April 18, 2008
In 1687, John Dryden published his masterwork on the relation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England, The Hind and the Panther, in effect a response to his celebrated Religio Laici (1682), a defense of the Church of England against the claims of Rome. A year before The Hind and the Panther was published, Dryden converted to the Roman Catholic Church and soon set to write his versed dialogue between a panther (the Church of England) and a hind, female deer (the Catholic Church). It is a fascinating read, ably displaying Dryden’s peculiar form of poetic style, best described by Bonamy Dobrée:
“What Dryden aimed at was precision, finality of utterance, saying all that could be said upon a subject in the most concentrated way. His is the gift, or rather, one should say, the hard-won capacity, of expressing exactly what he means. But the hold which romantic poetry has upon the imagination is to a large degree due to the opposite quality, namely of formulating a deliberate ambiguity, of seeming to mean, of intending to mean even, a great deal more than it actually says: it seeks to set the imagination free in the fairyland of desire rather than to concentrate it on a definite object or idea.” (Introduction to Poems, John Dryden, Everyman’s Library No. 910)
In this contrast to romanticism, we can see Dryden as displaying the best of the this-worldly sanctifying attention found in the Catholic and Thomistic tradition. It is the sort of realism that I find most attractive in the greatest of modern poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a convert received into the Church by John Henry Newman. Here is an excerpt from The Hind and the Panther, displaying less Dryden’s doctrinal-intent but, more, his greater insight to the seductions surrounding epistemic warrant:
Your inf’rence wou’d be strong (the Hind reply’d)
If yours were in effect the suff’ring side;
Your clergy sons their own in peace possess,
Nor are their prospects in reversion less.
My Proselytes are struck with awfull dread,
Your bloudy Comet-laws hand blazing o’re their head.
The respite they enjoy but onely lent,
The best they have to hope, protracted punishment.
Be judge your self, if int’rest may prevail,
Which motive, yours or mine, will turn the scale.
While pride and pomp allure, and plenteous ease,
That is, till man’s predominant passions cease,
Admire no longer at my slow encrease.
By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The Priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.
The rest I nam’d before, nor need repeat;
But int’rest is the most prevailing cheat,
The sly seducer both of age and youth:
They study that, and think they study truth:
When int’rest fortifies an argument,
Weak reason serves to gain the wills assent:
For souls, already warp’d, receive an easie bent.
Those last six lines are worth re-reading.
February 16, 2008
“A Hymn to the Name and Honour of the Admirable Saint Teresa” by Richard Crashaw (d. 1649) is a stunning poem that I have never tired of consulting. Here’s the closing lines:
Each heavenly word by whose hid flame
Our hard hearts shall strike fire, the same
Shall flourish on thy brows, and be
Both fire to us and flame to thee;
Whose light shall live bright in thy face
By glory, in our hearts by grace.
Thou shalt look round about, and see
Thousands of crown’d souls throng to be
Themselves thy crown, sons of thy vows,
The virgin-births with which thy spouse
Made fruitful thy fair soul; go now,
And with them all about thee bow
To Him; put on, He’ll say, put on,
My rosy Love, that thy rich zone,
Sparkling with the sacred flames
Of thousand souls, whose happy names
Heaven keeps upon thy score: thy bright
Life brought them first to kiss the light
That kindled them to stars; and so
Thou with the Lamb, thy Lord, shalt go.
And, wheresoe’er He sets His white
Steps, walk with Him those ways of light,
Which who in death would live to see,
Must learn in life to die like thee.
Read the entire poem here (it’s not long).
November 1, 2007
Reformation Day (when Luther posted his Theses) is certainly a day of trajedy for Christians. Though legitimate protestations there were (and, to a lesser degree, are), the unified voice of Christ in the West was lost and, unhappily, just on the eve of the Enlightenment (which I believe to be following more from the Renaissance than the Reformation proper, which was, in some ways, more of a set-back or strange interlude than an advance) — a time when a unified church was especially needed, as today. However, the Reformation, of course, produced the Evangelical faith in which I was formed and to which much great good can be attributed, not least its literary achievement. Protestantism is rightly praised for its poetry and hymnody (Milton, Donne, Herbert, Watts, Wesley, Eliot, etc.) and, I would add, theological systems (Calvin, Dorner, Bavinck, Barth, Brunner, etc.). Look to these to find a profound love for the Son who gave his life for our sins. The free grace of God for our forgiveness and redemption, of course, is the heart of the Evangelical faith, and few poems express this better than “A Hymn to God the Father,” by John Donne (1572-1631). This is a favorite poem of mine that I continually come back to.
A Hymn to God the Father
by John Donne
WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.