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Old 01-30-2003, 08:58 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Evening Benediction

Brightness of beeswax candles sparkling through
our half-closed eyelids, stung with incense smoke,
we new boys stumble through the Litany,
the monks’ and seniors’ voices bearing high
the pure sopranos of us younger ones,
who only half conceal our loneliness,
beginning our first year away from home.

A final Miserere and Oremus,
the choir has stopped, the organ groans and squeaks
and the prior, monks and senior boys leave first.
We younger ones then follow close behind
towards corridors of raw sienna tile,
stone stairways to our beds beneath the cold
embrasures guarding tonsured bearded saints.

We flick for holy water. Over us,
between the font and door, a statue stands,
this Order’s only saint - from Normandy -
whose picture hangs upon the wall at home
in Carmelite brown and white and holding, as
her statue here does too, a small bouquet
of flowers to her breast. And now I stretch,

taking my turn to press the statue’s foot,
with its worn, damp satin feel, this amulet
that every boy before me here has touched.
The little toes are all silk-stropped away,
the instep worn to where the bone would be.
I’ve often wondered who the first boy was
who thought to reach and touch her foot this way,

what decades of the less than half-devout
had sought in plaster, worn like this to bone,
some superstition our religion bred,
more mystery to add to the mysteries
of bread and wine and candlelight and bells,
or in this gentle daughter of the church,
saw not saint, but sister, mother, girl.

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Old 03-04-2003, 02:39 PM
Richard Wilbur Richard Wilbur is offline
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A poem in lucid, plain language which gives its scene and action with fullness and good detail, and develops the feelings of the "new boys" with an increasing poignancy. The ending is quietly strong. I don't know whether or not to object to the grammatical uncertainty of "betrayed" (line 7) or "they saw" in the last line; I think I won't object, since the lines work pretty well. But I must complain a little about the awkward enjambments in line 4-5 of the third stanza. The "worn, damp satin feel" of the statue's foot, and the expression "silk-stropped away" are excellently precise.
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Old 03-04-2003, 08:45 PM
R. S. Gwynn's Avatar
R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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I wouldn't presume to correct Mr. Wilbur, but I believe he means the enjambment between ll. 5 & 6 of st. 3.
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Old 03-05-2003, 06:18 AM
oliver murray oliver murray is offline
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My sincere thanks to Mr Wilbur for so generously commenting on this poem.I’m glad he approved of “silk-stropped” which was sound, rather than meaning-driven. Regarding Mr Wilbur’s comment on “betrayed” this piece of bad grammar was commented on by Alan Sullivan, and AE, if I remember, and perhaps others, and then dropped altogether, on Alan’s advice, for which much thanks. Mr Wilbur, I now realize, did not see the version posted above which was a fourth (by no means final) revision.

Mr Gwynn, thank you for your reading and comment. Again, in fairness to him, I believe Mr Wilbur saw an earlier version and it read as below, with an awkward enjambment, which I failed to see, between lines 4&5 of Stanza 3:

We flick for holy water. Over us,
between the font and door, a statue stands,
this Order’s only saint - from Normandy -
whose picture’s on the wall at home, in her
Carmelite brown and white and holding, as
her statue here does too, a small bouquet
of flowers to her breast. And now I stretch, .

This problem was commented on by Clive Watkins and later by Alan, and Anthony Lombardy, and perhaps others, and Clive suggested a fix which I have used. I am interested you feel the enjambment in the next line is also a problem and will look at this again. Perhaps Mr Wilbur also refers to this, as he says “enjambments in lines 4-5” and not “enjambment between lines 4 & 5”. I would be grateful for any further advice on this.

My thanks, again, to Mr Wilbur, to Tim for choosing this poem for comment by him, to Golias and to all those others, too numerous to mention, who have offered advice on this piece and who have helped me improve it.

Regards,

Oliver.

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Old 03-05-2003, 02:27 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Oliver et alia. The confusion is my fault. As an inducement to get Dick to take this on, I had mailed him a few of these poems; and as was the case with the Wakefield, Dick commented on the mailed drafts, rather than those which appear on this site.

Although I am no Christian, I envy Richard the reservoir of serenity he possesses in the face of incertitude and corruptibility. In fact, he is probably my favorite Christian poet since Herbert, and that's saying a lot. It pleased me to no end that I could select from among our very best work, poems like these by Murray and Wakefield, poems which Dick and Charlee found deeply edifying.
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Old 03-09-2003, 01:59 AM
Joseph Bottum Joseph Bottum is offline
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Dear Mr. Murray,

Every time I see this poem, I like it better. Have you published it yet? If not, and it's reached its final form, perhaps you'll let me print it in the magazine for which I am the poetry editor. Called "First Things," it's not a big journal--the circulation is only 30,000, and the payment for poems is embarrassingly small (ask Rhina Espaillat and Deborah Warren on this listserv, both of whom have published in the journal's pages)--but it has a devoted and intent readership which would love to see "Evening Benediction." Perhaps this would be better as a private message, but I wanted to make a public declaration about this truly excellent work.

J. Bottum
jbottum@weeklystandard.com
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Old 03-09-2003, 10:40 AM
oliver murray oliver murray is offline
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Dear Mr Bottum,

I'm very pleased that you liked this poem and thank you for commenting. Your offer of publication is a wonderful surprise, and one which I would like to accept. Your circulation is impressive compared to what I'm normally used to. Thank you. There is a small issue regarding availability, about which i will send you a PM.

Regards,

Oliver.
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Old 03-09-2003, 11:29 AM
Kevin Andrew Murphy Kevin Andrew Murphy is offline
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Way to go, Oliver! Woohoo!

Umm, pardon my brief outburst of surfer dude vernacular, but that's what immediately sprang into my head.

More formally, congratulations. It's recognition well deserved.

Kevin
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Old 03-09-2003, 03:00 PM
oliver murray oliver murray is offline
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Kevin,

Many thanks - I appreciate it, and your support in general.
Regards,

Oliver.
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