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More About William Paley and his Bridge

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Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The bridge which William Paley admired at Wearmouth (see my post of July 26) tells us two important things about the time when Paley wrote his book, Natural Theology.  First, the smoke from the smokestack tells us that the industrial age has arrived.  Second, the sails on the ships tell us that engines which can move ships (or trains for that matter) have not yet been invented.  This is a world of commerce, but it is not our world.

William Paley came to live in Wearmouth in 1795.  He was then 52 years old; his most successful years were behind him.  Paley was educated at Cambridge and became a teacher there.  He was ordained in 1766 as an Anglican priest, and was appointed to various positions in the church.  He wrote three important books before Natural Theology, one on moral philosophy and two defending the historical accuracy of the New Testament.

In all his writing Paley emphasized reason, and wrote clear, logical arguments.  That clarity, and his use of language in general, makes Natural Theology a pleasure to read, in spite of the fact that, as the picture demonstrates, his world is very different from our present circumstances.

My collection of poems, Made and Remade, responding to William Paley’s writing, is to be published by WordTech Editions in 2014.

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My Forthcoming Book and William Paley’s Bridge

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My collection of poems, Made and Remade, about William Paley’s book, Natural Theology, and the famous watch metaphor, has been accepted for publication by WordTech Editions.  In considering ideas for a cover, I came across a picture of a bridge, built in 1796, across the Wear River in Northern England.

Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

William Paley used this bridge as an image for the structure of the ribs in the human body.  He wrote (in 1802):

The manner of it is this: the end of the rib is divided by a middle ridge into two surfaces . . . . Now this is the very contrivance which is employed in the famous iron bridge at my door at Bishop-Wearmouth . . .

The new bridge delighted William Paley as all mechanical devices and constructions did.  He found in many of them analogies to natural forms.

Though new and wonderful to Paley, the bridge has been replaced, but the image still serves to represent Paley’s fascinations and interests. Until a cover is created for Made and Remade (due out in 2014) this image will serve as an icon for the book.

Inspiring Blogger Award

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I’ve been nominated for the “Very Inspiring Blogger Award.”  This is a real honor because it comes from one whose blog is truly inspiring.  Pat Garcia tells the stories of courageous and neglected heroes of history at http://garciaandwalkon.me/  I would nominate her first if she hadn’t already nominated me.

very-inspiring-blogger-award1

In accepting this award I am supposed to say seven things about myself and nominate fifteen other blogs.

Seven things:
1.  I’m a poet who has not taken a class in poetry since seventh grade.  I have, however, attended lots of workshops.
2.  I’ve only lived in New Mexico for eight years; I’m still in love with desert and mountains.
3. I’m a member and past President of the Sacred Dance Guild.
4.  My favorite color is green.
5.  It took me seventeen years to write my biography, John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.
6.  To get that project started I earned a Ph. D. in American Religious Studies from Temple University.
7.  My current project is a response in poems to William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802), the publication that made famous the metaphor of God as watchmaker.  My response focuses on how much has changed.

It’s a stretch to find fifteen blogs to nominate when my predecessors have recently nominated many fine blogs that I also follow.  Here are twelve.

The Needy Helper (Lee Davy)  www.needyhelper.com/ Anyone who sets out to read 52 books in 52 weeks inspires me.

Twigs & Stones (http://twigsandstones-poems.blogspot.com/)  Tanka and other short poems.

The One Earth Project (http://leevanham.com/blog/)  Can we live with the reality that we have only one earth’s worth of resources, not five?

Dialogues on exploring the gap (http://explorethegap.wordpress.com/) “Where people of science, religion, faith and spirituality come to talk.”

Digest This (http://www.digest-this.com/)  Addressed to the human constituency.

http://200newmexicopoems.wordpress.com/ A compendium of poems about New Mexico.

Things I Want To Tell My Mother (http://warnerwriting.wordpress.com/)  On memories and dealing with dementia.

http://craighill.net/ Perspectives on news and history from Australia and China.

Ellis Nelson (http://ellisnelson.com/)  Author of Into the Land of Snows.

http://houseboathouse.blogspot.com/#!/ Rose Mary Boehm, a woman of many talents, and a unique way with a website.

Carlos Navarro (http://breadnm.blogspot.com/) A blog supporting Bread for the World in New Mexico.

Lisa Michaels (http://lisa-michaels.com/blog/) Learn how to align your energy with the natural rhythms of the universe.

Online Publications

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I’ve had the good fortune to be included in two online journals recently.  The most recent was in Rose Red Review, a quarterly with a charming, but sideways, picture of a woman wearing a rose.  I like to think that the name comes from the Rose Red who was the sister of Snow White (not she of the seven dwarfs, the other one).  My poem published there is titled “Reflection on a Line by James Wright.”

http://roseredreview.org/2012-winter-ellen-roberts-young/

In late fall, Untitled Country published my poem “Atomic Power”.  Unfortunately this ezine is going out of business, just as I’ve discovered it.

http://untitledcountry.blogspot.com/2012/11/final-issue.html

I find myself in good company in both places.  I recommend both as worthy of your time to explore.

“Atomic Power” is a poem which is not about what the title first suggests, on purpose.  It is a part of my collection of poems, Made and Remade, based on William Paley’s Natural Theology, a text from two centuries ago which had a long influence on thought and education in England and America.

Parley of Instruments: A Tale

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“I’m feeling off, and achy,” complains the watch as his band stretches around the boy’s hand.  “I’ve been reset so often my knob’s worn down.”

“My time is right,” the clock on the stove calls out.

“So is mine,” the clock on the radio mutters.

“B-bong, b-bong,” the windup clock on the wall begins to chime the hour.

“You’re two minutes early,” stove clock declares.

“Close enough.  I don’t run on current like you.”

“At least we agree,” stove clock assures radio clock.

“Of course!  We run on the same power!”

“You’re grumpy this morning, radio clock,” wall clock says.

“Stove clock’s acting like she’s in charge – again.”

The boy looks at his watch, which is running five minutes slow.  “I’ve still got five minutes,” he says to himself.

“You’re reading the wrong timepiece!” the others cry together, but to the boy they are as silent as the lights flashing at the school crossing, where five minutes is enough to mark him tardy.

“He didn’t look at any of us,” stove clock sighs as the door closes.

 

This little story was a side trip in my journey with William Paley’s Natural Theology.  The image of the watch which opens Paley’s argument is so strong that it took me a while to realize that Paley is not really interested in what watches do, that is, tell time.  He is interested in the watch as a mechanism which must have had a designer.  It is a parallel to the eye, ear, and all the other parts of the body which, it is his project to demonstrate, must have been designed.  Paley’s world view is a topic for another time,. as is our contemporary bondage to clocks and the minutes they represent.

Reflections and Poem: Habit

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Habits: We need them to survive.  There’s no way we could get anything done if we had to make a decision about every step and action of getting up, getting dressed, preparing breakfast, or preparing for sleep.  It was a dental hygienist, instructing me in flossing my teeth, who told me, ‘It takes four months to make something a habit.”  That’s not very long in the grand scheme of things, but it requires constant attention until the habit takes hold.

There are habits of action and habits of thought.  Prophets, I would say, disrupt our habits of thought.  Prophets are not soothsayers, tellers of the future.  They tell us things we might have seen or understood if we had been looking from their perspective.  They asked us to “think outside the box” back when that was not yet a cliché.

There are habits also of attention: stopping to look or listen as we carry on our habitual activities.  I wrote about my interest in William Paley in a blog back in May (May 9).  In his Natural Theology, published in 1802, Paley, an Anglican clergyman and theologian, asked his readers to pay attention to detail, from the smallest features of the eye and ear to the way plants and insects interact on a summer day.  For Paley this was all evidence of God’s good creation.  But such attention to nature is not bound to any particular theology; many religions suggest this approach to the world, as a way of really seeing, of paying attention to what is.  I tried to capture Paley’s approach, which suits my world as well as it does his very different world view, in this poem:

Habit

Alert to the ordinary, caught
by wonder at small creatures,
hidden muscles, as thumb or
toe is wondrous to an
infant, he has no
mantra, no method
to teach this habit of
attention, wonders at
the lack of wonder
in those who cannot stop
to look, who only admire
the new, the bold, sharply
chiseled lines, contrasting
colors that shout most
loudly in the constant press
of seen and sensed that
batters them until
like overbeaten dough
they lose their power
to rise to admiration, to
wonder at the marvels of
the bodies they inhabit.

“Habit” is included in Ascent: Five Southwestern Women Poets (2011).  See more on Books page.

Social Justice Then and Now: A Poem

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“Social Justice” is a poem in my Paley series, drawing on William Paley’s Natural Theology, published in 1802.  First, a quote from Paley:

Again, there are strong intelligible reasons, why there should exist in human society great disparity of wealth and station.  Not only as these things are acquired in different degrees, but at the first setting out of life.

Now, my response:

Social Justice

Paley never said society
should run like a watch, nor
that it operates as God intended,
efficient as a well-oiled mill, yet
he wanted even revolution to
be rational, restrained: no mobs
dragging out Tory sympathizers,
no armies beating back
impoverished protestors.

I stand at the Federal Building,
restrained by fear, as rational
friends, frustrated by the tick,
tick, tick of same old, same
old injustices, lie across doorways.
Their calculated choice includes
awareness that effects are often
not proportionate to causes,
anything can happen.

This poem is included in Ascent: Five Southwestern Woman Poets.  See Books page.

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