Thursday, December 18, 2014

Four Advent Candles...Plus Two More


If a Roman Catholic walked into our dining room at dinnertime during the last week before Christmas, he might be a bit perplexed. Yes, there would be the familiar Advent wreath with its four candles...but there'd also be two additional candles lit, making a mysterious total of six. What's with the extra candles?! he might wonder.

My father was a practicing Roman Catholic for the first 40 years of his life. Then, when I was about 4, he discovered the Byzantine Catholic Church. Feeling God's call, our whole family switched to the Eastern rite. But with so many beloved Advent practices left over from our Western heritage, our preparation for Christmas became a unique amalgamation of traditions.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the Eastern Church's Philip's Fast starts two weeks before the West's Advent. Thus our family keeps the Advent wreath, but adds two candles for the two extra weeks. At meals we sing Byzantine hymns during the beginning of the fast, but during the final week carol "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". We set up our Western-style nativity scene and tree, and then on Christmas Eve sit down to a traditional Slavic meal of sauerkraut and mushroom soup.

Personally, I love the hodgepodge. We breathe with both lungs of the Church and share the best of two worlds. Today--since I'm guessing most of my readers are more familiar with the Western side of things--I'd like to share a bit of Byzantine hymnography for this final week before Christmas.

Like Advent, the Eastern Philip's Fast is a time of preparation. Through our hymns, we remind ourselves of the miracle about to take place. Just read this text, from the prefestive troparion of the Nativity:

Bethlehem, make ready,
Eden has been opened for all.
Ephrathah, prepare yourself,
For the Tree of Life has blossomed from the Virgin in the cave.
Her womb has become a spiritual paradise
In which divinity was planted.
If we partake of it,
We shall live and not die like Adam.
Christ is born to raise up the likeness that had fallen.
 
In a single hymn, we cover the redemption of the old Adam, the prophecies about Bethlehem and Ephrathah, the Incarnation, and even a hint of the Resurrection at the very end. The prefestive troparion clearly places Christmas in the wondrous context of all salvation history.
 
This is also the theme of the Emmanuel Moleben, a short prayer service that can be said during Philip's Fast. Near the end of the service, the priest recites a long "kneeling prayer" (so called because it's one of the few occasions during the year when Byzantines actually kneel!). It too recounts the crucial place Christmas holds in the true epic of our salvation (emphasis added):
 
O God and Father, the Almighty One, you created the human race in your image and likeness, and when we fell through disobedience, you promised to send a Savior. When the fullness of time had come, your favor rested on your only-begotten Son, and he was born of the Virgin Mary. Thus, what Isaiah the prophet foretold was fulfilled: "Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call him Emmanuel, which means 'God with us.'" His birth filled all creation with light; he gave us the baptism of repentance, and restored our ancient dignity. Now most compassionate Lord, you bring us to these honored days of the Christmas Fast that we may do battle with the desires of the flesh and draw strength from the hope of resurrection. Receive us, then, as penitents and forgive our wrongdoing, those done knowingly and unknowingly, through malice and through weakness. And may our prayers our fasting, and our works of mercy rise up before you as incense, as sweet spiritual fragrance, that in the company with the Magi and the shepherds we too, with pure hearts, may be found worthy to bow down before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To him, together with you and your all-holy Spirit, belong glory, honor, and worship, now and ever and forever. Amen.
 
Christmas is both an arrival and a turning-point, a culmination and a beginning. The long-promised Savior is now visible to the world, but His mission is only just begun. As for us, Eastern and Western Catholics alike, the Christmas Fast is not quite over. Keep battling, soldiers! The King is almost here.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Literature, A Mode of Knowledge: "The Lost Country"


This week I'd like to share with you a small but fine literary journal I have discovered--The Lost Country. It's a bi-annual publication of fiction, poetry, criticism, and reviews produced by The Exiles--a group of men and women in Forth Worth, TX, who in the tradition of the Inklings have founded a club for the creation and appreciation of great literature. The magazine is only in its third year, but they already have some fine work to showcase. This fall's issue includes an essay on William Wordsworth, a fairy tale with a generous dose of cracked humor, a plethora of insightful poems (including--I admit it--one of my own), and much more. I encourage you to take a look at it online for free.

While exploring The Exiles' website a bit more deeply, I happened across their philosophical vision statement, "Literature as a Mode of Knowledge". By the first two sentences, I was hooked:

The members of The Exiles share the conviction that literature is one of the modes of knowledge through which truth becomes accessible to man. The contemplation of a literary work of art, far from being a momentary diversion, an escape from reality, is, rather, a vision of that deeper reality which we mean by the term Truth.

As a young woman who feels a vocation to write, this idea is extremely exciting to me. Of course, I have read such speculation on the purpose of literature before, but every time I encounter it, it reminds me all over again of the real, joyful, intimidating nature of my art. I'll explain what I mean in a moment.

Often in the daily (well, almost-daily) grind of working on my novel--agonizing over adjectives, bridging plot holes, chiseling out characters--I can forget what all the labor is actually for. That's why I enjoy stepping back and realizing the true end of my craft, which The Exiles express quite beautifully:

...[L]iterature presents an eschatological view of human life and experience, a view as though from the end of time when the meaning of everything that has happened is seen, a view in the light of eternity which is beyond our ordinary mode of perception. By seeing human actions in relation to their end, the literary work of art reveals that all the events, the agonies and the conflicts, of human life have meaning.

Now you see what I mean by intimidating? What a calling! The writer not only has a responsibility to hone his or her craft. The craft is inextricably bound to the pursuit of transcendent truth in the human condition. Keeping the physical ear tuned to the sound of the right words is just as important as keeping the spiritual ear alert for that inner harmony, that music of meaning. Writing requires perceptiveness on multiple levels.

This concept is as fascinating as it is frustrating. Lately an odd sense of the mystery of reality, in relation to the writer's craft, has been pressing on my mind. Every detail of real life seems overwhelmingly important. How does one really describe the glimmer of wet grapes, or the whistling hush of bird wings, or the satisfying pain of a hard run in the cold? Or, on the spiritual level, how does one truly pin down that elusive, irrepressible impulse bound in our beings, Love? Each experience has its own unique reality, which we only encounter directly when undergoing the experience. Words are comparatively vague. Writing seems to me a bit like trying to hand-mold a fine clay sculpture while wearing very bulky mittens. Words, those little meanings enfleshed in sound and shape by language, are all we have to trace the inimitable outline of God's reality.

This is the "mode of knowledge" that is literature. Like any art that tries to reconcile the real and the ideal, it's tremendously difficult to do well. In fact, given that no human can be all-knowing, it may be impossible to perfect. Nevertheless we try. The people behind magazines like The Lost Country try. On the whole, the results are quite beautiful. So I applaud their efforts, and quietly return to my own work, re-inspired.


Quotes in this post are copied with permission from the article "Literature as a Mode of Knowledge", http://www.inexsilio.com/manifesto.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Staggerford", by Jon Hassler


The following is a book review written for CatholicFiction.net.
 
~

Losing. That was the melancholy strain running through dozens of papers every year. Parents lost in death and divorce, fingers lost in corn pickers, innocence lost behind barns and in back seats, brothers and uncles lost in Vietnam, friends lost in drug-induced hallucinations, and football games lost to Owl Brook and Berrington.

Thus middle-aged bachelor Miles Pruitt's impression of his hometown of Staggerford, Minnesota. Set in the 1970s, Staggerford--like most small rural towns--has its share of saints and sinners. Miles, a high school English teacher and fallen-away Catholic, is an observer. Quiet and unobtrusive, he seems content to let life trundle along in its ordinary way. But he has had his share of losses as well--most significantly, the loss of both of the women he loved and might have married, to other men. Yet while Miles shares in the vague malaise of regret infecting the town, he does not seem to have the will or direction to pursue a deeper purpose.

The novel Staggerford is a chronicle of one week of Miles's life, taking place between October 30 and November 7. Thanks to a host of colorful supporting characters and side-stories, the main plot can be difficult to trace. In that way the book marvelously resembles a detailed snapshot of small-town life, rather than a traditional novel. However, the main story can be said to center around Miles, his landlady Agatha McGee, and one of his English students, Beverly Bingham.

Agatha and Beverly are the only two characters to whom Miles means, in the words of the landlady, "a deep, abiding lot." However, they could hardly be more different. Agatha, an elderly spinster and a staunch Catholic, has taught in the town's Catholic school for over forty years. Coming from an orderly, uncompromising moral worldview, she too feels loss as she witnesses the upheaval in both the Church and the secular world. But she gets along with the steady, uncomplaining Miles (though they do have their differences--he teases her about her pre-Vatican II missal while she prays every day for his lost faith). Agatha is the very picture of discipline, loyalty to tradition, and common sense.

Beverly, meanwhile, is the polar opposite. Although one of the brightest students in Miles's English class, she carries the burden of a terrible home life, a deranged mother, and a devastating family secret. Terrified for her future, she comes to Miles more and more often for advice and support. She is attracted to his steadiness precisely because her own life is so off-kilter. Miles, meanwhile, begins to wonder if he, a middle-aged bachelor and a teacher for over a decade, is actually falling in love with this 18-year-old girl. This new relationship sets off old memories of his previous failed romances.

While Miles struggles with past and present loves and Beverly endures her broken family, Agatha grapples to understand the purpose of evil in the world. In a central passage of the novel, she attempts to draw an analogy between the moral order and a bed of ferns in her garden:

"So what I was thinking, Miles, was that maybe there is a similar process going on in human affairs. If you let sunshine stand for the goodness of the world and you let rain stand for evil, do goodness and evil mingle like sun and rain to produce something? To bring something to maturity, like those ferns? Does God permit sin because it's an ingredient in something he's concocting and we human beings aren't aware of what it is? Is there sprouting up somewhere a beautiful fern, as it were, composed of goodness and sin?"

Although this analogy does not put Agatha's mind entirely to rest, it does reveal her deep trust in Providence. Throughout the rest of the book, goodness and evil mingle, eventually climaxing in a great good--a healing relationship between the motherly Agatha and the desperate Beverly. However, it will take a tragedy to accomplish it.

These hints at Providence, along with Agatha's moral compass, provide a quietly Catholic backdrop to a very real story. With gentle soberness and humor, Jon Hassler also brings to life a medley of supporting characters--a female librarian obsessed with facts, an ambitious but nervous principle, a superintendent with a phobia of death, and many more. Each brings a mingling of good and evil to the landscape of Staggerford.

Overall, Staggerford is a comfortable, easy read, with a memorable cast of characters and a poignant ending. Hassler does not preach Catholicism with this story. Instead, he uses it to gently illuminate his characters' actions, in a quiet attempt to make order of our small, sometimes messy, ordinary lives.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Love of Bare November Days: Frost's "My November Guest"



November is typically the month people start complaining about the cold. I personally don't feel the need to complain about weather, unless there's a tornado in the vicinity. But there are particular reasons I actually enjoy the "ugliest" month in the year. Mostly they relate to Advent.
 
The season of Advent, for most of the Catholic Church, starts ten days from now. But for us Eastern Catholics, it's already here. Our "Advent", called Philip's Fast (it begins on the feast of the Apostle Philip), lasts six weeks instead of four. The middle of November is just the time when the soul-stressing noise and empty glister of the "holiday season," begin in earnest. It is just at this time, that Mother Church opens her arms to us, hushes us, and tells us to steady our hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
 
Fasting, good works, and re-focused prayer are the main tools she gives us. But even nature itself encourages the ascetic ethos. By mid-November, the blazing autumn colors have withered. The grass is damp and yellowing. The wind begins to have a vicious bite. Beauty has gone, at least until the first real snow. Or has it?
 
Robert Frost might disagree. Recently while reading his volume of poetry, A Boy's Will, I ran across this short piece which is truly a November gem:
 
My November Guest
by Robert Frost
 
My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
 
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks, and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.
 
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
 
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
 
At first it seems as if Frost views November like anyone else--a cold, dark, unpleasant, even unnecessary time of year. As we see, his Sorrow persuades him otherwise. But how can we understand this strange love of bare trees and cold fog? Is it a morbid obsession with pessimism and death? I think not. I also think the Church's wisdom can give us insight into Frost's fondness.
 
The two major fasting seasons of the year, in the Eastern Church, both posses an ethos of what we call "bright sadness". This is in obedience to our Lord's command, "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men" (Mat. 6:16). It is a fused spirit of deep repentance and buoyant hope, which prepares us for the greatest feasts of the Church year.
 
Bright sadness and Frost's Lady Sorrow are close cousins. In fact, November as a season epitomizes this attitude. The world has been stripped of its outward beauty and warmth, just as we strip ourselves of bodily pleasures. Nature grows stiller, darker, more rigorous, as we strive to keep a more peaceful spirit and a deeper prayer life. For six weeks we humble ourselves, preparing for the coming of Christ, just as November becomes naked, in preparation for the baptism of glittering December snow.
 
This is the "love of bare November days"--a love of quiet, repentance, and purification. It's not always pleasant--I don't like a November blast breathing down my neck any more than the rest of us--but it is good. A good chill, which reawakens our souls to the task before them: the task of loving God and each other. Ponder that the next time you're tempted to grumble about the forecast.




Thursday, November 13, 2014

Battle of the Round-house: Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" (Part 2)

Happy 164th, RLS
One hundred and sixty-four years ago on this day, in Edinburgh, Scotland, a great storyteller was born. Yes--Robert Louis Stevenson. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while already know how much I admire him. This post, the second in a series of posts on his novel Kidnapped, is the one "birthday present" I can give to the fine writer who only lived 44 years. So thank you, Stevenson, and happy birthday.
~
What is it about great stories that is so real to us? My siblings and I talk of the Shire, Minas Tirith, and Mordor as if they were quite real places. Not in a literal sense, I suppose. But it seems that way, because although Middle-earth can only ever live in our imaginations, it's still something we share. We feel the fireside at Bag End must have really existed, in some sense, because we've all "been" there; we have the same memories of it, though we all read Lord of the Rings at different times. Those worlds--in books that are very precious to us--seem to take on a life that does not depend on our imagination.
Perhaps this is foolishness. But I bet that at least a few--if not many--book-lovers have had the exact same experience. So allow me, over the next few posts, to share with you a handful of the places I've lived, and loved, between the covers of a book called Kidnapped.
The Round-house

The roundhouse was built very strong, to support the breaching of the seas. Of its five apertures, only the skylight and the two doors were large enough for the passage of a man. The doors, besides, could be drawn close: they were of stout oak, and ran in grooves, and were fitted with hooks to keep them either shut or open, as the need arose. (Kidnapped, Chapter 9, "The Man with the Belt of Gold")

Welcome to the captain's quarters of the merchant ship Covenant. If you're an ordinary sailor, you're probably not in here much. But if you're a lad named David Balfour, this is where you lived for a while--an involuntary cabin boy, waiting on a dour captain and a drunken first mate, on your way to seven years of slavery in the American colonies. By all rights, the round-house should be one of your least favorite memories.
 
But it's also the place where you meet Alan Breck Stewart. It's the place where you decide to save a man's life, though he is a stranger--indeed, might have been an enemy in any other situation. You're a law-abiding citizen; he's a wild outlaw. And yet, for the sake of the right, you throw in your lot with his:

...I walked right up to the table and put my hand on his shoulder.
"Do ye want to be killed?" said I.
He sprang to his feet, and looked a question at me as clear as if he had spoken.
"O!" cried I, "they're all murderers here; it's a ship full of them! They've murdered a boy already. Now it's you."
"Ay, ay," said he; "but they haven't got me yet." And then looking at me curiously, "Will ye stand with me?"

Your answer to that question is the true beginning of your story. In the next few hours, through the heat of battle, you will forge a friendship with this "wild Hielander" that will change your life. "Let your hand keep your head, for the grip is coming," says Alan. It comes fiercely, and against all the odds--you win out. So far you've been deceived by malicious relatives and kidnapped by greedy sailors; the round-house is your first victory. 

The roundhouse was like a shambles; three were dead inside, another lay in his death agony across the threshold; and there were Alan and I victorious and unhurt.
He came up to me with open arms. "Come to my arms!" he cried, and embraced and kissed me hard upon both cheeks. "David," said he, "I love you like a brother! And O, man," he cried in a kind of ecstasy, "am I no a bonny fighter?"
 
So he is, though you're rather too shaken by shedding your first blood (albeit in self-defense) to compliment your new friend on his swordsmanship. But the night isn't over yet. You and Alan have driven off the treacherous sailors for now, but there's no sense taking any chances. Inside the little fortress of the round-house, you set up your night-watch:
 
So I made up my bed on the floor; and he took the first spell, pistol in hand and sword on knee, three hours by the captain's watch upon the wall. Then he roused me up, and I took my turn of three hours; before the end of which it was broad day, and a very quiet morning, with a smooth, rolling sea that tossed the ship and made the blood run to and fro on the round-house floor, and a heavy rain that drummed upon the roof.
 
There's something haunting about that muted rain, after the clash and fury of last night. But you are glad of it. It gives you a chance to take a breath, regain your wits, ponder this strangely fortunate twist of fate. Your comrade-in-arms stretches out in the captain's bunk, sleeping like a child. Who is this Alan Breck Stewart, after all? Well--you'll know him better presently.
 
The triumphant duo
To be continued



Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Very Old Friend: Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" (Part 1)


It's an undisputed fact among book lovers that some tomes simply feel like friends. These titles may or may not be on the Great Books list. They may or may not have led you to deep insights on the nature of man, or the purpose of the universe. They are simply the books you fall in love with, the ones you crave to live inside, for a little while.

This book, for me, was Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. I could try to make some profound literary analysis of it, or unravel its eternal themes. But I can't say that Kidnapped ever pointed me, directly, towards those lasting truths that I typically look for in a good story. And yet it is a good story--a braw tale, to put it in the Scots--easily my favorite, and strangely monumental in my memory.

This is simply my excuse for the fact that this post, and any other posts I write on Kidnapped, are less like a literary analysis and more like a love story, littered with random details no one is interested in except myself. But it's the only way I can ever hope to convey my experience with this book. Kidnapped is an old friend. I couldn't write about it any other way.

~
I met this friend on a gray Sunday morning in February of 2011, on my older brother's dresser. I had wandered into his room bored, looking aimlessly for something to do in the half hour or so before we left for church. The book was a fat red one, a collection of Stevenson's more popular poems, short stories and novels. I couldn't tell you why I decided on Kidnapped. I had heard the title before, of course, but had no conception of the plot. Actually I had a vague notion the whole story was set in America. So I had no preparation for a plunge into 1750s Scotland.
 
Straightaway I fell in with Davie Balfour's honest, pleasant narration. So what if the style was a bit old-fashioned? So what if the dialogue threw out these strange Scottish words I'd never seen before, like "muckle", "siller", "kittle". It all drew me into a new, entrancing, very real world.

For the rest of the day, I could hardly tear myself from the book. It didn't matter that I knew, at the time, virtually nothing about the Jacobite Rebellions. The pure thrill of story carried me along at a breakneck pace. Each emotion-packed scene made a deep impression--David's first dark hours aboard the brig; the victory of the roundhouse; the flight through the heather; the quarrel...scenes that I read and re-read, almost trembling with excitement. Kidnapped had kidnapped me, completely.

I finished the book that same afternoon, in a kind of delirium. Never had I been so utterly absorbed in a story for an entire day. And yet the experience was exhausting. I had read so furiously that the plot was a blur, and even the names of the characters did not stick in my mind. Only those particular scenes, those moments of high romance, the memory of the thrill.

Besides that, hardly a thought of the book crossed my mind for the next year. Then one night in March 2012, a friend in church choir gave us a big box of books (always an event in the Woods household). Wedged somewhere between a coffee-table book on Versailles and a Michael Crichton novel, sat a splendid old edition of Kidnapped. Charles Scribners's Sons, 1946. Dark blue cloth binding, only a wee bit tattered, emblazoned on the front with a gorgeous N.C. Wyeth illustration. (N.C. Wyeth deserves a blog post all to himself; I have a mini-obsession with his work.) Inside, pages softly browned, deeply scented with that wise, musty, old-book smell.  Graced throughout with more N.C. Wyeth gems.

Delighted, I immediately claimed this treasure as my own. That night, flipping through it almost with awe, I fell upon this passage, at the beginning of Chapter 7, which had overwhelmed me a year ago:

I came to myself in darkness, in great pain, bound hand and foot, and deafened by many unfamiliar noises. There sounded in my ears a roaring of water as of a huge mill-dam, the thrashing of heavy sprays, the thundering of the sails, and the shrill cries of seamen. The whole world now heaved giddily up, and now rushed giddily downward; and so sick and hurt was I in body, and my mind so much confounded, that it took me a long while, chasing my thoughts up and down, and ever stunned again by a fresh stab of pain, to realise that I must be lying somewhere bound in the belly of that unlucky ship, and that the wind must have strengthen to a gale.

Instantly I was there again; no, I was David Balfour again, bound and despairing in the stormy bliges of the Covenant. The adventure had not faded. It awaited me once more.

To be continued



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mountain Song, by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

Wind River Peak, WY. Photo by Hannah Rose Shogren Smith

I don't have much time to enjoy them now, but I am a big fan of audiobooks. The experience of listening to a story, rather than silently reading it, has its own special charm. My first exposure to Jules Verne was through a book-on-tape version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, at the age of 6 or 7. (It was an abridged edition--still terrifying.) The scene where Axel becomes separated from his two companions in the pitch-black subterranean tunnels still rings extremely vividly in my memory, in a way I'm sure it wouldn't if I'd first read it in a book. The human voices pulled me almost physically into the story.

So imagine my delight when a few years ago I came across a website completely devoted to producing free audiobooks. This website is Librivox.org. They are a worldwide group of volunteers who record works in the public domain and post them on the site for anyone to download and enjoy. So it's a perfect place for someone like me, who loves both audiobooks and the classics. They also encourage recordings in other languages than English (so that, when I was studying French last year, I was able to listen to Verne and Dumas in their original tongue--not that I understood it well, but it was an interesting exercise). But one of my favorite things about Librivox is the fact that whenever I'm there I always stumble upon some gem I had no idea existed. A year ago I discovered Stevenson's Father Damien letter (see my post on that here). More recently, I tripped over George Macdonald's Phantastes--the fairy tale that proved crucial in the conversion of C.S. Lewis. And just a few weeks ago, I uncovered a delightful little poem about mountains by a Norwegian author, Bjornstjerne Bjornson.

The poem, "Mountain Song", is an English translation of the original Norwegian from Bjornson's novel A Happy Boy. Although the poem refers to the mountains of Norway, it attracted me at once because it reminded me of my experience hiking in Wyoming--both physically and spiritually. Here it is--and here is a link to the Librivox page, if you care to listen along!

Mountain Song
By Bjornstjerne Bjornson
 
When you will the mountains roam
And your pack are making,
Put therein not much from home,
Light shall be your taking!
Drag no valley-fetters strong
To those upland spaces,
Toss them with a joyous song
To the mountains' bases!
 
Birds sing Hail! from many a bough,
Gone the fools' vain talking,
Purer breezes fan your brow,
You the heights are walking.
Fill your breast and sing with joy!
Childhood's mem'ries starting,
Nod with blushing cheeks and coy,
Bush and heather parting.
 
If you stop and listen long,
You will hear upwelling
Solitude's unmeasured song
To your ear full swelling;
And when now there purls a brook,
Now stones roll and tumble,
Hear the duty you forsook
In a world-wide rumble.
 
Fear, but pray, you anxious soul,
While your mem'ries meet you!
Thus go on; the perfect whole
On the top shall greet you.
Christ, Elijah, Moses, there
Wait your high endeavor.
Seeing them you'll know no care,
Bless your path forever.
 
The language is deceptively simple. Anyone who's ever travelled on foot in the mountains will be familiar with those "purer breezes", that "unmeasured song of solitude". Naturally I am now curious about this Bjornson fellow. Aside from Norse legends, I've never touched Scandinavian literature. Perhaps I should try it?