Thursday, August 07, 2008

Catholic Convert Poets

Liam over at Sententiae et Clamores ( began a discussion July 23 about Catholic convert poets (talk about a specific category!). The poets he and others cited were generally highly regarded as poets.

The list that was posted:

Denise Levertov
Gerard Many Hopkins
Thomas Merton
Oscar Wilde
Paul Claudel.

I immediately noted a certain prominent Catholic convert poet missing from the list: G. K. Chesterton.

Now I know G. K. is not known primarily for his verse, but he certainly was a prolific versifier. And some of his poems are very fine indeed. If Merton made the list, why not Chesterton?

Here’s the sonnet Chesterton wrote to celebrate his entry into the Church in 1922:

The Convert

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Other convert Catholic poets include John Dryden, John Abbott, John Henry Newman, Alfred Noyes, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, Dunstan Thompson, David Jones, Rolf Jacobsen, and George Mackay Brown. I’m sure there are many more.

Of course, not all of these fine folks have gained the same repute as the ones on the original list, but some of them certainly rank high as poets.

I think G. K. fits in with that distinguished poetic crew quite nicely.

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