This week …

… I enjoyed Jeremy Irons’ reading of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, caught up on a little history of my old neighborhood, and raised a small flag in defense of humility.

Yesterday’s news story about the president’s comments regarding immigration reminded me that, about a hundred years ago, my own grandparents arrived in this country from Central Europe with little more than the clothes on their backs — none of them had received more than a grade-school education, if that; none were skilled; all of them decided to come to America in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. And they worked: as coal miners, charwomen, electricians, and textile workers, they made their own small contributions to the culture and economy, this despite the prejudices against Central Europeans, especially Jews, that weren’t uncommon in the first years of the twentieth century. (When the Ellis Island clerk had to enter into his dossier the language that my Ukrainian grandfather spoke, he wrote “Yiddish” — my grandfather never spoke a word of that language, but I think this says something about the assumptions of the time.) The United States was not then too proud to accept these non-English-speaking, unskilled, barely literate refugees from a war-torn Europe; it appears to be now; and that says something, too, about how far we’ve strayed as a nation from the ideals that we once held in common.

But most of the attention that Trump’s comments have drawn have rightfully been drawn to the racism he expressed. Every American has an obligation to stand up and publicly condemn his racist, xenophobic attitude (an attitude all too obvious in the years before he was elected; it’s nothing new), and I do so here. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” Martin Luther King said in 1963. Obviously that dream is still far from being realized. But if our approval of that sentiment is to be more than mere lip service, we as individuals and American citizens have to publicly call out Trump’s crude rhetoric so our friends, family, and colleagues can see it — and it was crude whether he said “shithole countries” or not (this morning he issued an entirely unconvincing denial) — as the bigotry that it so clearly is. If we don’t, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Anderson Cooper may have said it best yesterday at the beginning of his CNN program; you can hear him below. Until next week; see you at Blaue Gans (gotta pick up the girls in Tribeca today) this afternoon.

Books received: Northern Liberties

About the Lower East Side, where I live now, there seem to be few brief, straightforward narrative histories. Not so for the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, where I lived and spent quite a bit of time through the 1970s and 1980s and about which I wrote here. Just yesterday, Amazon dropped at my door Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward by Harry Kyriakodis, a nicely illustrated 200-page history of the neighborhood published by The History Press in 2012. A full report will follow.

Litany of humility

I was paging through Robert Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise this morning and came across the “Litany of Humility,” a prayer ordinarily (but erroneously) attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, the former Secretary of State of Pope Pius X. Like most prayers, it takes the form of a poetic, dramatic monologue when spoken aloud, even in private (the prayer is intended for private devotions) —¬† a monologue driven by the most significant of all dramatic and human conflicts, the conflict of the human heart with itself.

Though Merry del Val was a cardinal of the Catholic Church, the prayer is worth some contemplation whether one is a Christian or a believer or neither, and I find it particularly relevant to our own “twittering world,” as T.S. Eliot would have it. On the other hand, if one is a Christian or believer, the conflicts become even more complex and worth more contemplation.

You may disagree with me, or even find the poem the height of passive foolishness in this culture; if everyone took the prayer to heart, well, what would become of us? In which case I only have recourse to Yossarian’s response to Major Danby at the end of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:

Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.”

“Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?”

As to the prayer’s original author, Wikipedia gently notes: “The original author of the Litany of Humility seems to be lost to history, in the obscurity for which he prayed.” Below, the “Litany of Humility” as it appears in The Power of Silence:

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
Make my heart like yours.
From self-will, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire to be understood, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire to be visited, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being abandoned, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being refused, deliver me, O Lord.
That others may be loved more than I,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
At being unknown and poor,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
At being deprived of the natural perfections of body and mind,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When people do not think of me,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they assign to me the meanest tasks,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they do not even deign to make use of me,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they never ask my opinion,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they leave me at the lowest place,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they never compliment me,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they blame me in season and out of season,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jeremy Irons reads “Four Quartets”

Jeremy Irons.

UPDATE: Jeremy Irons will read Four Quartets at the 92nd Street Y in New York on April 12, 2018; tickets are available here. The reading will launch the CD release from Faber & Faber of Irons reading all of Eliot’s poetry; the CD will be released on April 7 and is available for pre-order from Amazon here.


In 2014, Jeremy Irons recorded T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets for the BBC, by far one of the best renditions of that great poem, perhaps the greatest religious poem of the 20th century and one that I’ve been returning to again and again. That recording can be heard below; it is introduced with comments from Michael Symmons Roberts, Lord David Alton and Gail McDonald. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Roundup

T.S. Eliot and Jeremy Irons.

This week, the week before Christmas 2017, I mused over some of T.S. Eliot’s holiday-season “Ariel poems” — “Journey of the Magi,” “A Song for Simeon,” “Animula,” and finally the unjustly neglected (and my personal favorite) “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” — and I hope that they gave you as much pleasure as they did myself.

To wrap things up, a little audio present for you. Last New Year’s Day — January 1, 2017 — the BBC ran a splendid series of programs which featured Jeremy Irons reading just about all of Eliot’s collected verse. You can find the entire series here, but below is a 38-minute excerpt from the whole, in which you can hear Irons reading all of the poems published here this week. As an introduction, host Martha Kearney interviews actress Fiona Shaw about Eliot’s poetry; Ms. Shaw after discussing her own performance of Eliot’s poems proceeds to compare Eliot favorably with Samuel Beckett, Leonard Cohen (well … okay), and Beyonc√© (about this I’m not so sure). But the interview is quite brief, and Irons’ glorious performances of “The Hollow Men” and the other poems follow.

Coincidentally, Irons plays Hans Gruber’s brother in one of the sequels to my favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard. Michael Hann wrote about this cheerful holiday entertainment in the Guardian yesterday.

I’ll be lifting a holiday glass with my lovely wife at Cafe Katja this afternoon. Merry Christmas to all.