Category Archives: Literature and Poetry

Literature and Poetry

Works of poetry and literature, works on poetry and literature — whether they be classical, medieval, Renaissance, baroque, etc. — If they are on this site, they are in this section.

The word “literature” is taken from the Latin word littera, which means “letters,” not as in the alphabet, but as in the words that letters spell. Latin also has the word verbum, which means “word,” not as in the material definition: the four-letter monosyllable, w-o-r-d, but as in the formal definition, what the term means. Verbum, in its formal sense, can be translated as “idea.” When you predicate one idea or concept of another, you have a proposition, or judgment. When man reasons, he is always linking propositions in order to arrive at conclusions. That’s logic, not literature.

Literature is written composition. It is the telling of a story on paper. The story can be either fiction or non-fiction, a novel, history, or drama. Bad writing can never qualify as literature, no matter how moving the story line. Good writing can never qualify as literature if there is no story in the writing, no development of a theme, no touching of the soul, just facts. Scientific writing is not literature, but science fiction certainly can be. Historical composition is not literature, but when the author brings adventure and great events to life, as in an inspiring biography, or a saga, that certainly can be classified as literature — that is, if the writing flows in style and grace.

It is hard to define the word literature. We all know what a well written book is, or a well written article, or essay, but we often differ when it comes to explaining what exactly it is that makes a book “a good read.”

Poetry, on the other hand, is easier to define. There must be meter and rhythm in the composition, and the composition must be divided into lines, verses, and stanzas. Poems do not necessary have to have rhyming verses, but usually they do. Epic poems, on the other hand, all have meter and rhythm, but not all have rhyming verses. A poem is a painting in words. Poesis, the Greek word for poetry, means “something made.” So, in the Greek tradition, poets did not just tell a beautiful story, they built it with the symmetry and harmony of meter and rhythm.

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Dostoievsky’s Prince Myshkin, “The Idiot”

After reading together with my wife last night our Austrian friend Friedrich Romig’s carefully crafted and profound review of a 2013 book in German by Botho Strauss, we even started to consider, in light of Dostoievsky’s presentation of Prince Myshkin, a rather unexpected theme, namely (in my wife’s own words) “holiness as counterrevolution.” We also then continued—though it was very late in the evening—to talk … More →


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Espying Salvation

As Moses lifted up the cross on high With brazen serpent ’round its frame entwined So was the Son of Man ‘twixt earth and sky On Holy Rood fix’d fast for men to mind. To smitten Hebrews Moses gave the cure, That they who looked thereon would healéd be. But Jhesu with His Flesh made off’ring pure, Gained grace and pardon for humanity. “If I … More →


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Nails

Whenever the bright blue nails would drop Down on the floor of his carpenter shop, Saint Joseph, prince of carpenter men, Would stoop to gather them up again; For he feared for two little sandals sweet, And very easy to pierce they were As they pattered over the lumber there And rode on two little sacred feet. But alas, on a hill between Earth and … More →


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The Feckless Fathers

As feckless fathers watch the game Their wives attempt to be the men. But woman’s heart and woman’s frame Cannot be truly masculine. As feckless fathers say the Mass, From ministers in mini-skirts Epistle sounds, Communions pass To hapless boys in concert shirts. The feckless fathers like TV Where Family Guy and Homer S, Their patrons, show them how to be And school them well … More →


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The Disadvantages of Comfort

When an inspiring Scottish friend recently teased me with a trenchant quote from John Henry Newman’s sermon, entitled “Religious Cowardice,” I deployed my resourcefulness promptly to find, if I could, the entire homily and to read it. Gratefully, I did. It is to be found in the second volume of his eight-volume collection of Anglican Sermons over the years 1834-1843, and it was originally delivered … More →

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Bishop Conley’s Reflections on the Educator John Senior

“Wonder is the beginning of knowledge,” said Professor John Senior, “the reverent fear that beauty strikes within us.” Professor Senior built his life around wonder – he reveled in the mysteries of this universe, and in the Mystery – that of God himself – to which our world points. Professor Senior believed that if each of us took the opportunity to really look at the … More →

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‘The Penalties of Truth’ and Belloc’s Traveller

It is often the case, well known to the close readers of Hilaire Belloc’s varied essays, that he surprises us with some of his profoundest reflections and most memorable formulations in those lighter essays of his so full of banter and irony; or even in his brief, magnanimous considerations of other prose writers and poets, such as Dr. Samuel Johnson or Lord Byron, neither of … More →


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Belloc’s Verse on Our Lady and the Challenge of Faith

As we ourselves gratefully remember Hilaire Belloc this year, especially on the 60th Anniversary of his death, let us first consider “Courtesy,” his brief and evocatively allusive poem of seven short, rhymed stanzas (six four-line ones, and a final three-line stanza). For, it shows a special aspect of Belloc’s own humble answering heart: indeed the intimate bond he perceived between attentive courtesy and charity. We … More →


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Baring, Dostoievski, and the Prevaricating Press

In 1927—some twenty-three years after the Menshevik Revolution and a decade after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia—Maurice Baring published an anthology of his earlier writings, entitled What I Saw in Russia. Lenin had died in 1924, and Stalin was on the verge of securing his own rule, which was largely consolidated by 1928. Therefore, Baring chose to report on those earlier things he had observed … More →


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The Intellectual Magnanimity of Chesterton and Belloc’s Humor

On this manifold Sacred Feast Day, we propose to offer a perhaps unexpected, but quite illuminating contrast with the honored historical figure of Saint Joan of Arc, Virgin—who was killed by the English at nineteen years of age in 1431. And thus we shall now consider another vivid, but very different sort of woman in literary history, as distinct from religious or political history: herself … More →


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G.K. Chesterton in Praise of Chaucer

In 1932, four years before his death and only ten years after his having entered the Catholic Church, G.K. Chesterton wrote a vivid and capacious book on the medieval Catholic poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (d.1400). With his characteristic modesty, his book was simply entitled Chaucer. (One year later, Chesterton would also publish his even more profound book on Saint Thomas Aquinas (d.1274), and once more it flowed … More →

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Restoring a Catholic Memory

On How to Develop a Catholic Sense Without a Catholic Culture To restore to his people a true memory Alexander Solzhenitsyn has accepted almost unspeakable sacrifice and loss, and especially the cross of patience. Solzhenitsyn has attempted to draw his people forth from an asphyxiating rubble of distortion just as he has himself been drawn forth: trusting and contending, marked and transfigured by grace, an … More →


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Hilaire Belloc’s View of a Pilgrimage

When Hilaire Belloc was a rumbustious young man in his mid-thirties, and only a few years after he had completed his journey afoot to Rome, he wrote an essay entitled “The Idea of a Pilgrimage,” which first appeared in his memorable 1906 collection of essays Hills and the Sea. In this essay are some insights — even about “the heart of a child” — which … More →

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On Hilaire Belloc and a Great Wind

When Hilaire Belloc was a vigorous forty years of age, and three years before his life was shaken and shattered by the death of his wife Elodie on Candlemas 1914, he wrote an intimately evocative essay, entitled “On a Great Wind.” This brief and vivid piece—characteristically combining concrete intimacy and sacred mystery in his inimitably poetic “sacramental prose”—leads us also to the contemplation of God’s … More →

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The Three Births

His birth in time transpired thus At Bethlehem’s midnight manger Where Joseph’s work made all things well, Kept maiden spouse far from danger. He forth from blessed womb did come As light through crystal issuing, Sans blight on Virgin’s radiance, Very God yet now a suckling. His birth in souls is oft renewed Where water meets the Holy Ghost, The soul reborn is born in … More →


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