The Moment Spring Arrived

A spring scene on the Hilltop

March finally departed like a lion just the way it came in. It roared for 31 days and we do not miss it. For me spring began in one single ethereal moment. I was in New York City participating in the Renaissance Society of America. On Saturday afternoon my wife and shook our weary heads at the rain, put up umbrellas and escaped into Central Park, leaving the bustle and jack hammers of Sixth Avenue behind. It wasn’t long before we met a familiar old friend in bronze, he of the great forehead whose 450th birthday is in this new month. We forged on the paths, dodging puddles and steadily increasing sheets of rain, when just north of the Bethesda fountain we heard the ethereal sound of ethereal singing coming through the mist from . . . somewhere. And at that moment it might as well have been heaven.  Like many before us we descended the stairs and stumbled upon the source of the improbable and serene voices that were echoing from the underground pavilion north of the fountain: The Boyd Family Singers.

Not from heaven, but as close as one could get at that moment in wet shoes in Central Park.

In Conversatio we have been reading Joseph Pieper’s Only the Lover Sings.  “Music,” he says, “opens a path into the realm of silence . . . it imitates the impulses of the soul.” It is one thing to read such words, and quite another to experience them in a surprising moment among familiar strangers in a cold rain on a day of reluctant spring when even Shakespeare in bronze seemed chilled.

Had you been there and heard them, had you seen the Boyd family in their jackets calmlyadn soulfully singing their praises to God in a near empty park, you would have understood how very right Pieper is: “Cest l’amour qui chante,” love alone knows how to sing.”

Forecast from the Back Porch

Snow from the Back Porch at Saint Anselm College
February in New Hampshire is not for the faint of heart, warm weather birds, or people without a good pair of boots. The polar vortex that has wreaked havoc upon our neighbors in southern climes has brought us here something a bit more routine: a good ol’ fashion winta’.

What the athletes in Sochi wouldn’t give for our winter woes. “Clear and still” as the old joke goes, “clear up to our arses and still snowing.” Eight to twelve inches once or twice a week with frigid temperatures and winds in between. Buried cars and canceled classes, frozen sidewalks and bootlaces, and enough layers of clothing to make human bare skin a forlorn summer memory.

Linguists debate about whether Eskimo tribes actually have a large number of words to describe snow, but around here the multiple descriptors are irrefutable. All in the form of adjectives and most of the plosive and voiced fricative variety.

Curse away! It will not make it melt. I choose instead, between one fresh shovel full after another, to love it for what it is: “lovely, dark and deep.”

We all have promises to keep . . . and miles to go before we sleep.

Live Free or Die? Professor Williams Recommends "12 Years A Slave"

Please welcome this guest post from our colleague in American Literature, Professor Keith Williams. Prof. Williams offers popular courses in African American Literature and the Harlem Renaissance that awaken students' imaginations to the powerful literary works that have emerged from America's long and painful history of racial injustice.

Professor Keith Williams of Saint Anselm College
It’s January, which means at Saint Anselm College we have spent the past two weeks commemorating and reflecting on the life and work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Among the many events this year was a panel organized by Dr. Jennifer Thorn, on the recent film, 12 Years a Slave. For this panel, Dr. Thorn brought together colleagues from the English department — Dr. Chani Marchiselli, Dr. Jonathan Lupo and myself – to discuss the film and/or book. For my part, I compared the 2013 film with a made-for-tv version from 1984, directed by Gordon Parks. So much has changed in thirty years, including the representation of violence on the screen. All in all, it was a lively discussion.

One audience member tried to figure out if he should see the film, given that he already understood the immorality of slavery. Was there anything to be gained other than the smug satisfaction of self-congratulation over one’s enlightenment? To me, the strength of the discussion among the panelists and the audience suggested that the value in seeing the film(s) and/or reading the book is that it takes a foundational part of the nation’s history, and forces us to think about its meaning and reality again.

In 1809, Revolutionary War hero, John Stark wrote “Live free or die – death is not the greatest of evils.” The implication is that slavery and its attendant absence of self-determination, was worse than death. Stark and the Founding Fathers — even those that did not own slaves themselves — knew what slavery looked like. The fact of slavery powerfully informed their worldview. "12 Years a Slave" reminds us again that underlying all the rhetoric was this terrible institution in which millions were held in bondage. The enslaved did not choose death, but instead chose to endure so that future generations could indeed live free.

So if you haven’t taken the time to read the book or see the 2013 film, "12 Years a Slave," make the effort. It’s an opportunity to reflect again on the power of words, the power of film, and the ongoing importance of history.