To My Daughter at the Approach of Her Birth

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dear Mayah Louise Wieck,

Your mother and brothers and I will call your name daily and more commonly than we take bread. And we’ll pronounce it with every inflection of emotion one can imagine, and some that we can’t yet because we haven’t met you and those emotions haven’t even begun to resonate in us. But each time we take your name in our mouths, I hope the meaning of your name sings.

Your name changed several times before we settled on Mayah. In fact, I
began this letter to an Evangeline, but that name wouldn’t stick. I still like the meaning of that name – a messenger of good news – but it didn’t sound right when we spoke it. It didn’t look right on the page. God must place some meaning in the sound of words which stirs us on another level than language. Something akin to music. I think that is true, although I don’t know why.

Your mother spent a while referring to you as Evelyn as well. The name
Eve is at the root of that word, which means mother. I wasn’t sure why she pushed so hard for that name. It’s difficult to imagine a newborn girl as a mother; however, I believe your mother sensed something that God was knitting into you.

Through the messenger and the mother, we have arrived at Mayah, which means “close to God” in Hebrew. We came to it through the sound. A small variation on Maya with a lingering breath at the end. I’m a little surprised there is a word that means this. There is no greater desire that I could have for you than to be close to God. I will confess that with each child I feel trepidation that I am bringing a child into existence and that God will forget them, or that He’d form their hearts in a way that held no longing for Him. I don’t know why. He’s always been faithful. But I know my incompetence. I know that if the task of your survival – immanent or transcendent, physical or spiritual – is left in my watch, then there is no hope. But there is a word and it was spoken thousands of years ago by strangers in strange tongues in an attempt to name a possibility: that someone might be close to God. In the history of things, the sound of that word has been found in our home. Your mother and I played with the rhythm of it for a few days. Offered it to your brothers and let them sound it on their clumsy young tongues. And then the meaning arrived. Mayah, you are close to God. That God offers this to anyone is a humiliating grace, and you will be a walking testament of His kindness and presence here. The possibility formed in a word: Mayah.

Your brother Clark has in his name the vocation of a scribe. I imagined him as the writer of Psalm 45; a man whose heart overflows with a pleasing song and whose tongue speaks the verses as though it were the pen of a scribe. Your brother observes, is moved, and records the works of God. But I see you elsewhere in the same Psalm. “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house…” That is a difficult thing for me to say before I have even met you. Daughter, to know in the seed of your conception that you will flower to forget me. But there is joy and gladness in your forgetfulness, for your memory will be overcome with desire for a king with grace poured on his lips; who rides victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness. These causes will be yours. These desires are already in your heart and God shall make their justification shine as the noonday sun, and I long to see your heart burst with desires fulfilled and a tree of life. In the place of your memory of me, of your people, will be your sons.

Perhaps that is why your mother was attached to a word which means
mother. To what or to whom will you be a mother? Another variation of your name is the Greek Maia. She was one of the Pleiades, now a constellation which indicates the early and late rains, but she was also the mother of Hermes: the messenger of the gods. Mayah, may your memory of me be trumped by the desire for your king, by the sons of your legacy, and may your sons all be messengers between God and men, messengers of peace and good news; princes in the earth searching out the matters of God, and may He cause your name to be remembered – mother-messenger, that God is close – remembered to all generations. May your approach bring the comfort of a timely rain.

Your king rides out victoriously with a sword upon his thigh, and you will
ride with him Mayah Louise: famous warrior. I now have two warriors in my brood with your brother Wyatt, who is brave-in-war. Will you be Joan of Arc? Or Deborah? Will you judge what is right? Will you be filled with visions of the kingdom-come and turn aside neither to the right nor to the left? The word fame has the sound of glory, and glory is a weight and substance. Even now as you gain substance in your mother’s womb, I pray that your eventual fame gain substance for the kingdom of heaven. That the sword girt upon your thigh for the cause of truth, meekness, and righteousness would be a plowshare in the hearts of men, sowing mustard seeds of the kingdom of heaven, and may that kingdom displace any earthly kingdom that I have errantly sown in your heart.

Already, Mayah Louise, I am dearly enamored, and the most that I could
wish for you is to forget your father’s house and be led to your king with joy and gladness.

May The Lord bless you and keep you,
and cause His face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you.
May He lift up His countenance on you
and bring you peace.

Dad & Mom

Ruins of Rome

Du Bellay in Rome

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You who arrive to look for Rome in Rome
And can in Rome no Rome you know discover:
These palaces and arches ivied over
And ancient walls are Rome, now Rome’s a name.

Here see Rome’s overbearing overcome—
Rome, who brought the world beneath her power
And held sway, robbed of sway: see and consider
Rome the prey of all-consuming time.

And yet this Rome is Rome’s one monument.
Rome alone could conquer Rome. And the one element
Of constancy in Rome is the ongoing

Seaward rush of Tiber. O world of flux
Where time destroys what’s steady as the rocks
And what resists time is what’s ever flowing.

from Les Antiquités de Rome

A note on Seamus Heaney’s “Du Bellay in Rome” by Paul Muldoon

Seamus Heaney’s translation of a sonnet by Joachim du Bellay (1522–1560), one of the last poems he wrote before he died this past August, is timely in several senses. Du Bellay’s witty engagement with paradoxes about permanence and immanence, fixity and flux, raises questions not only about those great themes but, coincidentally, about the nature of literary fame. Du Bellay is hardly a household name, yet his impact on Spenser and Shakespeare, to name but two renowned poets, is absolutely crucial. Seamus Heaney’s translation of du Bellay’s sonnet is all the more poignant, of course, given the fact that, shortly after completing it, he would himself become a victim of what Shakespeare terms “devouring time.” In the face of this terrible loss, we may take some comfort in our profound sense that, like the Tiber, Seamus Heaney’s work will continue to be a constant in our lives.

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A note on this note on this poem from Seth:

In 2005, I went to Rome with some friends. I spent a few hours overlooking the Forum from a hill above the old Senate building and trying to write a poem. Ozymandias was all that came to mind. Perhaps I’ll return to Rome and recite this poem from those stairs. More likely, I’ll stay in Amarillo and see the two-way coastal rushes of traffic along I-40 and worry that the only stones that might’ve made monuments here were escorted off in topsoil in the thirties.