Survey #1: Because of What Poem?

The positive comments on this blog have been astonishing since I began posting just six weeks ago. Few comments have touched me more than one from “Mary” this afternoon. In Catholic-land, “Mary” is almost as anonymous as “Anonymous,” so I have no idea who Mary is. But she picked up on my post about Julian’s baptism and urged me on. You can find Mary’s comment beneath Julian’s story. It’s her P.S. that sparks this post:

When days arrive, as they will, that you need a break, be sure, we will understand. Just ask us to lift you up, throw out a topic and we’ll all help.

Mary, I’m taking you up on your offer . . . NOW! There’s not a moment to waste. So let’s turn this post into a survey, and let anyone and everyone answer with comments.

In my previous post, I wrote about W. H. Auden’s poem “The Ballad of Barnaby,” explaining how it inspired me. Auden was a High Anglican, with a clear devotion to the Blessed Mother, and the idea of Barnaby tumbling before a statue of Mary is touching to me, for reasons I try to explain.

Now, over to you, gentle reader. Mary, here’s my topic: What poem has inspired you in your religious life? It doesn’t have to be a “Catholic” poem. For example, you could cite:

Anything by Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, about whom I wrote in a previous post, or . . .

John Milton, “On His Blindness“—In just fourteen lines this sonnet moves Job-like from suffering over life’s injustice to a resplendent acceptance of God’s will. The final line is a rebuke to each of us who would win God’s favor with doing, doing, and more doing: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road“—As the first American poet celebrated by the gay community, Whitman is not exactly a Catholic icon. But this poem was an anthem for me for many years, especially in its final evocation of friendship, something I’ve found most truly only now within the Catholic Church: “Mon enfant, I give you my hand! I give you my love, more precious than money! I give you myself, before preaching or law! Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”

Dylan Thomas, “A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London“—I have no idea what Thomas’s religious orientation was, if any. He seems to have known more about spirits than about the Holy Spirit. But the final line of this elegy for a girl killed by fire, though ambiguous, has always made me think of the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ: “After the first death, there is no other.”

Robert Frost, “Death of a Hired Man“—Again, this is not a Catholic or even a particularly Christian poem, but the charity expressed by the wife, “Mary” of course, is touching. When her husband, Warren, gives forth with the line for which the poem is best known (“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”), Mary responds (“I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”)

e. e. cummings, “my father moved through dooms of love“—As anyone who has been reading this blog knows by now, my father moved through dooms of love. (or as cummings has it, “because my father lived his soul, love is the whole and more than all”)

. . . or just about anything by Emily Dickinson.

So, what’s your answer, brothers and sisters? Is there a poem of faith, hope, or charity that still sings to you? Please comment below. If I get some answers, I’ll have more questions!

  • harry henriques

    Ballad of the Goodly Fere By Ezra Pound Simon Zelotes speaketh it somewhile after the Crucifixion. HA’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all For the priests and the gallows tree? Aye lover he was of brawny men, O’ ships and the open sea. When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man His smile was good to see, “First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere, “Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he. Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears And the scorn of his laugh rang free, “Why took ye not me when I walked about Alone in the town?” says he. Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine When we last made company. No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,But a man o’ men was he. I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free, That they took the high and holy house For their pawn and treasury. They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book, I think, Though they write it cunningly; No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere But aye loved the open sea. If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly FereThey are fools to the last degree. “I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere, “Though I go to the gallows tree.” “Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind, And wake the dead,” says he.“Ye shall see one thing to master all: ’Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.” A son of God was the Goodly Fere That bade us his brothers be. I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men. I have seen him upon the tree. He cried no cry when they drave the nails And the blood gushed hot and free. The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue, But never a cry cried he. I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men On the hills o’ Galilee. They whined as he walked out calm between, Wi’ his eyes like the gray o’ the sea. Like the sea that brooks no voyaging,With the winds unleashed and free, Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret Wi’ twey words spoke suddently. A master of men was the Goodly Fere, A mate of the wind and sea. If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere They are fools eternally. I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.

  • JustJohn

    As a young boy, un-churched as they say, I memorized the 23rd Psalm, poem, song, in vacation bible school. I remember the teacher being so careful to make sure we understood the literal meaning of the words first and foremost, that someday in the future we might understand the allegorical and anagogical meaning for the salvation and sanctification of our souls. Twenty-two years went by before a converting response was made to that grace. Nearly thirty more years passed before conversion to the fullness of the faith found truly in the Roman rite of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. "so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it." Is. 55:11

  • Sal

    Hopkins."AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5 Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. Í say móre: the just man justices; Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10 Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is— Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces. "This and the Milton were two I memorized while doing the dishes when my children were little. Needed what Phylis McGinley called a 'well-furnished' mind.Mary is quite right- I was thinking of doing a series based on your blog over at my place. We will take up your slack at any time.

  • Lacey

    I have a couple. First, "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oilCrushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. and this excerpt from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: 'There's nothing greatNor small,' has said a poet of our day,(Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eveAnd not be thrown out by the matin's bell)And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:And,-glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,-In such a little tremour of the bloodThe whole strong clamour of a vehement soulDoth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,And every common bush afire with God:But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,And daub their natural faces unawareMore and more, from the first similitude.

  • Anonymous

    Holy Sonnet XIV by John DonneBatter my heart, three-person'd God, for youAs yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bendYour force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.I, like an usurp'd town to another due,Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,But am betroth'd unto your enemy;Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,Take me to you, imprison me, for I,Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

  • Joe

    Sticking with Auden, you might try "September 1, 1939". It's not what you'd call upbeat, but it's a great portrayal of our constant longing for something better, something which we as Christians find in God.

  • Fr. Eric

    Francis ThompsonThe Hound of Heaven (a few lines)I fled Him down the nights and down the days;I fled Him, down the arches of the years;I fled Him, down the Labyrinthine waysOf my own mind; and in the mist of tearsI hid from Him, and under running laughter.

  • Anonymous

    Shakespeare, MacBeth:But 'tis strange: And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray's In deepest consequence.–Dawn

  • Ferde

    "The Divine Comedy" ought to get a mention here. A little long to post, but what sticks with me is Dante's polling of the population of hell.If I can stray from poetry, James Agee's short novel, "A Death in the Family" is deeply spiritual. I read it over 40 years ago and it's still with me.This novel and "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" (with Walker Percy) are Agee's only notable work. He squandered his enormous talent writing movie reviews for "The Nation" magazine, drinking to excess and chain-smoking cigarettes. He got out of a cab in New York one afternoon and dropped dead right there on the sidewalk. Not yet 50.

  • JessM

    Sailing to Byzantium – WB YeatsTHAT is no country for old men. The youngIn one another's arms, birds in the trees- Those dying generations – at their song,The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer longWhatever is begotten, born, and dies.Caught in that sensual music all neglectMonuments of unageing intellect.An aged man is but a paltry thing,A tattered coat upon a stick, unlessSoul clap its hands and sing, and louder singFor every tatter in its mortal dress,Nor is there singing school but studyingMonuments of its own magnificence;And therefore I have sailed the seas and comeTo the holy city of Byzantium.O sages standing in God's holy fireAs in the gold mosaic of a wall,Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,And be the singing-masters of my soul.Consume my heart away; sick with desireAnd fastened to a dying animalIt knows not what it is; and gather meInto the artifice of eternity.Once out of nature I shall never takeMy bodily form from any natural thing,But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths makeOf hammered gold and gold enamellingTo keep a drowsy Emperor awake;Or set upon a golden bough to singTo lords and ladies of ByzantiumOf what is past, or passing, or to come.

  • David S

    by my Aunt, Sr. Marie Emmanuel Streit, S.C. (1904-1991) Sisters of Charity of CincinnatiAspirationA wild canary flashes by, (like arrow sped from unseen bowTo pierce a target in the sky!)I watch its swift unswerving flightAnd think how very glad I'd beIf I could wing as sure a wayO Heart of God, my goal, to Thee!

  • Mary

    Here I am. I'm so thrilled you yook up the offer and so many have already sent poems! It's time to fix supper for my husband, so a quicky, thanks Fr. Eric, I too would list "Hound of Heaven."

  • Turgonian

    For me, it was a Marian poem as well, by someone who used to be Anglican.The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton.It's a very long poem, but the most important stanza is probably this one (spoken by the Blessed Virgin):"I bring you nought for your comfort,Yea, nought for your desire,Save that the sky grows darker yetAnd the sea rises higher."I strongly recommend the entire poem. It's the most beautiful piece of English poetry I've ever read.

  • Brian

    There are two hymns which for me have very inspiring words–one that seeks unity, one that foresees glory.Lord, who at Thy first Eucharist Didst PrayWe pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold,O bring them back, good shepherd of the sheep,Back to the faith which saints believed of old,Back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;Soon may we all one bread, one body be,One through this sacrament of unity.andFor All the SaintsBut lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;The saints triumphant rise in bright array;The King of glory passes on His way.Alleluia, Alleluia!

  • Rouxfus

    FROM St. Peter's Complaint, 1595 THE BURNING BABE.By Robert SouthwellAs I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shedAs though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls,For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

  • Rouxfus

    Some faithful limericks:God's plan made a hopeful beginning,But man spoiled his chances by sinning, We trust that the story, Will end in God's glory,But at present, the other side's winning, [Oliver Wendell Holmes]St. Augustine thought he had foundThe sin by which mankind is bound: "It was not," so said he, "The fruit on the tree,But the lust of the pair on the ground." [Bob L. Staples]

  • Rouxfus

    Now the faith is old and the Devil boldExceedingly bold indeed.And the masses of doubt that are floating aboutWould smother a mortal creed.But we that sit in a sturdy youthAnd still can drink strong aleLet us put it away to infallible truthThat always shall prevail.And thank the LordFor the temporal swordAnd howling heretics too.And all good thingsOur Christendom bringsBut especially barley brew. [Hillaire Belloc]