I still own my old battered copywork notebook, filled up with childish handwriting, imaginative illustrations, and many copied poems, from “The Lady of Shalott” to Stevenson’s “The Land of Counterpane.”
I still remember my sister and I dressing up in Victorian-style dresses for a birthday tea party and reciting Robert Louis Stevenson in front of the old camcorder.
And after getting published in an online homeschoolers’ magazine, my inspiration was fired and, in my teen years, I wrote poetry often; I loved dabbling in metaphor and trying to carve out those eloquent, startling, unique turns of phrase that I thought worked transformational power on an ordinary poem. (Not sure how well that went, but still . . . 😉 )
I wrote poems describing nature, or that paid tribute to favorite stories of mine (Lord of the Rings was always a top candidate) or to the Faith. And up until now, though I hadn’t written poems with such frequency for a while, I still had that patch in me that loved a good poem and admired its inherent beauty and capacity for art.
But now something’s happened.
I used to be immersed in what I felt was a more “grown-up,” or at least challenging, style of poetry–sestinas, blank verse, villanelles, you name it. The kind of poems that had the potential to honor the Faith, or the beauty of God’s creation, or the meaning of a profound story, with style and subtlety, without sounding like catechism lessons. After all, that’s what you hear today in any forum concerning creative mediums, and that’s certainly akin to advice I read: Don’t preach! Don’t be a soapbox! You’ll impair the impact of your medium if you’re preaching! Be subtle! Don’t be overt!
To a degree, that point may have some worth; a poem, book or film that “preaches” its viewpoint at the cost of reason or beauty is rather self-destructive . . . and yet, is it really preaching at all? Isn’t authentic preaching of any kind a combination of holy Truth, of courage, beauty in form, simplicity, and charity?
If it is, it stands to reason why I’ve now changed my mind about the poetry I prefer. I’ve completely fallen in love with the poems that are catechism lessons. The simple poems that, in bygone days, traditional and fervent priests, nuns, and laypeople wrote for the children of their parishes, and for Catholic children all across the world.
Some of my favorite spiritual reading can be found in the writings of Fr. Lasance. In his Catholic Girls’ Guide is a wealth of wisdom, beauty, and true fatherly instruction. And poems.
I overlooked these poems for a long time, not making any effort to humble my oh-so-great intellect for a moment and truly listen to them.
But now, Deo gratias, I’m won over!
Accept, Divine Redeemer, the homage of my praise;
take my heart and keep it, Lord, through all my earthly days.
Be Thou my consolation when death is drawing nigh;
be Thou my only treasure through all eternity.
(from The Catholic Girls' Guide)
I’m not sure exactly what happened, only that it had something to do with
1) being captivated by the old liturgy and traditions of the Faith through introduction to the Latin Mass
2) having the blessing of then being able to fill my mind with classic/traditionally tenored Catholic spiritual literature (Fr. Lasance, Fr. Laux, Fr. Pietro Leone [I know, triple L’s!], Frank Sheed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the 1962 Missal, to name my favorites so far.)
3) contemplating the (hoped-for!) possibility I might be blessed with children one day who can grow up immersed in all these wonderful beauties and traditions of the Faith that I’ve come so late to
4) viewing pretty much everything through this lens!
And somehow, that made me fall in love with these kinds of poems: the simple, salty, prayerful, old Catholic prayer-poems. Simple and true enough to teach a child; simple and true enough to pierce the soul of an adult.
To give an example . . . my sister and I just now invested in Fr. Lasance’s mammoth With God: A Book of Prayers and Reflections. 900 pages of old, traditional, beautiful Catholic prayers (many of them indulgenced) that have been largely forgotten . . . it came in the mail last Friday and was received with, erm, much joy. (I will have a post devoted just to this book once I stop freaking out about how wonderful it is and become coherent again.)
Towards the beginning of this hulking volume that could serve as a physical as well as spiritual weapon, there’s a section called, “Sanctification of the Day” and in it, a sub-section titled “Prayers in Verse.”
There are gems like this:
Before the Rosary:
Mother, now I'll say my beads,
for my soul some comfort needs;
And what better can there be
Than to raise my thoughts to thee,
Doesn’t this immediately inspire childlike confidence in our “sweet Mother”? My soul some comfort needs. Doesn’t this evoke our weariness both of body and soul, and yet remind us of the delight we should take in having constant refuge under the mantle of the Mother of God? All this, in just a handful of lines!
In the final section, “Hymns,” consider the first few verses of this sweet, beautiful, soul-awakening catechism on the reality of our guardian angels and the gratitude we owe them (by the wonderful Fr. Faber):
Guardian Angel Hymn
Dear Angel! ever at my side,
how loving must thou be,
To leave thy home in Heaven to guard
A sinful child like me.
Thy beautiful and shining face
I see not, though so near;
The sweetness of thy soft low voice
I am too deaf to hear.
But I have felt thee in my thoughts
Fighting with sin for me;
And when my heart loves God, I know
The sweetness is from Thee . . .
When my heart loves God, I know the sweetness is from Thee. I had never thought much of how any holy inspirations I have, or simply the spiritual joy I experience in loving God, are due at least in part to the intercession of my guardian angel, until I read this poem!
And for a third example, consider this poem from “Continual Prayer”:
My fate is in Thy hands,
My God, I wish it there;
My heart, my life, my health I leave
Entirely to Thy care.
My fate is in Thy hands,
Whatever it may be,
Pleasant or painful, bright or dark,
As best may seem to Thee.
My fate is in Thy hands,
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father's Heart will never cause
His child a needless tear.
And this one . . . this one just makes me want to cry 🙂
This is just the tiniest taste as to the wealth of these poems available to the faithful. I would quote more here if I had time . . . but the fact remains, we truly need to bring these poems back into our Catholic households! We need to seek them out, teach them to our children, copy them down, put them up where we can see them, set them to music. They are anything but quaint . . . I think they are truly necessary.
The poems and songs from our childhood remain with us in our adulthood (whether we like it or not 😉 ) and throughout the rest of our lives; they inform us more than we realize. So why not make them poems that are filled with truth, with simplicity, with spiritual power?
If God blesses me with children one day, you can be sure their mama will be using these poems in all sorts of ways to fill their dear, sweet souls with the beauty, truth and goodness that comes from their Heavenly Father. And in the meantime, I’ll be using these poems to do the same with my own soul.