The british poet John Donne (1572-1631) was one the most well known poets of the Elizabetan age. He was also a part of the the Metaphysical school of English poets. This poem takes place in the married bed. Husband and wife are awake after a night of sleep and love. Donnes message is a bit deeper than just the physical love between the married couple.
Look what is happening in the second Stanza. It starts with the line “And now good-morrow to our waking souls”…John Donne simply states that love is more than our physical bodies. We are souls as well. Pay some attention to the religious references: The story of the Seven Sleepers is present. Which function does it play here?
Themes: Love, the beloved, waking up in the morning
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
IN this review I recommend The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible which is a result of a lot of Modern research on the ancient texts found at Qumran, Egypt. The scrolls were found in caves tucked away for centuries by pious people who lived around 200-100 AD who obviuosly cared for their preservation. Today these scrolls or pieces of fragments consists of some 981 different manuscripts. All of them were discovered by local herdsmen in caves near Qumran between 1946-1947 and in 2017 in 12 caves from a Hellenistic-Jewish Settlement at Khirbet Qumran in eastern Judean Desert (West bank) was unearthed. The caves are loctaed some two kilometres from The Dead Sea and this explains their given name today. The Qumran texts dates back to the Second Century BC and the first century AD. Bronze coins found at the place also helps us date this period. The texts has been analyzed with radiocarbon and paleographic dating.
And the contents of these scrolls? The texts tells us a lot about historical events going around in the area at that time, such as Culture and Religion of course. The Dead Sea scrolls include the second oldest known surviving manuscripts included in the Hebew Bible Canon. Considering the time and context the texts were produced they tells us a lot about second Temple Judaism. Most of the scrolls are in Hebrew with some Aramaic and a very small number in Greek, And what about the material? Most texts are derived from parchments, some are from papyrus and some texts exists on copper. Traditionally the texts thought to have been written down by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes but some scholars now think they have been written by priests from Jerusalem, the Zadokites or other unknown Jewish groups. 40% are copies of texts we can find in the Hebrew Scriptures today. Some 30% are tetxs from the Second Temple era with texts not making it into the traditional Canon. Some wellknown non-canocial works are: Enoch, Book of the Jubilees, Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 150-155). The rest 30% are the so called sectarian manuscripts compiled by groups of people we still don’t know that much about.
The Introduction to this work is valuable and presents the basics to anyone familiar or not with Scripture and dating of Scripture. It’s good to know that the term ”Bible” today means different to different people and cultures. The term ”canon” is also briefly explained. The Jewish Bible (the correct term or Acronym is TaNaKh) contains 24 books divided into three sections: Torah (5 Books), Neviim (Prophets) and Kethuviim (Writings). The Protestant Old Testament follows a similiar pattern but in different order: 39 books alltogheter, the 5 Books of Moses, Historical Books, Poetical Books and the Prophets. The order of the Catholic Church follows a similar pattern like the Protestant Churches but includes several deutero-canonical books which are not recognized as Canon by either Jews or protestants. These books are also known as Apocrypha.
The book goes on to describe the Essenses as the main group living at Qumran around 150 BCE to 68 CE. They are considered to be a very strict group of Essenses. Together with the pharisees and Sadducees the Essenses became the dominante streams within Hellenistic Judaism some 2000 years ago. The authors continue their Introduction with a brief sketch of the most important Bible mansuscripts we have today. It’s important to know a little about them because it shows how the Bible developed into a book. These three are known as [1.] The Masoretic Text (MT); [2.] Septuaginta (LXX); [3.] Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). I recommend this book to people already familiar with Bible Criticism and people just curious. The Introduction is excellent and may prompt you to learn more!
IN THIS post I will write about my visit to one of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe and Austria. My journey was back in 2009 but I still remember my visit very well as I spent about two hours walking the older Jewish part of the cemetery. The Vienna Central cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof) is also a cultural landmark receiving many tourists. It’s the final resting place of famous people like Beethoven and Mozart. As I arrived with my Nikon it was a very hot day in July it was all very quiet and I honestly can’t remember I saw that many people around. The photo below is what you can expect the old Jewish section to look like a warm beautiful summer’s day. Many stones are overgrown by vegetation reminding us this place soon 100 years ago was active and full of family members attending beloved ones final resting places. But as National Socialism arose in Germany in 1930s and Austria was ‘captured’ in 1937 all Jews were deported to Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. You can see this for yourselves on several stones that something happened because there are no further burials or deaths noticed on the stones between 1939-1945 since their family members died in the Concentration Camps. In that point of view the Cemetery is a horrible reminder on what happened to Austrian Jews during WW2.
Several non-Catholic denominations share the Zentralfriedhof and there’s an Evangelischer Friedhof. By far the largest non-Catholic sections, however, are the two old and new Jewish cemeteries.
A Rabbi’s gravesite
ONE of most interesting discoveries was a tomb of a rabbi and as I managed to sneak myself in with my camera I noticed people had scribbled several messages to him at the walls and the ceiling. I also noticed many of the messages dated to the late 1930’s and as early as 2004. All the messages are written in German and likely scribbled down by one-time vistors seeking the blessing of the deceased rabbi. Most of the content are somewhat desperate begging the rabbi to bless their souls and asking for help or guidance.
All photos in this post was taken by me. I saw several interesting graves with family names connected to many wellknown historical persons in Vienna history; such as Viktor Frankl and Arthur Schnitzler.
Gravesite of author Arthur Schnitzler
Arthur Schnitzler (15 May 1862 – 21 October 1931) was an Austrian author and dramatist. I was really happy upon discovering his grave since I love his novel Rhapsody – also published as Dream Story (Traumnovelle – 1925/26), later adapted as the film EyesWide Shut by American director Stanley Kubrick.
Notice all the small stones on Schnitzler’s grave. All of them marks an unique visit as it’s a Jewish custom to place a stone on a grave. There are many explanations why we place a stone rather than flowers which is connected to pagan worship in some Rabbinic sources. In the Torah patriarch Abraham builds an altar to God by help of stones. The Temple in Jerusalem was built by stones and The Wailing Wall surrounding the Second Temple. While flowers wither and die a stone can represent a more lasting memory. In European Jewry with a rich superstitious tradition the grave is the deceased’s new home and not make the soul go wander among the living a stone is said to keep it were it belongs until Judgement Day. You are welcome to comment on my post if you wish to share your experience on this famous cemetery.
Context: A poem written by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) from Amherst, Mass. This poem is about the experience related to bodily pain and it’s presented to the reader in various conflicting images and words. The poem was found after Emily’s death. The poem is very typical of what Emily usually writes about: sensitivity to her external surroundings and personal incidents in life; and personal experiences about love, pain, death. Emily had many health problems. In 1884 she had seen “a great darkness coming” and fainted while baking in the kitchen. She remained unconscious late into the night and weeks of ill health followed. On November 30, 1885, her feebleness and other symptoms were so worrying that her brother Austin canceled a trip to Boston. It’s hard to say what kind of illnesses she had and they may have contributed to her secluded lifestyle. On the death of her father in 1874 she entered into complete seclusion.
Themes: bleak reality, mind/body, shock, pain. Pay attention to how the rhytm changes to describe the shock and how the following imagery presents the entire process of sensation until immobility occur.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
A FEW YEARS ago a biography over a Victorian Archbishop’s wife saw daylight. It got some attention in British press. Mary Benson (1841-1918) was an ordinary vicar’s wife whose husband one day became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward W. Benson (1829-1896) reached the highest office within the Church of England and of the world-wide Anglican communion. Author Rodney Bolt has used diaries, and novels written by the Benson’s to produce this biography. The time covers both Victorian and Edwardian England.
MUCH FUSS was reported in media about Mary Benson’s believed lesbian lifestyle after the death of her husband. She set up household with the previous Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife; Lucy Tait who was allowed to sleep in the same bed as Mary and on the late Edward Benson’s side. There’s not much which can confirm these circumstances today except from letters; diaries and our own conclusions.
Mary Benson proved to be a very independent woman. The Victorian values of her time didn’t stop her to do what she wanted to. She was described by William Gladstone the British Prime Minister, as the ‘cleverest woman in Europe’. Despite all the Victorian values concerning women and the role of a woman in Mary Benson’s position she managed to keep up with a double-lifestyle as the wife of the Archbishop and a more private self. One of her children remember she was often away, seldom played with them or talked to them. As her diaries proves; this wasn’t an easy way of life. She had a lot of relations with women. She tried to reconcile these relations and feelings with faith and more devoution to her husband. Often pointing them out in the diaries she prayed a lot to be free from her “carnal affections”. At the death of her husband when she was 55 she could finally allow herself more freedom and set up household with long-time friend Lucy Tait.
A Victorian Marriage
IT WAS CREEPY to learn that Edward W. Benson befriended Mary as an eleven-year-old child and thought of her as a future bride to marry. Perhaps this wasn’t an unusual situation among the Victorians that men from the middle classes could search for future brides in a similar way. Mary Sidgwick was also his 2nd cousin and the families knew each other well. He writes about the “friendship” in his diary:
“As I have always been very fond of [Minnie] and she of me with the love of a little sister, and as I have heard of her fondness for me commented on by many persons, and have been told that I was the only person at whose departure she ever cried, as a child, and how diligent she has always been in reading books that I have mentioned to her, and in learning pieces of poetry which I have admired, it is not strange that I, who from the circumstances of my family am not likely to marry for many years to come, and who find in myself a growing distaste for forming friendships (fit to be so called) among new acquaintances and who am fond indeed (if not too fond) of little endearments, and who also know my weakness for falling suddenly in love, in the common sense of the word, and have already gone too far more than once in these things and have therefore reason to fear that I might on some sudden occasion be led [the following in cipher: into a step I might all my life repent] — it is not strange that I should have thought first of the possibility that some day dear little Minnie might become my wife.” (Bolt 2011, p.24)
WE DO HAVE the adult Mary Benson’s thoughts on these circumstances:
“I realise that he chose me deliberately, as a child who was very fond of him and whom he might educate — he even wanted to preserve himself from errant fallings-in-love... God, though gavest me a nature which desired to please — and on its natural gaiety and natural-lovingness had been planted by my Mother a strong sense of duty. . . .” (Bolt 2011, p. 25)
SADLY as noted from her diary entrance we can relate exactly to how she was brought up in her social environment – to “please” and be aware of ones “duty”. As commented on by the author she was also below the age of consent when Edward W. Benson wrote his diary entrance. The consent age for girls in the 1850s was twelve. 25 years later the age was raised to thirteen. In 1885 it was raised to sixteen years thanks to the Criminal Law Amendment Act (Bolt 2011, p. 319). BUT AS this biography will reveal things went pretty well for the young lady. She managed to develop into an independent individual which was quite unusual considering her position as a vicar’s wife.
I THOUGHT the biography was quite interesting; and that its author did manage to carry out a well-researched project. WE shall be lucky considering the fact that the Victorians were excellent diary keepers and letter-writers. Communication through letters was the past times social media. Mail was delivered several times a day and on Saturdays too. It was the glory days of all postal offices. With such much material at hand I was a little disappointed the author fictionalized some parts. This is noted in the introduction and it’s no longer unusual writers of biographies today use this method.
The Children of the Bensons
Despite modern assumptions on lesbian sex at Lambeth Palace Mary Benson quickly gave birth to six children. Many of them would become great names themselves and seemed just as eccentric as their mother. Neither was the marrying type. Her daughter Maggie, Margaret Benson (1865-1916) became an Egyptologist who were among the first women in England to study at Oxford. She also took part in Archeological excavations i Egypt. Their son Arthur Benson wrote the lines for Land of Hope and Glory while Fred Benson wrote Adventure books. Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) shocked everyone and left his priesthood within the Anglican Church only to convert to Roman Catholicism. He was also a writer.
AFTER HIS CONVERSION to Catholicism Robert Hugh Benson received a lot of hate-mail! Men, women and even little school girls wrote nasty letters to the most unspeakable human being in the protestant kingdom! The defection didn’t go unnoticed in the press either. Finally, he moved. He had a long career in the Roman Catholic Church and in Rome he became a chamberlain to the Pope, 1911 and was entitled monsignor. Robert Hugh Benson was also a writer of fiction and wrote a very popular novel The Lord of the World (1907).
It’s considered one of the first modern dystopian novels. It has been called ‘prophetic’ by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Themes? The Lord of the World is about the Anti-Christ and his reign on earth. And the story goes as follows – Since the Labour Party took control of the British Government in 1917, the British Empire has been a single party state. The British royal Family been deposed, the House of Lords has been abolished, Oxford and Cambridge have been closed down, and all their professors sent into exile in Ireland. Marxism, Atheism and Secular Humanism which one of the novel’s protagonists describes as the tools of Freemasonry dominate culture and politics. The world now has only three main religious forces: Catholicism, Secular Humanism, and “the Eastern religions”. His horror and ghost fiction are collected in The Light Invisible (1903) and A Mirror of Shallott (1907). Many of the Benson’s children had mental problems all their lives. We don’t know about any diagnosis, but bipolar disorder may be a rational explanation today. Maggie Benson was deeply affected and died only 50 after a mental breakdown.
The Benson Brothers reflect upon their parents marriage
Arthur Benson (1862-1925):
Arthur: [….] It was a case of real natural incompatibility. Mama was an instinctive pagan, hence her charm. Papa was an instinctive puritan with a rebellious love of art. Papa on the whole hated and distrusted the people he didn’t wholly approve of. Mama saw their faults and loved them. How very few friends Papa ever had. […] He disliked feeling people’s superiority. His mind was better and stronger than his heart and his heart didn’t keep his mind in check. It was a fine character, not a beautiful one. He certainly had a tendency to bully people as he believed from good motives. Mama never wanted to direct or interfere with people and I think was the most generous and disinterested character I have ever known. But her diary is very painful to me because it shows how little in common they had and how cruel he was. [Bolt 2011, p. 217]
Fred Benson (1867-1940):
Fred: Papa was a very difficult person to deal with, because he was terrifying, and remembered things, not very accurately, because he remembered the points which were in his favour and forgot the points which were not. Mama forgot everything, or is she remembered, forgot the sense of resentment. Then he wanted, as you say, obedience and enthusiasm. Mama never claimed either exactly, but got both. Then Papa cared intensely about details, and details never interested Mama; and one must remember, as you say, the other side — and Papa’s affection, when it rose to the surface, was very revealing indeed. [From correspondence between the two brothers in 1925. [Bolt 2011, p.p 217-218]
Bolt, Rodney. As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson. London: Atlantic Books, 2011.
Context : The Flea is one of John Donne’s (1572-1631) most famous poems. Johnny Donnie is perhaps one of the brighest poets ever from the gloriana time as Elizabetan culture produced names like Shakespeare and culture flourished greatly. However, Donne’s family were Catholics and had suffered greatly because of the open prosecution and discrimination against catholics in society. So John converted to Protestantism and became an Anglican priest. He had a happy marriage with Anne More until she died from him in childbirth. Many of the love poems can be traced back to her as an inspiration and muse to the poet. The ryhme scheme in The Flea goes AABBCCDDD, with couplets mostly.
Themes : Love, seduction, Christianity, marriage. Seduction of a chaste lady was a common motif in Elizabetan poetry. Much is going on in this poem and as young man John didn’t deny himself the pleasures of the world. He spent most of his father’s money on courting beautiful ladies, books and travels. As Donne became older much of the poetry changed into ascetic and religious themes.
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.
O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
‘Tis true ; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.
ARE YOU INTERESTED in learning more about Jewish mysticism? In that case I got some academic books on the subject I wish to recommend. I wrote about Daniel C. Matt’s translation and commentary on The Zohar; the most famous book (12 volumes…) within Jewish mysticism; in a previous post. In this post I want to introduce you to Prof. Gerschom Scholem’s books. Mr. Scholem was the first pioneer within in the field work concerning literature related to mysticism in Judaism. He liked to describe himself as a historian of religious ideas. Scholem was also a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem until his death in the early 1980s.
On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead : Basic Concepts of the Kabbalah (1991) is one of the titles I recommend. THIS BOOK presents the core teachings within the kabbalistic tradition. I will touch briefly on reincarnation within the Kabbalah. The chapters are as follows:
Sch’urKomah : The Mystical Shape of the Godhead
SitraAchra: Good and Evil
Tsaddik : The righteous
Schekhinah : The feminine structures in the divine
Gilgul : The transmigration of souls
Tselem : The Concept of The Astral Body
Modern Orthodox usually rejects the theory of gilgul (reincarnation), or transmigration (metempsychosis, is the term used by Scholem) of the soul. The concept varies a bit from the hindu theology about reincarnation, but there are similarities. There’s a strong connection between the idea of transmigration connected to punishment or reward. The soul, or various parts of the human soul transmigrates according to the Kabbalah in order to fulfill all the mitzvot (“commandments”) of the Torah.
While Ultra-orthodox, haredi Jews accept gilgul as “truth” Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism usually let the individual decide on these matters for themselves; although I must say there are little focus on these matters in theological point of view. When Conservative and Reform Judaism developed into separate movements they usually looked down on teachings associated with Kabbalah because illiterate and uneducated Jews accepted them. So, how can we trace this unusual idea within Jewish mysticism? Scholem gives several explanations on why and how it got incorporated into kabbalistic teachings. Let’s mention some of it. The medieval text Sefer ha-Bahir is the oldest book in existence dealing with the concept of gilgul within the Kabbalah. It was redacted in South of France around 1180. This geographical area was inhabited by the Catharism movement which later was becoming wiped out by the Church. They also believed in reincarnation. Not surprisingly the majority of Jewish scholars immediately rejected the doctrine. As did the majority of scholars within Christianity and Islam around the same time. They had to deal with similar religious sects holding different beliefs. Let’s see how it may have influenced Jewish mysticism. In the sixth century the Church was very much afflicted by the teachings of Origen. Ōrigénēs Adamántios; 184/185 – 253/254 was a scholar and an ascetic who believed in reincarnation. He was one of the church fathers but never reached canonization because of several heretical beliefs. His thoughts on reincarnation likely came from Gnostic Christian sects. The Gnostics became heavily persecuted and finally crushed. Their beliefs likely sprung from several Oriental traditions such as the Orphic and Platonic thoughts on the transmigration of souls. A similar process arose within Shiite Islam were the Imams supposedly reincarnated and the belief spread into Ishmaelite Gnostics and Sufis sects; while orthodox Sunnis rejected it completely. There are also evidence some Jews believed in reincarnation from non-jewish sources. In a work on Muslim sects and schism Ibn Mansour al-Bahgdadi (died 1037) mention some Jews held this belief based on the Book of Daniel, third Chapter. In the third chapter king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision indicates he was transformed in seven different kinds of beasts, birds as to punish his wickedness. God later restored Nebuchadnezzar and sent him again to the world as a true believer in Monotheism.