Letters | Poetry & Politics, Fearful Asymmetry

Readers Write

I am grateful for Bernard P. Prusak’s close attention to my book, Rekindling the Christic Imagination. I need, however, to call attention to one significant lapse.

Prusak writes: “Imbelli appears sympathetic to Benedict’s perspective on this issue, but he does not note that Benedict routinely celebrated the Eucharist in St. Peter’s Basilica facing the people!” Though I am indeed sympathetic with Pope Benedict’s underlying concern regarding liturgical celebration, I explicitly state in the book that “he celebrated the Eucharist at the papal altar in St. Peter’s Basilica versus populum.”

I join with Prusak in commending Liturgical Press for their skill in bringing out this “handsomely produced book”—as he says—and at a moderate price!

(Rev.) Robert P. Imbelli
Bronx, N.Y.

 

Patrick Ryan’s piece on the poetry of Yeats and Heaney (“When a Deeper Need Enters,” August 15) is terrific. Since Seamus Heaney’s passing nearly a year ago, I’ve been revisiting his work and recalling his impact on me as a younger man, my sense of the necessary relationship between the aesthetic and the political. His poetry calls to mind the politics of local details and patterns, personal memories, stresses, and joys. These are dynamic moments in the lives of persons—and in the life of the body politic. They form us even as we form one another.

In this sense, Yeats’s effort to exclude politics from his poetry during his later career was an impossible task. Inasmuch as poetry and language inform our self-understanding and the way we relate to one another, they are necessarily political.

This is a deeply humane notion of the political, though it is often neglected. We too often use the term “political” with reference to the cynical intrigues of politicians and candidates. Heaney’s politics, however, encompass a nobler notion. They issue from the lifeblood of ordinary things and relationships. His faith in the “trustworthiness” and “travel-worthiness” of immediate things, as he put it in his Nobel Lecture, enabled him to engage audiences far afield from the Irish setting of his memories and experience.

Jonathan Currie
Basking Ridge, N.J.

 

Peter Farley’s letter (“Bad Language”) in the August 15 edition awakened memories of Sunday school and Sr. Mary Emerentiana.

Sister explained to us that “catholic” means “universal,” and that Latin is the universal language of the universal church. So, Sister told us, wherever we wandered in after years, the Mass would be celebrated in the very same language as it was that very morning long ago.

And Sister was right. In later years, whether at sea, or in Japan, or even in Texas, I found solace and comfort and hope in hearing those familiar words even while I was far from familiar places.

Sigrid Undset—who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928—speaks to that very point in her novel The Master of Hestviken, set in fourteenth-century Norway. The hero, Olav Audunsson, sails to England. Lonely, homesick, ignorant of the local language, he wanders into a church where the Mass is being celebrated:

“So he listened...to the only voice that spoke to him in a tongue he understood—here in the foreign land, where all other voices shouted at him as though there were a wall between him and them. The voice of the church was the same that he had listened to in childhood….

He had changed…but the church changed neither speech nor doctrine; she spoke to him in the holy Mass as she had spoken to him when he was a little boy.… And he knew that if he journeyed to the uttermost limits of Christian men’s habitation…he would be welcomed by the same voice that had spoken to him when he was a child.”

I am tempted to say to Mr. Farley, “Verbum sap”—but I am afraid he’d suppose I was calling names.

Richard White
East Lyme, Conn.

 

Regarding Gordon Marino’s essay on the conflict in Gaza (“Fearful Asymmetry,” September 12), it seems that the theory of a just war is no longer intelligible in our age of modern warfare.

In Peace in the Post-Christian Era, Thomas Merton writes: “One wonders at the modern Augustinians and at their desperate maneuvers to preserve the doctrine of the just war from the museum or the junk pile.”

Does the doctrine of just war have any meaning, if it ever did, in an age of drones armed with Hellfire missiles, depleted uranium bullets, and white phosphorus bombs? The people of Laos are still being killed by bombs dropped fifty years ago, as are the people of Lebanon from cluster bombs dropped almost ten years ago. Just-war theory was clearly a justification for the perpetrators of war, but it has no meaning for the victims. Does a “just war” have any meaning for the Palestinian child on the cover of the September 12 issue?

John F. Irwin
Baltimore, Md.

Published in the September 26, 2014 issue: 
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