Wednesday, July 23, 2008

catholic poets

Venantius Fortunatus Reading His Poems to Radegonda VI. Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1862).

Yeah, I know. I haven't been blogging much recently. Mostly the reason is that I've been working very hard on the dissertation. At the same time, I think I'm more in a period of taking in ideas and impressions than of writing them down.

I have been reading Candles in Babylon by Denise Levertov. Great book, she is an amazing poet. According to Wikipedia, she converted to Catholicism in the last decade of her life. When I read that, I tried to remember what other poets have converted to my religion. All I can think of right now are Gerard Manly Hopkins and Robert Lowell, but something tells me there are more. Does anyone out there have some names?

UPDATE: Okay, we will drop out Robert Lowell as nothing more than a spiritual tourist and start the list, which will be updated as more suggestions roll in:

1. Denise Levertov
2. Gerard Manly Hopkins
3. Thomas Merton
4. Oscar Wilde
5. Paul Claudel

I'm not doing this to create a kind of triumphalist "who have the Catholics bagged?" list. Rather, I ask myself if their is something about Catholicism (the liturgy, the tradition, the stories, the mystery, the physicality, etc.) that may be especially appealing to poets. Please write in with more suggestions.

UPDATE 2: CowboyAngel is right. I had a conversion experience in prison after shooting Rimbaud. He was in Reno and I shot him just to watch him die.

UPDATE 3: Lee has added many to the list, including Chesterton who (I was not aware of this) also wrote poetry.


Garpu said...

Love Levertov's poetry, especially "City Psalm." Merton, of course. Wikipedia's got a list, but I'm not sure how complete it is.

David said...

Don't forget the most famous deathbed convert to Catholicism: Oscar Wilde.

In the case of Lowell, he converted as a young man but quickly fell away from the Church (and faith altogether).

cowboyangel said...

Paul Claudel is one who comes to mind. According to Wikipedia, "An unbeliever in his teenage years, he experienced a sudden conversion at the age of eighteen on Christmas Day 1886 while listening to a choir sing Vespers in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris: "In an instant, my heart was touched, and I believed." He would remain a strong Catholic for the rest of his life.

The young Claudel seriously considered entering a Benedictine monastery."

And Verlaine had a conversion experience while in prison for shooting Rimbaud. But I don't know what his longtime relationship was to the Church. He was basically a homeless drunk at one point later in his life. Drinking a lot of absinthe.

Denise was great. I will always cherish the chapbook she gave A and I for our wedding. A beautiful and special gift.

cowboyangel said...


crystal said...

Does James Alison count? Not a poet exactly, I guess. I think Richard Crashaw, who translated one of Aquinas' poems (I think?) was a convert. And Les Murray, the guy who did the poem on shorts :)

Jack said...

Liam, I need your opinion. Would you do me the favor of looking at my current post and telling me whether you think I should continue on politics or go back to religion/catholicism? Thank you. Jack

cowboyangel said...

One of the big Spanish poets was a strong Catholic. But, then, he wasn't necessarily a convert. Was it Gerardo Diego? He edited Cruz y Rayo.

[He suddenly realizes he's online and can look up this sketchy information.]

Oh, right - José Bergamín. From the spanish wikipedia: "toda su vida trató de congraciar catolicismo y comunismo ("con los comunistas hasta la muerte... pero ni un paso más", dirá).

That's pretty funny. I remember he was more torn up during the civil war than most of his friends on the Republican side.

Seems like one of the other 20th Century Spanish poets was pretty Catholic. Can't think of who it was now. I mean, they were all Catholic at some point, I'm sure. But seems that another wrote on religious themes.

But you're only interested in people who were previously NOT Catholic?

cowboyangel said...

Are you okay? Your Rimbaud-Johnny Cash mental collage scares me a little. I suspect you've been listening to Nick Cave again.

Are you getting enough beer in your diet? Low beer intake - That'll make a man mean.

Jeff said...

Evelyn Waugh. Does Walker Percy count?

Where did Ezra Pound wind up?

cowboyangel said...

Bon anniversaire, Catholic poet!

lullaby said...

I missed your birthday. ridiculous. i come here now to correct such an egregious error by pointing out that your gerald manley hopkins should be gerard manley hopkins.

man. i'm such a dick.

ps. happy birthday!!!

Liam said...

Wikipedia says Crashaw was attracted to Catholicism, but it doesn't say if he converted. More research is needed, I guess.

Liam said...

The beauty of blogs is you write about whatever you want to write about.

Liam said...


I'm thinking adult convert -- either from another faith (or no faith) or someone who was raised Catholic but came back to the Church.

Liam said...

Did Waugh and Percy write poetry?

Liam said...

Thanks for the correction and the birthday wishes. You weren't late -- my birthday always lasts at least a week.

Jeff said...

Both Waugh and Percy were known primarily as novelists, but I think that Waugh wrote at least some poetry, didn't he?

Lee Strong said...
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Lee Strong said...
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Lee Strong said...

G. K. Chesterton was a convert, and a prolific poet (though he is better known for his other works).

Lee Strong said...

Or John Henry Newman, Alfred Noyes, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, Dunstan Thompson and George Mackay Brown.

Liam said...


Thanks for stopping by and for the list. I didn't know Newman wrote poetry either. I'll have to look it up.

Meredith said...

Richard Crashaw was a convert. He became a priest and had to flee to Italy, where he became the canon of Loreto and died in his forties of a fever.