10 Dec

Pity the Beautiful: Poems

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 12/10/13

Dana Gioia’s latest collection of verse

Dana Gioia’s recent essay, “The Catholic Writer Today,” is a sobering reminder of the causes and consequences of the contemporary “schism between Christianity and the arts.” Gioia’s realistic diagnosis and hopeful encouragements (summarized here) should be read in light of his work as a poet, which displays the commitment to craft, language, and tradition he calls for as a cultural observer.

His most recent collection of poetry is called Pity the Beautiful, his first volume in over a decade; serving as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009 kept him somewhat preoccupied. Among the poems is one with seasonal relevance called “Shopping,” which begins:

I enter the temple of my people but do not pray.
I pass the altars of the gods but do not kneel
Or offer sacrifices proper to the season.

Strolling the hushed aisles of the department store,
I see visions shining under glass,
Divinities of leather, gold, and porcelin,
Shrines of cut crystal, stainless steel, and silicon.

But I wander the arcades of abundance,
Empty of desire, no credit to my people,
Envying the acolytes their passionate faith.
Blessed are the acquisitive,
For theirs is the kingdom of commerce. . . .

The imagery in “Prayer at Winter Solstice” makes it a fitting Advent meditation:

Blessed is the road that keeps us homeless.
Blessed is the mountain that blocks our way.

Blessed are hunger and thirst, loneliness and all forms of desire.
Blessed is the labor that exhausts us without end.

Blessed are the night and the darkness that blinds us.
Blessed is the cold that teaches us to feel.

Blessed are the cat, the child, the cricket, and the crow.
Blessed is the hawk devouring the hare.

Blessed are the saint and the sinner who redeem each other.
Blessed are the dead, calm in their perfection.

Blessed is the pain that humbles us.
Blessed is the distance that bars our joy.

Blessed is this shortest day that makes us long for light.
Blessed is the love that in losing we discover.


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