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.
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 →
“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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Phaeton his father’s fiery chariot could not guide, But reckless, hapless, frenzied, destructive, set earth aflame. He, light from light and living Fire from His Father leaping, Brightens minds, kindles wills, and glorifies God’s holy Name.
With Pope Saint Pius V’s reform of the Roman Rite in 1570, many liturgical Sequences that sprung up in sundry dioceses of western Christendom were expunged from the Roman Missal. Four were kept. They were the Victimae Paschali Laudes of Easter, the Dies Irae of All Souls Day and Requiem Masses, the Lauda Sion of Corpus Christi, and the Veni Sanctae Spiritus of Pentecost. In … More →
Pierce thou my flesh with thy fear, O my God. Take from this soul what is wild and untame. Gently lead me from the paths that I’ve trod. Place in my heart a great awe for Thy Name. I do not will to have mundane fear, or What is called servile. Unworthy of Thee Are these wicked and imperfect fears, for Chaste fear leads me … More →
To Lady Concupiscentia O Lady, you are beautiful, yet cruel, As haughty dames in courtly love songs are. You draw me by your charms and I, a fool, Race quick to you, though virtue would me bar. Icarus-like I flew into your sky, Apollo and Poseidon me to slay. Heedless of father’s wisdom did I fly, Tearing age-worn eyes, making night of day. Odysseus tied … More →