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Posts Tagged "Ella Wheeler Wilcox":

Never Having to Say You’re Sorry?


Love means never having to say you’re sorry. So said Ali McGraw to Ryan O’Neal as she lay dying at the end of ‘Love Story’, coining a catchphrase which summed up attitudes at the end of the flower-power decade of the 1960s.

It’s not true, of course: anyone acting seriously on this relationship advice is going to end up without any relationships, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox knew:

There’s one sad truth in life I’ve found
While journeying east and west –
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
But deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.

 

‘Repentance Becomes a Trend as Thousands Tweet #SorryJesus’, reported Emma Koonse in the Christian Post on 27 September 2011. However, she did not attempt to analyse any possible reasons for this. The tweets began on Monday 26th/Tuesday 27th, according to where you are in relation to Greenwich Mean Time, and are continuing as I write this post. Well, maybe there is something in the air, to which the collective unconscious has responded via social media, since twitter and facebook are increasingly the outlet for the collective unconscious – always supposing you believe there is any such thing, of course. Some of the tweets are silly, but some are genuinely moving including the heartfelt:

‘Sorry Jesus for nailing you back to the cross for the wrongs I do.’

I think it is no coincidence that October 8th this year is the Jewish ‘Yom Kippur’ or Day of Atonement, which the Church of England might do well to copy (after all Christmas is linked with Hanukkah, and Easter with Passover) – though perhaps ‘Day of Apology’ would sound more Anglican? – Our own lectionary for the day after Yom Kippur, October 9th, is all about repentance and forgiveness. Confession and Absolution are already, of course, firmly embedded in the liturgy but: whereas once Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent, Christians, says Dom Anthony Sutch:

must recognise their own need for help and ask for forgiveness. St Benedict in his Rule expects the individual to acknowledge his wrongdoing in the presence of the community. St. Benedict thought this the best way for men to repair broken bonds. In the same way, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is initiated by the person seeking forgiveness, who is then forgiven in the name both of God and of the community…this is of enormous importance, since any fault affects everyone else. Sin is not a private zone.

Frank Sinatra has a lot to answer for in what became his theme tune, adopted by several truculent East End gangsters for their funerals:

And now, the end is here, And so I face the final curtain…
Regrets, I’ve had a few – But then again, too few to mention…
I’ve lived a life that’s full; I’ve travelled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it My Way.

 

 

Edith Piaf famously regretted nothingneither the good anyone has done me, nor the evil, it’s all the same to me – it’s been paid for, swept away and forgotten. I start again from zero. However, although she intends to be every bit as truculent as the gangsters, she in fact crystallises the Christian message: our sins are redeemed (or paid for) by the sacrifice of our Lord’s crucifixion, enabling them to be swept away and forgotten so that we can start again at the beginning, washed in the blood of the Lamb.

And what have you been up to this week? Committed any murders in Middlesbrough? Is Aylesbury awash with adultery? Are you all stealing from each other in Swansea? No, I thought not. When we look back at our sins, they are not the major, headline-grabbers of murder, adultery and theft: what we do all have in common, surely, is ‘something to expiate, a pettiness’. In one of his best-loved poems, D H Lawrence describes beautifully just this feeling of remorse:

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me…
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth…

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness

‘The Snake’ Taormina, 1923

And then, like John Donne, we must be ‘done’ with sinning: John Donne’s ‘Hymn to God the Father

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive those sins, through which…..
And do them still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy sun
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast done; I have no more

 

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Note

The illustration is by Jan Martin Will via Shutterstock and she has entitled it ‘Emperor Penguin gets rejected by another Emperor Penguin.’

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