St Augustine and CS Lewis on longing and desire

I have recently been reading Professor Alister McGrath’s magisterial textbook of theology, mostly by night on a palm-fringed terrace in Mauritius, where the many mosquitoes did their utmost to keep me from the knowledge of God. It’s fascinating to see philosophy approached from a different angle, to uncover a total system of understanding on the same scale as that of Plato, Aristotle, or Kant. These are the ideas that have defined our civilisation and that continue to shape and colour our lives, whether we appreciate it (in both senses of the term) or not.

Once theologians such as Karl Barth, Jean Calvin, St Aquinas (the Doctor Angelus), or Duns Scotus (the Doctor Subtilis) are placed in their historical and sociocultural context, they become anything but dry and irrelevant, and many of the questions that they raise remain of the greatest and most universal philosophical and psychological import. Indeed, not for nothing does the University of Oxford accord the highest rank to the Doctor of Divinity.

Something that stood out in my reading is the theological interpretation of a common human experience, namely, the curious sense of longing for something undefined. According to St Augustine, this feeling of dissatisfaction arises from man’s fallen condition. Although man has an innate potential to relate to God (substitute ‘the absolute’ or ‘the infinite’ if you are discomfited by the religious connotations of the term ‘God’), this potential can never be fully realised, and so he yearns for other things to substitute for it. Yet these other things do not satisfy, and he is left with an insatiable feeling of longing – longing for something that cannot be defined.

CS Lewis elaborates on Augustine’s maxim that desiderium sinus cordis (‘longing makes the heart deep’) by arguing that no earthly object or experience can satisfy man’s profound and intense feeling of longing. Lewis calls this feeling of longing ‘joy’, which he defines as ‘an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction’. (I kind of see it as our aesthetic reservoir, in the broadest sense.)

This paradox arises from the self-defeating nature of human desire, such that the fulfilling of a desire yet leaves it unsatisfied. Lewis illustrates this from the age-old quest for beauty,

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.

On this day I’ve been diagnosed with depression

On this day I’ve been diagnosed with depression.
It’s a biochemical illness of the brain,
Or so I’m told by the medical profession.

Research proves it’s a serotonin depletion,
And just as physical as chest pain or chilblain.
On this day I’ve been diagnosed with depression.

It has somehow become a common condition,
But popping a pill can make us normal again.
Or so I’m told by the medical profession.

Doctor, please, I think that I may have a question,
I’m afraid that you may find it rather profane.
‘I am a proficient, experienced clinician,
But there is only so much that I can explain.’

On this day I’ve been diagnosed with depression,
Or so I’m told by the medical profession.

- NB

The genius of WH Auden

My face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain.

Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do.

You owe it to us all to get on with what you’re good at.

Those who will not reason
Perish in the act:
Those who will not act
Perish for that reason.

All that we are not stares back at what we are.

Learn from your dreams what you lack.

Art is born of humiliation.

You will be a poet because you will always be humiliated.

Poetry is the clear expression of mixed feelings.

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.

Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud.

Now is the age of anxiety.

A tremendous number of people in America work very hard at something that bores them. Even a rich man thinks he has to go down to the office everyday. Not because he likes it but because he can’t think of anything else to do.

The image of myself which I try to create in my own mind in order that I may love myself is very different from the image which I try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me.

Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods.

A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

You know there are no secrets in America. It’s quite different in England, where people think of a secret as a shared relation between two people.

If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving be me.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
– In Memory of WB Yeats

A short glossary of rhetorical and poetic devices

Erato

Assonance – The repetition of the same vowel sound. ‘Hear the mellow wedding bells.’

Consonance – The repetition of the same consonant sound. ‘Rap rejects my tape deck, ejects projectile/Whether Jew or gentile I rank top percentile.’ (Fugees)

Alliteration – A type of consonance involving the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of each word or stressed syllable. ‘Under the beckoning gaze of my smiling host, I took off my sandals and stepped into the sunlit water, which, seen from the beach, had looked as turquoise as a gemstone, but, now, seen from within and above, looked clear and transparent and overlain with a golden reticulum of racing ribbons.’ (Plato: Letters to my Son)

Sibilance – A type of consonance involving the repetition of sibilant sounds such as /s/ and /sh/. An example of sibilance and of assonance around the ‘ur’ sound is, ‘And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.’ (Edgar Allen Poe)

Phonetic symbolism – Using words with the same sounds and associated meaning, e.g. gleam, glare, glitter.

Resonance – Richness or variety of sounds in poetic texture. ‘Created half to rise, and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d: The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!’ (Alexander Pope)

Cacophony – The opposite of euphony and similar to dissonance. ‘We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will.’ (Winston Churchill)

Anadiplosis – The repetition of the last word of one clause at the beginning of the next. ‘We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.’ (Romans 5:3)

Anaphora – The repetition of a group of words at the beginning of successive clauses or lines. ‘I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind…’ (Francis Thompson)

Epiphora or Epistrophe – The repetition of a word or group of words at the end of successive clauses or lines (the reverse of anaphora). ‘There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.’ (Lyndon B. Johnson) ‘Yes we can!’ (Barack Obama)

Cataphora – An expression that refers to or qualifies a later expression. ‘I should have known it. You did not keep your promise.’

Symploce – The combination of anaphora and epiphora. ‘When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it.’ (Bill Clinton)

Serpentine verse – A line which ends with the same words with which it began.

Epizeuxis – The repetition of the same words or words in immediate succession. ‘O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon…’ (John Milton)

Epanalepsis – The repetition of the same word or words within the same clause or line, but after some intervening material. ‘The king is dead, long live the king.’

Ploce – The repetition of the same word or words in close proximity within the same clause or line for emphasis. ‘Brother to brother, blood to blood, self against self.’ (Shakespeare)

Polyptoton – The repetition of the same word with a change in its grammatical form. ‘Diamond me no diamonds, prize me no prizes.’ ‘Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.’

Polysyndeton – The repetition of a number of conjunctions in close succession. ‘And Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had.’

Asyndeton – The omission of conjunctions. ‘I have done. You have heard me. The facts are before you. I ask for your judgement.’ (Aristotle)

Hypotaxis – The use of long constructions with often multiple subordinate clauses. Produces an air of calm civilisation.

Pun or paronomasia – The use of words with similar sounds or the same word in different senses.

Antanaclasis – A type of pun involving the repetition of the same word in the same clause or line, but with a different sense. ‘She is nice from far, but far from nice.’

Equivoke – The intentional, ambiguous use of a word or phrase such that it has more than one meaning.

Homonyms – Words with the same spelling (homographs) and pronunciation (homophones) but with different meanings. If they are pronounced differently, they are heteronyms. If they are spelt differently, they are heterographs. Polysemes are words with the same spelling and distinct but related meanings e.g. mouth of a cave and mouth of a river.

Paronym – A word with the same root as another.

Aposiopesis – The omission of the ending of a sentence. ‘Get out, or else –‘

Ellipsis – The omission of one or more terms that complete a grammatical sentence. ‘The people (whom) I spoke to…’

Ellision – The omission of a letter or syllable, marked with an apostrophe.

Syncope – A type of elision in which a word is contracted by removing one or more letters or syllables from the middle, e.g. ne’er.

Synaloepha – A type of elision in which a vowel at the end of a word is merged with the one at the beginning of the next word, e.g. th’ embattled plain.

Grave – A mark indicating that the ‘e’ in ‘–ed’ is to be pronounced for the sake of metre.

Solecism – An apparently unintentional impropriety of speech or violation of the established rules of syntax.

Malaproprism – A type of solecism involving the substitution of one word for another than sounds similar e.g. ‘He is a vast suppository of information.’

Catachresis – The intentional misuse of a word, especially but not exclusively in the context of a mixed metaphor. ‘To take arms against a sea of troubles…’ ‘Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon’s purse.’

Antitimeria – The intentional misuse of a word as if it were a member of a different word class, typically a noun for a verb. ‘I’ll unhair thy head.’

Prolepsis – The application of an adjective to a noun in anticipation of the verb having acted on that noun. ‘She is about to bake the hot bread.’

Anacoluthon – A mid-sentence change in the grammatical structure.

Enallage – The intentional and effective use of incorrect grammar. ‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine.’ ‘Love me tender, love me true.’

Pathetic fallacy – The ascription of human traits to inanimate nature. Similar to personification, which is however more direct and explicit.

Synaesthesia – The attribution to a thing of a quality which it cannot have, e.g. a loud poem, a purple grin. ‘She smelled the way the Taj Mahal smells by moonlight.’

Tautology – The sometimes unnecessary and excessive repetition of the same idea in a line. ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all.’

Pleonasm – A type of tautology involving the use of more words than is necessary for clear expression, which may or may not add to richness of expression, e.g. ‘At this moment in time…’, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (pleonasm + parallelism).

Hyperbaton – The separation of words that normally belong together.

Anastrophe – A type of hyperbaton involving the inversion of the ordinary word order. ‘Above the seas to stand…’

Hypallage – A type of hyperbaton involving the reversal of the syntactic relation of two words. ‘Angry crowns of kings…’

Hysteron proteron – A type of hyperbaton involving the inversion of the chronology of events. ‘Let us die, and charge into the thick of the fight.’

Diacope – The repetition of a word with one or two intervening words. ‘Bond, James Bond.’ ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou my Romeo?’ ‘To be or not to be?’ ‘Love me, love me, say that you love me.’

Tmesis – The separation of a compound word and the insertion of additional words inbetween e.g. any-old-how.

Neologism – A new word.

Nonce word – A type of neologism coined or used for a special circumstance or occasion only, e.g. supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Portemanteau word – A type of neologism involving the blending of two words into a single one, e.g. ‘Tanzania’ for ‘Tanganyika’ and ‘Zanzibar’.

Kenning – A compound replacement for a single word e.g. ‘morning star’ for Venus.

Hendiadys – The combination of two words to express a single complex idea, to produce an effect, or to draw attention. ‘Dieu et mon droit.’ ‘Sound and fury’. ‘With friendship and peace.’ ‘You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.’

Hendiatris – The combination of three words to express a single complex idea. ‘Wine, women, and song.’

Tricolon – Three parallel words, phrases, or clauses. ‘Blood, sweat, and tears.’ ‘Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.’ A type of isocolon, which is a sentence is composed by two or more parts (cola) perfectly equivalent in structure, length and rhythm. ‘The future’s bright – the future’s Orange.’

Ricochet words – Hyphenated, quasi reduplicated words, e.g. nitter-natter, mumbo-jumbo.

Onomatopoeia – A word that imitates or suggests the sound that it describes.

Oxymoron – The juxtaposition of words which at first sight seem to be contradictory or incongruous. ‘Make haste slowly.’

Paradox – Similar to an oxymoron but less compact. ‘What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.’

Antiphrasis – The use of a word with its opposite meaning, e.g. a giant of five foot three inches.

Antithesis – The use of two opposites in a sentence for contrasting effect. Several antitheses in succession is called a progressio: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…

Merism – naming the parts to signify the whole. ‘For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.’

Periodic sentence – a sentence that is not grammatically or semantically complete before the final clause or phrase. ‘Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.’

Meiosis – An understatement.

Litotes – A type of meiosis in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary e.g. I am not dissatisfied.

Metonymy – The naming of a thing or concept by a thing that is closely associated with it e.g. Downing Street, White Hall, Westminster, the pen and the sword as in ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

Antonomasia – A type of metonymy involving the use of a word or phrase or epithet in place of a proper name, e.g. ‘The First Teacher’ for Aristotle.

Synedoche – The naming of a thing or concept by the name of one if its parts (very similar to metonymy), e.g. a pair of hands.

Parallelism – Similarity of syntactical structure in a pair or series of related words, clauses, or lines.

Chiasmus – The relating of two or more successive clauses through a structural reversal. ‘By day the frolic, and the dance by night.’ ‘But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.’ ‘Do not give what is holy unto dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they (the pigs) trample them under their feet, and (the dogs) turn and tear you to pieces.’

Zeugma – The joining of two or more parts of a sentence with a single verb (or sometimes a noun), making use of both ellipsis and parallelism. Depending on the position of the verb (at the beginning, in the middle of, or at the end), a zeugma is either a prozeugma, mesozeugma, or hypozeugma. An example of a mesozeugma is, ‘What a shame is this, that neither hope of reward, nor feare of reproach could any thing move him, neither the persuasion of his friends, nor the love of his country.’

Syllepsis – A type of zeugma in which a single word agrees grammatically with two or more other words, but semantically with one only. ‘She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes, and his hopes.’

Hypozeuxis – The reverse of a zeugma, where each subject has its own verb. ‘We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!’

Iamb – A metrical foot (the most common) of two syllables with an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. Da DUM. ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’

Trochee – A disyllabic metrical foot with an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable (the reverse of the iamb). DUM da. ‘Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.’ A trochaic line is often catalectic so as to enable a masculine ending.

Catalexis – The omission of one or two of the ending unaccented syllables in the final foot of a line.

Masculine ending – A line ending with an accented syllable.

Feminine ending – A line ending with an unaccented syllable.

Hypermetric – A line with a redundant (extra) syllable.

Hypercatalectic – A type of hypermetric line with the redundant syllable at the end.

Spondee – A disyllabic metrical foot with two accented syllables. Spondees are often used to emphasise an iambic line. DUM DUM.

Pyrrhic/dibrach – A disyllabic metrical foot with two unaccented syllables which sometimes precede or follow a spondee (the reverse of the spondee). Da da.

Anapest – A trisyllabic metrical foot with two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable. Da da DUM. I am mon|arch of all| I survey.

Dactyl – A trisyllabic metrical foot with of three syllables with one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables. DUM da da.

Molossus – A trisyllabic metrical foot with three accented syllables. DUM DUM DUM.

Tribrach – A trisyllabic metrical foot with three unaccented syllables. Da da da.

Blank verse – Metered but non-riming verse.

Perfect rime (true rime) – (1) The final vowel and consonant sounds are the same, (2) the sounds that precedes the vowel sounds are different, and (3) the accents on the rhyming syllables are the same.

Near or half rime – There is merely consonance on the final consonants involved.

Masculine rime – A rime that matches only one syllable.

Feminine rime – A rime that matches two or more syllables e.g. ‘pleasure’ and ‘treasure’.

Broken or split rime – A rime produced by dividing a word at the line break, leading to enjambement (the breaking of a syntactic unit across more than one line).

Internal rime – A rime that is within the line.

Close rime – A rime of two contiguous or nearby words.

Caesura – A rhythmic break or pause in a line. ‘To err is human; || to forgive, divine.’

Hemistich – The approximate half of a line used to convey a disturbance of thought or action or a quarrelsome disagreement (hemistichomythia).

Envelope – A line which both opens and closes the material.

In media res – The material begins with a chronologically distant event which is however a crucial point in the narrative.

Climax – The arrangement of words, clauses, or phrases in order of ascending power. ‘One equal temper of heroic hearts,/ Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’

Envoi – A short final stanza that is a concise summary of the material.

The Day is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an Eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me,
That my soul cannot resist;

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavour;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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