What Are the 7 Essential Poems for Pentecost? +Pantheon Surprise

What Are the 7 Essential Poems for Pentecost? +Pantheon Surprise May 24, 2015
Speculum_Darmstadt_2505_64v
(Speculum Humanae Salvationis, Köln, circa 1360; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100)
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When in 2005 I first saw the Dove in St. Clotilde in Paris, Caesar Franck’s church, I immediately thought of T.S. Eliot’s poem below.

Pentecost with all its fire and surprises is conducive to poetic expressions. For whatever reason, as you will see from my list below, Anglican poets (Anglo-Catholic, to be more precise) have mined these themes in an especially rich way. The best thing I can do is get out of the way and give you a foretaste of these poems. I hope they will encourage you to mine the poets for more theological insights.

Toward the bottom of the page there is a video of a uniquely Roman celebration involving the Pantheon and rose petals. I have spent at least four Easters in Rome during my lifetime, yet I only found out about this strangely beautiful ritual today through twitter. It only goes to show that Rome, Twitter, and the Holy Spirit remain fresh and full of surprises.

This Sunday is also one month away from Father’s Day. Father’s Day is inextricably connected to the Pantheon for me. That is the place where I first got the idea to propose to my wife. We were walking in the area and I was telling my future wife about the mysterious murmuration scene in Calvino’s Mr. Palomar. I was so lost in the story, comparing it to the doves circling around the Pantheon, that I did not notice the seagull overhead . . . It wasn’t exactly a tongue of fire that hit me. But something within me snapped and I proposed the next day in St. Peter’s Square with the Swiss guard peeking at us from behind curtains at the Vatican.

Excerpt from Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot
in Four Quartets

four quartets eliot
This excerpt from the Four Quartets combines both the Holy Spirit and images of the German bombing of London.

. . . The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire . . .

Caedmon
by Denise Levertov
in Breathing the Water

breathing under water levertov
Levertov takes the earliest poem recorded in English history and puts accent on the Holy Spirit in this selection from Breathing the Water.

All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.
Early I learned to
hunch myself
close by the door:
then when the talk began
I’d wipe my
mouth and wend
unnoticed back to the barn
to be with the warm beasts,
dumb among body sounds
of the simple ones.
I’d see by a twist
of lit rush the motes
of gold moving
from shadow to shadow
slow in the wake
of deep untroubled sighs.
The cows
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
nothing but I, as that hand of fire
touched my lips and scorched by tongue
and pulled by voice
into the ring of the dance.

God’s Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
in The Major Works

major works hopkins
Pretty much every poem Hopkins ever wrote was a major work.

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 oil
Crushed. 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 soil
Is 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.

charles peguy geoffrey hill
Hill’s extraordinary and strange book-length poem does justice to its extraordinary and strange subject from Chartres.

Excerpt from The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy
by Geoffrey Hill

. . . Or say it is Pentecost: the hawthorn-tree,
set with coagulate magnified flowers of may,
blooms in a haze of light; old chalk-pits brim
with seminal verdue from the roots of time.

Landscape is like revelation; it is both
singular crystal and the remotest things.
Cloud-shadows of seasons revisit the earth,
odourless myrrh bourne by the wandering kings . . .

Click here for the last three poems and the Pantheon surprise.

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