Poems for All Nations: Part II

This is the second installment in Caroline Bennett’s “Poems for All Nations” research paper on Bedřich Smetana.  To read part one, click here.

Prague, Czech Republic

Bedřich Smetana was born during this tumultuous period in Czech history, on the morning of March 2, 1824. Though he lived in Bohemia, Smetana was essentially raised as a German, and did not speak or write any Czech for much of his life.[1] Smetana’s father, Frantiŝek Smetana, recognized Bedřich’s musical talent from an early age and ensured that his son received an excellent musical education, beginning with the violin at the age of three.[2] By the time Bedřich Smetana was eight he was also playing the piano and singing in a church choir, as well as writing some basic compositions.[3] In order to further his education, Smetana first attended a school in Prague and then moved to the town of Plzeň. It was here that he won renown as an excellent pianist.

Josef Proksch
Josef Proksch

Though he flourished musically, Smetana’s academics suffered due to his busy performance schedule.[4] Smetana eventually chose to drop out of school and pursue a career in music, despite his father’s misgivings. Smetana recorded in his diary on January 23, 1843: “By the grace of God and with his help I shall one day be a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition.”[5] Smetana moved back to Prague but quickly realized that he would need more proper musical training if he was to succeed in such a thriving city. Thus, he enrolled in theory lessons with Josef Proksch, one of the finest musicians in Bohemia.[6] While studying with Proksch, Smetana learned how to analyze and imitate the works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, in addition to emulating more contemporary composers like Berlioz and Liszt.[7] Smetana dedicated himself to his studies with such tenacity that within three years he was ready to strike out on his own for good.[8] Smetana decided to give a brief concert tour in Europe before establishing his own music school in Prague.[9] He continued to devote himself to his compositions, and even wrote to Franz Liszt requesting his aid in publishing what he termed “a sketch.”[10]


Also during this time period, Smetana began displaying his patriotism: when rebellion broke out in Prague on June 11, 1848, Smetana quickly joined a corps and helped man the barricades.[11]


The revolution was stifled like so many before, and Smetana decided to leave Prague for a while and go on a concert tour in Sweden. Though he intended for his visit to Sweden to be brief, he soon found that he was more sought after in Sweden than at home. He remained in Göteborg for many years, performing concerts, teaching piano and voice lessons,[12] and interacting with the social and musical life of the Swedes. It was during his sojourns away from Bohemia that Smetana heard the most recent works of Richard Wagner and fell in love with the way his music told stories and spoke to the emotions of audiences.[13]


Back home, the politics in the Czech lands were changing rapidly. The Austrian government was allowing more of Czech culture to surface, and there was suddenly a revived interest in the Czech language and arts.[14] Smetana quickly recognized an opportunity to establish himself further by developing a national music for Bohemia and the other Czech countries.  He returned to Prague for good in 1861. Smetana immediately set about writing operas in the Czech language to be performed in the newly-established Provisional Theatre.[15] Because of his recent exposure to a thriving musical society in Sweden, Smetana advocated the forming of music groups in and around Prague. He conducted an orchestra,[16] wrote many articles promoting Czech music, and composed for a variety of genres, including the first Czech national opera,[17] pieces for men’s chorus, overtures for puppet plays, and the like.[18] Early in his career Smetana had been indifferent to the fate of Czech culture; now its development and preservation was what he lived for each day.

Sadly, tragedy struck at this most prolific period of Smetana’s life. In 1874, as he was writing the first tone poem in the Ma Vlást collection, Smetana realized that he was losing his hearing.[19] By the end of the year he was completely deaf in both ears. He resigned his position as a conductor, and struggled to continue composing. Smetana’s frustration with his health often strained his relationships with his family and colleagues.[20] Nevertheless, his desire to write music and show his love for his homeland propelled him forward. He wrote to a friend in 1880, “I have tasted the bitterness of life in most abundant measure, as perhaps few others; but I have also experienced beautiful enchanting moments, yes, even sacred moments!”[21] Music was a constant source of joy to Smetana, and he continued his work as a musician until his death in 1884.


Smetana shares many of his joyful moments with audiences through Ma Vlást. It is both a touching and a thrilling piece, and like many of his compositions it is focused on the Czech lands. Immediately before beginning work on Ma Vlást, Smetana premiered another patriotic composition, the opera Libuše, which greatly influenced the writing of his symphonic poem cycle.[22] The setting for the opera is Vyšehrad, a rock that overlooks Prague, and the first tone poem Smetana wrote for Ma Vlást musically depicted Vyšehrad and the castle that looms over it. It took Smetana about seven years to write all of Ma Vlást, from approximately 1872 to 1879. Most of the movements were premiered separately: Vyšehrad (March 1875), Vlatva (April 1875), Ŝárka (1876 or 1877), From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields (October 1875), and both Tábor and Blaník in 1880. When he finally completed and performed all of the tone poems together as a single unit in 1882, his audience recognized that he had written a masterpiece. Ma Vlást is powerful on many levels, and Brian Large notes that it “penetrates the very roots of Czech national feeling by celebrating everything that is dear to the people, their legends, landscapes, history and the prophetic vision of their future.”[23] Smetana recounts ancient Czech legends through the movements Ŝárka, Tábor, and Blaník, its landscapes in Vlatva and From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields, and history in Vyšehrad. Each of the movements reminds listeners of where the Czechs came from, and how throughout history they had fought for their homeland and freedom.

[1] Brian Large, Smetana (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), 114.

[2] Ibid., 3-4.

[3] Ibid., 4-5.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Frantisek Bartos, Bedřich Smetana: Letters and Reminiscences, trans. Daphne Rusbridge  (Prague: Artia, 1955), 18.

[6] Large, Smetana, 24.

[7] Ibid., 37.

[8] Vladimir Helfert, “Bedřich Smetana,” The Slavonic Review 3, no. 7 (June 1924), 4, accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4201826.

[9] John Clapham, Master Musician: Smetana (London: J. M. Dent & Sons LTD, 1972), 20.

[10] Bartos, Letters, 25-26.

[11] Clapham, Smetana, 21.

[12] Ibid., 24, 26.

[13] Ibid., 28.

[14] Newmarch, Music of Czechoslovakia, 61.

[15] Clapham, Smetana, 31.

[16] Bartos, Letters, 105.

[17] Jim Brown, “The Role of Folk Consciousness in the Modern State: Its Efficacy, Use and  Abuse,” Storytelling, Self, Society 6, no. 1 Special Issue: Bhutan National Storytelling Conference (January-April 2010): 28, accessed September 20, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41949039.

[18] Clapham, Smetana, 33-34.

[19] Bartos, Letters, 150-151.

[20] G. A., “Review of Smetana by John Clapham,” Music & Letters 54, no. 1 (January 1973): 3-4, accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/734179.

[21] Bartos, Letters, 210.

[22] Large, Smetana, 262.

[23] Large, Smetana, 259.

Modern Crises and Charity

College brings together the strangest thoughts, ideas, and stories.  Just the other day, I was working on a presentation about the American Dream.  Wanting a nice picture to illustrate my title slide, I decided to look up photos of the Statue of Liberty.  One thing led to another, and I was suddenly thinking about Emma Lazarus’ famous poem.  I could only remember snatches, so I decided to read it again, and when I did so, news stories and recent conversations with Christian friends sprang to mind.

We Americans pride ourselves on being a land of opportunity, welcoming strangers to come and make a better life—or we once did.  That’s what the Statue of Liberty symbolized as it greeted immigrants entering America at Ellis Island.  But now we live in a time where many of us want to refuse safe harbor to others because we see them as a threat.  We want to turn back those masses which we once claimed to welcome.  Lazarus’ poem is very poignant as I read it now.

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Lazarus)

Statue_of_Liberty_7I’m not such an idealist or romantic that I deny the dangers of letting masses of people into our country.  Shutting ourselves off from the world isn’t the answer, though.  Erecting physical and bureaucratic walls and cutting ourselves off won’t keep us safe, for danger and terrorism can arise from inside a country as easily as they can penetrate it from without.

For Christians, I think the answer is somewhere in between the two extremes of keeping refugees out and indiscriminately letting them in.  The Bible calls us to charity and hospitality, to welcoming strangers and loving neighbors.  People seem to forget that the story of the Good Samaritan is about a man who helped a stranger of a different race and religion and in doing so put himself in danger of being attacked by the same robbers who had left the stranger for dead.

God’s Word also calls us to prudence and compassion, to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  This is far easier said than done, but the Bible never claims being a Christian and obeying God is easy.  The Christian life requires discernment, faith, and sacrifice of safety.  Even when people take advantage of charity or return evil for good, these are no excuses for not ministering to those in need.  In Luke 6:29, Jesus commands his disciples, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”  Peter tells the Church, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

While “The New Colossus” stems from 19th century American idealism, I think it can be a true wakeup call to modern Americans, especially Christians.  The time has come for us to renew the spirit of generosity that led to the penning of those lines, for if we lose sight of the principles and ideals that form the foundation of our nation, America will weaken and fall.  So, out of our abundance, let us share, let us offer homes to the homeless who seek our help, and let America once again be a land which offers opportunities for the diligent and welcomes refugees as a “Mother of Exiles” (Lazarus 6).

Works Cited

Lazarus, Emma.  “The New Colossus.”  National Park Service, nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2001.  Print.

Poems for All Nations: Part I

I am excited to present Caroline Bennett’s latest piece on music as she will be focusing on one of my favorite composers and compositions.  Because it is rather long, the research paper will appear in several installments.  Without further ado, here is part one.


“I am not ashamed to reply to you in my mother tongue, however imperfectly, and am glad to be able to show that my fatherland means more to me than anything else.”—Smetana’s second letter written in Czech language, 11 March, 1860 (“Bedrich Smetana Biography”)

In the heart of Europe lies an expanse of land enclosed by low mountains. This expanse is a river basin, with several rivers passing through it and then draining into three different seas. Throughout the rolling hills are forests of towering trees, interspersed with ruined castles that recall days long ago. This region was once known as Bohemia, though it has since become a region of the Czech Republic. The ethereal geography of this land has long inspired poets and musicians, but none more so than Bedřich Smetana, a prominent Czech composer from the 19th century. 1200px-PragueCityscapeLike many other Czechs, Smetana was devoted to his homeland. His love for Czech life and culture is beautifully expressed in his symphonic poem cycle Ma Vlást, which is comprised of a number of tone poems depicting various landmarks and stories. The overarching theme for Ma Vlást is one of freedom, which was a pertinent topic at the time that Smetana wrote, for the Czechs were in the middle of a struggle to break away from the Austrian empire. It has been more than a century since Ma Vlást premiered, but Smetana’s most well-known composition continues to speak to audiences all over the world. He may have originally been writing to praise the loyalty and independence of the Czechs, but people of all times, all nations, and all backgrounds can grasp and appreciate love for one’s homeland and the struggle for freedom. In order to better understand Ma Vlást and its importance in the world, it is essential to know the fundamentals of Czech history, the life of Bedřich Smetana, the composition of Ma Vlást, and the most beloved of Smetana’s works: the symphonic poem Vlatva.

Music was a part of Czech culture long before Smetana was born. Rosa Newmarch, an English historian, writes that music was an important part of Czech life extending back to the Roman Empire. As Christianity spread across Europe, a lot of folk music was suppressed because of its origins in pagan ritual. Eventually, however, the church embraced music and ultimately became the primary source of music in the Czech lands for many centuries. Indeed, many of the most beloved Czech songs were written by men of the church, and even sung in services.[1]

Prague_07-2016_Smetana_MuseumSuch hymns became an important part of Czech history. “Ktož jsú boží bojovníci” (translated “Ye Who Are Warriors of God”) was initially used as a war song and later reminded Czechs of their long struggle for freedom.[2] Indeed, another of the reasons religious music was such an important part of Czech culture was the fact that for hundreds of years, the Czechs were struggling to maintain their independence from other empires and countries. As a result, “love-songs, drinking and dancing songs, did not accord with the grim struggles of conscience which then absorbed the Bohemian people.”[3] Unfortunately, the Czechs’ fight for freedom usually failed, and at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Czech lands became a part of the Hapsburg-Austrian empire. Governed by foreigners for the next two centuries, the Czechs’ faith, language, and music were suppressed.[4] By 1848, however, the Czechs had had enough, and many rebelled against the Austrian government. The Czechs were brutally repressed,[5] but the independent spirit of the Czech people would not be stifled, and as the Austrian government weakened, the beautiful and unique culture of the Czechs returned in full force.

[1] Rosa Newmarch, The Music of Czechoslovakia (Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1942), 4.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., Music of Czechoslovakia, 7.

[4] Maria Dowling, Czechoslovakia (London: Arnold, 2002), xiii.

[5] Ibid., xiv-xv.

Pick up a Pen and Write in Cursive Again

Several years ago, I was at a local high school preparing to take the PSAT.  We were filling out the personal information before the actual test when we reached a section that required us to copy out an honor code promising not to release information about the test.  The proctor explained that we would have to copy the honor code in cursive.  She sounded almost apologetic as she instructed us, and she told us “just try to do your best.”  While I was actually excited to write the honor code out as prettily and tidily as possible, many of the students around me groaned when they heard the instruction.  My experience was not unique.  In a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, high school junior Emily Freeman wrote, “The honor code was the hardest part of the whole [PSAT]…because it had to be written in cursive” (Freeman).  Cursive is disappearing because it is no longer being taught in most American schools.  Because the Common Core curriculum does not mandate cursive, many states and schools have dropped cursive education.  Little do people realize the importance of keeping cursive, for cursive has many benefits.

writing in cursiveOne of the clearest benefits of using cursive is that it improves learning.  One way cursive helps learning is by developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.  In a New York Times article, columnist Katie Zezima writes that pediatric occupational therapist Sandy Schefkind “said that learning cursive helped students hone their fine motor skills” (Zezima).  According to a Time article by Katy Steinmetz, another way in which cursive aids learning is that it activates different parts of the brain than print and typing do and often helps students remember information and generate ideas.  In addition, studies have shown that students who have learned cursive perform better on reading and spelling tests than students who have only learned manuscript writing (Steinmetz).  One reason for this may be because cursive connects letters together, helping the brain think of words as whole units instead of individual letters (Steinmetz).  Psychologist Dr. William R. Klemm says that cursive “is an important tool for cognitive development” and causes the brain to integrate “sensation, movement control, and thinking.”

spellingIn addition to improving learning, cursive can assist people with handicaps.  According to New York Times journalist Maria Konnikova, some people with dysgraphia, a condition in which writing is impaired, cannot write print yet can still write cursive with little impairment.  Another condition, called alexia, involves reading impairments, and once again, some people who cannot read print can read cursive, or vice versa (Konnikova).  Finally, cursive can help students with dyslexia.  According to Washington Post journalist T. Rees Shapiro, cursive is an important part of the work that academic therapist Deborah Spear does with dyslexic students.  Shapiro writes that “Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.”  Because “b” and “d” in cursive are formed very differently, people with dyslexia are less like to confuse them.  Also, the left-to-right flow of cursive keeps dyslexic students from accidentally reversing letters.  According to a PBS news article by Elizabeth Jones and April Brown, learning cursive has helped students improve in school and overcome some of the impediments of dyslexia.  Alec Falconer, a dyslexic student who went undiagnosed for almost ten years, began learning cursive and claims that doing so helped him in school, and he said, “My handwriting, my spelling, the way I put sentences together has definitely improved a lot” (Jones).

hybrid handwriting
The words in black ink are an example of hybrid handwriting.

A final way in which learning cursive is beneficial is that it expands people’s reading and writing possibilities.  Those who know cursive can read more historical and personal documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and handwritten letters from family.  Knowing cursive enables one to write personal and professional-looking letters.  In addition, according to graphologist Heidi H. Harralson, less complex handwriting is easier to forge than cursive (Zezima).  Thus, while cursive may often be harder to read than print, this also means that it is harder to forge.  A final benefit of cursive is that it enables people to create a personal penmanship.  According to Kate Gladstone, the director of the World Handwriting Contest, a 2012 survey of handwriting teachers at a conference showed that more than half the teachers wrote in a hybrid style of handwriting that combined cursive and print.  Once people have learned cursive and print, they can choose to create their own version by mixing the two styles and creating their own unique style that enables them to write with the most comfort and speed.  Thus, learning cursive can open up other handwriting possibilities and combinations, allowing for more creativity and personality in penmanship.

When I was little, my sister began learning cursive, and I began imitating her.  I filled notebooks with connected and repeating loops.  Then I proudly displayed my work to my family, telling them, “See, I’m writing in cursive!”  Learning cursive for real turned out to be a long, taxing process, but I am extremely glad I did.  I can see how writing in cursive has helped me be more artistic, improve my hand-eye coordination, and hone my fine motor skills.  If we really do allow cursive handwriting to disappear, it will be a loss both to education and to culture.  I hope that other children can enjoy the fascination I had with cursive and the benefits that it produces.  Let’s pick up our pens and write in cursive again so we can keep the skill that provides an important foundation for basic learning, development, and creativity.

Works Cited

Gladstone, Kate.  “Handwriting Matters; Cursive Doesn’t.”  The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2013, nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive/handwriting-matters-cursive-doesnt.

Jones, Elizabeth and April Brown.  “How Cursive Can Help Students with Dyslexia Connect the Dots.”  PBS.org, 6 May 2014, pbs.org/newshour/updates/connecting-dots-role-cursive-dyslexia-therapy/.

Klemm, William R.  “Biological and Psychology Benefits of Learning Cursive.”  Psychology Today, 5 Aug. 2013, psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201308/biological-and-psychology-benefits-learning-cursive.

Konnikova, Maria. “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.”  The New York Times, 2 Jun. 2014, nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0.

Shapiro, T. Rees.  “Cursive Handwriting Is Disappearing from Public Schools.”  The Washington Post, 4 Apr. 2013, washingtonpost.com/local/education/cursive-handwriting-disappearing-from-public-schools/2013/04/04/215862e0-7d23-11e2-a044-676856536b40_story.html?utm_term=.074ad2c44441.

Steinmetz, Katy.  “Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing.”  Time, 4 Jun. 2014, time.com/2820780/five-reasons-kids-should-still-learn-cursive-writing/.

Zezima, Katie.  “The Case for Cursive.”  The New York Times, 27 Apr. 2011, nytimes.com/2011/04/28/us/28cursive.html.

Photographs, in order of use:





Haydn’s Expected Unexpected

This month, Caroline Bennett analyzes the first movement of one of Haydn’s piano sonatas.  You can listen to the piece through this link.


After hearing only the opening measures of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI: 49, listeners recognize that the first movement, “Allegro non troppo,” is a playful piece of music. Throughout his life, Haydn was infamous for being a mischievous and lively man, and these traits shine through in this sonata’s first movement. Not only is the mood of the piece light-hearted, but Haydn frequently alters the typical conventions of sonata form, as well as standard musical form, in order to fool his listeners and create a sense of surprise and delight. He effectively demonstrates his penchant for doing the unexpected throughout the exposition, development, and recapitulation of the first movement.

The primary theme of the exposition begins clearly in E-flat major with trill-like sixteenth notes in the right hand and bouncy eighth notes in the left. The primary theme, which spans mm. 1-12, appears to be very straightforward, going from tonic to dominant and then back to tonic again, creating a sentence. sonata-titleThis is the first example of Haydn’s departure from standard musical conventions, however. Haydn writes a pair of four measure basic ideas with only a four measure continuation, rather than the typical eight measure continuation. This means that, despite ending with a perfect authentic cadence, the primary theme surreptitiously segues into the transition before listeners realize what is happening. In the transition of the exposition, Haydn begins moving the piece forward into the dominant key, Bb-major. This is the usual key for the piece to modulate into, but Haydn still manages to surprise listeners by phrasing the transition so that it stops and starts, creating suspense. After the medial caesura, the main theme from the opening of the piece then comes back, this time in B-flat major and as the secondary theme of the exposition. The secondary theme appears rather straightforward; Haydn really begins playing with conventions again in mm. 50-59, where the mood of the secondary theme suddenly changes and becomes softer and more hesitant, introduced by staccato A-flat major chords. Listeners might be tricked into thinking that this is the beginning of the conclusion of the exposition, but the secondary theme does not reach a perfect authentic cadence until m. 60, marking the start of the conclusion. The exposition concludes on a resolute tonic chord in B-flat major.

This is the ancestral home of Haydn’s patron Prince Esterhazy.  Haydn wrote Sonata in E-Flat Major at the end of his time working for the Esterhazy family.

The pre-core of the development is a marked contrast to the first section of the movement because it is harmonically unstable and very lyrical. By the time the piece reaches the core of the development, the music has modulated to the relative minor of E-flat major: C minor. As is common in core sections, Haydn incorporates two themes that were previously found in the exposition. He constantly moves between major and minor keys, though, until he ultimately lands on a tonic chord in C-major.  This seems like it may be the cue for the retransition to begin, especially since the mood of the piece completely changes in the following measures, but Haydn makes it very hard to decide where the transition actually begins because he does not reach a tonic chord in B-flat major until m. 126, which would ordinarily introduce the retransition.

Much of the recapitulation’s departures from standard sonata form are the same as those found in the exposition. The biggest changes Haydn makes begin at the end of the closing section. Based on the exposition, listeners expect the first movement of the sonata to conclude on the fifth measure of the closing section, and Haydn does write a perfect authentic cadence in E-flat major on the downbeat of m. 216. However, this I chord is promptly followed by more notes that push the piece on towards yet another cadence, this time a half cadence. This chord precedes a coda, further prolonging the piece. The coda also has feigned endings, particularly m. 227. When Haydn does finally choose to end the coda, he surprises his listeners by suddenly crescendoing out of the otherwise subdued coda into, not the expected perfect authentic cadence, but into a determined imperfect authentic cadence in E-flat major.

Haydn certainly knew the rules for writing in sonata form, as he adeptly demonstrates throughout Sonata in E-flat Major, movement I. He includes all of the usual sections in the movement, modulates to the anticipated keys, and more. Nevertheless, Haydn refused to abide by what his listeners would expect, instead choosing to defy the standard conventions of sentence length, the beginnings of new sections, the conclusion of the recapitulation, and even the conclusion of the coda. Perhaps all of the surprising cadences and transitions between sections should not take listeners aback, however. After all, Haydn is well known for being the master of the unexpected.

Heart of a Samurai

In January 1841, a storm rages off the coast of Shikoku, Japan.  Five fishermen are out in a small boat when the storm strikes, snapping the mast, ripping off the rudder, and washing away the oars.  heart-of-a-samurai-coverThe fishermen drift out of control for eight days until they become stranded when their boat splinters on an island of rock.  Several months later, a ship approaches the island.  To the fishermen’s horror, their rescuers are the blue-eyed barbarians whom Japan has barred from her shores.  Being in the barbarians’ company—leaving Japan at all—means the fishermen may never be able to return home, for Japanese law declares that “any person who leaves the country and later returns will be put to death” (14).  So begins Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus, a children’s book based on the true story of the Japanese boy Manjiro Nakahama who became known to the English-speaking world as John Mung.

Unlike his friends Denzo, Jusuke, Toraemon, and Goemon who refuse to be “poisoned” by their American rescuers, Manjiro bridges the cultural divide between himself and the whaling crew of the John Howland and learns their customs and language.  The Americans’ inventions fascinate him, particularly the useful things called “pockets,” which Manjiro has never seen before.

Here is one of Manjiro’s drawings of “Bird Island” where he and his friends were stranded.  The picture can be found at this website.

Despite being homesick and worrying about his family—for whom he has become the breadwinner after his father’s death—Manjiro is bursting with excitement about the new world he has entered.  Curious, diligent, and smart, Manjiro finds friends and a foster family and forges a path for himself in the world of America.  All the while, though, he dreams of returning to his family and homeland, becoming a samurai, and “leaving footprints in the sands of time” by changing the world (76).  But how can a poor fisherman’s son, now an outcast, ever hope to accomplish these dreams?  Despite the many obstacles that confront him, Manjiro never stops fighting to realize his goals, and as the story progresses, Manjiro matures from an irresponsible boy to an industrious young man.  Overcoming the hindrances and bridging the divides that confront him requires of Manjiro courage and humility.  Gradually he learns that cultural prejudice and pride often mislead, and that both Japanese and Americans have much they can teach each other, if the other side is merely willing to learn.

Drawing on Manjiro’s own writings and filled with pictures he drew, Heart of a Samurai vividly captures Manjiro’s life.  Margi Preus skillfully combines fact and fiction to create a compelling retelling of Manjiro Nakahama’s life that will be an adventure for children to read.

Amazing Love

As we end the first month of a new year, it is valuable to contemplate God’s grace and amazing love for his people.  In the following article, Caroline Bennett reviews CDs by three different Christian artists which focus on praising God and seeing his steadfast love everywhere.

amazing-grace-collage-2O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love. -Psalm 59: 17 (ESV)

Though music of all genres can cause Christians to rejoice in the Lord, music written specifically to praise God can be especially edifying. There are many Christian artists out there, so it can be rather difficult to figure out whose music to listen to. A good way to decide is to ask two questions: are the lyrics thought-provoking and in accordance with Scripture, and is the music interesting and well written? Mosaic, Storm, and Rise in the Darkness are three albums featuring songs that answer “yes” to these questions.

mosaicThough most famous for his bluegrass tunes, Ricky Skaggs demonstrated his ability to cover more than one genre when he released Mosaic five years ago. The first song, the titular track, is a grand introduction into the themes Skaggs sings about throughout the album: the grace, providence, and everlasting faithfulness of God. It reminds Christians that though their roles in this world may seem small and insignificant—a mere shard of colored glass— they need to look at the bigger, more glorious picture of God’s redemptive plan. Every song on Mosaic revolves around this idea, but each has a unique sound and story to tell. One of the most creative songs on the album is “My Cup Runneth Over,” with lyrics that help Christians understand Psalm 23 anew: “You ask is it half empty / you ask is it half full /… If I give a different answer/ would you think of me a fool / It’s none of the above/ ‘cause it’s all of the above | My cup runneth over….His love poured out for me.” The wonderful thing about Mosaic is that one can listen to the album over and over again, and still realize something new and wonderful about the songs every time. And Mosaic only has a tinge of bluegrass to it, so even Christians who don’t care for bluegrass should still be able to enjoy listening to this powerful album.

stormAnother album that praises God for his mercy is Storm, released in 2002 by Christian artist Fernando Ortega. The album features a mix of old hymns—“Jesus Paid it All,” “Come Ye Sinners”—as well as new songs written by Ortega. The combination of Ortega’s voice, the piano, the guitar, and other instruments creates a lush sound that is a trademark of Ortega’s albums. Storm is suitable for all occasions. As its name implies, it is wonderful music for dreary weather, for its songs of redemption drive away all melancholy. The album is also quite fitting for those on the road with the opening track “Traveler.” However, the chorus of this song reveals that this is more than just a road trip song; it is a song that Christians need to voice every day: “Heavenly Father, / Remember the traveler / Bring us safely home / Safely home.”
Nathan Clark George is another Christian songwriter and performer who has released a number of albums in the past decade. Rise in the Darkness is one of his best, featuring a variety of songs. On it, George does an amazing job of putting almost word-for-word Scripture passages to music, such as Psalm 127 and Isaiah 58. rise-in-the-darknessYet Rise in the Darkness also features songs he has written lyrics for, including “What if I Were in the Garden?” In this song George admits that, although he would like to think that he would have been faithful to Jesus on the night of his arrest, he would have been just as weak as the disciples. Nevertheless, George rejoices in the thought that, despite his great depravity, God has poured his love out on him and shown him grace. George also performs arrangements of the well-known hymns “Not What My Hands Have Done” and “Nettleton.” Though George’s songs tend to be very quiet and contemplative—he is most often accompanied by acoustic instruments like the guitar and violin—Rise in the Darkness is nevertheless a loud witness to Christ’s work on the cross, and reminds Christians of their need to exhibit God’s love and mercy to others.

Mosaic, Storm, and Rise in the Darkness are wonderful albums for many reasons. They are well done musically, with beautiful melodies and instrumentation. Best of all, however, is the message they propound: man is a sinner, desperately needing a Savior, and God has shown his love to his people by sending Christ Jesus. When Christians listen to these three albums, they can truly rejoice with the psalmist in the God who “shows steadfast love.”


♪ George, Nathan Clark. Rise in the Darkness. Nathan Clark George, 2006.

♪ Ortega, Fernando. Storm. Word Entertainment, 2002.

♪ Skaggs, Ricky. Mosaic. Skaggs Family Records, 2010.

Outlaws of Time

Sam Miracle’s life has always been unusual.  He lives in a foster home in the Arizona desert with 11 other boys, has unbendable arms due to an accident he doesn’t recall, and experiences powerful daydreams in which he always dies.  Life only gets stranger when he learns his daydreams are true and only a time-traveling priest has kept Sam from being destroyed by the villain Sam is destined to stop.  Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson is a Wild West fantasy mixed with plenty of time travel and adventure.

Although the story contains scenarios similar to other time travel stories, such as the villain going back in time to kill a younger version of Sam (The Terminator) and Sam repeating events in his life over and over again so he can find a way to succeed (Edge of Tomorrow), the story is very unique, and even the parts which are reminiscent of other time travel stories have many differences.

outlaws-of-timeThe team of friends, old and new, that joins Sam to protect him and help him beat his nemesis “El Buitre” is a motley cast of characters.  At first, Sam’s “Ranch Brothers” from the foster home just look after him and find him when he wanders off into the desert during his daydreams, but when an outlaw comes to kill Sam, the foster boys are prepared to stop him so their friend can escape.  Gloria, or “Glory” as Sam dubs her, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spalding, who run the foster home St. Anthony of the Desert Destitute Youth Ranch.  Glory proves a steadfast and brave friend, ready to take on time travel, villains, and whatever other surprises await her and Sam.  Father Atsa Tiempo is a mysterious character who can travel through time.  He is Sam’s oldest friend, and his mission is to keep Sam alive so Sam can kill El Buitre, an outlaw who can control time like Father Tiempo and plans to use this power to conquer the world.

Sam, as the only person who can stop El Buitre, is caught right in the middle of all the dangerous, twisting action.  Sam’s friends are ready to sacrifice themselves over and over for him, but Sam doesn’t want to keep running away to live to fight another day.  Will he ever be quick enough to stop the Vulture?  Will he ever live to try?  How many of the people Sam cares about is he willing to lose along the way?

N. D. Wilson has written another novel that will take readers on a wild ride, not through Henry’s Kansas from 100 Cupboards or Charlie’s swamps from Boys of Blur, but through the deserts, cacti, and danger of the untamed American west.

TMW: 2016 in Review

As 2016 draws to a close, I have decided to review the year that is almost ended and look forward to the year that is almost here.

Looking Back

2016 has been a year of progress for Thousand Mile Walk.  We’ve seen a steady rise in viewers, visitors, and followers since we began writing in 2013.  Now, 418 intrepid people follow TMW via email, WordPress, or Facebook.


This year, TMW has also been setting new records.  Our post count has reached 217.  We have welcomed our first guest author, Caroline Bennett.  On November 29th, we set a new “Best Views Ever” at 125 views, and the total views since TMW’s inception has hit 24,989.

A “Most” List for 2016

Most popular day: Tuesday

Most popular topic: Essay

Most popular tag: “Poe”

Most popular month: November (1,366 views)

Most popular post from 2016: Physical Therapy

Most popular post of all: “Ulysses” and “The Lotos Eaters”: Contrasting Perspectives on Life from Lord Alfred Tennyson

Looking Forward

This is where most people would list their resolutions for the New Year, but I am not that type of person because I think it’s unwise to publish super ambitious goals.  In lieu of grand goals, we TMWers plan to carry on as we have been:  writing, learning, and sharing our work.  And who knows?  We may have some surprises for you this year. 🙂

As we continue taking small steps in our writing journey, we hope that you will accompany us, and we look forward to hearing from you.

The following is a poem that I love and find particularly fitting at this time of year.  I hope you enjoy it.  Happy New Year!

“The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be

The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

On the Incarnation

In keeping with previous years, I am writing a book review for Christmas.  This time, however, the book is not a children’s story, picture book, or short story.  Nor does the book’s connection to Christmas come from festive illustrations or folk tales.  Instead, this book’s examination of the basics of Christology and the incarnation is what makes it fitting for Christmas.

When I think of the works of early theologians from Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin, I imagine dry old tomes that will put me to sleep.  To my surprise, though, when I sat down to read On the Incarnation by the 4th century theologian Athanasius of Alexandria, I found a book that is both short and straightforward.

on-the-incarnation-coverOn the Incarnation explores the fundamentals of creation, the fall, Christ’s incarnation, and the redemption he accomplished.  Athanasius reminds his readers of the simple truths that have become muddled in the centuries since he wrote.  This book contains many lessons for the modern world.  In addition to overviewing important doctrines, the book also inadvertently shows how easily people forget lessons and repeat mistakes.  For example, some disputes which Athanasius discusses and which the church resolved in its early ecumenical councils have reappeared in recent decades under new names.

Reading On the Incarnation gives one perspective on Athanasius’ times and on the present day.  As C. S. Lewis writes in his introduction to On the Incarnation, “Every age has its outlook.  It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.  We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.  And that means the old books” (2-3).

On the Incarnation is an excellent book for any season, but it is especially appropriate as we ponder Immanuel’s birth during Christmas.  In addition to recommending the book itself, I recommend reading an edition that includes the introduction by C. S. Lewis, for Lewis provides helpful comments about On the Incarnation and thoughtful insights about the importance of reading old books.

Works Cited

C. S. Lewis.  Introduction.  On the Incarnation, by Athanasius of Alexandria.  Fig, 2012, pp. 1-7.