Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

August 16, 2009


I left my aerie in the sky - the 39th floor of my 93rd street apartment - on the last day of May. I had finally cut the cord that linked me to Manhattan. Nieces and a nephew, in a worldwind of young vitality, stripped my pictures from the wall: a Picasso reproduction, a 1737 view of Manhattan from the end of Fulton Street in Brooklyn, two symbol-filled paintings I had bought in Venice, and a wall, full of family photo portraits. Most of my books had been given away earlier. But some could simply not be abandoned. Packed separately, they now hold their places and their memories in my bookcase in Riverdale. Here are the ones that I cherish.

I Fascinating in content and its grace-filled writing is "Poets in a Landscape" by Gilbert Highet. It is a trip back 2000 years to the homes, villas, and haunts of seven Roman poets. The landscape includes the springs and ponds of the countryside, its orchards and gardens but also the personages with whom the poets interacted. The volume is enriched by the author's visits to the places where the poets lived and out of which their poetry was born. Substantial excerpts of each poets' works adds to the interest of this volume.

An example: Catullus poignantly expressed his sorrow at the death of his elder brother, his delight at his sexual experiences with many women, but especially with Clodia, who broke his heart with her infidelity. He served in Rome's foreign affairs mission in Asia Minor, capturing in words the beauty of the Greek lands and islands and the virtues and the vices of those with whom he worked. Other poets visited: Horace, Vergil, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, and Juvenal.

II "The Heart and Mind of Love" by Martin Cyril D'Arcy, SJ is a study of Eros and Agape, the two faces of love, the self-seeking and the selfless seeking the benefit of the other. This is a heavy going but rewarding treatise of the natures of love in the thinking of ancient and modern philosophers, writers , and poets. I cherish this volume because of the many notations I made in its endleaves in 1947!

III "The Faith and Modern Man" by Romano Guardini. The author is an Italian priest, raised in Germany because of his father's service in the Italian Foreign Ministry. Its twelve essays treat insightfully of basic elements of religion."Adoration" examines the nature of God and aspects of His power. He is adored not just because of His power, but because He is worthy of that power because He is possessed of Truth and Justice. "Dogma" is "like a wall built about a sacred source to keep the contents from running out, or an iron band surrounding the mystery to hold it intact". "'God's Patience' reveals itself in His relation to the world and to mankind...Material things...begin, develop, reach a peak and then decay. This process of becoming goes on through long, often immeasurably long stretches of time...Why does becoming have to take so long." The way God works!

IV In "Surprised by Joy" CS Lewis tells the reader of his search for joy, which first led him to atheism and then to Christianity. He describes how his early life was shaped: the influence of his parents, teachers and professors, Oxford and its personages. He expertly characterizes the personalities he encountered.He visits also the physical settings of his life, the architecture of buildings and the contours of the countryside.

V "The City in History" by Lewis Mumford is a monumental work, a study of the development of cities in many cultures: ancient forms, medieval cities and monasteries,industrial centers, and on into the nuclear age. It is a study of the development of the human race and how its economic, religious, political, and cultural influences came to shape the cities where people, lived, worked, and articulated their hopes and dreams, their happiness and their fears in painting, music, sculpture, poetry, drama, and varied literary forms.

VI "Fin de Siecle Vienna" by Carl E. Schorske was given to me by an Austrian priest friend who teaches art history at the University of Vienna. It brought me into a kaleidescopic world of politics with aristocratic, socialistic, Zionist, and anti-Semitic currents. Towards the end of that century, art, drawing, and painting exhibited what many thought was a descent into an irrational world at the core of which was the bizarre sexuality of Oscar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. This era of change is well characterized by Ravel's Le Valse, beginning with a stately walse, moving to ever more rapidly spinning circles, and finally ending in a cacaphony of mere noise! Sigmund Freud belonged to this age, perhaps to try to save it from itself.

VII "The Spirit of St. Louis" Charles Lindbergh. The epic story of the famous flight over the Atlantic, its careful planning and the preparation of the tiny plane, then the actual flight. Lindbergh was at first puzzled by so many moving stars, then he realized that only one was fixed, the pole star,and could be confidently used for his navigation. He was bothered by the bucking of the plane, until he realized that it kept him awake and alert.

VIII "Meditations on the Peaks" Julius Evola. Its subtitle tells it all: "Mountain Climbing as Metaphor for the Spiritual Quest." "The mountain is spirit in all that it involves: discipline of the nerves and body, clear-minded courage,desire for conquest, and the impulse to engage in pure action in an environment of pure forces...The mountain can be destructive and is awesome in its greatness, its solitude, its inaccessability,its silence, the primordial nature of its storms, its immutability through the succession of seasons and the constant formation and dissolution of the cloud banks - all these should be regarded as intimations of immortaliity." A volume to which I frequently return.

IX "Starlight and Storm" Gaston Rebuffat. A story of the conquest of many mountains by a master climber. Remarkable in this book, as in the one above, is the depth of understanding of human life and its spiritual accompaniments that come out of these men of the mountains as they reach for what is quite beyond their grasp and face the brute force of rock and ice, heights and storms. Rebuffat extols the fierce bond of friendship that comes from the rope that links climbers together so they can save one another. Some snatches: "this snow and this cold are obstacles, not enemies." "driving[the piton] into the rock, hearing it sing as it went in, and confiding my whole body with all that it contains of hope and love, to this one iron peg..." "first the joy of anticipation, then the delight of action." On mountain guides: " their confidence, resolution, coolness.." After climbing out of an avalanche:"the happiness of being together again cheered us once more." "one of those autumn days which are a last gift of heaven..." "a world of high summits and elemental forces..." "Confronted by the joint forces of mountains and elements, he feels born in himself a power, a balance and reserve that normally lie dormant,
withdrawn, but which reveal themselves in time of need." Another book I visit when new perspectives are needed.

These are seven books, from which I could not part when I left the 39th floor!


Blogger Kathleen said...

Catullus is my very favorite fact, I named my cat after him!


August 24, 2009 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

August 24, 2009 at 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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November 24, 2009 at 4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

January 8, 2010 at 11:39 PM  

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