Wednesday, July 7, 2010

“Master of Beauty” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I love reading poetry and at one point in my life, wrote it constantly. I still have my well-thumbed Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry from my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. I often read it and recently wondered how many of the poets within are Catholic. John Berryman is one. Born in Oklahoma in 1914, he was raised Catholic.

I always liked his name. I tried to read his poetry the other day, but found most of it so despairing I could not. His work reflects his troubled soul. The Pulitzer Prize winning poet survived his own father's suicide when he was 12 and spent his life struggling with  depression and alcoholism. He returned to the faith of his childhood as a middle-aged man.

Sadly, Berryman ended his life in 1972 by jumping off a bridge. I thank God that Berryman found times of comfort in this world in the presence of Christ and that he left us luminous words, which speak of the struggle between faith and doubt. I particularly like this one, which he wrote toward the end of his life. He's honest about his doubts while he stands in awe of creation. The entire poem is published in his collected works. I pray for his immortal soul. 

Eleven Addresses to the Lord


Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that most matters.
'According to Thy will' the thing begins.
It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.
You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves
and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.
Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:
how can I 'love' you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.
I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn't seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you,
and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter and
to Paul
    as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.
Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.