21th of March is World Poetry Day.
The word “poetry” has a Greek origin which means “I make” or “I create”. Therefore, it is something someone makes or creates. It is an art form where the poet uses human language “to create”, to express himself or express something. “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words”, wrote Robert Frost, an American Poet.
Poetry can be filled with emotions such as: fear, love, hate, desire, admiration, gratitude, joy, sadness, hope, despair, confidence, curiosity, grief or relief. Since it mirrors so many facets of human’s inner life it is easy to understand why, at some level, any one can feel drawn by poetry. It can speak of negative aspects in life and all its ugliness but it can also echo all its positive side such as beauty. In fact, it was once said by Edgar Allan Poe, another American poet, that “poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words”. Beauty is therefore in the essence of poetry.
This form of art can also express what is meaningful to people, what is really important and memorable. That is why poetry was so present in the lives of the saints. What can be more memorable and meaningful than a life that has been reached by an unconditional love as the Lord’s? Jesus is the Most Beautiful of men. He is “The” Beautiful (with a capital “t”), that is, He not only has beauty as an attribute but “is” Beauty per se. And wherever there is beauty, there is poetry to be written.
Many saints wrote poetry as an attempt to express spiritual realities, personal experiences, feelings or thoughts. Some of them didn’t write poetry intentionally but only put on words their personal prayers which later became widely known by the faithful and worldwide. As one reads some of these poems written by the saints, it is hard not to be caught in awe and to think about celestial wonders. It is hard not to be trapped in the snares of beauty. However, there is no need to be afraid. As it was said by John Keats, an English poet, “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty”. Therefore one can conclude that beauty leads us to truth, and as Christians it is well known that God is The Truth (with a capital “t”).
Here are some excerpts from St Therese of Lisieux and St Augustine’s prayer-poems.
Late have I loved You
O beauty every ancient, ever new!
Late have I loved You
You were within; and I without,
and without I sought You.
And deformed I ran after these forms
of beauty You have made.
You were with me
And I was not with You.
Those things held me back from You,
things whose only being
was to be in You.
You called; You cried;
and You broke through my deafness.
You flashed; You shone;
and you chased away my blindness.
You became fragrant;
and I inhaled and sighed for You.
and now hunger and thirst
You touched me;
and I burned for Your embrace.
To live of Love
(…) “To live of love, what foolishness she sings!”
So cries the world. “Renounce such idle joy!
Waste not thy perfumes on such trivial things.
In useful arts thy talents now employ!”
To love Thee, Jesus! Ah, this loss is gain;
For all my perfumes no reward seek I.
Quitting the world, I sing in death’s sweet pain:
Of love I die!
To die of love, O martyrdom most blest!
For this I long, this is my heart’s desire;
My exile ends; I soon will be at rest.
Ye Cherubim, lend, lend to me your lyre!
O dart of Seraphim, O flame of love,
Consume me wholly; hear my ardent cry!
Jesu, make real my dream! Come Holy Dove!
Of love I die!
To die of love, behold my life’s long hope!
God is my one exceeding great reward.
He of my wishes forms the end and scope;
Him only do I seek; my dearest Lord.
With passionate love for Him my heart is riven.
O may He quickly come! He draweth nigh!
Behold my destiny, behold my heaven,
Of love to die.
~St Therese of Lisieux
Shalom Catholic Community