Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews

Review of Alfred Noyes, ed. The Golden Book of Catholic Poetry


The title of this anthology is somewhat misleading.  If the reader hopes to find a collection of mystical or devotional poems he will be disappointed, and will be surprised to find Chesterton’s well-known poems, “The Donkey” and “A Christmas Carol,” side by side with his popular pagan poem which has for its refrain, “I don’t care where the water goes if it doesn’t get into the wine.”  But the seeming incongruity is explained by Mr. Noyes in his preface.  The book is mainly a collection of poems written by Catholics, with a small section of poems written by non-Catholics, “but these have been included only when they embody some essentially Catholic idea.”  This principle of selection has left him free to “choose poems on any subject, since Catholicism naturally touches every side of human life.”  Allowing the anthologist this freedom, the reader will find a rich gleaning from the past and the present.  He will find the range from the exquisite anonymous poems of the earlier centuries through Dante and Chaucer to the relatively modern, to Crashaw, Alice Meynell, Hopkins and Francis Thompson, whose poem “The Hound of Heaven” is treasured by many Protestants (or, as Mr. Noyes prefers to say, “non-Catholics”) as one of their own poems.  One can be grateful to him for his selections from Dolben and other poets difficult of access, and for showing in not a few poems by Catholic nuns that the cloister does not prevent the flowering of verse of excellent quality.  His selection from his own verse is restrained and of uncommon interest; such poems as “The Messenger” and “Under the Pyrenees” have obviously come from experience and they have given at least one reader the personal emotion that should always spring from lyrical poetry. [page 488]
     The poems by non-Catholics have been chosen with discernment— they follow on from Spenser to our own day; our two immortal women are there, Emily Brontë and Christina Rossetti: but Emily Dickenson should not have been forgotten.  Sidney Lanier’s poem, “A Ballad of Trees and the Master,” endeared to so many hearts, it welcome.  To the poem by Henry Adams (1838-1918), “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres,” Mr. Noyes devotes a paragraph of his preface.  The reader may not agree that it is “among the greatest, perhaps itself the greatest, in American literature,” but he will thank Mr. Noyes for giving him the opportunity of deciding for himself on the merits of a beautiful poem that has roots deep in understanding and prophetic imagination. [page 489]


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