THAT INCURABLE THIRST…

Herein, an odd elision of seemingly distant fields of meditation on this Mother’s Day morning — and seeming to have nothing to do with Mother’s Day…save that hunger (and thirst) for love and home that, in even the least sublime hearts, has left strong but mortally wounded soldiers crying for home and their mothers on the battlefield….

Somehow, randomly, I am choosing to make this about poetry, or a particular epoch of poetry, being the Victorian, which, in its turn, often borrowed from ancient forms of poetry.

The essayists, art and literary critic Walter Pater wrote circa 1868 of “aesthetic poetry” (and I’m here suggesting that all that is aesthetic, i.e., all that concerns beauty or the love and appreciation of beauty, should bring us, heart and soul, around to thinking of the feminine and, for Mother’s Day, the maternal):

(A)esthetic” poetry is neither a mere reproduction of Greek or medieval poetry, nor only an idealization of modern life and sentiment. The atmosphere on which its effects depends belongs to no simple form of poetry, no actual form of life….The secret of the enjoyment of it is that inversion of homesickness known to some, that incurable thirst for the sense of escape, which no actual form of life satisfies, no poetry, even, if it be merely simple and spontaneous.

Homesickness. That can relate to that.

Walter Horatio Pater (1839-1894) was born in the East End of London in 1839. (My note: his neighborhood, a century later, would know the horrors of The Blitz. I wonder if his old “home” survived?) His father who was a physician died when he was five, and perhaps — some literary scholars have surmised — some of (his) aloofness from the world of practical action and his delicate sense of distinctions of feelings may be traced to the feminine influence of three women (mother, aunt, and grandmother) who brought him up.

Interesting: my father, who knew little of poetry and loved it less, was born in Boston sixteen years after Pater’s death and was also principally raised by his mother, an aunt and a grandmother, owing to the tragic separation of his parents when he was only about three years old. His work as a coal and oil salesman immersed him much of his short 54-year-long life in “the world of practical action.” He was devoutly Catholic, as were his mother, aunt and grandmother. The feminine influence also often gives us our religion.

In the current appalling universal atmosphere of “wokeness” being enforced by the powerful secular mavens of what passes for “culture” these days, the suggestion that it is primarily the influence of women that gifts the world with a vital effeminacy of spirit would be dismissed, if not banned. And, of course, fathers can be mothers, too. And women, men. And vice versa.

To which I say, with a Victorian elan, “humbug.” Or, with modern incredulity, “really?”

Now, Walter Pater was a skeptic in matters of religion and, perhaps, an aesthete in some ways less admirable, in keeping with his decadent epoch that gave us saints and sinners — and sinners who almost became saints (Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson). He wondered out loud whether any set of beliefs could be more stable or true than any other, especially given the bewildering variety of beliefs held and abandoned in the past. Yet he was known to have been impressed from his earliest years by the beauty of Canterbury Cathedral. He must have wondered about the source of the depth of spirit that had compelled its construction. Too bad he didn’t go on wondering….

I offer this meditation to him this morning, a terribly simple hymn they are singing today the world over at the May crowning of Mary, Mother of God.

Oh Mary we crown you with flowers today,

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May….

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.

And thank you, Walter, for those wonderful words. Praying you, your mom, auntie and grand mom, have found eternal rest while your words, however obscure, live on. I found them this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

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