Poetry and Poets: April 2005 Archives

The Haiku

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Haiku is a strange verse form. It's hard to write one in English that isn't at least partially successful. This may be why they are so often assigned to children who are learning to write creatively.

There are theorists who say that the form as we know it in English is too roomy. That is, the structre of japanese is such that the seventeend syllables we are familiar with constitute between four and seven words. The claim that a fairer test of being able to master the Japanese form as it was to the Japanese would be to make the poem something like 3-5-3 syllables. I've written haiku to these specifications--they are tougher and resemble more the Japanese form.

One of the challenges I try for myself is to see how "long" I can make a haiku. Can I compose one that contains seventeen words. What is the maximum length of a word of one syllable--of two? For this reason the words strength and strengthened are appealing.

But experiments with haiku seem to be one predominant strain of poetry in the past and up to the present day. What makes it work so well?

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For TSO and Bill White

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Who were waxing poetic on similar strains yesterday. Go Here and partake of "Ode." I'm sure you will find it salutary, sobering, and edifying. :-D

Side note to Julie--this is one way to see some of X.J. Kennedy's stuff. May have sent you there in comment, but I suspect you will not find "Ode" as uplifting as the two stalwart gentlemen.

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From "The Seven Deadly Virtues"


Hey, I said I was going to stop running off at the mouth about poetry, NOT that I was going to stop loving it or posting it.

from "The Seven Deadly Virtues
X. J. Kennedy

Good Cheer

When grief and gloom are what you want, good cheer
Is nothing but a big pain in the rear.

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My dear wife has just started reading the blog and states that when I get going on poetry, her eyes glaze over. And frankly, for the time being, I'm at the end of what I have to say, in general, about the subject. So this will be the last for a while at least on this theme in this way.

I have been asked where one might start with poetry. I think Talmida said it best below--you start where they poetry speaks to you, and that will be different for each person. However, if you don't know what will speak to you, where will you start?

Well, it is probably best to start where the language is rich, yet simple--where the poetry is obvious, but should you care to pursue it, deep. For this reason I recommend of the older poets William Blake and Emily Dickinson. Both are straightforward. Both have large collections of poetry available on the web. Both have seemingly simply lyrics that when carefully examined open up into interesting worlds of revelations.

Of the modern poets, for similar reasons I recommend Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats. Yeats is a bit more complex, but lyrics like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Second Coming" are rich, and yet not so abstruse as to dissuade the beginner from attempting anything else.

Another thing you don't find in these poets is some of the tortured syntax and particularly "poetic" diction that one might find in other poets.

Another poet I like tremendously, but who takes some reading and getting used to is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many of his poems are "story" poems, but there are some very fine, simple lyrics.

Spoon River Anthology is a nice collection for people who want poems to tell stories. You might want to know that the poems are all spoken by those who have died in Spoon River--many of them tend to be a touch downbeat.

Finally, a much neglected twentieth century poet--Edward Arlington Robinson comes to mind as a great favorite. Few people seem to read him any more, and yet his Merlin is one of the great Arthurian poems of recent date. More often than not his contribution to poetry is recognized in anthologies as "Miniver Cheevy" or "Richard Corey," both fine poems, but hardly representative of this great poet.

These are, of course, only some suggested starting places. There are a great many, wonderful, readable, interesting poets. Once you get started, you will find others. The web is a wonderful resource and the links in my side column will take you to poetry sites featuring poetry of many different cultures.

Enjoy as you explore. And for now, I live you with a nice envoi from Emily Dickinson--one of my favorite:

Emily Dickinson

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides--
You may have met Him--
did you not
His notice sudden is--

The Grass divides as with a Comb--
A spotted shaft is seen--
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on--

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn--
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot--
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone--

Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me--
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality--

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone--

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Reading Poetry Part III


Questions have been raised about where to begin.

My suggestions will start with things that should already be familiar.

For narrative poetry--the Book of Job, and The Song of Songs (sort of).

For lyric poetry The Psalms.

There is a tendency not to remember that these are poetic forms. They are presented as poetry for a reason--for several reasons.

Poetry is usually more easily memorized than prose--it has hooks like rhythm or rhyme, which unfortunately, modern translations largely remove. But memorizability was an extremely important feature in an oral culture.

But the next time you set out to read the psalms, push the lines. Read them intentionally as poetry. Understand the line-breaks, understand the possible meanings that build up. Read them in several different versions and hear how different translators interpreted them. This is a critical factor so you can understand why some of us (me in particular) go on and on and on about the KJV or the circa 1660 BCP translations--or the Translations of the Countess of Pembroke , Mary Sidney. The language is older, and bit harder to slip into. But that's okay, it will slow you down, make you intentional in your reading. Poetry should be allowed to melt in the mouth like Neuhaus or Godiva--not chewed and swallowed like Hershey's. The savor of it should linger--but for that to happen it must be heard. As silly as you may feel about it, read what ever poetry you read aloud. Hear it, allow the words to sink in. The Liturgy of the Hours, properly done, should be vocalized, and at a minimum our mouths should form the words. There are good reasons for these rules--they slow us down. They force us to move at the speed of speaking rather than the speed of thought. More, they train our mouths to say words of praise, they train our minds to hear and recognize them.

Reading poetry should engage as many of the sense as possible.

(must run now--have the most unpoetic engagement you could possibly conceive of--I'll be back later to proofread revise, amend and perhaps post more.)

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I need a "roomy" but strictly formal and recursive poetic form for a new poem I'm trying to put together.

I thought of both villanelle (insufficient room) and sestina (may be insufficient room). I'm wondering about the possibility of a septina--new form modeled on the changes in the Sestina; however, I'm not sure it works numerically, and I don't think I need the room of an "octina."

In fact, I'm thinking of going to some Persian forms. Or perhaps some Sanskrit forms. After all the Vedas are hundreds of thousands of lines long, surely that would be enough "room."

Would welcome input.

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Poetry and Religion

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A neat discovery bei Scipio. Does anyone know the German for chez?

Later: Someone DID know. What a surprise that it should have been Scipio himself. Anyway, it's altered above so nothing any longer makes sense. And that's just the way I like it.

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Sorry, I will prevail upon your patience/endurance once again today.

Tom made such a good point in the comments box that I wanted to pull it out and center a post around it:

I can't speak for all the poetry-shy, but I suspect there are many for whom poetry is not disheartening or uncomfortable so much as frustrating, because they regard a poem as a puzzle to be properly arranged rather than a toy to be played with.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of exposure to bad poetry.

With respect to the first point--"because they regard a poem as a puzzle to be properly arranged." This is one of the institutional defects of our educational system. Whether they intend to or not, whether it is conscious on their part or not, when often leave high school with the notion, garnered from our teachers, that there is a "meaning" to a poem that can be puzzled out if only you read the words right and get all the symbols in a row. Many teachers graded our papers on how well we understood THE meaning of the poem. And we always speak in terms of "the" meaning of a poem as though there were only one.

Well now, ladies and gentlemen, I am about to share a secret of the profession. Sometimes a poem has no meaning at all--sometimes it catches a moment, a sensation, an emotion, a strange pattern, and does little or nothing else. Such poems should not be excavated, interrogated, turned inside out or otherwise discombobulated. They should be savored like fine wine. Take Ezra Pound's famous imagist haiku:

At a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet black bough.

Any meaning it has is drawn not from the words but from the sense they conjure up in the reader. Are petals on a wet black bow unhappy, happy, formless, industrial, bad, good? Are they anything of themselves? For me this suggests the magnificent paintings and engravings of Hokusai and the entire Ukiyo-e painting school of Edo period Japan. In other words--good, very good. For my English teacher in my Senior year of College, this was an image of blank despair. Who is right about it? Both of us. One brings one set of images, one another, but the poem (as a proper imagist poem should) makes no value judgment at all. Yes, you can do intricate semantic analysis to try to determine how Pound felt about it, but, pardon me for speaking frankly, who cares? Pound is dead, his poem still lives and he has no say about what it means to anyone.

I could leave an entire book of possible meanings and intentions in my poems, but if they don't say it themselves, a ream of prose exposition isn't going to help.

So, the first secret, there is no THE meaning. There is the multiplicity of meanings that spring from your interaction with the poem. Just as when you read scripture, it seems to reinvent itself revealing new facets depending on when and in what emotional state you read it, so too with great poetry.

Now, we mustn't lay aside the most critical part of Tom's very good points.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of exposure to bad poetry.

Over at Lofted Nest there was a discussion going on about how academia has seized and placed a strangle-hold on poetry. Bad poetry comes in two versions: the Helen Steiner Rice/Rod McKuen school and the Poeme-Concrete-and-other-pretentiously-named-psuedo-schools. There is a wealth of bad poetry out there to read. It can be found in every anthology and in every course on poetry. Even more so now that our focus is more "multi-culti" and representation than on quality. In most of these schools the idea of poetry is carried to rarified heights of utter abstruseness and silliness.

One of the poets ill-favored at Lofted Nest is William Carlos Williams. I don't happen to agree with the evaluation, but I can agree with their essential point, which is that academics have taken what is a cute little imagist joke and turned it into some portentously deep meaningful poetic experience. I'm sorry, a red wheel barrow glazed with rain among some chickens is a delightful rural image, nothing more, nothing less. Absolutely nothing depends upon it. Williams knew it, and anyone who reads it for the real pleasure of it knows it. It's a toss off. I happen to think it is a nice toss-off and it conjures up all kinds of invented memories and imagined rural states. But, let's face it, it is not fraught with deep meaning. Yes, you can read a tremendous amount into it.

Even more silly is the adulation over the lunchbox note of Williams to his wife This Is Just to Say. Again a cute idea with a couple of nice touches--but really the stuff of parody. These are not the stuff of say Wallace Steven's "Disillusionment of 10 O'Clock," The Emperor of Ice Cream, or even the imagist riff Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, a poem which both in title and in the haiku- and tanka-like strophes suggests Hokusai's famous print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. (The number varies up to 100. The prints inspired a story by Roger Zelazny "24 Views of Mount Fuji." The Series includes the very famous print "The Great Wave of Kanagawa.) They are not even cummings sonnet "the cambridge ladies live in furnished souls. . ."

That is one branch of bad poetry. I won't include examples because there is no need, you've had enough stuffed down your throat. The other side of this is the schmaltzier than hallmark school of sing-song ring-rhymy verse that canters along to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and inevitably end-rhymes no matter how tortured or convoluted a line must be produced in order to make it work. You've all probably seen much of this, but one of the great mavens of this sort of thing is Helen Steiner Rice. I'll reproduce a single line which is sufficient to encompass the oeuvre, "Peace on earth will come to stay, When we live Christmas every day." Now, this is bad poetry. That is not to say there is not a modicum of enjoyment in it, but it simply does not do a service to either rhyme or meter and trivializes a great art. There is no harm in liking it, and rather like reading "Captain Underpants" books, if it allows you access to poetry, it is good to read it. But it doesn't celebrate the greatness of great poetry.

These two factors--trying to puzzle out meaning where what the poet may have intended is "a momentary taste of being from the well amid the waste," and constant exposure to the bad poetry academics and greeting card writers push on us as exemplary of the art--are truly enough to drain all the joy from poetry. But there is a sufficiently large oeuvre between these two poles that you will find much to enjoy if you keep in mind that poetry is an invitation to come out and play, to frolic in the sun, or to have a conversation on the porch with the poet. T.S. Eliot doesn't often frolic, but if one looks at Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats one gets a sense of the playfulness and genuine love of language that underlay all great poets.

Poetry is a much misunderstood, mistaught, and maligned art. I love the language, I love to get inside and crawl around and see all sorts of things that one cannot see standing outside and merely using it as though it were a tool. It is a tool, but it is the gracious and wonderful gift of God as well--and it were well to use it as such.

The short version of this is: I concur precisely with Tom's well-made and cogent points.

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Shakespeare CL

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. . . or, God speaks to His Children--pay attention particularly to the last two lines.

CL. William Shakespeare

O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantize of skill
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.

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Reading Poetry Part II

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As a coda to what is below:

The surest way to kill poetry and its joy is to do as your teachers taught you and search for THE meaning--as though there were only one. One of the great surprises of poetry is its suppleness--the chameleon-like quality it can possess to say any number of things with the same words. Look at the comments on some of the poems from earlier this week and see the diverging visions of what is said. Blake is considerably instructive, but also the comments on my own unpolished work.

Harold Bloom tells us that great literature "reads us" as much as we read it. The meaning of a poem is a conjuction of who you are and what the poem can say. A great poem can speak beyond the strict bounds of its metaphor to the heart of the individual encountering it. When we read Blake, or Keats, or Quarles, we hear the poet, but we also hear the echoes of our own hearts and beings.

And perhaps that is another reason why many are frightened of poetry--sometimes they may not care for what they hear.

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My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lilies
Francis Quarles (1592–1644)

EV’N like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

Ev’n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt’ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine.

Nay, more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem’d a price too small
To buy a minute’s lease of half my pleasure;
’Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine,
Thus I my best-beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place;
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine, by blood;
He’s my supporting elm; and I his vine;
Thus I my best beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes;
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu’ring brows,
And I his temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an everlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved’s am; that he is mine.

I often wonder if there is some way in which poetry and mysticism are linked. I tend to think that there is, as many of the great mystics were pure poets, and many poets show a rather mystical bent. I suspect that it is the strength of language and the usefulness of metaphor. The mystical experience, from all accounts, can barely be talked about at all much less explicated in some elaborate treatise. As the experience is interior and not fully accessible to the merely sensory, it is suggestive rather than demonstrative, and so lends itself to poetic expression more than prose delineation.

I could be wrong about this. But I look at the works of great poets--Blake, Whitman, Keats, Tennyson, Shelley, Arnold, and others--some of them doubters and even atheists, and they show evidence of contact with another world. In this way they are rather like theoretical mathematicians who push the boundaries of our knowledge of math. Perhaps it is working in words--climbing inside and seeing how they tick and HOW they mean and resonate. Perhaps this too is the thing about poetry that tends to discomfit readers of poetry. They are used to the solid, sturdy meanings of words. Poetry is like a glass floor over an aquarium--you begin to see through the words and think that they might fail you and you would fall through them. They begin to mean more than they mean, and so simultaneously they begin to mean less. Our initial encounter with the multiplicity of meanings tends to force us back to strict definition. I remember the awe and wonder I experienced as I began to consider the word "still" in this line from Keats:

"Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness."

The first line of "Ode on a Grecian Urn." At first glance the meaning is solid, there is no question about what it means and yet it sets up its own resonance. What does the word "still" mean? Well, for one thing, it means silent. So the line becomes "Thou silent unravish'd bride of quietness." It also means unmoving. In further stretches of the meaning it become nearly synonymous with eternity, as in "Are you still here?" And another meaning--often urns were made to hold wine and other offerings to the Gods. In this sense the still could be the distillation of the spirits, both alcohol and the communion of the Saints. That is, the urn suggests a connection to all of those for whom the urn was used as vessel or as decoration and with all of those for whom the urn had some special meaning. As such, it also suggests the container itself--the thing within which the distillation is made. We would have to see as we continue exploration of the poem which of these meanings is borne out. I could reasonably argue that most of them are meant and used in the depth of the poem.

This kind of fruitful ambiguity is often very disheartening and very uncomfortable for people who want a word to mean one thing and to mean that thing only. But it is really the gateway to an entirely new way of seeing things. Poetry uses simile and metaphor, in a sense it seeks the connections between all things. And I suppose in this sense it IS mystical, because the ultimate, underlying connection between all things is that God sustains each one of them. There is nothing that is without the constant mindfulness of God with respect to its being. Nothing can exist outside His will and His constant care. In one way poetry seeks to explore this truth even if the poet explicitly denies it. Poetry tends to give us transcendentalists--Emerson and Whitman; but it also gives us the Divine--St. John of the Cross.

Those who deny themselves the pleasures of poetry deny themselves one means of seeing God. Poetry engages the reason even as it engages the heart and it speaks in a way that prose simply cannot speak. The Psalms tell us nothing "new" about God, but they tell us in a way that may bypass resistance and go straight to the heart. "The Song of Songs" while definitely about erotic love is also about the soul's communion with God--it tells us something of the person whose life is utterly dedicated to God.

And the Song of Songs brings us back to Francis Quarles who started our little conversation. First, note the turns on a simple phrase that adorn the last, and sometimes the last two lines. These set up the interconnections within the poem. They set up the resonances, the echoes that draw you into what is being said. They emphasize and reiterate the point of all that occurs before them, and they ring changes on the simple theme, "I am my beloved's and he is mine."

Examine carefully the third stanza and particularly the changes it rings on the line. "The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine." Notice how "beloved's" here has taken on a dual meaning. It means not only the possessive of beloved, but it also reflects the opposite side of the semi-colon and suggests that the mundane world belongs to those who search for wealth, but the world of the beloved belongs to those who cling to him. It's simple, it's subtle, but it opens up the world of possibilities in interpreting and understanding the poem.

Go on then to the fourth stanza where we are told in the final line:

"Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine."

This is in answer to the temptation of the nine muses--the entertaining and lively arts of this world. The poet assures us that all these passing pleasures could not lure him away from the beloved. But notice the end of the line--"or his, from being mine." That is that the heart of the beloved becomes the heart of the speaker/poet.

Continue through, examine the changes rung on the theme. See how poetry pierces through the clatter of argumentation and elaborate logical constructs. I sometimes wonder if this is what St. Thomas Aquinas meant about his words being "as straw." That is, they couldn't begin to give an insight into the actual experience he had even though they gave one of the great pictures of what God is like. However, he would have been wrong, because his hymns and poetry do climb to those heights. They get under the weight of the disputations and arguments and reasoning and pull out from them the simple straight contours of what St. Thomas is trying to tell us all in his great work. Obviously the Summa and the other great works are not mere passing fancies--they are not straw, but a powerful means of coming to know about God and thus ultimately to knowing God Himself, if one is properly disposed. I suspect St. Thomas was merely trying to indicate to us the depth and breadth and height that is achieved in the vision of God that comes to one who dedicates his entire life to God's work cannot be expressed in the way he chose to express the reallities of theology. And He chose to tell us in a simile--in a line of poetry, because only poetry is strong enough to contain the meaning he wanted to convey. Poetry is an exceedingly sturdy vessel for both thought and emotion--and because it does not seek to divorce the one from the other, it allows a different angle from which to view the Glory of God.

So, you poetry-shy out there. Get started. Read slowly, read aloud. Listen to the words and explore and play with them. Poetry is a play-date. It is an invitation to joy. Accept and enter this miraculous world in which things are said without being said.

Afterword: This is not at all what I set out to write this morning. And that is one of the joys of writing, you discover new things as you go. I really just wanted to present this wonderful little gem of Quarles's with perhaps a bit of commentary, but as I wrote, I discovered new things to say. I hope this was as pleasant for you to read as it was for me to discover in writing. Oh, and do let me know what you think about Quarles and any new things you may find in the stanzas.

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Evelyn Underhill

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One of the early twentieth century's finest writers on spirituality, I did not realize that she had a poetic oeuvre, from which this is taken.

Corpus Christi
Evelyn Underhill

COME, dear Heart!
The fields are white to harvest: come and see
As in a glass the timeless mystery
Of love, whereby we feed
On God, our bread indeed.
Torn by the sickles, see him share the smart
Of travailing Creation: maimed, despised,
Yet by his lovers the more dearly prized
Because for us he lays his beauty down—
Last toll paid by Perfection for our loss!
Trace on these fields his everlasting Cross,
And o’er the stricken sheaves the Immortal Victim’s crown.

From far horizons came a Voice that said,
‘Lo! from the hand of Death take thou thy daily bread.’
Then I, awakening, saw
A splendour burning in the heart of things:
The flame of living love which lights the law
Of mystic death that works the mystic birth.
I knew the patient passion of the earth,
Maternal, everlasting, whence there springs
The Bread of Angels and the life of man.

Now in each blade
I, blind no longer, see
The glory of God’s growth: know it to be
An earnest of the Immemorial Plan.
Yea, I have understood
How all things are one great oblation made:
He on our altars, we on the world’s rood.
Even as this corn,
We are snatched from the sod;
Reaped, ground to grist,
Crushed and tormented in the Mills of God,
And offered at Life’s hands, a living Eucharist.

What is one to make of that last stanza?

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Poetry of Robert Hugh Benson


In general, Benson was a far better prose artist than poet; however, occasionally a piece shines through"

from ‘Christian Evidences’
Robert Hugh Benson (1871–1914)

NOW God forbid that Faith be blind assent,
Grasping what others know; else Faith were nought
But learning, as of some far continent
Which others sought,
And carried thence, better the tale to teach,
Pebbles and sheels, poor fragments of the beach.

Now God forbid that Faith be built on dates,
Cursive or uncial letters, scribe or gloss,
What one conjectures, proves, or demonstrates:
This were the loss
Of all to which God bids that man aspire,
This were the death of life, quenching of fire.

Nay, but with Faith I see. Not even Hope,
Her glorious sister, stands so high as she.
For this but stands expectant on the slope
That leads where He
Her source and consummation sets His seat,
Where Faith dwells always to caress His Feet.

Nay, but with Faith I saw my Lord and God
Walk in the fragrant garden yesterday.
Ah! how the thrushes sang; and, where He trod
Like spikenard lay
Jewels of dew, fresh-fallen from the sky,
While all the lawn rang round with melody.

Nay, but with Faith I marked my Saviour go,
One August noonday, down the stifling street
That reeked with filth and man; marked from Him flow
Radiance so sweet,
The man ceased cursing, laughter lit the child,
The woman hoped again, as Jesus smiled.

Nay, but with Faith I sought my Lord last night,
And found Him shining where the lamp was dim;
The shadowy altar glimmered, height on height,
A throne for Him:
Seen as through lattice work His gracious Face
Looked forth on me and filled the dark with grace.

Nay then, if proof and tortured argument
Content thee—teach thee that the Lord is there,
Or risen again; I pray thee be content,
But leave me here
With eye unsealed by any proof of thine,
With eye unsealed to know the Lord is mine.

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Your Turn

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The Divine Image
William Blake (1757–1827)

TO Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

I post without much comment but solicit your own. Is Blake right? If so, how? If not, in what does he err? What does one make of what he is saying here? I'd love to know what you think, and I picked a poet I think everyone can access. Please tell me what you hear when you read Blake. Thank you.

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A Cry for Help

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E Tenebris
Oscar Wilde (1856–1900)

COME down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.
‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.’
Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.

This reflects my mood of the day. For some reason I am better at brooding than at sustained celebration. With the great relief of having the new Pope so swiftly installed, I can turn back to the concerns of my life--why am I, despite all good intention, so distant from God? God is not distant from me--why do I choose not to approach more closely?

The answer all boils down to perceived economics. Consciously or unconsciously, I ask myself the question, "What will it cost?" And the cost piles up--I might lose friends (heaven knows I have precious few), I might become "weird" (that's actually much less of a fear as I already qualify in many people's books for that), I might lose esteem from those around me (this one is more difficult to parse, because I don't know why I should care, and yet the question always comes up), but after these surface thoughts we get down to the nitty-gritty--I will have to change. I will not be able to maintain my comfortable routine. I will have to find His way for me, and I do not walk in the dark well.

Frankly, I'm frightened. God loves me, He always wishes my good--He wishes it more than I am willing to see it. A love this powerful is frightening, it's overwhelming--if it were human we'd be thinking Glen Close and Michael Douglas. But it is not human, it is supernatural and transcendent. And that makes it all the more frightening.

I think that is why John Paul the Great's continuing message to us all appealed so much to me. "Be not afraid." My conception of God is not God, my thoughts about God are not God, my fears about God are not God. I am afraid of change. I'm afraid of trusting one to walk in the dark. And I do not need to be afraid.

And all of that wars against this still stronger urge to follow wherever He might lead. He will show me the way home. He will find for me the right path. He will be my friend, my guide, and my Lord.

And vacillating I say, "And what will I have to give up for this great guide?" What will it cost me. Will I, like John Bunyan's Pilgrim, leave my house alone and wander the countryside through Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond, forsaking what is familiar for what is cold and uncertain? And if I do, what will happen? All of this is colored by past experience, by the antipathy of society for religion, by the antipathy of most for a true follower of Christ. Do I want to forsake what little I possess in the way of positive popular opinion for Jesus Christ? Do I want to sink still lower in the chain of being, so far as those around me are concerned?

The truth is, I am weak. I am led more by my head than by my heart. This was one of the chief reasons St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila spoke so much to me. They are led by the heart. And what is more, my head is not nearly so strong, so useful as I would like to think. I used to have a pretty high estimate of my own abilities, but a few months in St. Blogs will cut that down to proper size. One quickly learns that what one thought to be first rank is once again revealed to be second, third, or fourth rank. That realization is frightening, but in the mysterious way of God it is also heartening.

But all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit, cajoling me along, encouraging me to abandon my opinion of myself, to leave myself behind to emerge as God would have me be.

Inside every single person there is a Saint who desires to be released to effect his or her work on the world. To do so will dramatically change our lives, who and what we think we are. To realize my Saint, I will have to abandon illusion and self-deception. That is why I said that the revelations of a time in St. Blogs are salutary. The self deceptions, the places one uses to hide oneself, are gradually removed. Nothing is left but the raw encounter with the mirror, and with time the Holy Spirit changes our fun-house mirrors into flat reflecting glass. And I, for one, don't much care for the image that is materializing in that mirror. Rather, I should become the mirror that reflects the glory of the Son. That is what Sainthood is all about.

And I become less afraid when I realize that the road to Sainthood is not the road to oblivion, as it would be were I Buddhist. I do not seek the annihilation of the self, but rather I seek to extinguish the false self, the little candle that I carry before me to ward off the dark. And in the darkness that prevails afterwards, there stands revealed the light which is so brilliant that it can be seen only as darkness so long as we are following our own lights. It is like that moment in the old movie Journey to the Center of the Earth when they extinguish their lanterns to discover all around them a phosphorescent glow that gives off far more light that their little lanterns generated. I am afraid of the darkness, but I need not be, because in that darkness I will see the true light, and that true light will show me who I am in Christ. I will not be so much extinguished as lit from within, I will become Light for the World, the lamp to place on a lampstand. And my doing so will not be to my credit, nor will I even see that light. Rather it will all redound to the greatness and the glory of God.

But the human self says, "What will it cost." I'm afraid of spending a few pennies, of losing my hard-won meager human estate because I don't believe that it will result in a wealth beyond imaging. Not mine to hold, but mine to distribute to all the needy--freely given and overflowing--the munificence of God Himself. So I cling to the poverty I imagine as wealth.

This vast "commodius vicus of recirculation brings us back to Howth Castle and Environs,"--the poem that started this chain of thought. Out of the shadows, out of the depths, out of the darkness, I cry, Lord help me. I am drowning in a stormier sea--a storm of my own making in the shallow sea of self--the tempest I toss up every time I want to run away--my good excuse for battening the hatches and closing down all possible access. When I cry out of the darkness, the cry is always the same--save me from my headstrong ways. "My heart is as some famine-murdered land," I am selfish and self centered--completely caught up in me, because after all the vast story of salvation really is all about ME. When I read the Bible, it isn't a message for the world, it's all for ME. I am the center and all circulates about I. I, I. And in a moment it is possible to see that attitude for the ugliness it is. My heart is a famine-murdered land, and yet in that land are the Elijahs, fed by ravens, the Widow of Zarapheth who offers her last food. The sun that burnt this land to dryness because that was the only way to purify it from the weeds that had taken it over, that same Sun will restore the produce of the land, if only I consent to it.

I stand in the darkness of the night of self and call on God to help me out of the shadow into light. I have lived my life in such a way as to swell that shadow to so great an extent that it will require many days' passage to escape from it. And yet, if I am willing, I shall be healed. That is the paradox of the biblical passage. The leper who approaches Jesus and says, if you are willing, I shall be cleansed. But it isn't Jesus' willingness that is the key factor, he is always willing. We learn that he was unable to work any miracles in his homeland--not because He was unwilling, but because those in the land were. It is my willingness that predicates healing. I say in Mass, "Only say the word and I shall be healed." But if I put up a shield and barrier to keep Him out, I will not be healed. I can resist the healing touch, I can refuse change, I can snuff out any candle, and light. But if I am willing, I shall be healed. There is my hope, because I am willing. At the same time as I am frightened, I am willing to be transformed. Like standing at the edge of a vast pool of cold water on the first day of summer, it is only a matter of taking the plunge--of losing my breath for a single moment to emerge in a new world.

Oh, but how the old man resists, how his head is filled with thoughts of how unpleasant that coldness is. How he dips in a toe, perhaps a whole foot. He walks to the pool ladder and lowers himself halfway, but when that cold water reaches his belly, he pulls himself out of the pool as fast as he can. The only thing for it is a trusting plunge--very few make it by degrees. It may not be impossible, but it certainly is the more difficult way. But the old man resists this transformation.

If only I could learn to see the sun and stop staring at the feeble candle I carry thinking it the source of all light. For indeed, it is a greater source of shadow than of light. E tenebris.

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Two By Herbert


Jordan (I)
George Herbert

Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty
Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover's loves?
Must all be veil'd, while he that reads, divines,
Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing;
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for prime;
I envy no man's nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
Who plainly say, my God, my King.

Easter Wings
George Herbert (1593-1633)

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

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Context is not everything, but it certainly changes a lot:

Sonnet XCVII: How like a Winter hath my Absence been
William Shakespeare

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.

I thought about this in the context of my own wanderings toward and away from God. I really like the image of the labyrinth as a metaphor for the spiritual journey. If I keep walking it, I will make it to the center; however, along the way I will have a great many close approaches after which the vagaries of human nature causes me to turn away. Then I am walking directly away, for what seems like a long time before the path switches and I'm on my way back. Human nature is flawed. I think many of us have an approach/avoidance encounter with God. I might get close and then I get scared. I turn away because the cost seems to great--I will be deprived on one or another illicit pleasure. Then, I'm back on track.

This may be why the emphasis of the reign of Pope John Paul the Great appeal to me so much. "Be not afraid." Approach God boldly, as any son who knows that his father loves him will approach his Father. Ask for what you need. Don't be afraid, the only thing you have to lose is your fear. This message resonates in me. In a previous post, I called it marching orders. That's how I view it. I need to break through the labyrinth wall and stop following its arbitrary dictates. Of course, I do not do this alone. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished on my own. Only with God as my shield and help will I be able to withstand the blast that would destroy so strong a wall as makes us the labyrinth in which I walk.

So what has this to do with the poem above. Every moment away from God, no matter how good those moment are, are times of winter wandering, desperately cold and dry. Every moment away from His love--"What old December's bareness everywhere!" Everything done without Him is a falseness, a kind of betrayal--the richness of the widow's womb after her Lord's decease. And yet, isn't even this the promise of what one receives from the hand of a generous God.

Reading, reading anything, can activate the mind in the way few forms of more passive entertainment can do. Shakespeare speaks of his dark lady or lost love, but the Christian who encounters the great poet hears the lament of one turning this way and that in his journey to God. Because we are Christians, context is everything. Every work of art is a cocreation. Because of this, I think we know instinctively when we have encountered art and when we have encountered playtime, mockery, or idiocy. Even those who stood steadfast against God could not create in His absence, and their diatribes and writings are inevitable expositions of Him. From Huysmans La-Bas to Lautreamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, from Joyce's Ulysses to the maunderings of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Heinlein, a gifted writer cannot, despite his own intention, help but reveal the hand of God, because his gift is God-given, and his writing, no matter how overtly directed against God, ultimately shows us who God is, if only as a photographic negative reveals the image.

So, take your pick, Shakespeare, J.D. Robb, Patricia Cornwell, G.K. Chesterton. In the Christian frame of mind you will hear and see things of God. And perhaps one day these things will help crumble the walls of the labyrinth that prevent a direct path toward His glory.

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from "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
T.S. Eliot, 1917

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

. . .

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

I have selected the antipodes of the poem, because in them we see the drama of the last century which extends into this one.

As believers we are subject to innumerable challenges. Each of these is God's way of testing us. Testing here means not examining, but rather refining, making us durable--as gold is tested in fire. God does this not to torment me, but rather "to lead us to an overwhelming question." The problem is that too often, like Prufrock, we refuse to ask the question--we divert our attention elsewhere.

God's ways do sometimes seem like a "tedious argument of insidious intent." Indeed, from the point of view of the selfish ego, what God asks of us is insidious indeed. We can see the fear and the crisis it causes in the desires of a million people to reform the Church each in their own image. One group desires ordination for women, another agitates for freedom from contraception, another says that if only we had married Priests we would not have this, that, or the other crisis. Many do not wish to serve the Church as it is. Many do not desire to serve the truth unless they have first recast it in their own image.

But God leads each of us individually to the overwhelming question. He does not ask a gaggle of thousands, He asks me, personally. As a result the events that lead to that question are different for each person. What they call from each person is different.

What is the overwhelming question? I think that the question which has become more pressing and more urgent throughout the last century and into this one, the question that has been prevalent through all of time is "Do you love Me?" The form that this question has taken on more and more is , "Do you trust Me?"

Many of us no longer live in anything recognizable as the neighborhood of our youth. Many have people who live in houses all around them, but there is no communal sharing. In fact, the only contact one is likely to have with one's neighbor is the notice to weed your lawn from the community association, or perhaps a lawsuit for some perceived infraction or another. Some of our priests plunged us into a crisis of trust with the pedophilia scandal. Each day we read headlines that reinforce to us that we cannot be too careful with our money, our children, our possessions, ourselves. In September of 2001 we suffered a tremendous blow against our security which still has many of us reeling. There is nothing to trust. The overwhelming question indeed overwhelms us and we look another way.

But St. Faustina Kowalska taught us, "Jesus, I trust in you." We have so unlearned trust that it is hard to learn this lesson. We need to remake our entire lives to reify this truth--to manifest it to the world. And there are consequences for refusing to do so. There are consequences for not answering the question. These too are spelled out throughout the poem. The person who refuses to face the question turns gradually inward becoming obsessed with everything about himself. "Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?" Who cares? And yet, are these not the truly overwhelming questions that we face and our children face each day? Aren't we often afraid of how we will be judged when people see us? Don't we go out of our way to make a good impression? Look at the advertisements on television--tooth whitener, hair replacement, "natural male enhancement," wrinkle cream, age-spot remover, the list is endless. If you watch enough television you will eventually see an advertisement that leads to a product designed to improve every part of you. All the while we are posing, "I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach." Why? Because it will cut an impressive figure. People will see me and they will comment on how romantic, ironic, dashing, or interesting I am.

All because we refuse to face the overwhelming question.

But wait, there's more. Elsewhere in the poem we see yet other consequences of refusal. "Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,/I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." Our lives are not beautiful, romantic, and perfect. They are the apotheosis of automation, of turning self off and turning autopilot on. Time is measured out in coffee spoons, in the mundane acts of the every day. We are weighed down by our trivia. We are weighed down by ourselves. So much so that, "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.//I do not think that they will sing to me." Perhaps some of the saddest lines of poetry ever written. I have come face to face with the ineffable, and because I refuse the question, because I refuse to look into the abyss of trust, I cannot experience it. I hear them singing to each other, but I am not invited to the chorus. Rather. "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. . . Till human voices wake us, and we drown." We are submerged once again in the expectations and the forces of those who surround us. We are plunged into a sea of selfishness even though we have seen a better way.

What is the solution? "Be not afraid." Follow Jesus' admonition, listen to how our Holy Father of recent memory explained it. Do not be afraid of the overwhelming question. It is overwhelming precisely because it portends changes. Ask it anyway. "Do I love Jesus? Do I trust Jesus?" And then face the real answer as spelled out in your life everyday. For most of us I suspect the answer shall be, "Not nearly so much as I would like," or perhaps a step beyond, "No, I don't really." Perhaps we love Jesus but we have learned too well from our families not to trust anyone. Life experiences show us that humans are untrustworthy, and perverting the principle found in the first Letter of John, we say to ourselves, "If I cannot trust what I can see, how can I trust what I cannot see?" The irony is that it is precisely what we cannot see that is most trustworthy. We can be certain that under ordinary circumstances hydrogen will form one bond in which it tends to "lose" an electron. We can pretty much rely upon the Kreb's cycle. When we move from the unseen to the seen, we begin to doubt. We are children of the enlightenment. We think Descartes got it right with "Dubito ergo cogito ergo sum." But followed its full length we wind up square in the middle of solipsism, not reality.

Be not afraid. Ask the question. Answer it. And if the answer doesn't suit, choose to do something about it. Trust God. To trust Him you must know and love Him. To know and love Him, you must fill every moment with reminders of His presence. Before you start a new task, you can say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Before you begin the day, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad." Upon retiring, "I love you Lord, my strength." Hear His word, tell the story He would have you tell. Substitute the useless, self-serving self-talk with God-talk. What He has to say is true, eternal, and infinite, what you tell yourself is limited by your own narrow perceptions.

Do not be afraid to ask the question. This our Holy Father taught. Ask and ask again. Ask every moment of every day. Ask when you know the answer to be negative and turn your heart around. "If God be for us, who can stand against?" We need to recover trust. The end of trust is being in the company of the mermaids, being in the presence of God. The end of distrust is drowning in our human surroundings. There doesn't really seem to be much of a choice. The Lord commands us in Deuteronomy, "Choose life." To do so, we must choose Him, completely and without any reservation.

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More wisdom from the poetry of Pope John Paul the Great:

from "Thoughts on Maturing"
from The Space Within
tr. Jerzy Peterkiewicz

Maturity: a descent to a hidden core,
leaves fall from the imagination
like leaves once locked in the trunk of their tree,
the cells grow calm--though their sensitivity still stirs;
the body in its own fullness
reaches the shores of autumn.
Maturity: the surface meets the depth;
maturity: penetrating the depth,
the soul more reconciled with the body,
but more opposed to death,
uneasy about the resurrection.
Maturing toward difficult encounters.

How well and in how few words Pope John Paul captured the essence of some of the changes that we go through as we age. We often speak of youth thinking that it is immortal. No! Youth knows in its bones, in an immediate knowledge that comes only from those who see angels and sense the presence all around them of the mysterious, that we are destined for immortality. Youth sometimes does stupid things to arrive there more quickly; however, it knows with a certainty that fades away as we grow used to our bones and flesh. We are lulled into a sense that all we knew before is false and unclear.

Look to the young, particularly to the very young. In those first inarticulate, nearly incomprehensible words, you will find a world of knowledge, of things we have long forgotten. Samuel used to talk frequently about when "I was heaven before I was born." I think he was trying to convey something of his sense of life. Older and resistant, I'm not sure I heard the fullness of it. I must learn to listen more closely.

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I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anyone when I reveal that I do not spend my days meditating upon the encyclicals of John Paul II. I have neither the mind nor the attention span for it. I have read them, I acknowledge their wisdom and greatness, and I retreat to things that speak to me in ways that the encyclicals can only begin to approximate.

Take for example this excerpt spoken by St. John the Apostle:

from "Space Which Remains in You"
in The Place Within: The Poetry of John Paul II
Tr. Jerzy Peterkiewicz

Your arms now remember His space, the little head
snuggling to your shoulder,
for the space has remained in You,
for it was taken from You.

And shining never empty. So very present in You.
When with my trembling hands I broke the bread
to give it to you, Mother,
I stood for a moment amazed as I saw
the whole truth through one single tear
in your eye.

I won't presume to pronounce on the worth of this as poetry, as it is a translation--I will see merely that I find the substance of what is said beautiful. This speaks to me directly, in a way that I cannot begin to derive from the admittedly great encyclicals. I struggle with them--knocking my head against the words and working until I torture from them some fragment of what they really mean. I can read all the study guides in the world and not get from them the image of Jesus and Mary and their intricate intertwining--the way her Yes created a "shining" space within her that did not ever go away even after the source of that light had been translated to Heaven. That John sees everything revealed in the single tear that Mary sheds as she remembers the ritual sharing of Passover that Jesus presided over in their home, speaks to me more directly, more to both heart and mind than do many of the arguments and chains of reason that make up the bodies of some of the more formidable encyclicals. This is one reason to be in wonder at this Pope. He did everything possible to make God known to the world at large.

Take this prophetic writing:

from "Stanislaus"
source as above

I want to describe the Church, my Church,
born with me, not dying with me--
nor do I die with it,
which always grows beyond me--
the Church: the lowest depth of my existence
and its peak,
the Church--the root which I thrust
into the past and future alike,
the sacrament of my being in God
who is the Father.

At once, what a tremendous depth of understanding of the nature of the Church and what a prophetic utterance. With each new Pope the Church is, in a sense, born again--brought into new light--the same light from a different angle. It is the angle that Pope John Paul II has given us that is such a tremendous blessing. It is the light of reason and of art, the light of mind, soul, and heart, the light of intellect and love. It is the light of the Church Fathers and of the Great Saints of the Church. Pope John Paul II uncovered the greatest number of Saints of any Pope and we owe to him a tremendous debt of gratitude. Under his tutelage, we learned how to cut through the unnecessary burdens that belabored past causes and begin to understand Saints in a new light. Many have criticized him for that--but what sense is there in it taking four centuries to canonize Juan Diego? We don't need the span of four centuries to know the truth of a person's sanctity. But I belabor and minor point. The real point is that if you don't care for the poetry, try the encyclicals, If they prove too trying a workout, read the Angelus meditations, or the Catecheses on various subjects. And if this doesn't help try one of the various collections of prayers and devotions. There are many, many ways to hear from our Holy Father. And now, more than ever, it is possible to have a private audience and know that your concerns are carried straight to God.

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Two Short Tributes from Tennyson


from In Memoriam, A.H.H.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

And this very famous one. Not only do I hope to see Our Pilot, but also the Fisherman who introduced me to Him.

Crossing the Bar
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

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A tribute to the Holy Father:

My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lilies
Francis Quarles

EV’N like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

Ev’n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt’ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine.

Nay, more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem’d a price too small
To buy a minute’s lease of half my pleasure;
’Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine,
Thus I my best-beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place;
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine, by blood;
He’s my supporting elm; and I his vine;
Thus I my best beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes;
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu’ring brows,
And I his temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an everlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved’s am; that he is mine.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Poetry and Poets category from April 2005.

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