The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle



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On Poetry and Patriots

Written By Phyllis Tickle

The following reflection first appeared in July 2009 as part of First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010..

I have come, of late, to appreciate the fact that the first, true love of my life was the sound of my father’s voice reciting poetry. His repertoire seemed limitless to me at the time, and he rendered every bit and piece of it with an almost surreal perfection of insight and intonation. Even as a very small child, I understood that when my father was speaking poetry to me, what he really was doing was translating both of us onto holy ground by means of words…


Abou Ben Adam, may his tribe increase,
Awoke one night from a dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight of his room,
An angel writing in a book of gold…

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me;
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I set out to sea…

‘Twas many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
There lived a maiden whom you may know
By the name of Annabelle Lee…


His treasures ran from the most poignant to the most jocular, and they certainly ran the gamut from the most accomplished – Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Hebrew Psalms, for example—to something very close to doggerel. ( He liked Ogden Nash, at least on occasion.) All of which means that, despite the fact that he was first a college professor and then, for many years, a university dean, my father was hardly given to elitism in his choices of which poetry to assimilate and which to ignore. There was, however, a very clear connection between his academic duties and all of the various and varying poetry with which he filled the late afternoons and early evenings of my childhood.

Poetry articulated for him the “why” behind the academic and professional duties that were his daily life. More to the point, though, the music and images of poetry held for him, as nothing else could, the substance and beauty of what he thought an education is supposed to do and be for human beings.  He spoke often of “intellectual furniture.”  What he meant by that phrase was, I suspect, much nearer to what we today would call “spiritual furniture,” though that wording would have been alien to both him and all the rest of his world sixty-five or seventy years ago. By either name, however, what my father really meant was a place within the self where the soul could sit down for a bit and rest, a place where what is best in our being “the image of God” delights itself in the gifts of that wondrously strange genesis…all of which is very much on my mind this holiday weekend  

The months since we last observed our nation’s birthday have seen us, as a people, effect national and international changes in attitudes, accomplishments, and aspirations that my father would never have been able to conceptualize in their particulars, so alien would they have been to his place in history. But he knew intimately and from constant reverence, the beauty out of which those changes have now come to us. Were he alive this July 4th of 2009, however, he would say, rather than sing the words; for he was ever fearful that the power of their poetry might become lost in an easy grandeur or exaggerated tunefulness:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown your good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God your gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Your alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend our every flaw,
Confirm our soul in self control,
Our liberty in law.



America the Beautiful written by Katharine Lee Bates.