A Contrast

It’s the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet, tender joy. The mild serenity of age takes the place of the riotous blood of youth. I bless the rising sun each day, and, as before, my heart sings to meet it, but now I love even more its setting, its long slanting rays and the soft, tender, gentle memories that come with them, the dear images from the whole of my long, happy life-and over all the Divine Truth, softening, reconciling, forgiving! My life is ending, I know that well, but every day that is left me I feel how earthly life is in touch with a new infinite, unknown, but approaching life, the nearness of which sets my soul quivering with rapture, my mind glowing and my heart weeping with joy.

~ Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Book IV “The Russian Monk,” Chapter 1 “Father Zossima and His Visitors”

This paragraph is reminiscent of what the poet William Wordsworth would have called “sensations sweet, felt in the blood”. The blend of memory, grace, and glory rolled into the metaphor of life as a rising and setting sun captures both the poignancy and the “deep power of joy” Wordsworth wrote of in Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey… 

Seeing Into the Life of Things

Like Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, Wordsworth wrote of the glory of nature, its power to subdue the heart, to summon memory- the sublime and blessed memories that lead us with their aching joys and dizzy raptures.

Wordsworth and Dostoevsky also give hope of an old age to come, accompanied by sober pleasures, elevated thoughts- an autumn characterized by a mature love of quietness and beauty. No longer swimming in the throes of thoughtless youth, we will celebrate “our cheerful faith: that life is full of blessings.” Serenely, we accept our setting sun, seeing the joy and peace of our souls sustaining our beloved through their portion of “solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief.”

But another influence clamors for attention. There are more ways to look at time, aging, and death. It rages and warns in a whisper. Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A sobering contrast only the hubris of youth could ignore.

Captivated By Fyodor Dostoyevsky

220px-Vasily_Perov_-_Портрет_Ф.М.Достоевского_-_Google_Art_ProjectI finished Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov a few weeks ago. For me, the book came in the wake of Crime and Punishment, so I feel like I’ve had a solid dose of Russian prose. There is so much to say about the quality of Dostoyevsky’s writing, but the effects were so profoundly unsettling (yet joyous and tearful) that it will take weeks to unravel all the paths Dostoyevsky led me as an amateur traveler of literature.

Fresh in my memory are the Dickens-ish eccentric characters (though these are described with psychological depth); the sacred, humble, and happy faith of Father Zossima; and the tremulous rage that accompanies justice unrequited. Dostoyevsky masterfully taxes his readers with the portentous tensions of guilt and forgiveness, shame and confidence, suffering and peace, doubt and faith, and lust and purity. Nowhere have I have read such themes so wonderfully woven into narrative in a way that left me starving for resolution. I couldn’t help leaving each chapter with the feeling that Dostoyevsky was saying much more in every conversation, with each action. Dostoyevsky thought very deeply about these problems and it shows in his writing.

Reading The Brothers Karamazov re-awoke in me the craving for well written narrative. I want narrative that moves me, informs me, and forever changes the way I see the world. If one of you reads one of these novels next year, please let me know what you think! Again, after I have time to sort through my experience with these books, I hope to spend some time reflecting, in a bloggish sort of way, on the valuable role of literature in the life of a Christian.