Monday, July 26, 2021

Milton Appreciation Week: Satan's Encounter with the Fires of Hell: Paradise Lost, Book I

Satan/Lucifer, another of Gustave Doré's illustrations
for Paradise Lost by John Milton
Here is our first glimpse of the landscape surrounding the fallen and angels and their leader. What powerful images Milton creates for us.
Satan and his rebellious crew of fallen angels have been "hurl'd headlong flaming from th' Ethereal Sky with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition." (Paradise Lost, I: 45-47).
A few lines later the poet writes:
...for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
That witnesse'd huge affliction and dismay
mixt with obdurate pride and steadfast hate:
At once as far as Angels ken he views
The dismal Situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible on all sides round
As one great furnace flam'd, yet those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible,
Serv'd only to discover sights of woe, (italics mine)
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur, unconsum'd:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepar'd
For those rebellious, here thir Prison ordained
In utter darkness and thir portion set
As far removed from God and light of Heav'n
As from the Center thrice to th' utmost Pole.
(Book I, Verses 54-74)
Just as I focused-in my recent blog- on the woe ( "Nature from her seat Sighing through all Words gave signs of woe Book IX, Verse 84) that Eve abruptly ushered into our universe by her eating the apple from the forbidden tree, so too here, Milton gives us a vivid picture of the sights and pains of woe that Satan first experiences as he plummets from heaven to the burning seas of hell.
Milton draws upon Dante's inscription on the Gates of Hell in the Inferno: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Milton writes: "And rest can never dwell, hope never comes That comes to all.... but torture without end."
Satan's 'baleful eyes' survey the scene; the dictionary meaning of baleful is malignant or evil in intent. What he takes in is an expanse that covers long distances, miles and miles; he is enveloped in a 'dungeon' a vast prison from which he cannot seemingly escape. Sulphurous flames envelop him and his entourage of fallen angels.
Milton uses a powerful metaphor--'darkness visible' to describe the scene. The phrase is an oxymoron, for, indeed, how can darkness be visible. I think what Milton is hinting at is the inner state of mind, the dark evil, the inner blackness that permeates Satan and his crew. The persistent flames of hell burn bright and eternal to reveal the depravity of its denizens that will never be concealed.
In other words, light exposes evil.
Milton describes their 'Prison ordained in utter darkness.' This is a reference, I believe, to Satan being 'ordained' or self-crowned) the Prince of Darkness--at the opposite pole to God, who is embellished by the 'light of heaven.'

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

It's National Poetry Month: Here's succinct verse to celebrate both the lows and highs of life

 The Lingering Pain that Will not go away 

A solitary cry I cannot breathe 

I hear only the silence

 of petals floating at a calm sea

Sudden pain on my chest

Like the weight of 50 bricks

The medics rush to rescue

All I hear are the sounds of silence 

Celestial Love 

Slipstreaming in winter skies 

Two centripetal bodies drawn ever closer

Echoing the harmony of the spheres

-Haiku inspired verse composed in honor of Women’s History Month (3/8/21)

Celebrating Unsung heroes: Contributors to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County and the Kitchen Staff at Greenwich High School

 First, its wonderful to see the overflowing Food Bank bin at my local Newfield Greens Grade A supermarket where shoppers are responding with generous weekly donations to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County. It is so heartening to see so many  reach out to help feed the many many hundreds of indigent and hungry residents of our communities especially during these pandemic times. 

                                        The overstocked Foodbank bin at Grade A Newfield Greens  Supermarket 

Likewise I wish to commend the food service employees at Greenwich High School who daily prepare hundreds of meals to feed the hungry residents of the community. 

                                            The kitchen staff at Greenwich High School prepare
                                             lunch boxes that buses deliver to distribution centers 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Deb Haaland becomes the first Native American to achieve Cabinet Level status as Secretary of the Interior


Kudos to the U.S. Senate which by a vote of 51-40  last month  confirmed Congresswoman, Deb Halaand of New Mexico to the cabinet post of Secretary of the Interior. 

It is my sincere hope that she will act with fairness and integrity in dealing with issues relating to Native American citizens as well as being a steward of the vast tracts of public lands. 

For my previous blog discussing this inspiring cabinet appointment against a backdrop of the history of  abuses directed against Native Americans in our country click here. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Power of the Imagination to transform reality: James Mcbride's novel Deacon King Kong is a tour de force hinting at rectification of a culture spinning out of control

As I prepare to publish this posting, the newswires are flashing with news that both the President and First Lady have tested positive for the Corona Virus and are quarantined and the president has been admitted to Walter Reed Hospital.

This is an alarming 'bit' of news in itself as the country is ready to enter the last month before a national election.


What is at the heart of this article is the power of the imagination.

Just how powerful is the imagination in shaping our reality?

How far can the imagination go, with its power to shape our beliefs and understanding, before it collides head on--with potential mortal consequences?

 We know that for the past 6 months, our Potus and First Lady have acted as if the pandemic did not exist as a threat to life--at least as regards themselves.

Whether they believed that the pandemic was a serious global threat or not, they acted as if they were somehow immune. They ignored the best medical experts and defiantly did not wear facemasks.

Were they successful in reimagining reality? Has their overt defiance of  global medical wisdom made a difference in their supposed immunity to the virus?

This issue lies at the heart of the next of my postings as I explore how a number of brilliant writers who have reimagined the harsh, often brutal circumstances mushrooming  beyond their control.

Can great writing somehow transcend and diminish the harsh decree of the pandemic which claims thousands of American lives daily?

My answer is an 'affirmative' yes and I will demonstrate in the next few posts.

Deacon King Kong by James Mcbride is an excellent illustration.

This monumental writing is a saga that runs only 370 pages! But in its gutsy, visceral, at times stream of consciousness prose, it will hold you breathless in a roller coaster ride from start to finish.

The time is 1969, The setting is a New York City housing authority run ' project' eponymously called the "Cause" located in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn--an area filled with loading docks immortalized by Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront."

It is a time when heavy drugs, heroine and crack are in heavy use and the distribution controlled by competing drug lords

It is a time of hope and change symbolized by the Mayor John Lindsay's liberal republican administration filled with young ivy league educated idealistic public servants filled with aspirations to clean up the  lives of the trodden masses, the wretched refuse to make the city a more humane habitat for all its denizens.

Liberty Enlightening the World Poster
A Central Character/Metaphor in the novel

Against the squalid lives of the outlying forgotten souls is the oft mentioned recurring symbol of hope-the Statue of Liberty- in full view from this south Brooklyn community.

The central character-- Deacon King Kong-- is a moniker for a church centered drunkard whose life centers around a constant imbibing of home grown whisky called king kong, At the same time he is dealing with a number of other convergent obsessions: the loss of his deceased wife Hettie with whose apparition he is in constant dialogue, obsessed with finding the Church Christmas Club money he believes she hid; obsessed with his role as 'failed' mentor to a promising church-raised 19 year old kid, aptly named Deems Clemens. (ala Roger)

This kid has a great pitching arm with a probable major league career in the wings. Sadly, he drops baseball to become the local lucrative distributor, controlling the sale of heroine to hapless, clueless denizens of the "Cause" projects.

The climax occurs when an inebriated Deacon quietly approaches Deems at the flagpole located in the center of the communal courtyard at high noon as Deems is presiding over the daily distribution of drugs; Deacon then pulls out a revolver with intent to kill his erstwhile baseball star. Fortunately the intended victim turns his head at the last moment and so Deacon blows off his ear.

Questions loom big: does Deems exact revenge upon his mentor Deacon King Kong? And does Deems, now convalescing in the hospital lose his position to another drug lord eager to control such a lucrative enterprise? Finally, what becomes of the Deacon at the end of the novel? Immortalized or dehumanized?

And other questions are writ large: James Mcbride portrays many cultures: black, Irish, Italian and Jewish with with long standing turf wars by drug lords fighting over the control and distribution of heroine to dozens of neighborhoods. Do you agree with me that the novel at various times hints at the rectification and humanization of the 'dark side' of noble creative cultures -with deep roots in the ante-bellum south, Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe?

At the center of the novel is the redeeming burgeoning love that sprouts between an Italian drug lord and a legitimate owner of a successful bagel business.

This novel is sure to grab you from start to finish.

Finally, does Mcbride portray some hope amidst this corrupted culture?

For these and other questions, I will not share answers with you until you have devoured and have had a chance to digest this great read--as I will continue to do for a long time. 

We get a hint of Deems' 'big game ' future as he lays in bed convalescing from his wound:

"...Deems lay sideways, his bandaged ear toward the ceiling, closed his eyes, and slept the sleep of a troubled boy who, over the course of an hour, had suddenly become what he'd always wanted to be: not a boy from one of New York City's worst housing projects, an unhappy boy who had no dream, no house, no direction, no safety, no aspiration, no house keys, no backyard, no Jesus, no marching band practice, not a mother who listened to him, no father who knew him, no cousin who showed him right from wrong. He was no longer a boy who could throw a baseball seventy-eight miles an hour at age thirteen because back then it was the one thing in his sorry life he could control. All that was past. He was a man with a plan now,  and he had to make a big play, no matter what. That was the game."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

A Day of Mob Rule in our Citadel of Democracry: Recall these words of President John Adams 200 Years ago

The following quote is from President John Adams penned in early 1801 as he returned to Massachusetts from the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.
      He had just participated in the first orderly transfer of power in a democracy in the civilized western world. His successor, Thomas Jefferson, was a political rival; however, their differences  in political beliefs did not prevent the two great leaders from becoming the best of friends exchanging many letters and even dying on the same day in 1826, July 4th. 

John Adams (1735-1826), Second President of the U.S.
Painting by Gilbert Stuart 

"We are a government of laws and not of men. We will betray this principle if we trade a government of laws for a government of men or, even worse, a single man or an impressionable and dangerous mob intent on violent sedition and insurrection against our beloved democratic republic." 

Quoted by Rep. Jamie Raskin during a speech delivered on the House floor on Wednesday January 6th: a day of violence, shame and infamy in the capitol building: 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Standing in Awe: The Power of Great Literature to Inform, Transform and Rectify (Human Behavior and Effect Social Changes)

I am still in a state of awe over a series events that occurred over a two day period.

Here's what happened.  

I. Wednesday's Literary Discussion 

As part of a  Literature at Lunch class that I lead with Rabbi Moshe/Mitchell Kurtz at Congregation Agudath Sholom, we just discussed what is perhaps the most anthologized native American short story, "The Man to Send Rainclouds." It is written by Leslie Marmon Silko, pictured above, who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of New Mexico. 

Artistically compressed tightly in its two and a half pages are many themes and symbols. In the interests of keeping my essay brief here are some are in a nutshell. 

First, the historical background of the canvas upon she paints her masterpiece namely white European man's burden to civilize the natives--seen as savages--which involved coerced conversion to Catholicism, forced agricultural labor on missions, torture and killing of resisters. 

A major character of the story is LAND-- which, in accordance with native American traditions, is held in stewardship for the entire community. Also, land is needed, of course, to provide man with provender for sustenance. And in order to insure a steady supply of crops, a steady supply of rain is essential. And,  humans, who have passed on, are an essential part of the ritual to guarantee rain. 

To illustrate, when grandfather Teophilo dies suddenly while tending his flock of sheep, his grandchildren quickly prepare the body for a simple interment, wrapping him in a red blanket, attaching a feather to his long strand of white hair, painting  his face with symbolic colors and sprinkling  him with corn and pollen. 

These rituals insure his soul a swift protected journey to reunite with the Great Spirit while his body is infused with the sanctity acting as an agent to guarantee continued and future fertility of the soil. 

His passage begins  with a proper burial of the body, enriching the earth with nutrients as the body decomposes; and then eventually the soul is a type of offering  to the Great Spirit given to help ensure abundant rainfall.

Ernest Hemingway 
from Wikipedia

The dialog in this masterpiece is sparse, threadbare, clipped and understated ala Hemingway. The very first dialog is when the two grandchildren find grandpa hunched over in the arroyo, recently deceased;
then they perform the rites described above and one of the boys declares "Send us rain clouds, grandfather."

And...….The story ends after the funeral with Leon surmising " the old man could send them big thunderclouds for sure."

II. Thursday's Announcement: RADICAL AMAZEMENT

Deb Haaland, currently congresswoman from 
the Laguna Puebla tribe in New Mexico
photo from the Navajo-Hopi Observer 

The very next day after our discussion, it was announced by the White House that President Biden's choice for Secretary of the Interior would be Deb Haaland, like Leslie Marmon Silko, a native American  citizen of the Laugna Pueblo Tribe of New Mexico and 35th generation, to boot. 

Laguna Pueblo, Native American reservation near
Albuquerque, New Mexico, home to Deb Haaland 
and Leslie Marmon Silko. Photo from

Why am I in radical amazement?

The shoe-in appointee for the position of Secretary of the Interior was thought to be Tom Udall, senator from New Mexico whose father Stewart Udall served as Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1969. 

What's more Tom, like his deceased dad, is a staunch supporter of wilderness conservation. 

So, the announcement that congresswoman Haaland, a member of the very same Laguna Pueblo tribe as that of our author Leslie Marmon Silko, is the first native American ever to be nominated to a cabinet post, came as a  pleasant surprise.

 I am tempted against my better judgment to attribute this totally unexpected event in some small part to my teaching this work of fiction which so urgently calls for our recognition of  and making rectification to an ethnic minority--once clearly a majority on the North American continent--a group that has suffered horrifically to the point of  near extinction over the past 500 years. 

Consider these numbers: Historians put the native American population in North America in the 1500's at about 3 to 7 million. By 1800, this number shrank to about 300,000 and by the late 19th century the figure stood at about 260,000. 

That is a 90% drop. 

The decimation of this indigenous race was a result of disease brought to the Americas by settlers from European countries, by appropriation of ancestral lands,  forced conversion and internment on Spanish missions often accompanied by torture and wanton slaughter and by wars fought against military foes with superior weapons. 

Today the Native American population stands at about 2.9 million with over 574 recognized tribes. Indian land areas in the U.S. are administered as federal land areas. There are 326 reservations; the Navajo nation is the largest one comprising over 17 million acres covering southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. 

It is my hope that Deb Haaland's nomination be quickly approved and that she be the "woman to bring rectification" to centuries of abuse.