Poetry and faith

Peter Levi (see previous post) was, for a number of years, a Jesuit priest, before leaving the priesthood in 1977 to marry Deirdre Connolly (widow of Cyril), who was clearly the love of his life.

So it’s not surprising that his poem/lecture, Goodbye to the Art of Poetry, includes a number of sections looking at the relationship between poetry and religious faith. For example, on p.24f., where Levi quotes with approval Pasternak’s defintion of poetry as “eternity’s hostage in the hands of time” and continues:

We may be the last Europeans you see
to take eternity so seriously.
Time is really a new idea of ours,
hence the English obsession with clock-towers
(Russian eternity consumes all hours).

And then a few pages later (p.34), on how removed we are now from the various spirits that animated earlier religious poetry, whether that’s the exalted spiritual vision of the visionaries, or seeing God’s will expressed in British imperialism or (at the other end of the scale) the Russian revolution:

The poetry of the possession of heaven
is merely charming to unburied men.
We are not in that chorus which was picked
to chant with Francis or with Benedict,
we mope in ruined cloisters, and our Christ
is what Ulysses looked for in the west:
the gilded waves and the sea-monster’s hum,
the islands of the blest, the Christ to come.
He did not lead the Russian revolution;
he does not guard the British constitution.
Tennyson’s patriotism is stinking air,
Blake was half mad, and Blok died in despair.

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One Response to Poetry and faith

  1. Thomas says:

    In order to do my part to support the global economy, I just ordered Goodbye to the Art of Poetry from Amazon in the UK. So, crisis averted, problem solved, everyone can relax now.

    Really, though, thanks for the notice – I’d never heard of the book.

    Peace out.

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