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Why Poetry Gives Us A Lift

August 22, 2021 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

On July 26 in this Year of St. Joseph, my first son’s wife delivered a beautiful baby girl. Her name is Siena Clare and marks our thirteenth grandchild. On that same date in 2008, which is the Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary the Mother of God, Pope Benedict XVI offered a Prayer for Grandparents. He stated that the “greater perspective” of grandparents, together with their “depth of experience and appreciation of life’s profound rhythms, are part of a wisdom not to be taken lightly or ignored.”
A few days after her entrance into the world, and at a time when he mother was momentarily out of the house, my son informed me that he was the sole person in charge of taking care of the newborn child. This was a thought that prompted me to write a poem which I duly emailed to him and his wife which I titled, The Lesson.

Is there a lesson that’s so deep
As what a child says in her sleep,
Securely resting in your arms
In blissful peace and far from harms?

Be still, be calm and fling away
Whatever causes you dismay,
The world can wait another day.
For now, we pause, and learn to pray.

“Time is money,” Benjamin Franklin once said. This is very bad advice. There are times when we must be silent and be attentive to life’s miracles. Whittaker Chambers had one of these silent moments when he noticed the delicate convolutions of his little girl’s ears. “At that moment,” he wrote in his autobiography, “the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.”
It was an epiphany that led him out of atheistic Communism and into the world of Christianity. None of his Communist comrades ever provided him with a better lesson. These convolutions, he realized for the first time, were not the product of chance, but the work of a benevolent Creator. He subsequently wrote Witness, a book that he dedicated to his children whom he urged to cultivate and practice the virtue of reverence. Reverence, he maintained, is the mother of all virtues. Without that special respect for the things that we did not make, we remain shut up in our ego, deprived of a true appreciation for the wonders of nature.
Psalm 131, the shortest of them all, is nonetheless, one of the most powerful: “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast.” In such moments of quietness, one begins to see and appreciate the handiwork of God.
The world is a perfect environment for teaching us to worry. There is a far better lesson to be learned while holding an infant. In this oasis, one is refreshed by a sense, however dimly felt, that there is a higher realm to which we are all invited. Art is a way of reminding us of this. The silence of a newborn babe can be more eloquent than the oratory of the most learned professor. We cannot debate what the child teaches us. It is definitive and irrefutable.
My poem was well received and the new parents promised to keep it for prosperity so that one day Siena could read it. I recalled a line from Robert Frost: Poetry is “way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget.” Art reminds us that everything that is passing and temporal contains a message, expressed symbolically, that there is a higher realm, one that is permanent and eternal. In the grand order of things, there is God, creation, and art.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante, one of the greatest of all poets, states that “Art is God’s grandchild.” It is, in the words of one translator, the “second in descent from God” (Si che vostr’ arte a Dio é nipote). A poem symbolizes beauty, that beauty, in turn, symbolizes God. The function of art is to lift us up to a higher realm. We use the word “elevator” rather than “descelator,” “lift” rather than “drop,” because we sense, intuitively, that we are destined to move upward.
In June of 1860, seven months after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a debate on evolution took place at Oxford University. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, one of the debaters, asked Thomas Huxley whether it was through his grandmother or grandfather that he claimed his descent from a monkey. Huxley replied, according to the account, that he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor. What he disdained was having someone like Wilberforce for an ancestor.
Dante and Huxley represent an interesting debate of their own. For the great Italian poet, art lifts us up to a higher plane, finally to that ultimate plane which is God. For Huxley, the evolutionist, science leads us back to smaller and smaller things, all the way back to the one-celled amoeba. Dante extols grandparenthood, whether in art or in life. Huxley has no reason to honor it because it is derived from something smaller and of less significance.
Grandparents Day is an official national holiday, signed into law by President Carter in 1978. It is celebrated each September on the first Sunday after Labor Day. There is no day of celebration for descendants of the amoeba. Thomas Henry Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog,” passed away in 1895.
Grandparenthood offers a perspective in which the continuity of the generations is envisioned. In this perspective, we gain greater appreciation for the generations that preceded us, our ancestors, as well as for the tradition that has given us uncountable benefits. It also allows us to look forward with hope for the current generation. It situates us between the past and the future, giving the present a scope that reaches out to Heaven.

  • + + (Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus, St. Jerome’s University, and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College. He is a regular columnist for St. Austin Review and the author of 39 books. Some of his latest books, including The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, are posted on amazon.com. His fortieth book, Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, is now available.)
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