Archive for April, 2011

Flower, gleam and glow,

let your power shine, 

make the clock reverse,

bring back once was mine —

what once was mine.

Disney’s 50th animated motion picture, “Tangled,” is a fascinating adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale, “Rapunzel.” It features a little poem (above) as a song sung by Mother Gothel to a magical flower, created by a drop of sunlight, that has the power to heal and to keep her forever young. The flower, however, is one day taken by the King’s guards and used to make a medicinal drink for the Queen to help her recover from illness in her pregnancy. Later the queen gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, Rapunzel, with sun-bright golden hair. That hair, unbeknownst to the king and queen, has the same magical power as the sun-flower.

But Mother Gothel suspects.

So she comes to the castle at night to cut a lock of the golden hair to keep it for herself. But she discovers that, once cut, the hair loses its power. So she kidnaps the baby and raises her as her own, singing the song over the little princess, brushing her hair and using her to keep herself alive.

This story is a little bit different from the Brothers Grimm version. In the fairy-tale, Rapunzel is from an ordinary family, not a royal one. Her father steals not a sunflower, but a vegetable called rampion (which, coincidently, contains precursors for synthesizing the hormones necessary to sustain a woman’s pregnancy) from the garden of a witch —  for his wife who craves it. The witch says that to pay for this theft the family must give him their firstborn child, which they do, and she locks up Rapunzel in a tower where her hair grows very long.

Changes made in the Disney version ennoble Rapunzel, free her father from the taint of wrongdoing, and create a different motivation in Mother Gothel for her actions: eternal youth, not revenge and the desire to enslave another person to her power. Still present in both versions is the problem of human trafficking and child slavery. Only in “Tangled,” Rapunzel’s imprisonment is made pleasant by painting, pottery, puppeteering, and playing guitar (among other things!). For Disney’s Mother Gothel needs Rapunzel to be manipulated, not man-handled, into sharing the life-giving power of her magical hair.

Making Rapunzel’s hair not only long but magical emphasizes not the amount of time she’s been locked in the tower but something divine: her ability to heal people who are hurt. The idea that cutting her hair causes some or all of the power to be lost looks very much like the biblical story of Samson in the book of Judges. Samson has superhuman strength when his hair is long, but loses it when it is cut — as Delilah discovered. In the Disney film, the awareness of this link is even alluded to in a conversation Rapunzel has with Flynn Rider (aka Eugene FitzHerbert) who asks, after she heals a cut on his hand with her hair, if he will now have superhuman strength “because that would be pretty cool!” (Agreed.)

In “Tangled,” Flynn Rider is actually the narrator of the story who begins it by saying “this is the story of how I died.” But as he is still speaking, we suspect upon hearing this that he somehow came back to life again — which proves to be the case in this version of the story. At the end of some wonderful adventures, in which Rapunzel leaves her tower to celebrate her birthday under the shining light of 1000 floating lanterns, she is recaptured by Mother Gothel and Eugene comes to rescue her. But the witch stabs him, intending to kill him. As he is dying, Rapunzel begs to be allowed to heal him with the magic of her hair. Mother Gothel agrees when Rapunzel promises to remain with her forever and never run away again.

But Eugene is against this damning covenant, and when Rapunzel is about to sing the song that would heal his wound, he cuts off her hair with a shard from a broken mirror. Rapunzel instantly becomes a brunette! And Mother Gothel, whose life has been utterly dependent on Rapunzel’s magic, ages rapidly, trips and falls out the window, turning utterly to ashes by the time she hits the ground. Then Eugene dies, too, but only after telling Rapunzel that she was his “new dream.” Rapunzel begins to cry. As she does, she sings:

Heal what has been hurt,

change the fates’ design,

save what has been lost,

bring back once was mine —

what once was mine

One of Rapunzel’s tears falls on Eugene’s face. In her tear is the power no longer in her hair. It baptizes Eugene with the same life-saving grace Rapunzel’s birthmother experienced when pregnant, and Eugene comes back to life. The light of the sun-flower shines through the wound and closes it.

I was watching this film for the first time on Easter, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the resurrection plot, the sun-flower symbolism,  and the spiritual themes:  our human need for healing, the imprisonment of our souls caused by deception and selfishness, our natural desire for freedom, and, above all, the power of love to motivate self-sacrifice for someone else. As my friend Professor Jerry Root pointed out to me and those members of the Root family watching the film with me on Easter Sunday afternoon, both Rapunzel and Eugene demonstrate Christ-like qualities at the moment when they’re willing to give up their lives for each other.

The Brothers Grimm fairy-tale ends very differently. When the young man goes to the tower to rescue Rapunzel, he finds the witch but not the girl. It is he who falls out the window and scratches out his eyes on long thorns at the tower’s base. For many long years after, he wanders until at last he comes to the place where Rapunzel has been living in the desert with the twins she gave birth to, their children together, and his heart is restored and healed by the sound of her voice — which he recognizes as her own.

This ending is much more complex. Evil is not destroyed, a good man is hurt, and a woman who was a slave struggles to provide for her children as a single mother until her blinded lover can come to her.  The theme in the fairy-tale is not resurrection of life, but the continuation of life from generation to generation —  not the magical power of Rapunzel’s hair, but the divine power of her fertility.

I love both versions of the story.

p.s. Eugene FitzHerbert is a fine name for the otherwise nameless man who comes to Rapunzel’s tower. The name means “well-born son of a glorious warrior.”

p.p.s.  “Rapunzel” is the German word for the vegetable rampion,  and Gothel means “godmother” in a dialect of southern German. The most fascinating name of the movie, however, belongs to Rapunzel’s pet chameleon: Pascal. This was the name of the 17th century French physicist and philosopher who came up with the idea known as “Pascal’s Wager” —  something worth reading about!

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I first read a poem by Kimberly Johnson quite recently when Robert Pinsky shared it through Facebook. Originally published in Slate, it’s called Catapult.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of listening to Kim give a reading at Wheaton College. Among my favorites were “Metronome,” “Book of Hours,” and “Ode on my Belly Button.” Kim made clear her poetic goal: not necessarily to “make it new,” but to “make it strange.” Her love of language and Renaissance scholarship certainly make this possible. In the tradition of John Donne, she is a new metaphysical poet.

To enjoy more of her work, visit her website: kimberly-johnson.com.

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In the gospel of John 9:1-38, we can read the story of the way Jesus miraculously healed the man born blind. It’s an astonishing story, really. For Lent, my RezArtists’ group was asked to respond with artwork — visual & lyrical — to this story. We did. To see the results, visit the RezBlog on the Blind Man.

“One thing I do know:

I once was blind,

but now,

I see.

John 9:25

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The Oxcart (the song!)

lyrics by Jane Beal

music & performance by Andrew Beal


based on …

14 February 2010 – St. Valentine’s Day – Wheaton, IL

Bright red and beautiful, high in the trees,
you sing out a love-song in the morning
for Saint Valentine, for true-love, for joy ~
and call your sweetheart with all of your longing.

Snow still lies on the ground, trees are yet bare,
but you sing of a springtime that draws near.
Your hope is lovely, your voice sweet, a dream
out of winter’s darkness that I rejoice to hear.

My soul flies up to where you are, so close
to the bright-blue, sunlit sky, enraptured
by the miracle of new life coming
into the world on red-wings turned westward.

If I could sing a love-song like you, bright-heart,
I would call my love to me from the oxcart!


Jane Beal
The Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries (2010)


p.s. “Because the birthday of my life has come
my love has come to me.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“Mexican Oxcart” by Harold Harper Capers (1957)

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Pencil marks on a wall, I wasn’t always this tall
You scattered some monsters from beneath my bed
You watched my team win
You watched my team lose
Watched when my bicycle went down again
And when I was weak, unable to speak
Still I could call You by name

And I said, Elbow Healer, Superhero
Come if You can
You said … I Am

Only sixteen, life is so mean
What kind of curfew is at 10pm?
You saw my mistakes
And watched my heart break
Heard when I swore I’d never love again
And when I was weak, unable to speak
Still I could call You by name

And I said Heartache Healer, Secret Keeper
Be my best friend
And you said … I Am

You saw me wear white by pale candlelight
I said forever to what lies ahead
Two kids and a dream, with kids that can scream
Too much it might seem when it is 2am
And when I am weak, unable to speak
Still I will call You by name

Shepherd, Savior, Pasture Maker
Hold onto my hand
You say … I Am

The winds of change and circumstance blow in and all around us
So we find a foothold that’s familiar
And bless the moments that we feel You nearer

When life had begun, I was woven and spun
You let the angels dance around the throne
And who can say when, but they’ll dance again
When I am free and finally headed home
I will be weak, unable to speak
Still I will call You by name

Creator, Maker, Life Sustainer
Comforter, Healer, my Redeemer
Lord and King, Beginning and the End

I Am
Yes, I Am

Nichole Nordeman
from Woven & Spun (2002)

p.s. To hear the song and see it beautifully illustrated on YouTube, click Nichole Nordeman’s I Am.

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Tonight I was talking to my friend Claudia, and I wished her a “Happy National Poetry Month!” As it happened, she was reading George McDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul, which contains one poem for every day of the year. I immediately looked for the book online and found it. The poem for January 10th, I love:

When I no more can stir my soul to move,
and life is but the ashes of a fire,
when I can but remember that my heart
once used to live and love, long and aspire —
oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art:
be thou the calling, before all answering love,
and in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.

George MacDonald
Diary of an Old Soul (1880)

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Basho on Poetry

“Learn about pines from the pine and about bamboo from bamboo.”

“Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets; seek what they sought.”

“Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter.”

Learn from the Pine
trans. Robert Hass


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<<Je t’aime>>, répète le vent à tout ce qu’il fait vivre. Je t’aime et tu vis en moi. ~ René Char, last lines from this poem “Afin Qu’il N’y Soit Rien Changé”

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