Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Robert Lowell on Walsingham

The American Poet Robert Lowell included two stanzas about Our Lady of Walsingham in his poem "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket", dedicated to Warren Winslow, a cousin of Lowell, who died at sea when his ship sank. You can hear the poem read here.

There once the penitents took off their shoes
And then walked barefoot the remaining mile;
And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file
Slowly along the munching English lane,
Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose
Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree,
Shiloah’s whirlpools gurgle and make glad
The castle of God. Sailor, you were glad
And whistled Sion by that stream. But see:

Our Lady, too small for her canopy,
Sits near the altar. There’s no comeliness
At all or charm in that expressionless
Face with its heavy eyelids. As before,
This face, for centuries a memory,
Non est species, neque decor
Expressionless, expresses God: it goes
Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows,
Not Calvary’s Cross nor crib at Bethlehem
Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.

Ashgate Publishing, which produces great and very expensive academic studies, has this book, Walsingham in Literature and Culture from the Middle Ages to Modernity edited by Dominic Jones and Gary Fredric Waller. Ashgate's website offers this introduction to the text.

Robert Lowell (1917-1977) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, who converted to Catholicism but fell away from the Church in the 1940s.

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