Civilized Reader

The Spoon Elevation in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The titular character of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, wrongfully convicted as a spy and sentenced to ten years in a 1950’s Soviet forced-labor camp, trudges through his daily life with a strange companion: “[Ivan Denisovich] Shukhov pulled his spoon out of his boot. His little baby. It had been … Read more

The Seven Ages of Man in the Pasture—You Come Too

While I write this review, I am going to read the good poem I am reviewing. You come too. “The Pasture” by Robert Frost I’m going out to clean the pasture spring; I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away (And wait to watch the water clear, I may): I sha’n’t be gone long. – … Read more

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Handbook of Hope

“Where there’s life there’s hope, as my Gaffer used to say; and need of vittles, as he mostways used to add.” In this weary world, two of the most formidable pitfalls lying in wait for our stumbling feet are the temptations of doubt and despondency. Whether the cause of discouragement lies within or without, it can be … Read more

The Birds: When the Wind Changes Overnight

For all their disagreements, scientific fact and science fiction are in agreement concerning the viral quality of fear. Men tend to panic when the wind changes overnight and blows beyond their control. Pandemonium is never as distant as a complacent people imagine. Civilized society is not immune from collapse just because it is civilized. Ingenuity … Read more

“The Robbers”: A Checkup with Dr. Schiller

Quæ medicamenta non sanant, ferrum sanat, quæ ferrum non sanat, ignis sanat.  ∼ Hippocrates It doesn’t take a sociologist to know man is morally ill. It doesn’t even take one to know he suffers from moral diseases of two varieties, hidden and manifest. To the latter group belong tragedies great and small. To treat the … Read more

Oedipus the Detective

The murder mystery is as old as murder. When the blood of Abel cried out for justice, the all-seeing Judge took up the case and Cain was caught in his crime. So it was, and so it is. All are Cain to one extent or another, murdering what is precious in their own lives. The … Read more

The Writing Is on the Web

With the unfolding of spring comes a renewed awareness and appreciation for life. It is peculiar, though, how the observation of life, birth, and the rounds of nature’s dance can lead to the contemplation of death. Resurrection requires that life conclude before it may rise again. Spring can, as a result, be solemn even as … Read more

Wartime Morality in Ambrose Bierce’s “A Horseman in the Sky”

The extant portion of the six-mile long Civil War front at Cold Harbor, Virginia is small enough to explore in an hour or less. Although the National Park commemorating the battle is tragically shrunken, its rifle pits and trenches, creeks, meadows, and woods supply the visitor’s imagination with ample atmosphere for a phantasmal reenactment of … Read more

Glory to You, Love: Puccini’s Turandot and the Triduum

Old Mother Goose, When she used to wander, Would ride through the air On a very fine gander. This poem, along with all the other “Mother Goose” poems, was extremely important to John Senior, the Catholic educator who inspired the creation of The Civilized Reader column you are reading now. He was especially enamored with … Read more

The Divine Tragedy of Achilles

As the heroes of The Iliad are slain in blood, Homer gives each of them an epitaph in poetry, that they may die not as expendable masses, but as men with names. Even as they fall, death swirling round them, the blind poet looks for the monument of man, decrying its absence while railing at … Read more

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, and the Eternal City

Rome is a city of treachery and treason, infection and sin. It is appropriate that the Vicar of Christ should have been first murdered here, and—with the exception of long periods of scandalous absence—that he should have this urbs sacra et caput mundi providentially fixed as his seat and home. Rome is the city of … Read more

A Review of Robert Frost’s “In Neglect” for Lent

When Robert Frost forswore both academic degrees and farm life to write poetry, he wrote a poem about himself and his wife as a response to the disappointment of his family. The poem is called “In Neglect,” and it describes well anyone who spent their Lent in a worthy manner. “In Neglect,” both brief and … Read more

The Vampyre Bicentennial: Should Catholics Be Wary?

Full disclosure: I have been scarred by vampiric literature. It happened when I was a boy. My mother learned of an isolated Catholic family living in the woods outside town who had a lonely son of my age. As happens in childhood, I was enlisted upon a mission of charity. Having received my marching orders, … Read more

Heathen Holiness: Padraic Colum’s Nordic Gods and Heroes

Winter is the season for readers. Bitter cold and polar darkness drive people beneath quilts and by hearthsides where the book is a quintessential commodity and companion, its pages aglow in the blended light of fire and frost. Whether engaged silently or aloud, a wintry volume should occupy every end-table in rooms where chilling temperatures … Read more

The Vulgar Morality of Tam o’ Shanter: A Tale by Robbie Burns

January 25 marks the birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), the national poet of Scotland, and is observed worldwide with the Robbie Burns Supper, a night of poetry, song, toasts, haggis, and “Tam o’ Shanter.” The tale of Tam and his devilish interloping is customarily enacted in vaudevillian style during the Supper, bringing the flare and flavor … Read more

Why The Worst Christmas Story is Worth Reading

There are few Christmas stories that begin with a scene so ragged and rich as a threadbare, moth-gnawed Santa Claus who, returning to his flat after hearing the desires of adoring urchins, pulls bottles of chianti from his boots for himself and an old friend on Christmas afternoon. Christmas stories are all about the shabby … Read more

Thoughts of the East Inspired by the Three Wise Men

Every child knows there is something simple and true about the Wise Men. I mean, of course, those chipped and silent figures that begin to appear around Gaudete Sunday and move silently toward Epiphany. When I was a boy, I was fascinated by a set in which the exotic origins of the kings were obvious, … Read more

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