Fr. Roger and poetry

Fr. Roger and poetry

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I was inducted into poetry by Fr. Robert Fortin back in the days of Cassadaga, New York, when I was seventeen years old. We read Gerard Manley Hopkins and I was hooked:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom

of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rólling level úndernéath him steady áir, and stríding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird,– the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Wow!

When I was twenty-three, just before going off to novitiate in Saugerties, New York, I wrote “Sitting in the Sunset at Crocker Pond”

Sitting here

on the bracken-crowned lichen-plaqued ledge

 

Drawn

into the trembling red west sky

cracked by the old knurled pine tree

that tall by the pond ponders

us sitting smitten here by day’s dying

 

Watching

washed in the seamless vermillion sea

of Bleeding Sun-kindled embers

banked for the night

glowing in shimmers

by the whispered tides

of your Breathing forth the world within

where we live embraced by You.

And now I am seventy-two, still fascinated and mystified by poetry. A few years ago when I found the time to resume a doctoral dissertation in earnest, a book to be – I hope, I found myself inspired by two poets who provided me with mooring posts to keep my work focused and to hold me fast from drifting away in the deep strong currents of Saint Augustine’s mysticism, where God is the God beyond God within Augustine beyond himself: [Deus] interior intimo meo et superior superno meo. (Confessions 3.11)

In “Burnt Norton,” the first of his “Four Quartets,” T.S. Eliot formulates his metaphor of the “still-point” (ii, 62-67). It provided me with a fitting analogy to Augustine’s idea of memory as the heart of the soul, the only place where human events happen and where wisdom resides:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

And within that still point, where time and place converge by sense-perception into the timeless present and the nowhere of memory, where representative imagination and creative imagination dwell within the same within, where there is no difference really between remembered fact and constructed fiction, even the literal interpretation of the Scriptures and their metaphorical meaning signify the same thing. Elizabeth Barrett Browning clinched that for me in a poem taken from Sonnets from the Portuguese, which Wayne Rollins had showed me many years ago:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware.

Moses was overwhelmed before the sight of the burning bush (Ex 3:1-6); nobody else would have seen the blackberry bush afire. The same bush; two very different “events.” One was a matter of re-presented imagination which anyone could remember; the other was a matter of poiesis, constructive imagination which only the author of Exodus “remembered.” The meaning of either memory was actually the event itself! Divine revelation, the Voice that said to take off his shoes, within Moses himself! God present within the poetry of it all!

– Roger R. Corriveau, A.A.