I bought this amazing book called Francis and Clare in Poetry from St. Anthony Messenger Press while I was at a retreat a few weeks ago, and it’s got some seriously awesome stuff in it – William Carlos Williams, Longfellow, Louise Erdrich, Dante, Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, William Wordsworth . . . I’m loving it. Here are two (very Lent-appropriate) poems that I really, really liked. The first one made me laugh (I totally know people like the shocked-and-outraged Brother Elias; I think we all do), and the second was incredibly moving. The line “we who want you/want things, too/ice cream and good friendships at least” really struck me.
“Sonnet From Assisi”
By Phyllis McGinley
Blind Francis, waiting to welcome Sister Death,
Worn though he was by ecstasies and fame,
Had heart for tune. With what remained of breath
He led his friars in canticles. Then came
Brother Elias, scowling, to his side,
Small-souled Elias, crying by book and candle,
This was outrageous! Had the monks no pride?
Music at deathbeds! Ah, the shame, the scandal!
Elias gave him sermons and advice
Instead of song; which simply proves once more
What things are sure this side of paradise:
Death, taxes, and the counsel of the bore.
Though we outwit the tithe, make death our friend,
Bores we have with us even to the end.
By Janet McCann
how you could give up
just like dying. of course
and the new birth naked
but not to want anything
or if you did, to deny it
deny your heart’s
your body’s dream, body
thrown into snow to slake
desire, to refuse it
brother body a donkey
beaten into silence
obedience. but we who
want you want things
too, ice cream and good
friendships at least, even
walking together in the
long penance parade
in the rich mild light
of this Italian town where
you were, are, every atom
scattered golden dust