believing in Jesus. He does not deny God exists. He is only saying the concept of God is contradictory. He then admits that since life ends in the grave, it has no meaning.

    From the title of the book, you can see that Nagel understands that humans are embodied sprits and that the humans soul is spiritual. He says, however, that dualism and idealism are "traditional" alternatives to materialism. Dualism and idealism are just bright ideas from Descartes and Berkeley. The traditional alternative to materialism is monism. According to Thomas Aquinas unity is the transcendental property of being. Campbell does not even grasp the concept of monism. The only theories he grasps are dualism and materialism.

    If all atheists were like Sartre, it would be an obstacle to faith. An important reason to believe in Jesus is that practically all atheists are like Nagel and Campbell, not like Sartre.

    by David Roemer
    347-417-4703
    http://www.newevangelization.info

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