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Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Catholic Poet Discovered

I own an eclectic little book of Christian verse titled Garlands of Grace. Most of the poets are familiar to me, but there are some modern poets in it that I know absolutely nothing about. One of them, Johann Moser, is represented by a single, beautiful poem that I have remembered ever since I read it. I finally decided to search the net for some information on this poet, and was startled to realize that he was the editor of O Holy Night, a collection of Christmas poems that I love. I found a book of his poetry on Amazon, which I intend to buy. This is the poem below. The last two replies are my favorite.

Bordeaux, 408 A.D.
(in two voices)

"At anchor in the harbor, now,
Galleys of the western fleet prepare to sail.
The sun rides low beyond the ocean;
On our table, a cruet of Burdigalan wine
Glows firey-red in evening light,
And we watch the somber nightfall
Lean its brow upon the sea."

"Should we not prepare to leave as well?"

"Where would we go?
The Augustan legions are withdrawn;
The Rhine frontier has fallen.
Like bats in a gutted tower,
The foederati flutter through the empire
Seeking a blackened perch amid the ruins.
And Alaric turns his raven eye
Down the Flaminian viaducts,
Down to the Alban Hills, and - dare I say it? -
'The walls of lofty Rome.'
The stays of the imperium cannot hold."

"But the matter of perpetuity!"

"Ah, we can but cherish what has been bestowed;
We can but praise what lived before us,
And will yield its gracious foison to the ages.
Perpetuity renders us,
But is not ours to render; all human excellence
Alone is quarried in the hands of God.
But look, upon the darkening waves,
The galleys trim their starboard lamps."

"When will they depart?"

"They sail with the tide, those ships;
They will not come again.
Lucinius has joined them.
He stuffed his earthen jars with scraps:
Souvenirs of the old campaigns -
A battered eagle or two, medallions from Trier.
What does it matter? He sails for Spain.
The barbaroi will be there to meet him.
Shall he embark for Africa?
Numidian grain-fields shall be red with blood
Before he unpacks his wares."

"And us?"

"...compose the hymns
Which they at morning will intone
To laud the new-born sun, the ancient land,
The same ripened apples
Loaded into carts at harvest-time.
Someday they too shall walk these hills
And take the poplars for their song
And sing a lady's beauty.
Someday they too shall aptly raise
Basilicas of thought into the heavens."

"Until then...?"

"Until then...?
The wine, my friend, a final cup;
The night is growing heavy,
And I must homeward bend my way
To stave my lids, my weary soul,
Against that long-encroaching,
That dark and ageless sea.
May Roman peace betide us
Among the solemn groves,
The sepulchres of our fathers in their sleep."

There's so much I feel like saying about this poem, but it wouldn't add up to the impact of the poem itself. I'm so happy, though, to be discovering another Catholic poet. I haven't been this excited since I found Pavel Chichikov. Readable modern poetry is incredibley scarce today, but most of it seems to be written by Catholics. And that, as Gandalf said, may be an encouraging thought.

For another look at "the dark and ageless sea," go to my friend Sheila's blog and check out her three part series on that dark and Tolkienesque poem, "The Seafarer."

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