Tag Archives: Catholcism

“Hymn” by Edgar Allan Poe

Duccio di Buoninsegna

Duccio di Buoninsegna

It’s been a while since I read any Poe, so I got my Complete Tales and Poems and looked for a short poem which I had not read before. I came upon this one.

At morn — at noon — at twilight dim —
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe — in good and ill —
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

The speaker here is a Catholic who is devoutly praying to the Virgin Mary. It seems that the speaker is currently in pain and is seeking solace through prayer. Although the gender of the speaker is not known, I am just going to refer to him as he, since Poe was male.

The lines imply that the man’s past was happy and that his previous prayers were offered in gratitude. But then something tragic occurred which not only cast a cloud over his present, but also his past. My impression is that it is the death of a loved one, either a spouse or a child. He is currently suffering the loss while his memories of past times, whether they be joyous ones or feelings of regret for things not done, are now rising to the surface.

In the time of crushing sorrow, he turns to the traditions which have providing grounding throughout his life, which is prayer. The fact that the word “Hours” is capitalized in line 5 implies that he is practicing the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, where he prays eight times a day at regular times. He has faith that by turning his pain over to the Virgin Mother, that his suffering will be eased. Mary suffered through the death of her child, so he is turning to her for support in his time of loss.

The death of a loved one is one of those events that often lead individuals to seek spiritual guidance and support. It is important to note that the person in this poem already has a firm spiritual foundation in his life, so it is easy for him to turn to his faith in his time of need. I guess the moral is that we should not wait until tragedy strikes to build our spiritual connections, we should begin doing so now.

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“Holy Thursday” by William Blake: From Songs of Experience

HolyThur-SOE

Blake wrote two versions of “Holy Thursday,” one for the Songs of Innocence and this one for the Songs of Experience. (Click here to read my thoughts on “Holy Thursday” from the Songs of Innocence.) Both poems deal with the issue of poverty and how it affects children, and while both provide social criticism, they do so from very different perspectives.

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reducd to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill’d with thorns
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

In Catholic tradition, Holy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter when Jesus held the last supper. Since the last supper was Jesus’ observance of the Passover Seder, which recounts the Hebrews’ release from the bondage of slavery, there is a dark irony here as Blake incorporates imagery of hunger and subjugation. The church, an institution that is supposed to carry on the traditions and teachings of Christ, instead grudgingly offers meager charity to the poor and starving children with “cold and usurious hand,” all the while viewing themselves as holy and charitable.

For me, the stark difference between this poem and the one from Songs of Innocence is the tone. This is an angry poem, seething with indignation. The poet’s view, no longer tainted by innocence, only sees the bare suffering that poverty inflicts upon poor children. He questions why in a land of abundance we allow those who are less fortunate to suffer, and I personally feel that this question is relevant today. How can we, as a society, tolerate children going without food when we have the resources to alleviate their suffering? It is a question we need to ask ourselves, because there are a lot of children who go to sleep hungry every night.

Blake states strongly: “It is a land of poverty!” This is a powerful statement. It is not material or economic wealth that makes a society prosperous; It is how a society cares for its people that determines whether that society is prosperous or not. A society, just like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link, and allowing poverty to exist only weakens the social fabric.

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“Sonnet 43 – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Murillo - Virgin of the Rosary

Murillo – Virgin of the Rosary

OK, I know this poem is a little clichéd, but it is Valentine’s Day so I figured I would read it this morning.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

While on the surface this seems like the sappiest of love poems, there is something spiritual going on that is the heart of the poem. What Browning is expressing is love for God as opposed to love for another human being; although, I suppose you could argue that she is seeing the manifestation of God within her lover, but I will avoid going down that rabbit hole.

As I read the first line, I picture a woman, possibly a nun, meditating on God while counting on rosary beads. If you begin from this point, the entire poem becomes a meditative reflection on a devotee’s love for the Divine. This is affirmed by the capitalization of the key words referring to God: Being, Grace, Right, and of course God.

For me, the most interesting line is: “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose / With my lost saints.” It appears that Browning is expressing that religious dogma has failed and that the true path to God, and to the experience of God’s love, is through direct prayer and meditation. Praying to the saints as mediators between oneself and God pales in comparison with directly connecting to the divine spirit.

Browning concludes the sonnet with “if God choose, / I shall but love thee better after death.” I sense a deep longing in this line, a longing to become united with God. There is such passion, I cannot help but envision Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. The passion that is experienced when connecting with the Divine on a deep level is akin to the ultimate transcendent sexual experience. It is the greatest moment to which one can aspire.

Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Bernini – Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

While I am not a Catholic, I can relate to the feeling expressed in this poem. Interaction with the Divine Spirit, through whichever path you choose, is the most powerful experience one can have. It is what keeps me searching spiritual pathways and traditions. I hope that one day I too may experience that perfect moment of bliss where I become one with the Divine.

Have a blessed Valentine’s Day!!

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