Poetry Happens

So the Original Interlocutor (along with a couple of compatriots) was over at Casa Godsbody on Saturday, and it got to be a certain point in the evening, the point where people start reading poetry. (Future guests take comfort: I only ever pull this kind of nonsense when guests have expressed a desire to participate in it.) The Wisconsin Poet once gave me a great fat volume of Robert Lowell’s Collected Works, and he was a Catholic for a while, right before he went a little loony. (Wags, please insert jokes about the timing of said turn for the loony Here.) So hey, if the straitjacket fits…

For George Santayana (1863-1952)

In the heydays of ‘forty-five
bus-loads of souvenir-deranged
G.I.’s and officer-professors of philosophy
came crashing through your cell,
puzzled to find you still alive,
free-thinking Catholic infidel,
stray spirit, who’d found
the Church too good to be believed.
Later I used to dawdle
past Circus and Mithraic Temple
to Santo Stefano grown paper-thin
like you from waiting….
There at the monastery hospital,
you wished those geese-girl sisters wouldn’t bother
their heads and yours by praying for your soul:
“There is no God and Mary is His Mother.”

Lying outside the consecrated ground
forever now, you smile
like Ser Brunetto running for the green
cloth at Verona – not like one
who loses, but like one who’d won…
as if your long pursuit of Socrates’
demon, man-slaying Alcibiades,
the demon of philosophy, at last had changed
those fleeting virgins into friendly laurel trees
at Santo Stefano Rotundo, when you died
near ninety,
still unbelieving, unconfessed and unreceived,
true to your boyish shyness of the Bride.
Old trooper, I see your child’s red crayon pass
bleeding deletions on the galleys you hold
under your throbbing magnifying glass,
that worn arena, where the whirling sand
and broken-hearted lions lick your hand
refined by bile as yellow as a lump of gold.


  1. j. christian says

    I only ever pull this kind of nonsense when guests have expressed a desire to participate in it.

    Oh, are you one of those "as long as it's between consenting adults" people? ; )

    OT: Anybody like Hart Crane? I went through a big Hart Crane phase, once.

  2. You know, interestingly enough the young Hart Crane was very much influenced by a Catholic artist called Carl Schmitt, whom you can learn more about here:


  3. j. christian says

    Very interesting link, Bernardo. Thanks. I liked what Schmitt had to say about hope.

  4. Many a critic believed Hart Crane was on a trajectory to being one of ht great American poets of all time. Perhaps better than Stevens.

    But he died – jumped off a boat in the middle of the south Atlantic – before we had a chance to find out.

    This was a sort of homage to him:


    Winter disfigures the things of this world,
    Drafting farms into broken palaces,
    Drifting against barns, cursing empty spaces
    With baptisms, not of fire, but of cold, cold, cold….

    But blackbirds preside over winter’s remnant,
    In requiem’s vestments saying a Mass in
    An open field, professing the one Passion
    With its open winged body, blood resplendent.

    A field of fog lies frozen as an eyelid
    Burying sight in its sleep all season long;
    A cold breeze stirs, paired wings flutter once and hang,
    A double cleft-note, wakeful yet languid.

    (O blackbird, dark prophet of countless springs,
    Always you come back, as if from some nightmare,
    Flying in with an ice storm to mirror
    Winter’s last sunrise on your red-ranked wings. )

    The blackbird balks at ice, but then continues,
    From fencepost to naked branch, to survey
    The facts as they stand. With no more delay
    The wings fan and flash spring’s late-breaking news.

    The weathermen, heads frozen fast in clouds,
    Said March would be grim and wet. But bland banks
    Of high cirrus merely strafe the sky with kinks
    Of puffed farewell. Where snow’s thick shrouds

    Assented to blackbird’s early defeat,
    The ragged cold now recedes beyond its pale
    Demarcations of sunlight. Now chunked coal
    Embeds the fields to fan a full retreat.

    The rain digs with warmth’s fingers, buries the rest,
    Grows on windows like a delicate mess
    Of diamonds and clings to trees, a glassy gloss
    To redwing’s liquid song – this first wet forecast

    Of every morning. For days, bird, you’re heard,
    Smartly perched in consciousness before we see
    Poised on road signs your blushing sanctity,
    Declaring all your world without a word.

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