From a Poem by George Santayana (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I think you will be surprised by this, because I know I was.Yesterday, I shared a little something that the atheist, and self-described “aesthetic Catholic,” George Santayana wrote. Today I’m going to do the same.

It seems Professor George really wanted to be known as a poet and he wrote a good number of poems and sonnets, which were published by the Herbert S. Stone & Company publishing house. I “discovered” his poem The Hermit of Carmel yesterday and I am amazed by it. I  added it to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf without hesitation.

I’m no poetry critic, because I don’t know poetry enough to criticize it. I only know what I like and can understand, and what I think is good. Below I’m sharing with you a taste of Professor George’s artistic ability from his poem Lucifer: A Theological Tragedy.

Published in 1899, this poem opened to mixed reviews. It was viewed favorably by Christian critics, and less favorably by secular ones.Tongue firmly in cheek,  I wonder why? I’ll give you a taste of his ability via two speeches. The first is by St. Peter to Hermes, and the second is The Risen Christ to Lucifer himself.

from Act IV,
Saint Peter’s Soliliquy to the pagan god Hermes,

It is a serpent tempts thee, noble youth.
Even while speaking truth he leads astray.
His eye is subtle, but his heart is blind,
And of God’s fruits he marks the spotted rind,
But not the kernel where their virtue lay.
All nature yields no meaning to his mind,
For understanding withers at its springs
Unless love guide it to the sense of things.
On faith is built the wisdom of mankind.
Mark how this age, that builds its truth on doubt,
Falters at heart and knows no certain hope,
But trusts to fate, with which it dare not cope,
To work its undeserved salvation out.
What truth have men ? The senses brief deceit.
What happiness ? The slavery to greed.
What art ? An echo and a paltry cheat.
What God ? A helpless consciousness of need.
Upon what food, then, doth this people feed
That it forgets of whom it borrows breath?
Knows it the secret of the budding grain,
Or can it conjure floods or summon rain?
Or grows it sick and amorous of death,
Or like its father, Satan, dull to pain?
Oh, men have waxed too covetous of gold
To lift their eyes up from their labour s gain;
And as each morning brings the sun again
And summer wears his splendours as of old,
They drive the ploughshare deeper in the mould
And say : There are no longer gods in heaven!
With smitten breast and penance would they crave
Their bread, if God less bountifully gave,
But they forget him now, when all is given.
Thus are the souls my Master died to save
Like earth-regarding beasts in stupor driven
Without the hope of heaven to the grave.

                      ****
from Act IV, Christ to Lucifer

Unteachable! Is God not the Lord of Hosts?
The arms that against his bosom fly
His own strength drives, and in thy mutiny
He triumphs, and is mighty in thy boasts.
What need of sentinel to guard the shore
When he is master of the embosoming sea,
When his the wave, the bark, the sail, the oar,
And his the sinews of his enemy?
O Lucifer, couldst thou behold thy soul,
As it lies open to my Father’s sight,
The gathering clouds of pity fast would roll
Across thine eyes, to hide thy proper plight,
And rain on thy parched heart in showers light
Of sweet humility. Woe to the vain
And raging will that hugs its mortal pain.
Is it for thee to fathom wrong and right?
Tis God who spun the fibres of thy brain
And wove thy reason; had he placed awry
One thread, new dreams had turned
thy dreams to naught
And idle thought confounded idle thought
For ever, and none questioned destiny.
Now thine own tyrant, to thyself unkind,
Thou chafest at the limits of thy wit
Whose meek quietus were to live resigned
And serve the elder will that fashioned it
For in the bosom of the infinite
Thou hast thy life, and thy forsaken woes
Like foam on the false bosom of a wave,
Rise in vain fury, impotently rave
A moment only. Then thy proud will goes
Whither the billow sinks or the wind blows.


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