Don Gold on Christopher Davis’ “The Conduct of Saints”

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The Conduct of Saints

By Christopher Davis The Permanent Press 2013

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Designating an author as  “a writers’ writer” makes some gifted writers wince.  Frequently, it means the writer’s bank account is in free fall; his books do not appear on best-seller lists, some of his collected works are out of print. So it’s a dubious honor. But behind it is the wish to recognize artistry and that comforts writers’ writers who battle against despair.

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Christopher Davis is one of those writers. The Conduct of Saints is his twelfth novel (he’s also written three non-fiction books, a play and a children’s book). His range is breathtaking. He’s written novels set in the Middle Ages, during the holocaust, in a rural New York town and about the competition by electric companies to conduct the first electrocution in the United States.  He’s never a pedant; the novels rooted in history illuminate their time through human behavior. His technique is subtle, but never obscure. His intentions are always revealed at a purposeful pace. A reader will search in vain for a stray cliché, a familiar voice, a lifted reference.  

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The Conduct of Saints is set in Rome in 1945.  The Nazis have been driven out by the Allied forces.  A few remain, in shabby civilian clothing, hoping to avoid detection via an escape route both risky and vague.  The children of Rome struggle to survive, as Davis notes: “at the outdoor cafes, restaurants, and in other public places, many of them barefoot, begging for money and bread, the boys offering themselves or their sisters for sale.” 

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The Roman Jews are gone, eradicated.  Collaborators are captured. In the Vatican, Pope Pius XII and his bishops compare conflicting objectives. A great city reels, suffers, arises.   Into that setting, Davis has placed his characters, some real, some invented. His research unveils Maria Goretti,  age 12, murdered decades earlier, eventually elevated to sainthood. Alessandro Serenelli, her murderer, imprisoned, released, reaching for his own redemption. Those two are real. The Contessa Alda Calfani and her husband Renato, remnants of the liberal royalty, try to preserve their dignity despite their decayed elegance and withered income. Tommy Costa, an American army lieutenant, an opportunist, acquires masterpieces of art and ships them home. Pietro Koch (another real figure), a fascist police officer widely known to have murdered Jews, is jailed awaiting trial. (The film director Lucho Visconti will testify on his behalf.) The Ferri family, educated Jews, hope to convert to Catholicism to save their lives.

All of these characters, and more, occupy Davis’ mind and the mind of Brendan Doherty.

At the pivotal center of events, Doherty is a 51-year-old American priest-lawyer on Vatican duty.  His task is to interview Serenelli about his claim for redemption for the Goretti slaying.  Should the Vatican  support that claim? There is more to Doherty’s days; he is weary, a wounded moralist opposed to killing who has been surrounded by killing. He trudges through his days, dealing with the needy, with the Roman-Catholic hierarchy, hindered by a flawed moral compass,  by memories of his love–never brought to fruition– for a lost college friend.

Doherty mingles with the living, mourns the dead, drinks too much, smokes too much, prays. But his prayers “no longer had the means to stir him.” He moves around Rome, on foot, on his bike, interacting, trying to organize support to avoid execution for the fascist Koch; even Koch, he feels, should be spared.  He has dialogues, with clergy, with friends/allies, with enemies. He engages in private battle with sexual urges.  Frustration is his oppressive companion.  He is a good man under severe pressure, not a hero.

Finally, in a bar at a Rome hotel, chatting with two RAF officers, he is tempted to act, to achieve release.  And he acts.

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The Conduct of Saints captures the time and the place; it is a profoundly atmospheric novel.  More important, it presents an unforgettable cast of characters.  Once again, Davis’ work commands our attention.

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Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-meyer-phd/a-psalm-of-life-the-poem_b_2669611.html?utm_hp_ref=books&ir=Books

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“Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime. And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Longfellow wrote the poem “A Psalm of Life” shortly after completing lectures on German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and was strongly inspired by him.  He was also inspired to write it by a heartfelt conversation he had with friend and fellow professor at Harvard University, Conway Felton. 

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According to Lawrance Thompson in his book Young Longfellow (1938), the two had spent an evening “talking of matters, which lie near one’s soul — and how to bear one’s self doughtily in Life’s battle, and make the best of things.”  The next day he wrote “A Psalm of Life.”

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Written in an ABAB rhyme scheme in nine stanzas varying between seven to eight syllables per line, it was first published in The Knickerbocker magazine in 1838.  Longfellow was promised five dollars of its publication, though he never received payment.  Later, this poem along with several others was collected and published as Voices of the Night in 1839 which sold for 75 cents.

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Here is the poem. 

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Tell me not, in mournful numbers,    Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers,    And things are not what they seem.

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Life is real!  Life is earnest!    And the grave is not its goal; Dust though art, to dust returnest,   Was not spoken of the soul. Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,    Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each tomorrow    Find us farther than today.

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Art is long, and Time is fleeting,   And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating    Funeral marches to the grave.

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In the world’s broad field of battle,    In the bivouac of Life, Be not like the dumb, driven cattle!    Be a hero in the strife.

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Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!    Let the dead Past bury its dead!    Act, — act in the living Present!    Heart within, and God o’erhead!

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Lives of great men all remind us    We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us    Footprints on the sands of time;

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Footprints, that perhaps another,    Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,    Seeing shall take heart again.

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Let us, then, be up and doing,    With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing,    Learn to labor and to wait.

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http://www.psalmoflife.net/analysis/a-psalm-of-life-analysis/

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A Psalm Of Life Analysis Line by Line

 

A Psalm Of Life

A Psalm of Life is one of the best-known poems of Longfellow. It has served as one of the most inspirational poems in literature since it was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow, a well loved American poet, is well known for A Psalm of Life and the lessons on life which it illustrates. The primary message or the Subject Matter of the poem, is that “Life is beautiful”. The lyrical lines and inspiring message of the poem has been handed down through the years, bringing hope. Here is a glance -in my point of view-explanation about the poem;

 

  • At the 1st stanza, Longfellow wants to tells us that life is not an empty dream, do not waste it out.

“Tell me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem.”

even it in a mournful number, life is not an empty dream. Longfellow try to stress his says. He is full of spirit and optimist, he tries to influence readers to feel the way he feel by read this poem.

 

  • At the second stanza, Longfellow’ forceful philosophy suggested to the direction of his hymn to action:

“Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul.”

in this part, he gives us a spirit, a reason why he doesn’t believe that life is an empty dream. Longfellow advised (intention) that we are all here on Earth to live for today rather than waiting for death to take us.

 

  • At the third stanza, I got Longfellow wants us to know that whatever could be happened in life;

“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each to-morrow Find us farther than to-day.”

 

and above all things that happened, whether it is joyful or sorrow, we have to act, it’s not necessary what is the end of the journey in life, but the long road to the end, how we get through it is the most precious thing.  And find ourselves are better and get better.

 

  • At the fourth stanza,  it is about the humanity. Even we said that we are tough and brave enough, but when it come to the death we still feel scare.

“Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave.”

Longfellow’s audience as a popular writer was assured death is depicted as bedtime for a cranky child.

 

  • At the fifth stanza, Longfellow advised us that even in adversity we are to persevere and never give up.

“In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life,

 

world is a battle field, we have to fight for our intention and our aspiration. When we are inside of it so we have to be indeed.

Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!”

 

talk about principle. Do not follow all of the people think. Make your own principle. And be a good man.

 

  • At the sixth stanza,  Longfellow said that we must live a life. Trust no-future, do not captivated by the past. But live and love your days with a whole of your heart and guide of God.

“Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act,–act in the living Present! Heart within, and God o’erhead!”

 

Longfellow assuredly had personal knowledge on the subject; suffering through the deaths of two wives. Following the death of his first wife his second wife also died tragically many years later.

  • At the seventh stanza, I think Longfellow want to convince us to be optimist and beautify the days;

 

→“Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime,

And at this line, we must be brave, to go on life and leave the past →And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time;–“

 

  • At the eight stanza, Longfellow said that we, in time will get that people around us in a bad situation. It can touch our heart. But, still we have to go on.

“Footprints, that perhaps another, Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, Seeing, shall take heart again.”

 

  • At the last stanza, Longfellow want us to move on, still in spirit, act with heart. Also with patience.

“Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.”

 

→ The message in A Psalm for Life clearly illustrates that According to Longfellow, time is too swift to wait for death because there’s so many things we can get in life, life is beautiful.

 

SENSE DEVICE

  1. Simile is generally the comparison of two things essentially unlike, on the basis of a resemblance in one aspect.

Ex:       Still, like muffled drums… (4th stanza, line 3)

Be not like dumb…(5th stanza, line 3)

Metaphorical image is an analogy identifying one object with another and ascribing to the first object one more of the quality of the second.

Ex:       …Life is but an empty dream! (1st stanza, line 2)

…soul is dead that slumbers (1st stanza, line 3)

 

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http://voices.yahoo.com/poetry-analysis-psalm-life-henry-wadsworth-7345060.html

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Poetry Analysis: A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“A Psalm of Life”, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was published in October of 1838. It is a poem of encouragement, telling the reader not to waste life. Longfellow is sure to establish that life is real, and it will end soon. He wrote this poem at a fairly young age, yet he has a deep and accurate insight of life.

  The content of the poem is not especially unique. The speaker is involved in the first person perspective, where he is directly addressing the reader. The tone is neither positive nor negative, but is strictly honest. The tone remains the same “encouraging” style from beginning to end, and there is no change of tone. The only tension found in the poem is that between life and death – Longfellow writes about how every living thing is affected by both conflicting states of being.

  The word choice in “A Psalm of Life” was obviously carefully picked. An adjective is never repeated, yet the poem reads perfectly. Each word has its own meaning, and its own unique take on life, and every word adds something important, even vital, to the “life” of the poem. The rhythm also flows flawlessly. The rhythm scheme is an eight syllable line followed by a seven syllable line. The poem does not stray from that simple rhythm once.

  Imagery is the sole method of expression in the poem. Longfellow paints a word picture in each stanza that allows the reader to see more clearly what he is describing. Metaphors and Symbolism is rampant – in fact, the poem is almost entirely comprised of these things.

  The form of the poem is very basic. Each stanza is four lines long, making the poem a quatrain, and the rhyme scheme follows the pattern “ABAB, CDCD, EFEF…” etc. for each of the nine stanzas. Each stanza also has a recurrent rhythm pattern: 8 syllables, 7 syllables, 8 syllables, 7 syllables.

  Analyzing the poem even deeper, you will notice that even the punctuation plays an important role. Exclamation points are used to establish emphasis on a particular line. There is no pattern to the punctuation, which makes it even more beneficial to strengthening the meaning of a phrase. Overall, it is very obvious that “A Psalm of Life” is a well thought out poem.

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