Priest-poets enrich the Franciscan spirit


2. WHY SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS?

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet-priest, that is, he wrote poetry as part of his vocation as priest. His poetry is ministry.

Hopkins is in a long line of priest-poets. George Herbert was one.

Hopkins looked back to the Dominican geniusThomas Aquinas, a serious teacher and writer of theology until five years before his death, when his writing stopped – except for a series of beautiful poems celebrating the Eucharist. The most famous of the Thomas Aquinas poems is Adoro Te Devote .The original Latin as Thomas wrote it is here. Gerard Manley Hopkins translated Adoro Te Devote into a moving poem.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
see, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
how says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
what God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.

On the cross they godhead made no sign to men;
here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
both are my confession, both are my belief,
and I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
but can plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
this faith each deeper be my holding of,
daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O Thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread the life of us for whom he died,
lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
there be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
some day to gaze on thy face in light,
and be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.

[Latin original attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, English translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins]

Priest-poets puts their craft at the service of God. Thomas Ken (one of the non-juror bishops) headed every letter and every page of poetry Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – to God’s Greater Glory, and this is the heart of the priest-poet’s vocation.

Like George Herbert, Australian priest, Elizabeth J. Smith finds that many of her poems work well as hymns, and she is known firstly for her fine hymns.
Words in the hands of the priest-poet become instruments firstly to fathom God’s nature, and then to sing God’s praise.

St Thomas Aquinas: lover of the Eucharistic mysteries
St Thomas Aquinas: lover of the Eucharistic mysteries

Why Should Franciscans be interested in poetry?


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
1. SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN POETRY?

• St Francis was influenced by the troubadours. His interest in troubadours probably started on journeys to France as a child.
The troubadours:
o Sang in Italian or Provençal (French) and not Latin.
o Broke convention by singing love songs to ladies beyond their status.
o Used popular harmonies and rhythms.
St Francis wanted to be able to sing love songs to God with the same language of intimacy. He liked the fact that ordinary people could enjoy popular song styles and understand both words and music. Churchy Latin was remote.
Brother William SSF (Can it be True) was a modern Franciscan troubadour. In the late 60s and early 70s in Queensland William wrote ballads and songs and performed them at rallies with thousands of young people.
• Saint Francis was influenced by Sufi poetry. He wanted to travel to Morocco, Spain, and he succeeded in travelling to Damietta, all centres of Sufi poetry.
The Sufis:
o Wrote love poetry to God.
o The “whirling dervishes” got themselves into an ecstatic meditative state.
o Lived in covenanted communities.
Saint Francis asked Leo to whirl to determine which way to proceed at a crossroads. He was intrigued by ecstatic prayer, and he wanted to know more. Some scholars like Idres Shah believe that he came away from his meeting with the Sultan in Damietta having quizzed the sufis there.
Poetry expresses deep insights about God. The best theology is poetry. Good poetry is theology.
It is often difficult to discern the boundary between hymns and poetry. The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, as a poem, but it makes a great hymn.

Sufis
Sufis