Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Poetry for Vespers

To Heaven

Good and great God, can I not think of Thee
But it must straight my melancholy be?
Is it interpreted in me disease
That, laden with my sins, I seek for ease?
O, be Thou witness, that the reins dost know
And hearts of all, if I be sad for show,
And judge me after; if I dare pretend
To aught but grace or aim at other end.
As Thou art all, so be Thou all to me,
First, midst, and last, converted One, and Three!
My faith, my hope, my love; and in this state
My judge, my witness, and my advocate!
Where have I been this while exiled from Thee?
And whither rap’t, now Thou but stoop’st to me?
Dwell, dwell here still. O, being everywhere,
How can I doubt to find Thee ever here?
I know my state, both full of shame and scorn,
Conceived in sin, and unto labour borne,
Standing with fear, and must with horror fall,
And destined unto judgment, after all.
I feel my griefs too, and there scarce is ground
Upon my flesh t’ inflict another wound.
Yet dare I not complain, or wish for death
With holy Paul, lest it be thought the breath
Of discontent; or that these prayers be
For weariness of life, not love of Thee.

— Ben Jonson (1573-1637)


Recalled to Life

It is Easter’s Eve. Dr. Faust has passed the night in his study agonizing over his search for truth that has ended is such desolation. As morning dawns he mixes a deadly elixir with which he will end his life. Despair has prevailed. The light is extinguished; only the void remains. As Dr. Faust bravely raises the goblet of despair to his lips, he hears the choirs of heaven singing for joy: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

(Faust, Part One, Goethe, transl. David Luke, Oxford, 1998)

FAUST. You gentle puissant choirs of heaven, why
Do you come seeking me? The dust is stronger!
Go, chant elsewhere to tenderer souls! For I
Can hear the message, but believe no longer.
Wonders are dear to faith, by it they live and die.
I cannot venture to those far-off spheres,
Their sweet evangel is not for my ears.
And yet – these strains, so long familiar, still
They call me back to life. There was time
Of quiet, solemn sabbaths when heaven’s kiss would fill
Me with its love’s descent, when a bell’s chime
Was deep mysterious music, and to pray
Was fervent ecstasy. I could not understand
The sweet desire that drove me far away
Out through the woods, over the meadowland:
There I would weep a thousand tears and feel
A whole world come to birth, my own yet real.
Those hymns would herald youthful games we played
To celebrate the spring. As I recall
That childhood, I am moved, my hand is stayed,
I cannot take this last and gravest step of all.
Oh sing, dear heaven-voices, as before!
Now my tears flow, I love the earth once more!

Dr. Faust is, but for a time, recalled to life.

The Maddening Search for Truth

As much as we Christians talk about the complimentary nature of faith and reason, we are still all to tethered to the post-Enlightenment ideal of certainty through reason. As we search for “the Truth” we expect all of our arguments to make perfect sense, so that logically each piece of the puzzle fits in nicely within a coherent whole. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it doesn’t quite work out that way. Paradox is at the heart of our religion, and if you don’t believe that read a little G. K. Chesterton. He will paint a vivid picture for you on how paradox informs our faith at almost every turn. Of course, this should not be taken as a weakness of religion, for as Chesterton says (paraphrasing), “the belief in reason takes faith”. There are those who have faith and know it, and there are those who have faith and do not know it.

The search for “the Truth” when using reason alone (solo ratio!) can be a maddening experience. I suspect all who have read a good deal of philosophy, especially of the last 300 years, have had a glimpse into this terrible maelstrom of reason. Nothing expresses this madness quite like the words of Dr. Faust in the opening sequence of Goethe’s famous play (Faust – a wonderful translation by David Luke – Oxford University Press, 1998):

FAUST [sitting restlessly at his desk]

Well, that’s Philosophy I’ve read,
And Law and Medicine, and I fear
Theology too, from A to Z;
Hard studies all, that have cost me dear.
And so I sit, poor silly man,
No wiser now than when I began.
They call me Professor and Doctor, forsooth,
For misleading many an innocent youth
These last ten years now, I suppose,
Pulling them to and fro by the nose;
And I see all our search for knowledge is vain,
And this burns my heart with bitter pain.
I’ve more sense, to be sure, than the learned fools,
The masters and pastors, the scribes from the schools;
No scruples to plague me, no irksome doubt,
No hell-fire or devil to worry about –
Yet I take no pleasure in anything now;
For I know I know nothing, I wonder how
I can still keep up the pretense of teaching
Or bettering mankind with my empty preaching.

Sweet Surrender

Continuing the tradition of posting my favorite poems from the latest issue of Dappled Things, here is one I particularly enjoyed from Amanda Griswold:


He did not get my soul without a fight,
But foaming, seething, reeling in my brain,
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

My mind was scorched by shadows grown too bright.
The demon smoldered and I roared in pain.
He did not get my soul without a fight.

I caught his throat and squeezed with all my might,
Then found it was my own. He wrenched my chain.
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

For years the fever blazed all day and night.
My melted mind picked up the false refrain:
He did not get my soul without a fight.

I wandered without memory or sight,
Through bloodshot moons and scalding desert rain,
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

Why should the God-son abdicate his height?
I shied from love too perfect to contain.
He did not get my soul without a fight.
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

From Dappled Things – Amanda Griswold is a college student at Grove City College and plans to graduate in 2009.

Through a Mother’s Eyes

Here’s a great little poem from the latest edition of Dappled Things (link). The poem is by Amanda Glass, who according to Dappled Things, “graduated in 1999 from Franciscan University in Stuebenville, where she majored in Humanities and Catholic Culture. Her poems have appeared in The Lyric and in Garlands of Grace: An Anthology of Great Christian Poetry. She and her family live in western Maryland, where she is a full-time wife and mother.”


Do you know Slim the Cowboy, the Hero of the West?
He found a rattler by the sofa, bravely beat it up.
He saved his friend the sheriff when the local gang got rough,
Then drank his campfire coffee from his pewter loving-cup.
That’s Slim, in his bandana and fleece vest.

Did you see Slim the Cowboy as he galloped into town?
He left his mustang Star tied in the stable-yard out back
(That stable looks suspiciously like my green baker’s rack),
Then sat down at the bar and had a sliced-banana snack.
That’s Slim, in small snow-boots of blue and brown.

You heard of Slim the Cowboy, the stoic and the sage?
He faced the mighty buffalo that thundered through the plain,
Defeated all the bandits who attacked the wagon train,
Then asked for cookies, got an apple, and did not complain.
That’s Slim, who is much older than his age.

I’ve found with Slim the Cowboy that what he wants, he gets.
He swiped my measuring cups to use for cooking on the fire,
He filched my rolling pin to tame a deadly gun-for-hire,
Then hid out in the hamper when the danger got too dire.
That’s Slim, who raids my kitchen cabinets.

I ponder Slim the Cowboy, my half-pint hero son.
Why does a boy engage in all the blood-combat he can
And surge through unseen struggles until he can hardly stand?
He’s training to fight foes he won’t confront till he’s a man.
That’s Slim, for whom the battle’s just begun

It should go without saying, but a subscription to Dappled Things is something I highly recommend. Check it out.

The Sneer of Suicide

Here’s more of G. K. Chesterton’s delightful insistence that the world be looked at with wonder and appreciation. Granted, this time he writes from a very different angle, but the point remains the same. In Chapter 5 of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes:

Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer.

To The Winter That Was

For those of us who live in the colder regions of the United States, and had to live through that miserable winter of previous months, here is a wonderfully succinct poem from the latest issue of Dappled Things.

April Error
Sister Mary Catherine Vukmanic, OSU

A robin sang “April.”
My heart did the same,
And a calendar hailed
The month of that name.

But Nature, distracted,
Mismanaged things so;
She sent with the springtime
Not flower, but snow.



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