Friday, July 1, 2016

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~


Confessions X.27

By Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine) 354-430

Late have I loved you,

Beauty so ancient and so new,

late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong,

I, misshapen.

You were with me but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being

were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance,

I gasped, and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.


Goodness, why would an avowed Pagan like me be treating you to the writings of a Christian saint? Well, because decades ago I came across a fragment of this, and loved it so much that I copied it into a scrapbook of poems and sayings. I've had occasion recently to reflect on what drew me to poetry, and found myself declaring that beauty is my reason. So I was reminded of these words and sought out the full text. There are several translations, few of which name the translators; this, which doesn't, is the one I liked best. 

Having only the start and ending of this in my original fragment – without the lines about the 'shapely' or in some translations 'lovely' things – I went in quite a different direction from Augustine, seeing the beauty of creation in a pantheistic light, the embrace of which takes us closer to, not away from God. But it's a beautiful, impassioned piece of writing however you interpret it, and I think we can honour the saint as being also a poet. In terms of ecstatic spirituality, I think this rivals Rumi.

Wikipedia tells us:

Augustine of Hippo ... also known as Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Blessed Augustine, and the Doctor of Grace was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius (modern-day AnnabaAlgeria), located in Numidia (Roman province of Africa). He is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity for his writings....

I guess many of you knew that already, and there are further details at the link above. I seem to recall from hearsay that he was also the saint who, in his earlier and wilder days, prayed to be delivered from temptation – but not just yet! (I see he was a Scorpio like me. I mean no disrespect by saying that I understand his attitude perfectly.)

Well, I don't want to tread on dangerous ground or risk giving unintentional offence. We have many shades of religion (including no religion) in this community, and manage to co-exist with mutual tolerance – so I'll leave it at that, inviting you all, as poets, to enjoy this as a superb poem.


Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).

10 comments:

  1. All religion should allow room for question - how else can it sustain itself let alone 'us' - blind following seems almost as bad as being lost..so i am glad there are questions..always

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  2. Though Augustine became a priest, then a bishop, he had a concubine for 13 years before (and a son). I think this poem definitely shows his passionate side, that he was not in denial of his natural feelings. This particular poem was written when Augustine was already a bishop...and it sounds as if he is dealing with his feelings. And perhaps struggling with them a bit. I enjoyed this share, Rosemary...indeed the saint IS a poet!

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  3. Very interesting Rosemary! I share a classic poem on Google+ every day. I've been doing it for years now. I just started sharing it on Facebook too. I love the classics like this.

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  4. I love this Rosemary....I was drawn to the passion in the words and felt them as if my own. And to see it is from a Christian saint is also fascinating.

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  5. This is a beautiful poem, Rosemary, and does rival those of Rumi in spiritual fervor.........I didnt know this saint also wrote.....very interesting. Thank you so much!

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  6. This is truly the mystical experience--seeking out there for God and then finding God within, not in the things that took up our time, though those things would not be without God. And so it is a love poem. And reading it first as a love poem, then as a poem to the earth, then as one to God, I have become enriched by my visit here. Sometimes my yearning is all outward, but I have had that door open--and more than once. I've not yet been able--like Rumi and maybe Augustine--to stay there. So much living to do--as I gather Mary's comment above is referring to.

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    1. I knew you would understand this one deeply! What you say of how you experienced it makes me SO glad I chose it to use here.

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  7. ah...this is so similar to the Vedanta thoughts that say He manifested Himself as this universe...he seems to be a real truth seeker who found Truth...

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  8. Thank you for this post.St Augustine is one of the Catholic Church's most important saints. Indeed this is a very beautiful spiritual poem rather than a temporal one,expressing his adoration of God as the centre of everything with an infinite circumference.When we say the best sinners make the best saints,St Augustin is one who comes to mind:)

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  9. Religious estacy. Thanks for sharing Rosemary

    Much love...

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