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OpenLearn Live: 2nd February 2016

Updated Tuesday 2nd February 2016

What do you do when fasting in a tiny hut isn't austere enough? Then more free learning across the day.

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Yesterday was... quiet

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Today's posts


The EU negotiation

There's been an agreement - of sorts - published following discussions between Number 10 and the EU as to what a new Europe might look like. The LSE's Brexit blog has Storifyied some of the initial reaction.


The Iowa Caucus

After what might seem an age, we're finally seeing people actually cast votes in the US presidential election. At first, just in one state, and just to help select candidates for the election proper which is still some months away. Overnight, the results of the Iowa caucus started to come through. It's a classic story about what didn't happen being more interesting than what did:

So, who won? For Scott Lucas, it was Marc Rubio who won by simply trotting in third:

Rubio “only” finished third with 23%, behind Cruz (28%) and Trump (24%).

But that is far closer than polls in Iowa had predicted for weeks, with the Florida Senator stuck and even receding at 13%. There were signs after the final Republican debate, which Trump skipped, that Rubio had done well with both pundits and undecided voters; however, no one had expected the surge that almost took him into second place on Monday night.

By doing so, he offered the clearest answer so far to the question of who can stop Trump and Cruz, neither of whom are seen as likely winners in a contest against Clinton.

Read the full article: Rubio wins by coming third


The people in the poem: St Simeon Stylites

This week, we're starting up each morning with a look at people who inspired some famous poetry. Yesterday, we met Ozymandias. Today, we're meeting Saint Simeon Stylites, subject of a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Saint Simeon Stylites - an image by W.E.F. Britten from The Early Poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Original image public domain / Restoration by Adam Cuerden

Tennyson wrote the poem in 1833, and to a certain extent it was less about its subject, a Catholic saint, as about Arthur Hallam, Tennyson's close friend whose death inspired much of his poetry around the time. And there's even some dispute about which Simeon Stylites Tennyson was writing about, as there were two men whose stories got sort-of-muddled in the popular Victorian mind, mainly because they were so similar - St. Simeon the Elder and St. Simeon Stylites, Junior. Both lives were broadly similar, at least in the details which persevered into the modern age; most assume that it was the Elder who Tennyson really had in mind when he wrote those words:

Although I be the basest of mankind, 
From scalp to sole one slough and crust of sin, 
Unfit for earth, unfit for heaven, scarce meet 
For troops of devils, mad with blasphemy, 
I will not cease to grasp the hope I hold 
Of saintdom, and to clamour, mourn and sob, 
Battering the gates of heaven with storms of prayer, 
Have mercy, Lord, and take away my sin. 

Let this avail, just, dreadful, mighty God, 
This not be all in vain, that thrice ten years, 
Thrice multiplied by superhuman pangs, 
In hungers and in thirsts, fevers and cold, 
In coughs, aches, stitches, ulcerous throes and cramps, 
A sign betwixt the meadow and the cloud, 
Patient on this tall pillar I have borne 
Rain, wind, frost, heat, hail, damp, and sleet, and snow; 
And I had hoped that ere this period closed 
Thou wouldst have caught me up into thy rest, 
Denying not these weather-beaten limbs 
The meed of saints, the white robe and the palm. 

O take the meaning, Lord: I do not breathe, 
Not whisper, any murmur of complaint. 
Pain heaped ten-hundred-fold to this, were still 
Less burthen, by ten-hundred-fold, to bear, 
Than were those lead-like tons of sin that crushed 
My spirit flat before thee. 

O Lord, Lord, 
Thou knowest I bore this better at the first, 
For I was strong and hale of body then; 
And though my teeth, which now are dropped away, 
Would chatter with the cold, and all my beard 
Was tagged with icy fringes in the moon, 
I drowned the whoopings of the owl with sound 
Of pious hymns and psalms, and sometimes saw 
An angel stand and watch me, as I sang. 
Now am I feeble grown; my end draws nigh; 
I hope my end draws nigh: half deaf I am, 
So that I scarce can hear the people hum 
About the column's base, and almost blind, 
And scarce can recognize the fields I know; 
And both my thighs are rotted with the dew; 
Yet cease I not to clamour and to cry, 
While my stiff spine can hold my weary head, 
Till all my limbs drop piecemeal from the stone, 
Have mercy, mercy: take away my sin. 

O Jesus, if thou wilt not save my soul, 
Who may be saved? who is it may be saved? 
Who may be made a saint, if I fail here? 
Show me the man hath suffered more than I. 
For did not all thy martyrs die one death? 
For either they were stoned, or crucified, 
Or burned in fire, or boiled in oil, or sawn 
In twain beneath the ribs; but I die here 
Today, and whole years long, a life of death. 
Bear witness, if I could have found a way 
(And heedfully I sifted all my thought) 
More slowly-painful to subdue this home 
Of sin, my flesh, which I despise and hate, 
I had not stinted practice, O my God. 

For not alone this pillar-punishment, 
Not this alone I bore: but while I lived 
In the white convent down the valley there, 
For many weeks about my loins I wore 
The rope that haled the buckets from the well, 
Twisted as tight as I could knot the noose; 
And spake not of it to a single soul, 
Until the ulcer, eating through my skin, 
Betrayed my secret penance, so that all 
My brethren marvelled greatly. More than this 
I bore, whereof, O God, thou knowest all. 

Three winters, that my soul might grow to thee, 
I lived up there on yonder mountain-side. 
My right leg chained into the crag, I lay 
Pent in a roofless close of ragged stones; 
Inswathed sometimes in wandering mist, and twice 
Blacked with thy branding thunder, and sometimes 
Sucking the damps for drink, and eating not, 
Except the spare chance-gift of those that came 
To touch my body and be healed, and live: 
And they say then that I worked miracles, 
Whereof my fame is loud amongst mankind, 
Cured lameness, palsies, cancers. Thou, O God, 
Knowest alone whether this was or no. 
Have mercy, mercy; cover all my sin. 

Then, that I might be more alone with thee, 
Three years I lived upon a pillar, high 
Six cubits, and three years on one of twelve; 
And twice three years I crouched on one that rose 
Twenty by measure; last of all, I grew 
Twice ten long weary weary years to this, 
That numbers forty cubits from the soil. 

I think that I have borne as much as this - 
Or else I dream -and for so long a time, 
If I may measure time by yon slow light, 
And this high dial, which my sorrow crowns - 
So much -even so. 

And yet I know not well, 
For that the evil ones come here, and say, 
"Fall down, O Simeon: thou hast suffered long 
For ages and for ages!" then they prate 
Of penances I cannot have gone through, 
Perplexing me with lies; and oft I fall, 
Maybe for months, in such blind lethargies 
That Heaven, and Earth, and Time are choked. 

But yet 
Bethink thee, Lord, while thou and all the saints 
Enjoy themselves in heaven, and men on earth 
House in the shade of comfortable roofs, 
Sit with their wives by fires, eat wholesome food, 
And wear warm clothes, and even beasts have stalls, 
I, 'tween the spring and downfall of the light, 
Bow down one thousand and two hundred times, 
To Christ, the Virgin Mother, and the Saints; 
Or in the night, after a little sleep, 
I wake: the chill stars sparkle; I am wet 
With drenching dews, or stiff with crackling frost. 
I wear an undressed goatskin on my back; 
A grazing iron collar grinds my neck; 
And in my weak lean arms I lift the cross, 
And strive and wrestle with thee till I die: 
O mercy, mercy! wash away my sin. 

O Lord, thou knowest what a man I am; 
A sinful man, conceived and born in sin: 
'Tis their own doing; this is none of mine; 
Lay it not to me. Am I to blame for this, 
That here come those that worship me? Ha! ha! 
They think that I am somewhat. What am I? 
The silly people take me for a saint, 
And bring me offerings of fruit and flowers: 
And I, in truth (thou wilt bear witness here) 
Have all in all endured as much, and more, 
Than many just and holy men, whose names 
Are registered and calendared for saints. 

Good people, you do ill to kneel to me. 
What is it I can have done to merit this? 
I am a sinner viler than you all. 
It may be I have wrought some miracles, 
And cured some halt and maimed; but what of that? 
It may be, no one, even among the saints, 
May match his pains with mine; but what of that? 
Yet do not rise; for you may look on me, 
And in your looking you may kneel to God. 
Speak! is there any of you halt or maimed? 
I think you know I have some power with Heaven 
From my long penance: let him speak his wish. 

Yes, I can heal him. Power goes forth from me. 
They say that they are healed. Ah, hark! they shout 
"St Simeon Stylites." Why, if so, 
God reaps a harvest in me! O my soul, 
God reaps a harvest in thee. If this be, 
Can I work miracles and not be saved? 
This is not told of any. They were saints. 
It cannot be but that I shall be saved; 
Yea, crowned a saint. They shout, "Behold a saint!" 
And lower voices saint me from above. 
Courage, St Simeon! This dull chrysalis 
Cracks into shining wings, and hope ere death 
Spreads more and more and more, that God hath now 
Sponged and made blank of crimeful record all 
My mortal archives. 

O my sons, my sons, 
I, Simeon of the pillar, by surname 
Stylites, among men; I, Simeon, 
The watcher on the column till the end; 
I, Simeon, whose brain the sunshine bakes; 
I, whose bald brows in silent hours become 
Unnaturally hoar with rime, do now 
From my high nest of penance here proclaim 
That Pontius and Iscariot by my side 
Showed like fair seraphs. On the coals I lay, 
A vessel full of sin: all hell beneath 
Made me boil over. Devils plucked my sleeve, 
Abaddon and Asmodeus caught at me. 
I smote them with the cross; they swarmed again. 
In bed like monstrous apes they crushed my chest: 
They flapped my light out as I read: I saw 
Their faces grow between me and my book; 
With colt-like whinny and with hoggish whine 
They burst my prayer. Yet this way was left, 
And by this way I 'scaped them. Mortify 
Your flesh, like me, with scourges and with thorns; 
Smite, shrink not, spare not. If it may be, fast 
Whole Lents, and pray. I hardly, with slow steps, 
With slow, faint steps, and much exceeding pain, 
Have scrambled past those pits of fire, that still 
Sing in mine ears. But yield not me the praise: 
God only through his bounty hath thought fit, 
Among the powers and princes of this world, 
To make me an example to mankind, 
Which few can reach to. Yet I do not say 
But that a time may come -yea, even now, 
Now, now, his footsteps smite the threshold stairs 
Of life -I say, that time is at the doors 
When you may worship me without reproach; 
For I will leave my relics in your land, 
And you may carve a shrine about my dust, 
And burn a fragrant lamp before my bones, 
When I am gathered to the glorious saints. 

While I spake then, a sting of shrewdest pain 
Ran shrivelling through me, and a cloudlike change, 
In passing, with a grosser film made thick 
These heavy, horny eyes. The end! the end! 
Surely the end! What's here? a shape, a shade, 
A flash of light. Is that the angel there 
That holds a crown? Come, blessed brother, come. 
I know thy glittering face. I waited long; 
My brows are ready. What! deny it now? 
Nay, draw, draw, draw nigh. So I clutch it. Christ! 
'Tis gone: 'tis here again; the crown! the crown! 
So now 'tis fitted on and grows to me, 
And from it melt the dews of Paradise, 
Sweet! sweet! spikenard, and balm, and frankincense. 
Ah! let me not be fooled, sweet saints: I trust 
That I am whole, and clean, and meet for Heaven. 

Speak, if there be a priest, a man of God, 
Among you there, and let him presently 
Approach, and lean a ladder on the shaft, 
And climbing up into my airy home, 
Deliver me the blessed sacrament; 
For by the warning of the Holy Ghost, 
I prophesy that I shall die tonight, 
A quarter before twelve. 

But thou, O Lord, 
Aid all this foolish people; let them take 
Example, pattern: lead them to thy light.

So, who was Saint Simeon Stylites? His name is sometimes rendered as Saint Simeon The Stylites, which gives a bit of a better clue - "stylites"  comes from the Greek word "styles", meaning pillar. (Does this mean Simeon was a distant relative of Harry Styles? History is, as yet, quiet on the point.) He was born around 388CE, and following a brief spell as a shepherd, he became a monk at the age of 16. His embrace of austerity was so extreme his fellows in the monastry encouraged him to withdraw from community life. Simeon went to live in a hut, where he observed lenten fasts and - deciding that merely not eating or drinking wasn't enough - added mortification to the ritual and stood up for the whole time.

This didn't really satisfy him, though, as having a hut seemed like a cushy option, so next he headed to the desert, opting to live in a narrow crack. This would have been fine, until news of his exploits brought the faithful-but-less-devout out into the wastes to seek his counsel. In order to escape this distraction - this is where the pillar came in - Simeon built a raised platform. First of nine feet, and then - in an arms race as his fans started to bring ladders with them - growing to fifty feet.

Although he was trying to avoid the temptations and distractions of his fans, he also relied on them for food and sought to engage with them on his own terms (not entirely unlike Harry Styles in the later stages of One Direction's fame, to be honest). He would preach sermons from the top of his plinth, building a collection of followers and inspiring the Stylites who would follow his lead up towards the sky. It was this use of a platform to declaim which led William Safire to dub Simeon "the first columnist".

In 1992, Saint Simeon was a guest, along with Ian Beale and Thora Hird, helping comedy duo Lee And Herring understand the nature of good and evil. The joke didn't go down well with some at Radio 4 - Stewart Lee's biography records that an executive described it as "ignorant".

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