Paul Mariani is the University Professor Emeritus at Boston College, specializing in modern American and British poetry, religion and literature, and creative writing. He has published over 250 essays, as well authored 21 books. These include biographies of William Carlos Williams, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Hart Crane, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Wallace Stevens. His biography of Williams was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has published eight volumes of poetry, most recently Ordinary Time: Poems (Slant Books), and The Mystery of It All: The Vocation of Poetry in the Twilight of Modernism (Paraclete Press) as well as commentaries on Hopkins, Williams, and many others. He is also the author of Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius. For over two decades he taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the Glen Workshops in Colorado and Santa Fe. He earned fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009, he received the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, he was presented with the inaugural Flannery O’Connor Lifetime Achievement Award at the Catholic Imagination Conference. Poetry editor for America Magazine between 1999 and 2006, he has received honorary doctoral degrees in Humane Letters from The Elms College and his alma mater, Manhattan College.
All That Will Be New in the World
will be anti-Puritan, Williams insisted, in one
of his best prose pieces, his admiration for Père
Sebastian Rasles spilling out as if confessing.
Larbaud the Frenchman began reading from a copy
of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana
on the Mosaic-like manifest destiny of New England.
But Williams wouldn’t have it. No, they were not
the ones to lead, those strong-willed Puritans
who saw only dark savages around them.
Better to learn from that Jesuit priest come down
from Quebec to live with his Abenakis, to eat their
dried seal and boiled wood if it came to that, and who
in the end would die with them. No, not Mather,
with his map in hand, but the man who stayed
in constant contact with his “cher troupeau.”
How Williams got it so right still moves me
all these years on. Unlike those who raged against
the natives, Rasles saw that “the head of logic”
must be relegated to its proper place, which was
in heaven, residing with the mystery of the Logos.
There was someone who could confirm what
a Jersey doctor, half Brit himself, and half Puerto Rican,
someone who saw each day all of life and death
with its attendant sufferings. Someone who came
to see in all its scintillant beauty a new world naked.
Rasles too saw what the poet too must come to see.
That “every tree, every vein in every leaf” was part
of God’s mysterious flower.” That somehow it was
the “worldly flower of Rome whose perfume might
still draw all bees,” even here in the mud of the Passaic.
How Williams came to despise the dry and splitting
logic that cut each flower from the glazed rain
water we all need to survive and flourish.
Both legs fractured as a youth, Rasles knew
what suffering was as he hobbled on with his people,
marveling the more as he learned their incandescent
words and ways. What warriors they were, with those
brilliant guerilla tactics they used against those bent
on robbing them of what was theirs with rum or
a strand of pretty red ribbon, or logic’s words... or nothing.
Rasles knew in time the Englishmen would find and
kill him. Still, not even death would keep him from his flock.
Back in Boston, his bloody scalp garnered his killers
a hundred pounds. But you too know the places, don’t you?
You who’ve lived here now for fifty years? Deerfield,
Hatfield, Hadley, the Abenaki and Pocumtuck names
long gone. Still, something lingers in the spray that tumbles
to this day at Turners Falls, named for the one who killed
the Peskeompskut while they fished for salmon there, then
died himself, that sad history that lingers in the river’s mist.
Supper at Emmaus
Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, 1605—1606
And there’s that hand again, reaching out this time
to bless the bread that’s been set before him on the table.
It’s a small loaf, really, just a roll, and it’s been broken,
much as his body was three days before. To his left
there’s a pewter pitcher with black lines striped across
it and a glass half hidden, filled with bloodred wine.
He must be real, this Nazarene, because you can see
his shadow on the worn leather jacket the old innkeeper’s
wearing, who’s gazing down at this stranger as he wonders
what’s going on. In the foreground, seated, are two disciples:
one is Cleophas, the other, strangely, looks like Peter, at least
from other portraits Caravaggio painted of the man.
The same disciple who denied Christ three times out there
in the courtyard, and who now seems to inch his right hand
close and closer to Christ’s wrist, as if to check if this could
really be the Man. In the upper right stands an old woman,
bent and weary from the daily chores she’s done so long
that nothing seems to faze her anymore, so that as the Man
breaks bread as an offering of himself, we cannot read
what it is she’s thinking. And here’s the thing: there’s another
version of this same scene, which Caravaggio painted
five years earlier. In this one Christ appears clean-shaven
and is so much younger, which may be why the men failed
at first to recognize this stranger who had walked beside them.
But look at what the painter’s rendered. There’s a glass carafe
of wine, a bowl of fruit and a roasted capon on the table, a Sunday
feast for sure. And once again an innkeeper stands looking down,
puzzled as this stranger blesses the bread then breaks it, even
as those two disciples are clearly shaken—perhaps like us
as well—by what is really happening here before our eyes.
Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, 1599—1600
Like God the Father in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel
who searches Adam’s face, stretching his right arm
out to touch and awaken him to life, so here
in Caravaggio’s painting above the altar of King
Louis there in Rome, it is Jesus this time round reaching
out his arm toward the tax collector Matthew, who
in turn points his own hand toward himself, stunned
at being singled out like this. In the meantime, two
young tax collectors, startled as if they too have been
uncovered, look up for an instant, while another two,
one who’s clearly been in the money–laundering
business a long time now, keep their heads down,
preoccupied with the pile of silver coins aglitter there
on the coarse-grained table half hidden in the shadows.
The preternatural light—let’s call it that—that struggles
with the dark seems to catch the drama of it all: a gift
offered in that instant that could satisfy a hungry heart.
And—look!—there’s Christ’s hand held out again, ten years
on, Caravaggio pointing out the truth again, as the dead man
Lazarus is jolted back once more into the light, his arms flailing
as life begins to flow back into his limbs. He was a brawler,
no doubt, this Caravaggio. And just how many he maimed
or killed or conned must be left for scholars to figure out.
But a many few at least. First he fled Milan, then Rome,
then in time it was on to Naples. Then on again, this time
to seek protection from those Knights in Malta. Then
finally it was down to Sicily, before he headed back to Rome,
sailing up the coast, hoping once again to be pardoned,
this time by no less than the pope himself, in exchange of course
for those final priceless paintings only Caravaggio
himself could execute. Among the three there’s one
of Saint Ursula at the very instant the mad Hun’s
arrow penetrates her breast, as now she gazes down
at what has just happened, her eyes those of a contemplative,
accepting of the end she’s reached, while the artist,
who surely knew his share of sharps and gangsters,
reveals himself as one more member of the gang, staring
down now in disbelief at what his brushstrokes have revealed
about himself, even as the scene screams before his eyes.
Brother, sister, he was much like one of us, I fear.
Someone no doubt who felt unworthy to be singled out,
yet someone who could paint far better than his rivals, as well
he knew himself. Someone too who saw deeper than most
of us, as his paintings likewise clearly show. Yes, there was a price
upon his head, for sure. But how much only God can know.
Georges de la Tour, Joseph the Carpenter, ca. 1642
Out of that darkness behind the man who turns
the augur into the wood which his left foot holds
steady, note how the light grows stronger
as it approaches the boy. Note too how the fingers
of the boy’s left hand shield the flame of the candle
he holds in his right. From the creased brow, and half-
glazed eyes you can see the man is tired. He’s dressed
in drab like any other workman of the time, as on he works
into the night to put that daily bread upon the table.
Look again and see how alive the boy looks as he talks
to his father, trying to comfort him as the man keeps
on working. He’s a handsome kid, dressed in a modest
red garment, so eager to share still one more story.
Then note how the candle flame which alone illumines
the scene, seems to pass radiantly through the boy’s
outstretched left hand, as if transfigured. How happy
the boy seems, his hand raised as if blessing the man
who raised him and who, except for giving the boy
his name, remains silent throughout Scripture.
Still, here in this night the boy seems to have all the time
in the world to spend with the man chosen to be
his protector, here in Nazareth, as in Bethlehem and Egypt,
though it’s his heavenly Father the boy will call on,
beginning with those Temple elders when he turns twelve.
And the boy of course, being who he is, will seem puzzled
why his parents, who will search three days for him, don’t
see why he must be about his Father’s business.
But even that scene remains somewhere off in the distance,
and for now, note how the wood is being readied, like
the wood that will be waiting for him to complete his work.
By which time Joseph will no longer be there to watch over
his boy, though by then the hard lessons of patience
will have been drilled in: that readiness to say yes
to whatever task his Father has for him. How often
the story’s been told, as here by someone who will see
his own family wiped out by a plague, along with himself.
Still, the story never grows old, does it? No matter how many
times you keep coming back to it—often in the dark—to see
how a man watched over a boy and the mother of that boy.
Wheat Field with Cypresses
Vincent Van Gogh, late June 1889
“I have a canvas of cypresses with a few ears of wheat,”
Van Gogh writes his brother Theo back in Paris. There are
poppies in it, and a blue sky impastoed “like a multicolored
Scotch plaid.” And below those mottled clouds beckons
that “wheat field in the sun,” its rich thick yellow baking
in the dense summer heat. To the right are two tall
cypresses, reaching skyward to catch the eye’s attention.
It’s late July, 1889, and Vincent’s here at the mental
asylum in Saint-Rémy, suffering his dark night
of the soul. He’s thirty-six and has just ten months left
to live before that bullet takes his life. In the time
he has, he will paint another dozen wheat fields
when the doctors let him walk about and paint
en plein air. And just now the wheat is ripe for harvest.
But it’s those mottled paint-daubed clouds that catch
his eye, like those Father Hopkins, dead just three weeks
now at forty-four, caught sailing over Dublin the year before.
“Cloud-puffballs,” he named them, as they glittered across
the skies. And once again you feel it: the wind, the Spirit,
as life springs once more back to life and dark gives way
to light. A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some
the birds ate. Some bleached and burned among
the brambles. And some fell on good soil, to produce
in time fields of golden wheat like this. Fresh winds
still shook the banks and brakes as spring came round,
Father Hopkins saw. And, look, once more birds
were busy building nests. Though just not him,
at least not now, what with sickness coming on.
And yet, both men got up again, again, and did what
they could with words or paint and soldiered on.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear, Christ urged,
as now another storm sweeps down the darkening fields.
Edgardo Mar A. Castro
Edgardo Mar Alcantara Castro is an architect, educator and heritage worker based in the Philippines. He has spent half of his life in the practice of architecture all over the country. He initiated a civil society organization that promotes community-based heritage programs to different local partners with the involvement of architecture students. He received several research and academic grants related to Filipino architectural heritage.
Their Voyage, Our Journey
They took the voyage to face
the mysterious vast ocean,
the wrath of the raging waves,
the blustery weather.
They took the voyage to cope with
the frugal provisions,
the deprivation of comfort,
the uncontainable infirmities.
They took the voyage to discover
a new return route,
the source of the spices,
prospects for new economy.
They took the voyage to usher the heathens
to hear the word of God,
to receive a new baptism,
to sow the good news to the four corners of the globe.
We took the journey to face
the gusty winds, furious waves and petty storms of life.
We took the journey to cope with
the day-to-day struggle of life.
We took the journey to rediscover
the meaning of life and real happiness.
We took the journey to usher a reevangelization.
They had the tornaviaje, we live the tornavida!
To Our Lady, Star of the Sea
Ave Maris Stella
Monstra te esse Matrem!
The work recalls the maiden voyage of Magellan that brought Christianity to the Philippine archipelago 500 years ago. It ends with a short invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.