A Friendly Presence

Louise Bourgeois's sculpture, Maman, was installed over the grave of Belgian painter James Ensor's grave, in the churchyard of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ter-Duinen (Our Lady of the Dunes), at Ostend, in 2006.
Louise Bourgeois’s sculpture, Maman, was installed over the grave of Belgian painter James Ensor’s grave, in the churchyard of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ter-Duinen (Our Lady of the Dunes), at Ostend, in 2006.

The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.

Louise Bourgeois.

Meet James Ensor

James Ensor, Skeleton Painter in his Studio, 1896; Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.
James Ensor, Skeleton Painter in his Studio, 1896; Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.

Meet James Ensor
Belgium’s famous painter
Dig him up and shake his hand
Appreciate the man

Before there were junk stores
Before there was junk
He lived with his mother and the torments of Christ
The world was transformed
A crowd gathered round
Pressed against his window so they could be the first

To meet James Ensor
Belgium’s famous painter
Raise a glass and sit and stare
Understand the man

He lost all his friends
He didn’t need his friends
He lived with his mother and repeated himself
The world has forgotten
The world moved along
The crowd at his window went back to their homes

Meet James Ensor
Meet James Ensor
Belgium’s famous painter
Dig him up and shake his hand
Appreciate the man

They Might Be Giants.

Dona et Vocatio Dei

I must not fail, brethren, to make this revelation known to you; or else you might have too good a conceit of yourselves. Blindness has fallen upon a part of Israel, but only until the tale of the Gentile nations is complete; then the whole of Israel will find salvation, as we read in scripture, A deliverer shall come from Sion, to rid Jacob of his unfaithfulness; and this shall be the fulfilment of my covenant with them, when I take away their sins. In the preaching of the gospel, God rejects them, to make room for you; but in his elective purpose he still welcomes them, for the sake of their fathers; God does not repent of the gifts he makes, or of the calls he issues. You were once rebels, until through their rebellion you obtained pardon; they are rebels now, obtaining pardon for you, only to be pardoned in their turn. Thus God has abandoned all men to their rebellion, only to include them all in his pardon.

Romans xi. 25-32.

Deliver Such an One unto Satan

Scripsi in epistola: Ne commisceamini fornicariis: non utique fornicariis hujus mundi, aut avaris, aut rapacibus, aut idolis servientibus: alioquin debueratis de hoc mundo exiisse. Nunc autem scripsi vobis non commisceri: si is qui frater nominatur, est fornicator, aut avarus, aut idolis serviens, aut maledicus, aut ebriosus, aut rapax, cum ejusmodi nec cibum sumere. Quid enim mihi de iis qui foris sunt, judicare? nonne de iis qui intus sunt, vos judicatis? nam eos qui foris sunt, Deus judicabit. Auferte malum ex vobis ipsis.

1. Cor. v. 9-13.

Because N., at the suggestion of the devil, disregarding through apostasy the Christian promise which he made in baptism, does not fear to lay waste the Church of God, to plunder the Church’s goods, and violently to oppress Christ’s poor; therefore we, anxious, lest he perish through pastoral neglect, for which we may have to give account at the tremendous judgment before the Chief Shepherd our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the terrible threat which our Lord himself utters: If thou shalt not have announced to the unrighteous his unrighteousness, his blood will I require at thy hand; we admonish him canonically, for the first, second, third, and also the fourth time to convince him of his wickedness, inviting him to amendment, satisfaction, and penance, and taking hold of him with paternal affection. But he himself, Oh sorrow! spurning wholesome admonitions, puffed up with a spirit of pride, disdains to make satisfaction to the Church of God, which he has injured. Well are we informed by the teachings of the Lord and of his apostles, what we ought to do in respect to prevaricators of this sort. For the Lord says: If thy hand or thy foot cause thee to offend, cut it off, and cast it from thee. And the apostle says: Take away the evil one from among you. And again: If he, who is called a brother, is a fornicator, or covetous, or a server of idols, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one not so much as to eat. And John, best-beloved disciple of Christ, forbids to salute such an impious man, saying: Receive him not into the house, nor say to him, God save you. For he that saith to him, God save you, communicateth with his wicked works. Therefore fulfilling the precepts of the Lord and of his apostles, we cut off from the body of the Church with the sword of excommunication a rotten limb, that can not be healed, that does not bear medicine, lest the remaining limbs of the body be infected with so deadly a disease as with poison. Therefore because he has despised our admonitions and frequent exhortations, because, having been for the third time, according to the Lord’s precept, called, he has disdained to come to amendment and penance, because he has neither considered his own fault, nor confessed it, nor by sending an embassy alleged any excuse, nor asked forgiveness, but, the devil hardening his heart, perseveres in the wickedness begun, as the apostle says: According to his own hardness and impenitent heart he treasures up to himself wrath against the day of wrath: therefore, by the judgment of Almighty God, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, and of blessed Peter the prince of the apostles, and of all the Saints, also by the authority of our own mediocrity, and by the power, divinely placed in us, of binding and loosing in heaven and in earth, we do separate him, with all his accomplices and favorers, from the perception of the precious Body and Blood of the Lord, and from the fellowship of all Christians, and we exclude him from the limits of holy mother Church in heaven and in earth, and we pronounce him to be excommunicated and anathematized; and we adjudge him condemned with the devil and his angels and all the reprobate to eternal fire: until he may recover himself from the snares of the devil, and return to amendment and penance, and make satisfaction to the Church, which he has injured: delivering him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of judgment.

And all answer, “Be it done, be it done, be it done.”

When this is done, both the pontiff and the priests ought to throw down to the ground the burning candles which they hold in their hands. Then let a letter be sent to the priests through the parishes, and also to neighboring bishops, containing the excommunicate’s name and the cause of excommunication.

— Roman Pontifical, Ordo excommunicandi et absolvendi.

Agnus Deo Immolandus

Alabaster relief in the British Museum, showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Tag reads: "Alabaster showing Becket's martyrdom." and "About 1450-1500, England, Alabaster. PE 1890.0809.1".
Alabaster relief in the British Museum, showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Tag reads: “Alabaster showing Becket’s martyrdom.” and “About 1450-1500, England, Alabaster. PE 1890.0809.1”.

Cantuariae, in Anglia, natalis sancti Thomae, Episcopi et Martyris, qui, ob defensionem justitiae et ecclesiasticae immunitatis, in Basilica sua, ab impiorum hominum factione percussus gladio, Martyr migravit ad Christum.

Roman Martyrology, 29 December.

(80.) Postquam autem intra fores ecclesiae monachi se receperant, jam dicti milites quatuor cursu rapidissimo post terga secuti sunt. Affuit inter illos subdiaconus quidam, eadem qua milites armatus malitia, Hugo Malus-clericus merito suae nequitiae cognominatus, qui nec Deo nec sanctis reverentiam exhiberet; quod sequens factum probavit. Intranti vero monasterium sancto archiepiscopo, omissis vesperis quas Deo libare inceperant, occurrunt monachi glorificantes Deum quod patrem suum, quem exstinctum audierant, vivum cernerent et incolumem. Valvas etiam ecclesiae repagulando hostes a nece pastoris arcere festinant. Ad quos conversus athleta mirabilis imperat ecclesiae januas aperiri, “Non decet,” inquiens, “orationis domum, ecclesiam Christi, turrem facere, quae, etsi non claudatur, suis sufficit ad munimen; et nos patiendo potius quam pugnando triumphabimus hostem, qui et pati venimus, non repugnare.” Nec mora, sacrilegi gladiis evaginatis ingrediuntur domum pacis ac reconciliationis, solo quidem aspectu et armorum strepitu non modicum horroris cernentibus ingerentes. Turbatisque qui aderant ac tumultuantibus, (jam enim qui vespertinis intenderant laudibus ad lethale spectaculum accurrerant,) in spiritu furoris milites exclamaverunt, “Ubi est Thomas Beketh, proditor regis et regni?” Quo non respondente, instantius vociferati sunt, dicentes, “Ubi est archiepiscopus?” Ad hanc vocem intrepidus quidem et, ut scriptum est, “Justus quasi leo confidens absque terrore erit,” occurrit e gradu quo delatus fuerat a monachis metu militum, et satis audibili sermone respondit: “Ecce adsum, non regis proditor, sed sacerdos; quid me quaeritis?” et qui se eos non timere jam antea dixerat, adjunxit, “Ecce praesto sum in nomine Ejus pati qui me sanguine suo redemit; absit ut propter gladios vestros fugiam, aut a justitia recedam.” Quo dicto divertit in dextram sub columna, hinc habens altare beatae Dei genetricis et perpetuae virginis Mariae, illinc vero sancti confessoris Benedicti; quorum exemplo et suffragiis crucifixus mundo et concupiscentiis ejus, tanta animi constantia ac si in carne non esset, quicquid carnifex inferebat, sustinuit ac superavit. Quem insecuti carnifices, “Absolve,” inquiunt, “et communioni restitue quos excommunicasti, et caeteris officium redde qui suspensi sunt.” Quibus ille, “Nulla,” ait, “satisfactio praecessit, nec eos absolvam.” “Et tu,” inquiunt, “modo morieris, suscipiens quod meruisti.” “Et ego,” ait, “pro Domino meo paratus sum mori, ut in meo sanguine ecclesia libertatem consequatur et pacem; sed meis, sive clerico sive laico, in nomine Dei omnipotentis interdico ne in aliquo noceatis.” Quam pie suis, quam prudenter sibi, providit martyr egregius, ne videlicet laederetur proximus, innocens opprimeretur, ne gloriam properantis ad Christum proximi casus tristior obfuscaret! Decuit plane Ducis sui militem martyrem Salvatoris inhaerere vestigiis, qui cum quaereretur ab impiis, “Si me,” inquit, “quaeritis, sinite hos abire.”

(81.) Igitur facto impetu manus sacrilegas injecerunt in eum, durius illum contrectantes et trahentes, ut extra fores ecclesiae aut jugularent, aut vinctum inde asportarent, sicut postmodum confessi sunt. Sed cum facilie non posset a columna moveri, unum ex ipsis acrius insistentem et accedentem propius a se repulit, lenonem appellans, dicensque, “Non me contingas, Reinalde, qui fidem ex jure debes et subjectionem; insipienter agis cum tuis complicibus.” Miles vero pro repulsione furore terribili totus incanduit, ensemque vibrans contra sacrum verticem, “Non fidem,” ait, “non tibi subjectionem debeo contra fidelitatem domini mei regis.” Cernens igitur martyr invictus horam imminere quae miserae mortalitati finem imponeret, paratam sibi et promissam a Domino coronam immortalitatis jam proximam fieri, inclinata in modum orantis cervice, junctis pariter et elevatis sursum manibus, Deo et sanctae Mariae et beato martyri Dionysio suam et ecclesiae causam commendavit.

(82.) Vix verbum implevit, et metuens nefandus miles ne raperetur a populo et vivus evaderet, insiliit in eum subito, et summitate coronae, quam sancti chrismatis unctio dicaverat Deo, abrasa, agnum Deo immolandum vulneravit in capite, eodem ictu praeciso brachio haec referentis. Is etenim, fugientibus tam monachis quam clericis universis, sancto archiepiscopo constanter adhaesit, et inter ulnas complexum tenuit, donec ipsa quam opposuit praecisa est. Ecce simplicitatem columbae, ecce serpentis prudentiam, in hoc martyre, qui corpus percutientibus opposuit, ut caput suum, animam scilicet vel ecclesiam, conservaret illaesam [-um?], nec contra carnis occisores, quo magis hac necessitate careret, cautelam vel insidias machinatus est! O pastorem dignum, qui, ne oves laniarentur, seipsum luporum morsibus tam confidenter opposuit! et quia mundum abjecerat, mundus eum volens opprimere nescius sublimavit. Deinde alio ictu in capite recepto adhuc quoque permansit immobilis. Tertio vero percussus martyr genua flexit et cubitos, seipsum hostiam viventem offerendo, dicens submissa voce, “Pro nomine Jesu et ecclesiae tuitione mortem amplecti paratus sum.” At tertius miles ita procumbenti grave vulnus inflixit, quo ictu et gladium collisit lapidi, et coronam, quae ampla fuit, ita a capite separavit, ut sanguis albens ex cerebro, cerebrum nihilominus rubens ex sanguine, lilii et rosae coloribus virginis et matris ecclesiae faciem confessoris et martyris vita et morte purpuraret. Quartus miles supervenientes abegit ut caeteri liberius ac licentius homicidium perpetrarent. Quintus vero, non miles, sed clericus ille qui cum militibus intraverat, ne martyri quinta plaga deesset, qui in aliis Christum fuerat imitatus, posito pede super collum sancti sacerdotis et martyris pretiosi, (horrendum dictu,) cerebrum cum sanguine per pavimentum spargens, caeteris exclamavit, “Abeamus hinc, milites, iste ulterius non resurgent.”

— Edward Grim, Vita S. Thomæ, Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi et Martyris, in Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, James C. Robertson, ed. No. 67, vol. 2 in Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores. London, 1876.

Continue reading “Agnus Deo Immolandus”

Red and Strong Is the Blood

The Lamont Harp, Clàrsach Lumanach, presented c. 1460-1464 to Charles Robertson of Lude, National Museum of Scotland.
The Lamont Harp, Clàrsach Lumanach, presented c. 1460-1464 to Charles Robertson of Lude, National Museum of Scotland.



(Translated by Author.)

HARP of my own dear country,
Trembling against my bosom,
Sweeter to me are thy strains
Than all of the wide world’s music,
Shapely thy curving neck
Like the wild swan afloat on the ocean,
Gleaming thy sun-bright strings,
Like the golden hair of my dear one.
What ah! what can express
Like the harp’s wild tender trembling,
Love that lies in the heart
Like a precious jewel hidden?
Sweet to me is the viol
When move in the dance the maidens,
Dear to me are the pipes
When my sword is red in the battle,
But ’tis the harp should be tuned
With slender and swift-moving finger,
When in her song my dear one,
Sweet-throated, her love confesseth.
Tell me thy secret, my harp,
Who taught thee to tremble in music?
Was it the ocean crooning
To th’ yellow sands and the sea-wrack?
Say, were thy tutors the lark
And the tuneful thrush of the wild-grove,
Blast of the giant bens
And whisper of wind-kissed forest,
Chant of the waterfall where
The stream leaps down from the mountains,
These, and in glens of our love
The songs of the sweet-throated maidens,
Say, were thy tutors these?
Who taught thee to tremble in music—
Music of kings in the times
When the Sun in his youth was shining,
Music of more than heroes
In the days of Fingal and Ossian.

Coll of the waves! Eilean Chola,
Musical were thy children,
Thine was the last of the line
Of the old-time harpers of Albyn,
Sad was thy heart, oh Murdoch!
When last thou tunedst the harp-strings,
Sad was thy heart, and the ship
Like a seagull out on the ocean,
Passing tby spray-swept island,
Bearing the Prince of thy bosom,
Bearing Prince Charlie an exile
Out on the sorrowful ocean,
Saying good-bye to Albyn
And to the crown of his fathers—
The golden crown of his fathers
Lost on the field of battle,
And to the land of the heroes
Who unto death were faithful.
Passed thy prince from thy view
Till the sail seemed merged in the ocean,
Passed—and together that hour
Thy harp and thy heart were broken.

Never again did thy song
Rise in the halls of the chieftains,
Never in Coll of the waves
In the eyrie of Tighearn Chola.
Even as the rose will shut
When her lover the Sun is departed,
So didst thou close thy heart,
The music, the glory departed.
Music with thee was laid
In thy grave in Mull of the mountains.
How could the strings be tuned
When lost were the rights of our fathers.
Banned was the tartan plaid
And they cursed the tongue of the mountains;
Who, who could tune thy strings
And the land of the Gael dishonoured?

Harp of the kings, let us sing
In the ears of the wise of the nation,
Standing on steps of the throne
Of the Scot-descended Edward,
Close to the Destiny Stone,
The stone of the Scots and of Aidan—
Sing how a nation alone
May stand forever unshaken.
Red and strong is the blood
Where the wind is scented with heather,
Races of heroes are bred
On the purple breasts of mountains,
Often the heroes of hills
Have hurled back doom from a nation—
Have we forgotten Omdurman
And Hector in crisis of battle?
Sing how the blood of the cities,
Swiftly degenerate, faileth,
Sing of proud kingdoms that fell
Their children forsaking the mountains.

Harp of the Scots, thou art kin
To the harp that is slumbering in Tara,
Shall we not therefore sing
Together our songs, O Erin?
Branches we are of the stem
Whose roots reach the ages forgotten,
Proudly the harp of the Gael
In the banner of Erin is floating,
Proudly in veins of the king
The blood of the Gael is flowing—
Blood of the Scots of Dalriad,
Blood of O’Neil and of Canmore.
Here in the hands of our love
Is balm for the wounds of thy bosom,
Thy deep, red wounds—and thy grief
Shall vanish like visions with morning.
Cease from your terrible tears,
O dark-haired daughters of sorrow,
Golden and beautiful breaks
The morn on the hilltops of Erin!

Harp of the world-scattered Gaels,
Sing how the Gaels are in number
Even as the stars; how in strength
They are sinew and muscle of empires.
Brothers they are, of our blood,
Though spread to the four winds of heaven,
Brothers, if exiles, still,
Though their white-sailed ships return not.
What if the straths are forlorn,
The Blood of the race is not passing,
What if the language should fail,
The Race of the Gael is not dying!
See how the Gaels are in number
As sands on the marge of the wild wave,
Conquering with hands of toil
The cities and lands of the stranger;
Under the sun of the Indies
And in the lands over ocean,
Wielding the axe of the settler
Far in the depths of the forest,
Digging the yellow gold,
Low in the depths of the canyon,
Struggling on far fields of battle
Struggling—and falling with glory!

Tell me, my harp beloved,
Shall the hope that I cherish fail me—
Shall I behold the Gaels
To the glens of their love returning,
Men at work on the crofts
As I saw in the times unforgotten,
The mother in musical Gaelic
To the babe at her bosom crooning.
Friendly at feast of the Old-Year,
Chieftain and clansmen together,
Cheeks of the youth aglow
At the Shinty on New-Year’s morning—
Every old custom so dear
To our beautiful glens returning,
Bagpipes on fields of battle
Chanting their war-notes defiant,
And, in the halls of peace
The harp with its wild sweet trembling,
Why should I thus drop tears
On the ruins of old homes broken—
Spanning the bens, behold!
The rainbow, the rainbow is shining!

Listen, my harp, my beloved!
When cometh the time of my changing,
When my hand white as the snow,
To dust in the grave shall crumble,
Do not let any man’s hand
Strike from thee chords of sorrow —
Shall I not rise again
To the wind my boat’s sail spreading,
For the beautiful Island of Youth
In the gold of the Sea of the Sunset.
There I shall practice thy music,
There in the Hall of the Noble—
Beloved! when I am dead,
For me let no wail of sorrow
Rise from thy sun-bright strings,
But a song—a song victorious.

MacGregor Despite Them

Grave of Robert Roy MacGregor (ob. 28 December 1734), Balquhidder Kirkyard.
Grave of Robert Roy MacGregor (ob. 28 December 1734), Balquhidder Kirkyard.

In that case, my Lord, if these be your principles, I shall not make it my principle to pay the interest, nor my interest to pay the principal; so if your Grace do not stand your share of the loss, you shall have no money from me.

Robert Roy MacGregor to James Graham, Duke of Montrose.