Monday, May 9, 2011

Cantores Vicarii + Glib Thoughts on Poetry and Prayer

I’m reluctant to post any of my more conventional, formal poetry because it always ends up sounding sing-songy, and  not to put too fine a point on it  it always ends up being generally bad. For this reason (and lest someone take my lede to mean that I have written some vast corpus of conventional, formal poetry which I have simply neglected to post, which is a frightening thought) I really just avoid writing it.

It is difficult for me to be concise in prose; formal, metered poetry demands not only that I be concise, but that I do so with the right number of syllables. Also, that I make sense while doing all of the above...

Hmmm. Tall order.

Needless to say, it’s not a challenge I usually take up, preferring instead to slide into the morass of white middle-class twenty-something poseurs who write free-verse.

So I was just about to throw together another batch of flabby no-knead free verse, when I thought to myself, “Why are you about to throw together another batch of flabby no-knead free verse? You should write a real poem.”

(I’ll spare you the excruciating middle part of this boring story, which covers my actual writing of the poem — it was an ungainly process.)

Then, after writing the poem, and after reflecting upon how difficult it had been for me to be concise, I realized that it was sing-songy. I also realized that it may actually fail to meet the stringent requirements of real poetry. For one, its meter is inconsistent. If you wanted to classify it, it would have to be a hybrid of iambo-trochaic numerameter and anapesto-pyrrhic numerameter. You know. It’s one of those. In fact, the only thing that made this remotely like a real, actual poem is that I shirked real, actual responsibilities in order to write it. Because writing a poem, even one that’s not very good, is still more satisfying than writing the comments on elementary schoolers’ mid-quarter grade-reports...

So here it is. This is a poem about prayer. It channels some of my recent reflections on the topic, some of which have arisen because of my distaste for the whole gamut of questions about how prayer works, whether God really responds to prayer (or whether He was never not always already going to answer it/already had answered it before the foundation of the world....chickens, eggs, carts, horses, et al), what does it mean for God to answer prayer, etc. For my part, I tend to disagree with the question, that is to say, I think that an important question is begged, actually, in the asking of it, i.e., that of whether prayer really can be said to “work” at all.

I’m not trying to make a Jesuitical distinction here, nor am I advocating some apophatic “no touchy” rule about prayer as a theological topic, but I frankly think that asking how prayer works is kind of like asking what the square root of purple is  to quote my freshman philosophy prof at Hillsdale, Dr. James Stephens. If there’s an answer to it, it’s not one we can understand; it would seem to follow, then, that it’s probably not beneficial for us to know — those two conditions seem to go hand-in-hand. It seems like the proverbial dog-chasing-the-squirrel scenario: if you’re the dog, what do you do when you catch the squirrel? But then the mix is enlivened even more when you consider that this is no ordinary squirrel: it is the square-root of purple. See? Difficult...

I tend to think (and I’m a hypocrite — thank God the liturgy makes me pray) that it’s better to pray than ask such questions. It’s certainly better to pray than to write bad poetry about prayer. Unsurprisingly, I chose the latter.

+ + +

Cantores Vicarii

Carefully wrapping a nickname
In the chanted tones of prayer,
Interceding thus for those bereaved,
The vicar treads a winding stair:

Although he has not left his knees,
His sung word lofty climbs
To the right hand of the Father,
Through the Holy Spirit’s sighs.

It settles in the Sacred Heart,
This word that he commends,
And the Triune God now listens
To the cries of mortal men.

Is not all prayer such sighing?
Are not our words all groans?
For here’s a mystery
The likes of which remain unknown:

Prayer does not work; it is.
All earthly parlance cracks.
There is no cause, and no effect,
We simply sing words back

Unto the Father, which He gave
To us so long ago
When sounds sank down into the world,
Yet Him we would not know.

The Word made Flesh then taught to us
Those words which we had lost:
“Our Father,” It is finished.”
“Peace.” “Receive the Holy Ghost.”

Hear Him, and Hear the Father.
Eat His Body, drink His Blood;
Prayer  like these  is sweet communion.
Taste, see, say that He is good.

“The word is near you, in your mouth
And in your hearts it rests.
In your hearts then, so believe,
That which your mouths confess.”

It must, then, be enough to pray,
And know that God is good.
Our reason need not part this veil,
Not that it even could.



  1. I enjoyed reading this quite a bit. Good post.

  2. I was laughing quite a bit throughout your explanation of the poem. I have the exact same feelings which is why I often turn to free verse. Ok, maybe my feelings are a little different. When I read formal poetry, I don't hear sing-songy, but I definitely try to rap it.

    I forced myself not to rap yours...the second time around. It's just that the reader has to concentrate on the emotion and the vocabulary (the latter you have an impressive grip on, might I add) of the poem much harder than she might have if it was in free verse. It's a challenge for us both, Trent. You the writer and I the reader.

    Stanzas four and seven were beautiful. Especially seven, I'm secure enough to admit I teared up a litle at seven. I think it's wonderful.