Knowing God

For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.

For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.

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Do They Love Us?

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The Nine Muses

 

Thinking on Hesperides, Muses

and Graces,

A growing doubt put me through my paces:

Do they love us,

And our pretty faces?

 

For we men are prone to idolatry,

And of that they ask no apology.

See any array of feminine statuary,

They seem content with their mythology.

 

And I would remind the men that marry,

That our brides make no sculptuary,

For the tribe of Tom, Dick or Harry.

Nor do they personify, the virtues masculine

of Guy or guy, in figures legendary.

 

There are no Gracos, Musers or Hesperados,

Our sisters sing no hymns to such desperados.

And while they have many talents to discover,

When will they paint the Mona Lisa’s brother?

 

I wonder.

And why no verse and oratory

To the universe of our glory?

What’s the story,

are we so ordinary?

My reply is negatory.

 

There is no need to bronze a paragon like Ron,

To carve a steed named Hugh into a statue,

Or marble Dave, already suave in his man-cave,

And launch a thousand ships, to bring back Skip.

 

Our poetesses need no such excesses.

For every man is grand,

and when a woman takes his hand,

She is flown to Shang-Ri-Land,

His well earned reward are her caresses.

 

So dear women, do not apologize,

For your failure to mythologize.

For in our natural state,

There is nothing much to hate.

‘Tis your fate to be tongued-tied,

When you contemplate your mate.

 

And so I close this song of Orpheus,

For fear of an approaching chorus,

Some reproach by a throng of Maenads,

Who appear to be quite mad … Egad!

 


Yes, this does rely on some made up words, and incorrect pronunciations. “Guy” should be the French version too.

Here lies my poor homage to Robert Herrick. And my apologies for departing from poems about a more worthy Subject. However, when I read a poet, I find I want to write a poem like they did. When I read Peguy, I tried writing poems like Peguy … And now I am reading Herrick.  And I can’t move onto my next poem until I get an idea out of my system.

Herrick was very witty, and though a minister, he liked to write about the battle of the sexes. So I wrote a poem he might like, if he was around now. I agree with the advice of the poetry teachers I am reading that you shoud read from a great variety of poets. Imitation is a good learning method.

Herrick is very readable, and his entire output, over 1000 poems, is collected in Hesperides and Noble Numbers. They are available in ebook form on Kindle or at iBooks. I would recommend the 1898 combined edition, Volume 1 and 2, with the preface by Swinburne at the iBooks store. That one is free, and has notes to explain archaic words.

 

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For a Child Receiving Their First Communion This Weekend

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Louis Janmot, Première Communion (public domain)

 

Now the time for First Communion,

Join in Eucharistic union.

Bow down low before you greet him,

Then say Amen when you eat him.

On the tongue or on the throne,

In your heart he makes his home.

When you kneel down in your pew,

Thank the one who died for you.

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Eyelids

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Ford Madox Brown, Parisina’s SleepStudy of a Head for Parisina’s Sleep (Public Domain)

 

Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.

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A Short Biography Of Robert Herrick

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Version 2

Robert
Herrick,
Scholar
Cleric.
Cromwell’s
England,
London
Stoic.
Carpe
Diem,
Lyric
Moment.
Gather
Rosebuds,
Master
Poet.
Noble
Numbers,
Golden
Vespers.
Vision
Jesus:
MONO
METER.

Version 1

Robert

Herrick,

Was a

Cleric.

Cromwell’s

England,

Could not,

Bear it.

Carpe Diem,

Lyric Poet.

“Gather Rosebuds?”

Yes he

wrote it.

Went to

Heaven.

Met Saint

Peter.

Then saw

Jesus:

MONO

METER.

 

 

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Putting on Christ

 

I got this outfit,

It was a gift,

Charity.

The coat sleeves are long,

Like they were stretched.

Can I make it fit?

Or do I grow into it?

The shoes have holes

in their soles.

Don’t ask about the shirt.

No wonder it was free.

 

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The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

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Father Louis Bouyer

This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After.  Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004.   They were not published until 2014.

I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.

This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.

About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies.  He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.

Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar:  Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was.  Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.

The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes.  He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.

The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.

The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better.  He also covers some friendships and favorite places.

Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante.  The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.

Now, the themes:

The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders

It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.

It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure.  The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.

Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail.  Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).

Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics

These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic.  The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.

On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness.  And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.

In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.   They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity

These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.

What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent.  It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends.  Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.

One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist.  When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.

Bridges between Catholics and Protestants

Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels.  Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).

Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books.  I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.

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An Ode for the Rhapsode

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The Muse, Gabriel De Cool

Here bloomed a rare poet
I groomed for no deceit.
I would play him like a cello
And sway him to singing
Of the rage of Achilles
While there calmly sitting
With unfair, wily Socrates
Ensnared under the olive trees
Already lost in some debate.

You tried to put him to the test,
This child my mind had blessed.
He waited patient on your con
And played along without protest.
The method led to trouble later on,
But you were gentle with my friend Ion.

Yes, I am the guilty one.
He was my pretty Grecian urn
Down which I’d pour fine wine.
And I would let poor Ion burn
Then turn his song to Helen,
To yearn for form fair and pure
As the towers of topless Ilium.

For a poet is a winged being
That flies in proper season.
The spirit spurs the singing,
In rhythm to my breathing,
And any hidden, lyric purpose,
You may not parse or reason.

And when you shake and start
Then reach for pen or lyre
Lay the blame on my desire.
There is no shame in art,
When I undress your heart
Then set your soul afire.

So be a son as wise Ion,
Always the guileless child
Enjoys full pardon
Heaven and this smile.
Now he sings of glory,
And not of kings or rage,
Amid the endless story,
Astride eternal stage.

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Holy of Holies (II)

 

holbein-50

From “The Dance of Death” by Hans Holbein

 

Father, is this the hour of desolation?

The one you know and of which I warn.

In my holy place an abomination,

Will my Church be still-born?

Is this the day the world swore:

“Blessed be the barren women,

the womb that never bore,

And their breasts never nursing.”

I see two boys in the meadow playing,

A shadow falls and one is taken.

I see two girls in my temple spinning,

One is gone and the sanctum shaken.

The iron nails pierce my bride,

Her veil is torn from top to bottom.

The rusted lance rends my side,

Has my Mother’s “Yes” been forgotten?

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The Ballad of Doubting Thomas

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Martyrdom of St. Thomas, by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain)

There is a man of famous doubt,
And Thomas was his name.
You think you know the truth about,
This rascal and his shame.

You mockers joke about his sin,
So I will tell you true.
He was the Master’s living twin,
And far more brave than you.

Mother Mary was a wise one,
The flower of our race.
But even she would greet her Son,
When Thomas showed his face.

Our Lord was fond of nicknames,
As Adam’s son should be.
And so he called him “Didymus,”
That’s Greek to you and me.

The twin was not one to pander,
And always spoke his heart.
When others thought to flatter,
The doubter took no part.

By deeds not words, he might have said,
This man, the Nazarene.
And when he learned his friend had died,
He left for Bethany.

“You must not go!” the others cried,
Your foes will seek your end.
But doubting Thomas then replied,
“Let’s go and die with him.”

But when one day they struck the King,
As foretold they scattered.
Reluctantly, I have to sing,
All of them were shattered.

The Prince of Peace was put to death,
His heart pierced by a spear.
And when he spoke his final breath,
The twin was nowhere near.

Shame can drive a man to rages,
An anger for an end.
We want to be courageous,
For weakness we must mend.

And so the doubter walked about,
And with his life made free.
And to the Romans gave a shout,
“Please nail me to a tree.”

So then the Lord came back to them,
The spirit was his breath.
While on the streets of Jerusalem,
Thomas sought after death.

And when at last he heard the news,
His pride would not give in.
His shame then fought to probe the wounds,
That truly lay within.

The Lord heard every word he said,
That reckless Didymus,
And then appeared with wounds still red,
Spoke, “Put me to the test.”

A weaker man just might have died,
When hearing such a sound.
But “My lord and my God” he cried,
And knelt upon the ground.

The Lord so quick forgave his twin,
All brothers he did bless.
And while Jesus soon ascended,
The saints began their quest.

For he left a great commandment,
To each and every one.
All of Adam’s descendants,
Must learn about God’s son.

Doubting Thomas took his mission,
Into Assyria.
And seeking for his own passion,
Took sail for India.

He preached the Word in that far land,
And many knew the Lord.
He prayed that all might understand,
No thought for his reward.

Thomas walked his Master’s path,
Until the kingdom come.
He soon did suffer the world’s wrath,
A bloody martyrdom.

I now end and seek your promise,
To give the man his due.
That you never slander Thomas,
This doubter died for you.

Note: This poem was inspired by Fabrice Hadjadj’s interesting interpretation of Thomas the Apostle in his book Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ, which I reviewed here.

Most of my poems are in free verse, and sound better to my ear, but I read a persuasive article that an aspiring poet should practice with formal modes to build their skills. So this is in the form of a ballad, which uses the traditional 8-6-8-6 syllables on each line of the quatrains. It  feels clunky, and is pretty much my first draft. I don’t have much appetite for polishing and revising yet, but maybe I will come back to it at a later date.

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