It’s hard to imagine deaf Beethoven, producing symphonic masterpieces composed in the chambers of his mind, but equally staggering is John Milton (born this day in 1608), completely blind by his fifties, yet dictating his epic poem Paradise Lost with its ten thousand verses. The work is so ubiquitous to the canon of literature its lines are often confused with scripture. His genius, however did not preclude struggle, and much of his angst was directed at God.
Willa Cather (born this day, December 7th in 1873) was an uncharacteristically quiet voice of the roaring twenties. Unlike many of her contemporaries who delighted in inventions of wordplay, her prose was unadorned and straightforward. The power of her stories was found in the lives of her characters who were unvarnished and transparent in their exposure to the reader. A pristine example of her clean, powerful voice can be heard in her novel Death Comes for the Archbishop.
The term philology is derived from the Greek terms “philos”, meaning“brotherly love” and “logos” meaning “word” and describes a love of learning, of literature as well as of argument and reasoning. By the time it morphed through Latin and Old English, it came to mean generally the“love of literature”. That’s a disservice because it is much more. It is the study and love of words and most specifically, how they came to meaning.
Words are tricky, as everyone knows.
It was my great blessing to have had excellent English teachers from seventh grade through college. They each had a gift of teaching, but they each also had a passion for what they were teaching. They took me behind the story so that I could see it was a story, yes, but it was also a lesson about life, an inspiration, a pathway of imagination, a structure through which poured ideas, beliefs, assertions, and principles.
And this was fiction I’m talking about.
For a book of poetry that focuses on the dirt storm darkened days of the American Dust Bowl, poet Benjamin Myers’ latest collection, strangely enough, glitters with hope. Black Sunday is as ambitious as it is poetic.
In Black Sunday, the father of three and Crouch-Mathis Professor of Literature at Oklahoma Baptist University deftly embodies the voices of Okies whipsawed by the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. In doing so, Myers tells an otherwise sweeping, and complex history in plainspoken, and most importantly, believable language.
Myers, who also served as the 2015-2016 Poet Laureate for the state of Oklahoma, spoke with Literary Life about the book’s DNA.
Hello, Literary Life readers! This January, I invite you to join the conversation as we discuss my book, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis. In this book, I seek to revive a more traditional understanding of virtue and vice and of human purpose and dignity by analyzing J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings alongside his friend C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
In each chapter I take up a single theme (the nature of pilgrimage, facing death, kingship and hierarchy, the virtue of hope, the love that forgives, forbidden fruit) that has been overlooked or dismissed by our age, and then illustrate and embody that theme by making parallel references to Tolkien’s epic fantasy and Lewis’s timeless children novels.
Happy reading and blessings for the journey!