Poetry

Photo credit: YouTube/Eric Metaxas

Dawn Eden: from “rock historian” to Grand Inquisitor

The writer Dawn Eden Goldstein has been going hell bent for leather against Cardinal Raymond Burke. Her efforts reveal more about Dawn than they do about His Eminence. Ms. Goldstein charges Cardinal Raymond Burke with questioning the validity of the conclave that elected Francis as Pope—and, therefore, whether Francis is really the pope. In the [...]

The Seven Ages of Man in the Pasture—You Come Too

While I write this review, I am going to read the good poem I am reviewing. You come too. “The Pasture” by Robert Frost I’m going out to clean the pasture spring; I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away (And wait to watch the water clear, I may): I sha’n’t be gone long. – [...]

The Bad Poetry of Modern Hymnody

In an earlier column, I asked why we could not sing hymns from the Christian treasury, which is nearly two thousand years old, and which features composers with names like Bach and Handel and poets from Prudentius to Thomas Aquinas to Isaac Watts, the Wesleys, and John Henry Newman, rather than silly, sloppy, banally sentimental, [...]

Max Jacob, a Saintly Sinner

March 5, 2019, will be the 75th anniversary of the death of Max Jacob (1876-1944), a figure somewhat on the margins of the renouveau catholique, a literary renaissance marked by expressions of the Faith among a broad range of novelists, poets, playwrights, and essayists in early twentieth-century France. Born to a secular Jewish family in [...]

The Vulgar Morality of Tam o’ Shanter: A Tale by Robbie Burns

January 25 marks the birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), the national poet of Scotland, and is observed worldwide with the Robbie Burns Supper, a night of poetry, song, toasts, haggis, and “Tam o’ Shanter.” The tale of Tam and his devilish interloping is customarily enacted in vaudevillian style during the Supper, bringing the flare and flavor [...]

Poetic Traditional Hymns Put Alternatives to Shame

I often hear that since most of what is produced in any age is garbage, the quality of the hymns in a compilation such as the Hymnal 1940 is partly an illusion, because the earlier bad stuff would have been tossed aside. This observation is by way of excusing the bulk of church songs composed since 1965; time [...]

On Bryant’s “To A Waterfowl”

In December 1815, freshly admitted to the bar, the American poet William Cullen Bryant was walking to Plainfield, Massachusetts, when he observed a bird—probably a duck—flying across the horizon at sunset. That vision gave birth to what has been called the best short poem in any language and even by one “the most beautiful poem [...]

Last Crusade Calling Lost Christendom to War! “Lepanto” by G.K. Chesterton

On Sunday, October 7th, in the year of Our Lord 1571, an outnumbered, fragile coalition of small Christian states and one small part of a big Christian state defeated an empire at sea just off the coast of Greece. All of Europe rejoiced at the time, even the Christian states that refused help. Now, among the [...]

Adam’s Curse: William Butler Yeats on Original Sin

We made a good run in Genesis… all of two and a half chapters before finding ourselves on the business end of a curse leveled at us by omnipotent God. Don’t you hate it when that happens? As a matter of fact, we have been hating it ever since. As a defining feature of our [...]

Remembering the Troubadour of Saint Folly

“Pray that I may love God more. It seems to me that if I can learn to love God more passionately, more constantly, without distractions, that absolutely nothing else can matter.... I receive Holy Communion every morning, so it ought to be all the easier for me to attain this object of my prayers. I [...]

The Poison That Spoils All the Virtues

In George Herbert’s seventeenth century poem “Humilitie,” the Virtues sit on a throne to receive gifts at court from the animals who serve their masters. Humility steps down to receive the gifts the beasts present to the members of the court. The angry Lion surrenders its paw to Meekness, the fearful Hare presents her ears [...]

Nightfall: Péguy’s La Nuit and the Hope of Discontinuity

The French poet and philosopher Charles Péguy died in September, 1914 with a bullet through his head. He had anticipated the war that took his life—some say he even welcomed it, though his poetry resists that claim. He ​was​ a polemicist to the core and at odds with his temporal milieu, which was a modernity [...]

On Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”

2018 marks the centennial of the death of Joyce Kilmer in northern France, 1918 (b. 1886, New Brunswick, NJ). In his day, some deemed him “America’s leading Catholic poet and lecturer of his generation, often compared to British contemporaries G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.” Today, I fear that most Americans have heard his name only [...]

Robert Frost’s “The Death of the Hired Man”

Robert Frost’s classic poem captures the essence of the home as a place of belonging and hospitality where a person experiences love, welcome, care, worth, and dignity and where he comes to know the value of both justice and mercy which the home instills in its unique combination of love’s gentleness and firmness and blend [...]

Hopkins, Autumn, and Christ

A young child, Margaret, grieves for the time-swept autumn leaves. She is the object of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall,” and her bright Goldengrove is now “unleaving.” Goldengrove, with all its connotations of idyllic youth and sunny play. Goldengrove, where we imagine little Margaret exulting, with Chestertonian wonder, in the gratuitous magic of [...]

George Herbert’s “The Pulley”

In the style of the “wit” of metaphysical poetry—the ability to see striking, original analogies and to use fresh metaphors—Herbert writes of man’s relationship to God by comparing the communication of God to man and man to God to the movements of a pulley. In the language of seventeenth century poetry, Herbert uses a “conceit,” [...]

Brendan Behan: Rebel, Writer, Penitent

The name of Brendan Behan—rebel, hell-raiser, and writer—is rarely linked with the word "Catholic." This is an oversight, for he was by birth and upbringing very much a Catholic writer, if that is to be judged by his culture and social background. Nevertheless, it was more than just that. Its omission, or deliberate negation, is [...]

The Singular Catholic Vision of Gerard Manley Hopkins

If every poem has a past, then the strands of my own past are laced with lines of the loveliest lyric, forged a century or more ago by Gerard Manley Hopkins, an obscure Jesuit priest whose sonnet, “God’s Grandeur,” I elatedly discovered while a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. His was the opening [...]

When Textbooks Upheld the Ideals of Our Ancestors

I am musing upon a fine book written by a teacher and prolific author, Leroy Armstrong. He is introducing the reader to the life and the work of John Greenleaf Whittier, the old Quaker poet who was once one of the most beloved writers in America. He directs our attention to “Snow-Bound,” which he says [...]

Who Needs Poetry?

What are poems for? Is there any real point in writing them? And what about us, the folks who are expected to buy all that bilge—is it quite necessary that we actually read all that bleeping poetry? Exercising his customary acuity, C.S. Lewis tells us that poems exist to remind us that water is wet [...]

Rudyard Kipling’s “If–”: A Lesson In Manhood

For a particular poem to retain its power across years and generations, it must give expression to something that transcends the passing of time, and do so in such an exquisitely memorable manner that it simply cannot be imitated or remade. Competitors and critics may sally forth and give it battle; lesser authors may adopt [...]

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