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.
Here is one of our favorite Advent hymns. It is sung in two parts, one of which is a haunting counterpoint. The carol comes from sixteenth century Germany (although it is probably much older) and commemorates the barrenness of the the Old Testament, the longing and waiting, and the flowering of sanctity and joy with the coming of the Messias. (“Kyrie eleison” is Greek for … More →
O Beauty’s mercy, Mercy’s beauty sweet, A ray of light from God our Father’s dawn: So brief your stay, so soon was your retreat; O Bella! O Mercedes! Now you’re gone. The man who sired you grieves his Beauty’s loss, While she who birthed you does her Mercy mourn; They gave you life and you gave them a Cross. And tears and pains and sorrows … More →
While recently re-reading—after almost forty-five years—Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, his piercing 1948 novel set in the United States—in Southern California, in and around Los Angeles and Hollywood—I gratefully came to realize for the first time the deep and purifying pathos artfully expressed in that often disturbing, but carefully nuanced, text—especially when one also becomes gradually aware of what is missing. For, there are certain … More →
Nippon.com: “Comforting, cheering, the bells of Nagasaki ring!” The song “The Bells of Nagasaki,” sung by Fujiyama Ichirō, was a tremendous hit in 1949, not long after the end of World War II. This year, 2015, marks the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. That event cannot be discussed without mention of the radiologist Nagai Takashi, who wrote many … More →
An Invitation to The Modern Traveller (1898): Hilaire Belloc’s Satirical and Youthful Narrative Verse
If we would want to appreciate the comic genius of Hilaire Belloc, and especially the inimitable comic cadence and comic syntax which mark and unmistakably pervade his 1898 narrative verse satire, The Modern Traveller, we should first consider the larger structure of his work and the nature of his boastful and mendacious narrative persona, Mr. Rooter. For, Rooter is the only survivor of the three … More →
And in despair I bowed my head “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.” These lines of … More →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →