Skip to main content

Strange, Stranger, Strangest

 

 


 Strange, Stranger, Strangest...


Here's a strange story – on the face of it, nothing to do with Christmas, but in a strange way it is.

 Maybe you know it already, but I didn't. (Bible – Judges 13 – if you're interested).

 And this Rembrandt's a strange painting too – all the stranger, for disagreeing with the story as told above... but more of that later.

 

 

Manoah's Wife's Story

 

I never heard him come –

in an instant, he was here

The Stranger, with his message.

 

He declined our food and drink

and refused to say his name.

I would not understand

 

but knew and bowed my head.

When I looked up again

to try to learn some more

 

he was no longer there.

I never heard him go

The Stranger, with his message.

 

 

An unnamed infertile woman is visited by a stranger, also an unnamed person, who turns out to be one of those strange creatures identified as angels. A second strange encounter follows, this time including her husband (who does have a name) ending in the two of them terrified. She becomes pregnant, and gives birth to the strangest of sons, who can only be called superhuman.

 

One of the many interesting ideas this story raises is the role anonymity plays in creating A Stranger.

 

Manoah has a name and is no stranger; nor is his wife, whose name we don't know but being called  Manoah's wife, in that distant patriarchal society, is sort-of named. The visiting stranger is however anonymous, and insists on remaining so.

 

There's also the role that offering refreshment, in welcoming and thereby familiarising the stranger, plays – this visitor firmly turned it down, thus preserving his strangemess.

 

Strangers can frighten. The more so, when we don't know who they are, especially if they refuse to say, and decline our food and drink, even if – or perhaps especially if – it seems they’ve come a long way, and there’s a particular reason for their coming to us, like bringing a message.

 

The story is quite clear in its description of how frightened the couple were, throwing themselves on the ground. Yet Rembrandt shows us a composed woman serene in her praying, with her husband equally unfazed, simply turning away slightly from the heat of the fire.

 

As for the angel – he looks like an ordinary wingless sort of fellow, who having made a jump, is more interested in where he's going to land, than doing angelic things like gazing heaven-wards.

Certainly not someone to make you want to throw your frightened self on the ground.

So the way Rembrandt decided to represent this episode, so different from the story, strikes me as strange.

 

It looks like angels may come in many forms, but perhaps they're always strange, if not strangers, even if they look a bit familiar.

 

(I just noticed that angel is almost completely contained in stranger).

 

There it is, a strange story indeed, but one that crops up more than once in these ancient tales, and while it isn’t a Christmas one – another strange story, however well we know it – it has at least one shared character…

 

Well, whoever you find yourself visited by this Christmas, may it be a happy one.

 

 

 






 

 



 

 


 

 

.

 

 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A plague on all these houses

It's a great poem, Lowell's For the Union Dead. I only recently came across it - at least, that's what I thought - but it's been grunting (I choose the word advisedly) away in my head ever since, especially that fourth verse. Behind their cage, yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting as they cropped up tone of mush and grass to gouge their underworld garage. It took a little while for me to realise why. Before (I thought) I'd read it, I wrote a poem about the new housing estates springing up round our little town. I was thinking about the various creatures that had lived on the field that was to be covered with houses - sheep primarily - and then those that were to follow. The first were, well, a sort of dinosaur. Here's my second verse: At first it was the one-armed monsters, set free within their caged arena to trundle round, and gently paw the ground, then pile up mounds of earth accompanied by Lego men. I was pleased

The Three Hares

  The Three Hares We continue on our way running, running, running around held together tip to tip so I can hear what she can hear as well as her. And the other follows me in front of her – we are joined up by our ears so we follow, lead and follow running, running, running around we continue on our way. Running, running, running around – no cause for worry – what's to come has already been. The future's past – watch us here – we're going nowhere – the last is first and first is last. Our present moment sees us still although we seem to race – running, running, running around we continue. On our way running, running, running around hearing your persistent questions – why do you keep on asking? We cannot tell you any more. May you share your senses and find soft silence at your centre which is so close, while you go on running, running, running around. The turning of the year, with the various thoughts about the past and the future that c

Happy Christmas!

Christmas – or if you prefer, Solstice, Hanukkah, or just This Special Time… Stop now.  For a moment, wait. And look.  From here you can see far. In this direction, where we’ve been – the climb, the ups and downs. Now turn around. There before you lies the future.  At the summit of the year there’s time to rest, and be refreshed – let’s gather here, so we may share each other’s company, look forward to the new arrivals, lives to come travelling into this misty landscape, and in our brightness bring to mind those no longer in our group. So drop your rucksack, get your breath back the old year lies behind – for now let’s all enjoy the present gift-wrapped here before us. I’m quite sure this little poem has no great literary, let alone poetic merit, but hey we don’t always have to be polished, clever, neat or profound. Or original. Or elegant. Especially not when you’ve just got to the top of a mountain. But there is a def