Friday, April 27, 2018

Roy Campbell's "Toledo, July 1936"

There is a scene in the film Shadowlands in which Joy Gresham recites to C. S. Lewis a poem she wrote which is narrated from Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.  She asks, rhetorically, the question she assumes Lewis is thinking: when were you in Madrid?  The answer: she wasn't.  The joke, so to speak, is that fighting in Spain was so vogue among the literati of the day that someone like Gresham might affect such an experience just to blend in.

The South African poet Roy Campbell really did fight in Spain, though as Thomas P. McDonnell puts it, "Liberal poets and academicians of the thirties and forties have never forgiven Roy Campbell for his robust participation on what they presumed was the 'wrong side' of the Spanish Civil War."

That having been said, Campbell not only participated, but in the course of events rescued the Carmelite archives of Toledo from destruction, a detail he omits from his poem about the siege there.

Toledo, July 1936 
Toledo, when I saw you die
And heard the roof of Carmel crash,
A spread-winged phoenix from its ash
The Cross remained against the sky!
With horns of flame and haggard eye
The mountain vomited with blood,
A thousand corpses down the flood
Were rolled gesticulating by,
And high above the roaring shells
I heard the silence of your bells
Who've left these broken stones behind
Above the years to make your home,
And burn, with Athens and with Rome,
A sacred city of the mind.

Hat tip to A Literary Blog of Twentieth-Century and Beyond Poetry in English for the transcription of this poem.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Happy Feast of St. Bernadette Soubirous!

Grant us, O merciful God,
that with St. Bernadette, meek and humble,
we may walk in the path of conversion,
serve the poor and the sick,
contemplate the beauty
of the Immaculate Mother of God,
and go in procession
to drink at the Spring of Living Water,
Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"Spring and Fall," by G. M. Hopkins

Today we continue a series of poems begun earlier this year, in an effort to bring more poetry into our lives.  My first real introduction to Gerard Manley Hopkins came at my wife's suggestion, by way of Ron Hansen's historical novel, Exiles.  A Catholic convert - received into the Church by none other than John Henry Newman - and a Jesuit priest, Hopkins was also one of the great poets of his day, though his fame was mostly posthumous.  One of the reasons I value this poem, and think it worth sharing here, is that it comes more alive - in sound and in meaning - with repeated readings.  (Out loud is really best; for a while it sat above our kitchen sink, where I would quietly recite it while doing dishes.)

Spring and Fall

to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Happy Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary!

God, our Father,
You willed that St. Joseph,
Spouse of the Virgin Mother of God,
should adore his Redeemer
in a humble stable and
rescue the Child Jesus from deadly peril.
Following his example
and by his intercession,
may Your Church cling
to the Virgin Mary in love
and constantly watch over the unfolding
of the mysteries of human salvation,
whose beginnings You entrusted
to his faithful care.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Today's image is Gerrit van Honthorst's Childhood of Christ.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

St. Patrick's Day

On St. Patrick's Day this year we mourn the death, and pray for the soul, of Liam O'Flynn, a great piper who died on March 14. O'Flynn came from a musical family--his father played the fiddle, and his mother piano--and from an early age he learned to play the uillean pipes under the tutelage of Leo Rowsome and Seamus Ennis, two pipers who had kept the Irish piping tradition alive in the early 1900's.

O'Flynn became well known through his work with the band Planxty. O'Flynn gave Planxty credibility as a traditional music group--his fellow band members came more from the ballad and folk singing traditions--but at the same time he learned to adopt the pipes to accompany some of the non-Irish songs Planxty performed. O'Flynn also stood out in Planxty for being far more soft-spoken and far less emotional than his bandmates; he was always seated in the middle of the stage and only occasionally swayed a little to his music or cracked a smile. In the following video, though, O'Flynn demonstrates his skill on two slip jigs and ending with a classic piping jig (starting at 3:50), "The Yellow Wattle":

Later in his career, O'Flynn continued to show how flexible a musician was, becoming the first piper to record with an orchestra while working on several pieces with Shaun Davey. He also collaborated with poet Seamus Heaney in setting poetry to music; he later played a lament at Heaney's funeral.

But, in the end, O'Flynn will be remembered as a great piper and, by all accounts, a kind and gentle man.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Happy Feast of St. Scholastica!

St. Scholastica and her twin brother, St. Benedict. Looks rather mischievous, doesn't she? Then again, she did pray for a storm to get him to bend the monastic rule so they could converse together a bit longer. 

 O Lord, by the example and
intercession of St. Scholastica,
who was filled with innocent faith,
hoped in the goods of heaven,
and ever burned with love for her Spouse,
may the dryness of our hearts
be moistened with the dew of divine grace
and may we enter into Your eternal joys,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"The Glory," a Poem by Edward Thomas

I first came across Derek Walcott's work when I was a freshman in college and we read his Omeros as the final installment of a two-semester sequence on the epic. I was intrigued by Walcott's use of classical elements and by the Saint Lucian world he evokes. But my younger self was grumpy about his anti-colonialism and some perceived slights of organized religion. Moreover, I was sufficiently anti-establishment at the time to look askance at his Nobel Prize for Literature.

Nevertheless, the urge to pick up Omeros and re-read it never quite left me and so, when I saw that First Things published a kind of obituary last year, I took a look.

What surprised me was not so much that Walcott was a devotee of the poetic tradition - I had long suspected as much, even as my younger self tried to believe he was a bomb thrower - but that among American students, even those taking his class at Boston University, Walcott was largely seen as an irrelevant throwback. As Garrick Davis painfully recounts, contemporary students of poetry seem to have no ear for it, nor real interest in it.

But before I could begin silently castigating the ignoramuses pretending to study poetry in America's most prestigious schools, it occurred to me that, although I affirm the value of poetry, particularly in its more traditional forms, I actually read or recite rather little of it.

To rectify that, I'll be sharing a few poems here, beginning with one Walcott himself thought quite extraordinary, Edward Thomas's "The Glory," a meditation on the beauty of a morning and the struggle to respond to it aright:
The glory of the beauty of the morning, -
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: -
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty's presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day's end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.