From President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.
I am not ashamed to admit it. I’m a full-fledged poetry fan.
On a professional level, that means I don’t feel right unless I’m doing what I’m doing this semester: leading a group of students around a seminar table through conversations about the role of verse in an artistically, politically and religiously charged time such as 16th-century England. On a personal level, it means growing accustomed to a low-profile but life-enhancing pursuit, a passion nurtured in small book groups, academic conferences and favorite reading chairs.
This time of year is different, however. April is National Poetry Month — 30 days when poetry is embraced and openly celebrated. If you spend time on campus this month, don’t be surprised by sights that might otherwise be hard to imagine: members of our university community filing into lecture halls to hear accomplished poets on our faculty recite their work or students scribbling favorite passages on banners in the Alumni Memorial Union. Even our social media channels are pulsing with a new sort of conversation as friends and followers share familiar poems and flag new discoveries introduced by others.
Given the under appreciation of this art form during many decades, poetry fans have been known to mount vigorous defenses of the medium — to impress on others why poetry matters. I’ve taken that approach before, to be sure, but this time I’ll merely offer up my own experience as an example. The world is a complicated place. Without poetry, I must say I would understand it a good deal less, in all its beauty and in its horrors, too. I would feel less aware of the grace God gives us to make our way through life, make meaning and bring comfort to others.
Poetry has always been a significant part of the Jesuit educational tradition. None other than St. Ignatius Loyola saw a rich role for arts and imagery in the work of the order he founded, the Society of Jesus. Ignatius believed “the earth, like the heavens, narrates the glory of God” but in a way that can escape the average person. Enter the artist, the poet, to help us see and understand. It’s no accident that through the centuries, the Jesuits have produced significant poets, including Matthias Sarbiewski, St. Robert Southwell, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Daniel Berrigan.
In an address to Jesuit poets, former Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe said: “You are the fortunate ones. You speak and all listen, all understand. … Heart speaks to heart in mysterious ways, and it is the artist who holds the key to the mystery. His is the catechesis not of word, but of tone and stone. The poet can touch the wellsprings of the human heart and release energies of the soul that the rest of the world does not suspect.”
So allow me to use this forum to extend poetry’s “moment” a bit longer by sharing a favorite of mine, with a reminder that there’s nothing wrong with — and, in fact, there’s everything right about — experiencing poetry throughout the year. Indeed, our gratitude must go to Marquette’s English Department, theatre arts program and libraries for assuring literature’s flame never burns out.
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things — For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.