“Ubi sunt?” – Song of the Rohirrim: a lament

Viking warriors – wallpaper – vintaged

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

This lament the great J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and placed in the mouth of Aragorn son of Arathorn – heir of Isildur and rightful King of the West, of Eriador, in Tolkien’s magisterial Middle Earth mythos – as he was describing the Land of Rohan and its inhabitants, the Rohirrim (“Horse Lords”); and later, in part, in the mouth of Theoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Rohirrim, himself.

But it is of a mode that would have been easily recognized by our forebears in the ancient and medieval worlds, for it is a well-known poetic form: the lament, known by scholars as “Ubi Sunt?” from its Latin incipit: “Where is…?” It is a lament for the greatness of things now past, and perhaps, irrecoverable: “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” as we might say.

Hiraeth

Tolkien disliked allegory, but he did allow for what he called “applicability.” And so we can agree with him that The Lord of the Rings was not written as a direct allegory of any historical event, either World War Two, or the Cold War, or today’s social, cultural, and political struggles, with which this blog – originally intended merely as a celebration of things English, British, and Anglican – has become inexorably and inescapably emmeshed.

But we, as Men of the West (*), in this present age of the world, can also recognize that this passage, a lament for the Rohirrim, is applicable to our current age, and can also serve as a lament for us – for the West – in our present and dire situation.

A lament, yes, but perhaps also a rallying-cry?

For the Rohirrim, by their defense against the assaults of the fallen wizard Saruman, and later and most famously by their critical role in overthrowing the Siege of Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, did much to help break the power of the Shadow, and make possible the destruction of Mordor and of its Dark Lord, Sauron.

So where, Men of the West, are our Rohirrim? Where is our King Theoden (whose name meant “Lord of the People”)? Who is our Aragorn Elessar?

Ubi sunt…?


* “Men of the West” in the old sense, in which “Man” or “Men” was inclusive of all members of a people, folk, tribe, or region – or humankind in general, depending on context – and not merely those who are biologically male.


Following are some additional quotes by Professor Tolkien, some of which may encourage us, and some of which may, let us hope, strengthen our resolve:

“Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo.
“So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

conversation in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Faramir, Ranger of Gondor and son of Denethor, Steward of Minas Tirith

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Haldir, an Elf of Lothlorien, in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: a toast at a “Hobbit Dinner” in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1958.

 

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At last, a real conservative in the cabinet | Alexander Boot

Conservative Party politician Jacob Rees-Mogg has issued a strict style guide to his office staff.

The new Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has reconfirmed his conservative credentials by issuing a short style manual to his staff.

Source: At last, a real conservative in the cabinet – Alexander Boot

There is finally some good news out of Britain, or at least what many of us on the conservative / traditionalist side of the sociopolitical aisle hope will prove to be good news: Boris Johnson having won the Conservative (Tory) party election, he has subsequently been appointed her 14th Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury and asked to form a government by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

He is generally expected to do what former PM Theresa May was unable or unwilling to do, namely make good on Brexit, and generally help to reverse the Leftward slide of Britain in recent years (decades). While there are limits to what one man can do, whether his name is Johnson or Trump, there does seem to be justification for guarded optimism!

One thing he does seem to be doing already, and that is shaking up – indeed, dramatically reshaping – the Cabinet, and one of those appointments is particularly interesting: he has appointed well-known conservative voice in Britain, and (until his appointment) chairman of the conservative and Eurosceptic European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the (Privy) Council.

The two posts give Rees-Mogg a fair amount of influence – although most of it behind the scenes, in terms of procedure, organization, and administration, areas in which Rees-Mogg is known to specialize. He himself notes,

“The prime minister kindly offered me a very interesting job to do, one that is something that I’m very interested in because parliamentary procedure and practice is something I’ve spent a lot of time on.”

Rees-Mogg (who has acquired the tongue-in-cheek nickname of the “Honorable member for the 18th century”) is a true conservative, and not just politically: one of his first actions in his new post as Leader of the House of Commons was to issue a memorandum to his staff – indeed, a short “manual of style,” as the linked article points out:

“Mr Rees-Mogg wishes to expunge from office communications hackneyed words and phrases, illiterate punctuation, inappropriate forms of address and sloppy writing in general.

The author, Alexander Boot, goes on to comment, Continue reading “At last, a real conservative in the cabinet | Alexander Boot”

Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

Image result for ellis peters brother cadfael
Sample covers of three of the books in the series of medieval mysteries, The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.

Any writer who can make a living by her pen can be proud of her work, but it wasn’t until 1977, when A Morbid Taste for Bones introduced Cadfael, that Pargeter made her bid for literary immortality.

Source: Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

The Anglophilic Anglican has alluded to this excellent series of historical mysteries – “The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael,” by Ellis Peters (nom de plume of medieval scholar, author, and Shrewsbury, England, resident Edith Pargeter) – but I have not addressed them directly. Let me make up for that omission, now!

For those who may not be aware, the Cadfael Chronicles are a long-running series of medieval mysteries comprising 21 volumes – 20 novels and a short-story collection – written between 1977 and 1994, and set in 12th-century England: specifically, in the years 1137–1145, in and around the town (city) of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh border, and its Benedictine monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The protagonist, the eponymous Brother Cadfael of the aforementioned monastery, is both monk and herbalist, as well as a sort of medieval private investigator; a veteran Crusader and one-time sailor who – having seen much of the known world, in his first half-century or so – has chosen this quiet (?) harbor to live out the remainder of his earthy life.

Let’s let Levi Stahl tell it: Continue reading “Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads”

How Did Lewis and Tolkien Defend the Old West? | The Imaginative Conservative

https://anglophilicanglican.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/screen-shot-2016-07-11-at-10.20.02-am.png

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron. But I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien

Source: How Did Lewis and Tolkien Defend the Old West? | The Imaginative Conservative

Would you better understand, not only those great authors, thinkers, and defenders of Western Christendom (note: “Old West,” here, does not mean “cowboys and Indians”), C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but also the world we live in, how we got here, and where it may lead, should we continue on our present trajectory? Then read this essay! Long, but worth it.


N.B. – There are a few, mostly minor, issues of spelling and/or proofreading in this rather lengthy essay (doubtless I have many in my own writings, as well). Most are minor, and easily forgiven (the youngest companion of Frodo, in the Fellowship of the Ring, was Pippin, not “Pippen”), but one at least is significant:

The favorite haunt of the Hobbits was “a well-farmed countryside,” not “a well-armed countryside.” They did indeed turn out to be fairly well-armed, at the last, but with hunting arms, not weapons of war. Hobbits were, as Tolkien notes, not a warlike people!

How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette

“I am a Classics Ph.D. who recently attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS—formerly the American Philological Association), a yearly conference that provides papers on classical subjects and interviews for academic positions. I now regret doing so since some remarks I made at the conference led to me being branded a ‘racist’ and the loss of my editing job with the Association of Ancient Historians.”

Source: How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette

This essay is not easy reading. In fact, I found it both depressing and disillusioning (not that I had many illusions, to start with) and deeply angering. It is a classic example of the cultural Marxism prevalent in the academic world, and one of the reasons I did not choose to go on and obtain a PhD in Medieval History, as had been my original intention, since I saw the same trends developing in medieval studies, all the way back in the mid-’90s.

In this essay, Mary Frances Williams – note, this is a woman, not one of those dastardly males! – who describes herself as an independent scholar living in California, having received her doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin, recounts the way in which she was harassed, bullied, mischaracterized, and denied the right to have her voice heard in defense of Classics as a discipline… at a Classics conference (!), and purportedly, one devoted to the future of classics. Dr. Williams notes that

“Of all the academic disciplines, Classics alone has managed until now to withstand most of the corrupting influences of modern critical theory and ‘social justice’ activism. Ours is the last bastion of Western Civilization in the academy.”

Or at least, has been. Continue reading “How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette”

Greek to Me, by Mary Norris | The New Yorker

Mary Norris, also known as the Comma Queen, on the pleasures of a different alphabet.

Source: Greek to Me, by Mary Norris | The New Yorker

While I must confess that I really do not have an urge to study Greek, either ancient or modern (if I were going to take up the study of ancient languages again, they would be Latin and Old English) I thought this was an interesting piece.

Combining a first-person memoir with a defense of the study of classical languages in our current era, it is fair apologia which deserves to be considered by, as author Mary Norris puts it, “anyone who doubts the value of studying a dead language.”

It’s also worth a share in light of my earlier post on Greece’s Nea Dexia party, as it points out one of the ways in which the Greek “hill” (the Acropolis, in Failos Kranidiotis’ engaging metaphor) has influenced, and continues to influence, Western culture.

(Nota Bene: It should be noted that The New Yorker can still publish worthwhile articles – so long as one stays away from its left-leaning political ones.)

This 1897 Text Gives 3 Clues Why Today’s Students Can’t Write | Intellectual Takeout

This 1897 Text Gives 3 Clues Why Today’s Students Can’t Write

Would we see American writing ability increase if these three elements were restored to the classroom?

Source: This 1897 Text Gives 3 Clues Why Today’s Students Can’t Write | Intellectual Takeout

Contemporary American society is suffering from a number of maladies, but one of the root issues is lack of literacy. I mean “literacy” in the full sense: not that people can’t read texts, “tweets,” memes, and maybe even blog posts, but that far too many do not seem to be able to in-depth, quality works of prose (and poetry), comprehending and interpreting the meaning (of which there may be several levels) and significance of them. And of course, that makes them much less capable writers, too: the other piece of the literacy puzzle. It’s one thing to understand; its another to share that understanding with others.

This is not just my perception, either; as this essay points out,

“[In late 2015] the Nation’s Report Card announced that no more than 40% of America’s 4th and 8th graders are proficient in reading and math. Those are scary numbers, but the numbers for writing are even more frightening: only 27% of American 8th and 12th graders attained proficiency.”

Now, I admit to a personal bias, here; but I would argue that it is perfectly possible to be a good, informed, and productive citizen without being particularly proficient in math (so long as one is not in a technical or scientific field which requires it).

But I would also argue that it is much more difficult, to the point of impossibility, to be a good, informed, and productive citizen – at least, of a representative, Constitutional, democratic republic such as we have – without having a pretty good grasp of literacy: that is, of reading and writing.

My late grandfather used to say, “if you can read, you can learn anything.” He was quite correct; but the corollary to that is that if you cannot read, you cannot learn much of anything – unless it’s something that can be taught entirely by video, and there are technological and practical limitations to that which do not exist with books.

And of course, if you cannot read well, you cannot write well, either; for the second flows directly from the first. And if you cannot write well, your ability to express yourself in nearly any topic – even in our technological age – will be severely curtailed. It is remarkable how text-heavy we still are, from “tweets” to blog posts like this one! It is also remarkable how poor-quality much of this writing actually is.

But perhaps there are steps we can take to improve the situation. As the essay notes, American schools, students, and even adults regularly violate three principles which Dr. Edwin Lewis deemed (1897) essential to the writing process. So what are these three principles?

1) They don’t read high-quality literature – and they don’t read it aloud. Here’s Dr. Lewis on the subject:

“One of the quickest ways of learning to know good English, is oral reading… If the student reads aloud from writers whose work was natural, unforced, original, he will gradually come to see his own ideas more clearly, feel his own feelings more keenly.”

2) They skim. “Speed-reading” was all the rage when I was in school, back in the 1970s and ’80s, but reading more is not necessarily reading better – or even, reading well at all. As Dr. Lewis pointed out,

“To get at the thoughts and really to retain the valuable expressions, the student must scrutinize and ponder as he reads. Each word must be thoroughly understood; its exact value in the given sentence must be grasped.”

3) They don’t memorize. Rote memorization has been in bad odor for decades; it certainly was in my school days. But allowing quality writing to sink into the memory is absolutely essential to giving a person the functional database that they can use to express their own thoughts in a creative, cogent, and intelligent manner. Dr. Lewis again:

“To the habit of memorizing, many a person is indebted not merely for high thoughts that cheer hours of solitude and that stimulate his own thinking, but for command of words.”

Both reading and writing may seem a touch passé in the present era; it is fashionable to push “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, these days. And in the technological world in which we live, I do not doubt the utility of these fields.

But I think we would be better off as a society if we emphasized a complete, well-rounded education that laid particular stress on the ability to explore and understand a wide range of concepts – scientific and technological, yes, but also historical, cultural, political, and philosophical – through the tools of reading and writing about them.

To put the matter in a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion,

Image result for science vs humanities meme dinosaurs

Q.E.D.!