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Dorothy L. Sayers is best know as a mystery writer and her character of Lord Peter Wimsey, but she also wrote poetry, essays on theology and did translations of The Song of Roland and much of The Divine Comedy.  In the 1930s, she began writing plays, often with deep religious themes.  She wrote a series of radio plays for the BBC based on the life of Christ entitled The Man Born to be King.

I discovered the last in the library in college and have re-read and enjoyed it several times.  One thing about it, however, that stuck with me is a poem she used to preface the printed edition of her plays.  The title of the poem is "The Makers", and I think it has something to say about Republican "I Made That!" boast.

It begins with an Architect, who announces "I am the master of the art" and says that he has concieved a design.

Come now, good craftsman, ply your trade
With tool and stone obediently;
Behold the plan that I have made --
I am the master; serve you me."
The Craftsman allows that he will look at the Architects plan, but insists that he, not the Architect is the master of the craft.
"It is by me the towers grow tall,
I lay the course, I shape and hew;
You make an inky little scrawl,
And that is all that you can do."
The Craftsman claims that he is the master,
"Laying my rigid rule upon
The plan, and that which serves the plan --
The helpless, uncomplaining stone."
And then the uncomplaining Stone adds his two cents.  It points out that neither one of them will accomplish anything unless they understand it's nature:
"For I am granite and not gold,
For I am marble and not clay,
You may not hammer me nor mould --
I am the master of the way."
But if the Architect will design his plan and the Builder execute it taking into account the Stone's strengths and limitations, the Stone will humbly bear the burden, the great Cathedral which they wish to build.
"Since none is master of the rest,
And all are servants of the work --"
The inspiration for this poem probably came from "Zeal of Thy House", a religious play she had written previously about the construction of a medieval cathedral, and the brilliant but proud architect commissioned to build it.  More importantly, perhaps, Sayers wrote this poem at a time when she had shifted from writing novels, which is a solitary work, to writing plays, which is a collaborative one; and I think this poem was an acknowledgement of the contribution of the director and the actors and all the people who worked to bring her words to life.

In Sayers' view, when the Bible said that "God made man in His own image," it did not mean that God made humans to look like him, but rather that God made beings who likewise had the capability to make things.  To her, labor and the act of creation were themselves sacraments, and she wrote eloquently on work as vocation.

And to those who would boast "I Made That!" she would remind them that

"The work no master may subject
Save He to whom the whole is known,
Being Himself the Architect,
The Craftsman and the Corner-stone"

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Anglican Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Building Fund Tip Jar (31+ / 0-)

    Come to think of it, Sayers' poem could be read as an answer to Howard Roark, the uncompromising architect of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.  Except that Sayers' poem came first.

    I live for feedback.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 05:26:43 PM PDT

    •  Thank you for this (14+ / 0-)

      Not only am I a big fan of her Lord Peter mysteries .. but I love her theological works too ...
      Her ideas about education - that it is to teach us to think and learn... not memorize and conform...
      Her writing on how we are co-creators here on earth

      and I think her essay "The other six deadly sins" should be mandatory reading for anyone with any religious leanings...
      clergy and other religious leaders should be able to recite it by heart! and follow it!

      thanks for bringing her to the conversation

      Give your heart a real workout! Love your enemies!

      by moonbatlulu on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:15:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've been a big fan of Sayers over the years, (9+ / 0-)

      her mysteries that is. I never read religious pieces.
      But I have to add that her books have what I call casual British antisemitism.
      It's the kind of antisemitism that just assumes that it's common knowledge that Jews are those weird "other" people
      When my sister and brother-in-law decided to get married, they were subjected to the casual British antisemitism with his middle class English parents earnestly and sincerely telling him how this would not work out, marrying a Jew. (they've been married for about 40 years now).
      Another British family member remarked about the "little Jew" selling ties door to door in her neighborhood. And felt insulted that the nursery school her son goes honored him by having him in charge of the matza (at Passover) because they thought he was Jewish (her husband is Jewish and her son has his last name).
      So Dorothy Sayers is not alone. I've also heard this about Roald Dahl, an author my children adored. Since there were no antisemitic remarks in his books, I didn't stop my children from reading him.

      We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

      by Tamar on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:18:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I didn't pick up on that, but (6+ / 0-)

        it's not something I'm tuned into, either.  I get really pi$$ed at overt antisemitism, but I'm not trained to note the subtleties.   Thanks for pointing it out.  I'll read (and listen) more carefully from now on.

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:31:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I haven't read her books for a number of years (6+ / 0-)

          but as I remember, there were occasional little comments, not really subtle, but not Nazi-like either.

          We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

          by Tamar on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:36:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sometimes, I attribute those (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mayim, la urracca, BlackSheep1, BachFan

            kinds of things to the times in which the books were written.  While much of what Twain wrote in Huckleberry Finn would be be considered horribly racist today, it was actually pretty enlightened for the times.  There are also things in some of Dickens' works that would get him in trouble today.

            I was brought up in a Lebanese-American family.  I was taught to respect Jews as neighbors, even though I knew very few of them until I was a young adult.  The more I learn about Jewish history, the more respect I have for the sheer determination to survive as a people.  It's not only the Holocaust.  There was so much that took place before that.  Of course, I'm preaching to the choir here.  Sorry!

            -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

            by luckylizard on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:21:18 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  There are all kinds of awkwardnesses (10+ / 0-)

        and problems in her writings and the writings of many "greats." People of color (and people from the Continent!) often get rough treatment. And of course, the terminology is problematic (racist) - dago is one of the more gentle terms. Some of it is the times, some of it is the character speaking, and some of it is downright prejudice (personal and/or cultural).

        Dorothy Sayers' great love was Jewish man. I think, at least in the Lord Peter stories, what appears simply anti-Semitic is a more complex combination of factors (including the "casual British anti-Semitism"). Mostly her Jewish characters (if stereotypical) are sympathetic. Much more than many of her upper-class characters! Who are also stereotypical.

        As those stories go on, they become less boiler-plate and superficial. Many of the discussions in Gaudy Night are extremely interesting to read in the 21st century.  The characters are generally richer and the tensions between class, race, nationality, education are deeper and more thoughtful.

        •  I remember really liking Gaudy Night a great (7+ / 0-)

          deal. And her women characters were strong and independent.
          The relative I mentioned making a couple of remarks is an in-law married to one of my (Jewish) relatives. And yet these remarks come out with no notion that she has said anything wrong or offensive. In fact, she'd be shocked to think they were hurtful in any way. Her daughter once dropped a similar remark, I guess having grown up with these views, even though the daughter is half-Jewish!

          We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

          by Tamar on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:40:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  It's really complicated (8+ / 0-)

          Particularly in the early Lord Peter stories, Sayers is often wandering back and forth between mystery and parody.  Whose Body, for instance, is about a Jewish banker who is murdered for being a Jew who married the woman the villain wanted.  If you read the story that way, you realize how quick Sayers' ear was for the casual bigotry of her time.

          (Notice, by the way, that Peter never says "dago".  It's his brother who throws the epithets around.)

          She was trying to make people uncomfortable.  Apparently, she succeeded: three-quarters of a century after the first story was written, we still cringe at it.

          •  Peter's brother the Duke was (6+ / 0-)

            awful--but his wife was truly appalling. Yet the Dowager Duchess is a darling with no bigotry. One has to wonder if the Duke is just dense or whether his horrid wife just rubbed off on him.

            The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

            by irishwitch on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:44:27 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The Dowager isn't free of bigotry (7+ / 0-)

              ...but at least she tries.  That's what makes her so approachable.

              One of the things which people who complain about the casual bigotry in Sayers' books miss, by the way, is that it wasn't just antisemitism and misogyny which she wrote about.  The whole story in Unnatural Death is about the murder of a woman who is clearly and unequivocally painted as half of a very long-standing lesbian couple.

              •  For her day, the Dowager was a raving radical. (7+ / 0-)

                They were written in the late 20s and 30s, after all. One can't imagine her being rude to anyone, whatver their station in life.

                The upperclass twits are beautifully delineated--the Paris Hiltons of their day, frivolous, well-off and utterly useless. This was the age of Bertie Wooster after all.'

                Another lesbian couple is the pair of friends  Peter talks to when  Harriet is tried for murder.

                Another interesting detective hero is Tpmmy Lindley, whose partner Havers never fails to cut him down to size when he goes upperclass on her.

                The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

                by irishwitch on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 09:08:22 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  The problems of women intellectuals (7+ / 0-)

          are discussed in great detail in Gaudy Night--and while no one seems to be murdering female academics for pointing out factual errors in dissertations, there are still plenty of people who think Ann Romney is a better Mom because she stayed home, as opposed to Michelle, who worked.  And the Republicans still have issues with women who don't become parents (unless you're Condi,and then it's okay) and who are intellectuals.

          On the casual anti-Semitism--it's very typical of the time in which she wrote.  My Dad had a Jewsih mother, which made him a Jew according to religious law.  He recognized the problems it created for him in the job market and was careful NEVER to let that slip--to the point where he changed his middle name of Emmett (he was Robert Emmett after the Irish patriot) to "Joseph:, his confirmation name--not that being Irish and Catholic was a terrific thing, but it beat being a Jew.

          I do recall that Peter's buddy Freddie married the Jewish banker's daughter.  And that Peter's brother was particularly horrified that his sister Mary married the Scotland Yard Inspector--and he was none too thrilled that Peter wed Harriet Vane, the Oxford  grad who was acquitted of murder of her ex-lover and who wrote mysteries for a living.

          Goddess, I still have a huge crush on Lord Peter, just for NOT insisting Harriet leave the mess at Oxford unsolved for her safety but instead he buys her a dog collar should anyone try to strangle her again and shows her some moves to break their hold!

          The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

          by irishwitch on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:42:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  it is there but subtle and complex. Probably her (11+ / 0-)

        most developed Jewish character is Sir Levy in Whose Body?, a financier of great skill but impeccable character and an admirable private life. His daughter goes on to marry one of the minor characters.



        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:39:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I Hadn't Noticed That... (8+ / 0-)

        ... but being a Lutheran from the Midwest, I'm probably oblivious to that sort of thing.  Some of her characters, certainly betray a casual antisemitism, (I can think of one passage where Lord Peter's chatty mother makes a comment about London bankers "Ishmaeling together," and then remembering they find that term insulting), but generally it's the unsympathetic characters, like Sir Julian from "Whose Body?" who are the most antisemitic.

        And as Wee Mama observed, Peter's friend Freddy Arbuthnot goes on to marry Rachel Levy, the daughter of a Jewish financier, and has no objections to her raising their children in her faith.

        Overall, I'd say that Sayers' writing is much less antisemitic than G.K. Chesterton's.  Which maybe is damning with faint praise.

        "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

        by quarkstomper on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:53:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is interesting to look at her mystery novels (8+ / 0-)

          through the lens of her later theological interests, as well as her earlier interests in fairly lofty poetry.

          She is an excellent writer (I speak of her use of language, creation of plot, delineation of character).

          Disentangling the sources and attributions of racism and prejudice can be a challenge and I have no doubt there is some of both in her writings. Some of it is also, no doubt, a product of the times and an intentional feature of particular characters.

          Again, in Gaudy Night, there are some really interesting discussions about morality in a variety of contexts. In all of the Lord Peter books, there is a lot of varied morality, but the religious establishment gets some rough treatment as well (Mr. Venables comes out on top, if I remember the various clergymen correctly). None of the main characters is particularly religious, and Peter himself is pretty anti-religion as far as I can tell, although he is happy to perform the rituals and seems to enjoy them.

          •  Religious Characters (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Aunt Pat, mayim, CuriousBoston

            Peter never struck me as anti-religion.  He is not himself religious, although as you say he enjoys participating in the rituals just as he might throw himself into a morris-dance at a renaissance faire.  He dislikes hypocracy, but he generally treats religious people with respect, as long as they behave decently.  When they're self-righteous and judgemental, he'll gladly cut them with a catty remark.

            His friend and later brother-in-law Chief Inspector Parker is a fairly religious man.  He reads books of theology for fun; (something that bibilophile Peter finds boggling).  Several of the supporting characters are religious too, such as the head of Peter's spinster detective agency, Miss Climpson; and Mr. Rumm, the reformed safecracker who runs a slum mission.

            "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

            by quarkstomper on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:09:41 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  e.e. cummings is probably one of my most (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            la urracca, quarkstomper

            beloved poets. Yet he has racist and antisemitic poems that horrify me. For example:

            a kike is the most dangerous
            machine as yet invented
            by even yankee ingenu
            ity(out of a jew a few
            dead dollars and some twisted laws)
            it comes both prigged and canted
            In a Wikipedia article about it, they claim he was showing the harm in stereotypes but I'm not so sure. I have an older friend (now no longer of this world, alas) who told me that the group of upper class New England WASPs associated with Harvard had the same sort of casual antisemitism I mentioned before.
            And I can't help but think that if the poem was meant to criticize the stereotypes, cummings would have treated it the way he did conscientious objectors:
            i sing of Olaf glad and big
            by e.e. Cummings
            i sing of Olaf glad and big
            whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
            a conscientious object-or

            ......

            our president,being of which
            assertions duly notified
            threw the yellowsonofabitch
            into a dungeon,where he died

            Christ(of His mercy infinite)
            i pray to see;and Olaf,too

            preponderatingly because
            unless statistics lie he was
            more brave than me:more blond than you.

            A biographer wrote a description that sounds very much like my "casual British antisemitism"
            Cummings, like many of his generation, thought little of using derisory epithets when speaking of Jews. From his days at Harvard, he had often characterized Jews as "Hebes," "Yids," or occasionally even "kikes."
            (from E.E. Cummings: A Biography, by Christopher Sawyer-LauCanno)

            We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

            by Tamar on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:36:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  That's what I also find (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        quarkstomper

        in Anthony Trollope.  There are so many places in the novels where characters make casually anti-semitic remarks, and where the author takes no issue with it.  He promotes it at times with descriptions.

        I can deal with Fagin.  Dickens has so many evil and bizarre characters that he's just one more.  I keep wanting to tell everybody in the Merchant of Venice that they took his daughter, for heaven's sake!  and yet they are the "good" people.

        Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

        by ramara on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:30:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I wouldn't say they took Shylock's daughter. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quarkstomper, ramara

          Jessica ran off to marry the man she loved--her father would have considered her dead for marrying a Gentile. Still his anger at being a second-class citizen makes perfect sense and his soliloquoy speaks for all persecuted minorities in a world which doesn't regard them s truly human.

          The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

          by irishwitch on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:49:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Tamar -- I disagree: Lord Peter (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        quarkstomper

        talks about the genius of one of his tenants in, I believe, Busman's Honeymoon as he explains to his bride that he's been having to write letters and things about properties, which don't manage themselves, as the observer -- possibly Harriett -- notes; but Harriett has thought that he was "God's own idler."

        Peter explains to her that there's a property where one of his tenants, who is Jewish, has taken essentially nothing and turned it into something wonderful, and he's now going to put some more opportunities into this man's hands, and is sure that in the end the tenant will die a good deal richer than Lord Peter himself will do.

        It's not anti-Semitic; it's much like Huckleberry Finn, because it is written in a time when just being that not-anti-Semitic is revolutionary. It's just that nowadays we find that language, which we read as backwards, insulting. In its day it was quite the compliment!

        LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

        by BlackSheep1 on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 11:50:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Dorothy L Sayers ~ (11+ / 0-)

    My most favorite author. I have read her Lord Peter Wimsey novels numerous times and everytime I do, I get a deeper understanding of her and her characters. Guess it's time to look at her other works, thank you for bringing this one in particular to my attention.

  •  She also wrote The Mind of the Maker, (9+ / 0-)

    a theological exploration of the creative process and what insights it can offer into the notion of the trinity. And yes, she did think that our capacity to create was one aspect in which we share the divine image.

    Republished to Anglican Kossacks if you don't mind.



    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:42:33 PM PDT

  •  I'd never read that poem (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper

    Thanks for posting this.  It's a great reminder that certain elements of society need to read until they get the truth:  we're all in this together.

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