St. Jerome, Scholar and Crabapple

St. Jerome, Scholar and Crabapple September 30, 2014

A favorite poem about a favorite saint on his feast day:

The Thunderer
by Phyllis McGinley

God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar,
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller,
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.

Quick to disparage
All joys but learning,
Jerome thought marriage
Better than burning;
But didn’t like woman’s
Painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans,
Didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans
For their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted
He scolded mankind
Sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save
The world from the Heathen;
Fled to a cave
For peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith
For miles around
He filled the air with
Fury and sound.

In mighty prose
For almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes,
Quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master,
Though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster
Sort of saint.

But he swelled men’s minds
With a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds
To make a heaven.

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  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    St. Jerome gives me hope. If an old curmudgeon like him can be a saint, there’s hope for the rest of us.
    Re: Cicero. Never got it. I have read Cicero in the original Latin. His Latin is flawless and elegant. And intensely boring. A long-winded pompous bore.

    • john smith

      That’s why he is emblematic of pagan Rome. In all outward appearances his culture was the peak of human civilization: masters of war, masters of peace, masters of politics, masters of government administration. And yet there was an emptiness, a hollowness to their culture that was only eventually fulfilled by the grace of Christian truth.

      When you read Cicero, it is awe-inspiring yet also poignant and pitiful, like staring at a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle with one conspicuous piece missing, right in the center; that piece being, of course, the Truth.

    • Tom Hanson

      RE: “Re:Cicero.” Says you. For one. I too have read Cicero “in the original Latin.” As for boring, much less “intensely boring”, it seems plain that while you may be able to read Latin, you have no ear for it, nor for its nuances. For example, Why did Cicero use “isti” instead of “illi” in regard to Cataline’s friends? A dictionary will tell you the cold fact that isti is a pejorative plural form of the pronoun ille. It takes an ear to find the ridicule in the sound ,and when he wants to associate Cataline with his friends he calls them “isti nudi” which sounds even more ludicrous and coats them with the same sort of brush that the words “flaming fags” would have today. That sounds pretty succinct to me. My point here is that he was a nonaristocrat who was a successful defence lawyer and prosecutor and politician in an aristocratic system. He was known for his wit and the effectiveness of his speeches. He did not win a consulship by being boring. His speeches and letters and some of his other works have been enjoyed for over 2,050 years. What you assert about him says more about you than it does about him.

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        Lawyers are boring in any language. Second only to psychologists. Cicero’s Latin was indeed elegant, perhaps even brilliant, but his content was snooze-inducing. A beautiful coat of paint on a car that barely runs. If you want to read a Roman with real punch, read Ovid or Vergil (although the latter’s love poems to young boys are more than a little icky).
        It wouldn’t surprise me at all if linguists determine that “Cicero” is actually Etruscan for “pretentious snore.”

        • Tom Hanson

          De gustibus… and I expect I should probably mention that he was a trial lawyer, who could not put the deciding judges to snooze and be successful… non disputandum.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    My Patron!

  • McGinley’s book, Saint-Watching, from which this is taken, is a real joy. My favorite of her poems was the one on St. Thomas More, where the refrain was his four children’s names, as in

    and four fair children his heart throve on,
    Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily and John.

    (That’s all I can do from memory)