The Fleming Foundation Cultural Commentary

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Poem of the Week: A Sonnet of Keats

Happy is England! I could be content
To see no other verdure than its own;
To feel no other breezes than are blown
Through its tall woods with high romances blent:
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
For skies Italian, and an inward groan

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The Life of an Autodidact, Part One of Two

This is a revised version of a piece first published in 2014. Once upon a time I decided to learn Japanese.  I had none of the usual practical reasons: no business interests that would take me to Japan nor even an academic project comparing Noh plays with Attic tragedy.  I knew next to nothing of Japan, though as a child my imagination had been stirred by the Mikado, and later, when a college friend persuaded me to read the Tale of Genjii, my mind was haunted by images of beautiful men and women spending languorous evenings composing allusive verses to...

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Wednesday’s Child: The Quick and the Dead

If reading the Gospels has taught me anything, it’s that there is no recipe – no algorithm, a scientifically minded person might say – for the salvation of the soul.  Although Christ said many times that He had come to uphold the law, no one can ponder the events described by the evangelists without seeing that He, not the law, is the Savior.  This is why the Gospels are populated with every form of lowlife, from prostitutes to thieves, and why the virtuous and the strong are so often depicted there in moments of abject weakness.  What we most remember...

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Got to Laugh to Keep from Crying

Another morality play has been played out.  Catholic high school kids from Kentucky—obviously Southern bigots—harassed a Native American Marine, a Vietnam veteran, and one of the all-white adolescent louts deliberately got in his way and, with a smug grin on his face, humiliated the brave old man.  They should be expelled, cried the watchdogs in the media, their school should be humiliated.  One particularly repellant female demanded the release of their names and addresses so that outraged leftists could tar and feather them.  Another depicted the students being put–MAGA hat first–through a chipper. The best line came from the bastion...

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Winter Symposium in Sicily

It was roughly ten years ago that now editor of the Angelus Jim Vogel emailed me, “You have to come to Summer School in Rockford.  You need to meet Dr. Fleming.”  Jim had introduced me to Chronicles a year earlier and since I had recently resumed my undergraduate studies (dormant for seven years) I thought it would indeed be a great opportunity to make new friends, learn new things, and as Jim had noted, meet Dr. Fleming.  Scarcely could I have predicted the numerous places in America and Europe I would continue to learn from Dr. Fleming and other teachers...

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Wednesday’s Child: More Garbage

Perhaps the gentle reader remembers the oath I swore a few months back, when, like the ghost of Banquo that passes among the revelers to haunt Macbeth, containers for differentiated trash collection appeared to me on the terrace of a seaside restaurant.  Basically I said that sooner will Birnam Wood come up to Dunsinane than the abomination arrives in Palermo, but that if it does, I shall move to Morocco or Tunis forthwith.  Autumn turned to winter, and suddenly it seemed like no sooner were the words out of my mouth than the huge steel garbage disposal containers all over...

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McGrath and Fleming, Part II

Tom, I, too, am stunned by the decline of literacy among the literate classes, which is far more disappointing to me than the general decline.  Kids growing up today don’t have the people in the profession–whether the media, academe, or writers–we had to learn from.  After a discussion about writing essays and grammar in one of my classes back in the 90s a couple of older students came up to me.  They were both women who had come back to school to earn teaching credentials and master’s degrees after rearing families.  They had grown up when English was properly taught...

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Wednesday’s Child: Capram et circenses

For Christmas dinner we had ordered a roast baby goat, and consequently the teenage daughter of one of our invited guests regretted on the grounds that she is “a Vegan.”  When the animal, just shy of sixteen pounds in weight, arrived from the local fornaio, resplendent in a cloud of rosemary and a jubilation of potatoes, I must confess I felt a trifle abashed at the spectacle and glad that the girl would not be coming.  The serving platter took up the entire dinner table, with cutlery, plates and wine glasses huddling around its edges like poor relations, and the...

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A Dialogue on the Decay of English, by Roger McGrath and Thomas Fleming

I received this message from Prof. McGrath in response to my columns on learning foreign languages. Tom: For what it’s worth, I took French in high school and Latin in college.  I think Latin teaches one a surprising amount about the English language or perhaps reminds one of all those things that we were supposed to learn in the 7th and 8th grade–when English teachers emphasized parts of speech, diagramming sentences, tense, mood, et al. During my years playing professor I noticed a slow but steady decline in the writing skills of the average student.  By my final days of teaching...

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Should Students Read T.S. Eliot?

Dear Autodidact: Question for you. T. S Eliot is one of my favorite poets. ( I have read and re-read many of his poems) Most friends of mine aren’t as enthusiastic about him. I’ve often heard people say that he “killed poetry” with his “Modernist” style. This is also the view of a number of conservative professors I know (none is  a literary scholar, though) Do you think there’s any truth to this claim? I tend to read poetry for its meaning, not its style (so Eliot’s style doesn’t bother me much) A Catholic College Student Dear Catholic College Student,...