233

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 A requiem for the death of English Literature as a humane academic discipline: Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, and Matthew Arnold are the authors respectively of the first three italicized points of view, now considered quaint at best in current English departments. The attitudes of those departments are reflected in the standard print.  My commentary on the whole fiasco appears in the last italicized bit, the concluding couplet.

Sir Philip Sidney

HORACE, SIDNEY, AND ARNOLD,

LOOKING DOWN ON EARTH FROM ELYSIUM,

SCRATCH THEIR HEADS

The purpose, by delighting thus to teach

And then by teaching also to delight?

Nothing but a lame excuse to preach

Oppressive values—how naïve, how trite!

The good of History and Philosophy,

The concrete and the abstract, unified?

A quaint archaic curiosity

From European White Males who have died.

To see the thing for what it really is,

To know the best that have been thought and done?

Merely factual answers for a quiz;

No more a map for any race we run.

It’s how the academic game is played,

And Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are betrayed.

Matthew Arnold

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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CLI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

The greatest explanation of why poetry matters is Sir Philip Sidney’s magnificent “Defense of Poesy.”  Sidney defends poetry against those who could see no place in the curriculum for “lies.”  The end of learning, he says, is virtuous action.  The Philosopher writes about the ideal, but does it so abstractly, is so “misty to be conceived,’ that “a man may wade in him until he be old before he find sufficient reason to be honest.”  The Historian, by contrast, writes concretely and tells a story we can relate to—but he is limited to what actually has been.  He cannot talk about what ought to be, the ideal, without departing from his expertise as a Historian.  “But now doth the peerless poet perform both”:  Like the Historian he speaks concretely and tells a story, but like the philosopher he is not limited to what has been but is free to talk about the ideal.  Here I try to add the Theologian to Sidney’s framework.

The Poet
The Poet

DEFINITIONS

Tending to Show that Theology

Is Indeed the Queen of the Sciences

I

Philosopher:  a man who tries to shave

With Ockham’s Razor by the flickering light

That shines behind his back in Plato’s Cave.

He’ll know that’s what he’s doing if he’s bright;

He may take Pascal’s Wager if he’s brave

(Fides quaerens intellectum), and he might

Thus feel his chains fall off and leave that place

And know the sunlight full upon his face.

William of Ockham
William of Ockham

II

Historian:  He deals in documents,

And what he cannot find there he invents.

As long as it fits in with and makes sense

Of what we have of solid evidence,

It’s called “interpretation,” and he prints

It up.  In this there is no vain pretence

As long as we can tell the difference.

 

III

The Poet is a wielder of that Word

Which clothes the unformed thought and makes it seen,

Which sings the silent thought and makes it heard,

Which tells us how to say the thing we mean.

Sir Philip Sidney said it long ago

In his divine Defense of Poesy:

Philosophy’s business is to seek to know

Not just what is, but that which ought to be,

Truth in its very essence, plain and bare

(Though he may leave it hanging in the air);

History can tell us how, below,

The truth has fared and still is apt to fare;

The Poet’s language teaches us to care.

A Theologian
A Theologian

IV

The Theologian has to be all three:

The logos, the divine philosophy

Which was incarnate in our history

Must still be fleshed with words to make men see.

The Theologian simply has to be

All three.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Sept. 1, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CXLI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

The last poem (CXL, March 31) wasn’t satisfied just to be a sonnet; it wanted to be villanelle too.  When the Muse calls, the Poet must obey.  Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were the first to attempt the sonnet in English, in the early 16th century, before it was perfected by Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare in the latter half of the century.

 

THE ENGLISH SONNETEERS

Villanelle # 3

 

I come to sing the English sonneteers

(Not worthy, I, to emulate their form).

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Portrait-Wyatt
Sir Thomas Wyatt

For rules our modern bards have only sneers

And honor Chaos as their highest norm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers.

 

Show me the free-verse monologue that cheers

The heart, a battlefield for love forlorn,

Like Wyatt and Surrey, just the pioneers!

 

 

 

The dulcet sequences first reached our ears

From Italy and France, all full of charm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers,

 

For when in Shakespeare’s tongue the thing appears,

We see the first rays of a splendid morn:

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

The great ones—Spenser, Milton, and their peers—

Would follow and the highest truths adorn.

And so I sing the English sonneteers;

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 

Donald T. Williams, PhD

LXXV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

books bookshelf

Having already fallen in love with the form and become intrigued with its possibilities, (surely not all already explored!) for modern verse, I was enraptured in my studies of Medieval and Renaissance literature by what I was learning about the history of the Sonnet.  I was also becoming intrigued with the possibilities of using a form to explain or expound that form itself—something I would try many times with the Sonnet and other forms too.  Was I volunteering for the job called for at the end?  You bet.

book park reading

SONNET XXVI: THE SONNET

In Petrarch’s soul there bloomed a song whose name

Was Laura; so with laurel wreath the Muse

Crowned song and singer, and to us the fame

Of both comes down in lines we cannot use.

But Wyatt and Surrey heard them from afar

And with bold, though perhaps yet unsure, hands,

They plucked the laurel, careful not to mar

Its form, and planted it in their own lands.

In that richer soil it grew full green,

Tended by husbandmen of highest skill

Who coaxed it into blossoms yet unseen.

It withers now, but could yet flourish still

Were but one gardener left to carry on

The work of Sidney, Spenser, Milton, Donne.

InklingsofReality5c

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!  Also look for Reflections from Plato’s Cave and Inklings of Reality, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

 

XXVI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Not only did I hit a better stride with the sonnet, but, inspired by Sidney and Spenser, I began to wonder if the sonnet cycle might be revived for modern readers.  There are only three in this one, not a hundred or so, but they are interlocked by the repetition of last lines as first ones, coming full circle back to the very first sonnet in the last line of the third.  Since the one in the last entry got it started, I will repeat it here so you can get the full effect.

SONNET IV

A new-born leaf and an ancient, lofty star

Converge in space and time before my eye;

The one as near as is the other far,

And both are wondrous things—but both will die.

The leaf will wither in the summer sun

Or else be blasted by chill winter air

And wither just the same—it all is one;

But while it lives, it lives, and it is fair.

Before man woke to see, this star was bright,

And when the last man sleeps it will remain.

But someday there will be a starless night,

And nothing, ever again, will be the same.

And yet we pray to Him who outlives all

And know that He will hear us when we call!

SONNET V

We know that He will hear us when we call

Because of who He is and what He is:

Creator, Master, Savior, Lord of all,

Whose laughter is the thunder; dew, his kiss.

He feeds his children with a varied feast

That He grows from soil and sun and summer rain.

His Word shines out like lightning from the East

And flashes to the West, and back again.

And hark!  The piercing, clarion trumpet’s cry

That cuts the still night air, unbearably sweet:

It is the signal of His passing by

Some lowly, maybe mortal man to meet.

And at His name, the planets, Venus, Mars,

Bow in joyful silence with the stars.

SONNET VI

The planets bow in silence and the stars,

With one exception:  Earth, the haughty, proud

Kingdom of Lucifer, shackled with iron bars,

Who neither Joy nor Love nor Peace allows

To pass the warlike borders of his realm.

He fails!  For he  cannot keep out the dew

Nor still the thunder, nor the wind-in-elm,

Nor blot out the lightning!  Not a few

Slaves’ hearts’ bonds have been shattered, charged with light

As bright as noonday sun, and made to live

A new life by this mystic lightning’s strike.

Redemption sure it offers; life it gives.

This wonder we proclaim as Lord of all,

And He it is who hears us when we call!

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD