Fall is a time for reflection, and Fall Break (if you’re fortunate enough to have one) is for reflective reading. Here are my literary companions for the next few days.
This was the single great informing conflict of the American psyche. The management of insignificance. It was the great syncretic bond of US monoculture. It was everywhere, at the root of everything–of impatience in long lines, of cheating on taxes, of movements in fashion and music and art, of marketing…
And it was also the world altering pain of accepting one’s individual flaws and limitations and the tautological unattainability of our dreams and the dim indifference in the eyes of [others]” (emphasis added).
Oblivion (New York: Back Bay Books, 2004), 284-285
The soul that is rightly to be called great is the soul that can bear a life of hardship without fleeing from it.”
City of God: Books 1-10 (New City Press, 2012), 24
I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words. What I like to do is treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mold, coil, polish, and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly realized truth I must try to reach and realize.
Early Prose Writings (Dent, 1971)
On the Return of a Book Lent to a Friend
“I give hearty and humble thanks for the safe return of this book, which having endured the perils of my friend’s bookcase and the bookcases of my friend’s friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition. I give hearty and humble thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant for a plaything, nor use it as an ashtray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething-ring for his mastiff. When I loaned this book, I deemed it as lost; I was resigned to the business of the long parting; I never thought to look upon its pages again. But now that my book has come back to me, I rejoice and am exceedingly glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honor, for this my book was lent and is returned again. Presently, therefore, I may return some of the books I myself have borrowed.”
Artists are often found at the margins of society, but they are, like the shepherds, often the first to notice the miracles taking place right in front of us. Since sensationalism, power, and wealth dominate our cultural imaginations, we may not be willing to journey to the ephemeral, as the Japanese poets of old have, to see beauty in the disappearing lines or to see poetry in a drying puddle of water. The world seems to demand of us artist-types that we be able to explain and justify our actions, but often the power and mystery of art and life cannot be explained by normative words.”
Refractions (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009), 27-28
Beauty often resides in the peripheries of our lives. We walk past such humble miracles, such as the babe in the manger in a little village of Bethlehem, all the time. In the frantic pace of life, we need to slow down and simply observe natural forces around us and create out of that experience. What makes us truly human may not be how fast we are able to accomplish a task but what we experience fully, carefully, and quietly in the process.”
Refractions (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009), 27
The beauty of the world is Christ’s tender smile for us coming through matter. He is really present in the universal beauty. The love of this beauty proceeds from God dwelling in our souls and goes out to God present in the universe. It is also like a sacrament.”
Waiting for God (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009)
The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (New York: Mariner, 1999)
Sunday was the birthday of Anne Sexton, one of several brilliant but troubled poet-suicides of the 1970s. Sexton’s poetry ranges in mood and symbolism and touches on everything from mental illness and the death of children to prayer and the soul’s search for God.
The titles of her books reflect this thematic range: To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Live or Die, The Book of Folly, The Death Notebooks, The Awful Rowing Toward God, 45 Mercy Street.
Here are two of my favorite Sexton poems, both of which deal with gratitude. The imagery of the second poem is more difficult, but worth the wrestle:
Abelard raised a very foolish question when he asked: ‘What has Horace to do with the Psalter, Virgil with the Gospel, Cicero with the Apostle?’ The answer is simply that Horace, Virgil, and Cicero clarify the human situation to which the salvation of God is addressed through the Psalter, Gospel, and Apostle.”
Perspective on Man: Literature and the Christian Tradition (Westminster Press, 1961)