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December 26: The day after the Nativity

December 26, 2009

In the Orthodox church, this is the second day of the Nativity, and the Synaxis of the Theotokos, who made the Nativity feast possible. In the Catholic church, this is the feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr. Perhaps there’s something significant about the different commemorations the west and east have on this day; I’m not sure. But both participate in the mystery of the incarnation itself, and in honor–and perhaps in apophatic definition– of this mystery, I’d like to present a poem by Czeslaw Milosz, the winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Incantation

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.

No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,

No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.

It establishes the universal ideas in language,

And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice

With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.

It puts what should be above things as they are,

Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.

It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,

Giving us the estate of the world to manage.

It saves austere and transparent phrases

From the filthy discord of tortured words.

It says that everything is new under the sun,

Opens the congealed fist of the past.

Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia

And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.

As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,

The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.

Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.

Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

Berkeley, 1968

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