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I Sought on Earth a Garden of Delight -- George Santayana

Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1475) I Sought on Earth a Garden of Delight
 I sought on earth a garden of delight,
 Or island altar to the Sea and Air,
 Where gentle music were accounted prayer,
 And reason, veiled, performed the happy rite.
 My sad youth worshipped at the piteous height
 Where God vouchsafed the death of man to share;
 His love made mortal sorrow light to bear,
 But his deep wounds put joy to shamed flight.
 And though his arms, outstretched upon the tree,
 Were beautiful, and pleaded my embrace,
 My sins were loath to look upon his face.
 So came I down from Golgotha to thee,
 Eternal Mother; let the sun and sea
 Heal me, and keep me in thy dwelling-place.
-- George Santayana
   I was born and brought up in Italy, the very heart of Christianity, and
it is not difficult, for me, to understand the feeling of the poet in this
sonnet.  The sense of guilt, the feeling of constant inadequacy of your
moral life, the denial of pleasure... They are all part of the religious
feeling they tried to inculcate in us. The reaction against all this,
particularly from the 60s onwards has been radical, so that, today,
Catholicism has become (here, at least) more tolerant towards human
weakness, less strict and demanding, more open.

As many others of my generation I have read and re-read Bertrand Russell's
'Why I am not A Christian', yet, though from an intellectual point of view I
have always shared his views, I cannot completely avoid feeling the need for
a divine presence. As Santayana, I have often hoped for the existence (and,
I must admit, in times of need, I have also prayed) of a female divinity (a
mother goddess or a Madonna – call her what you like) – I thought I did so
because it was easier for me to pray to a divinity of the same gender, so I
was surprised when I read Santayana's poem. Our need must probably be
something more ancestral, the need to be soothed by a mother also in
maturity; the feeling that  we are bond to simple, elemental laws: the
cycles of nature, life and death, biological laws and an "Eternal Mother" is
closer to this than any other abstract, frowning or anguishing father god.


33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Cat said...

You're not alone in wanting a more female divine presence. In the Middle Ages the cult of the Virgin Mary was very strong. There's an odd little poem from that era called "Adam Lay Ybounden"

Adam lay ybounden
Bounden in a bond
Foure thousand winters
Thought he not too long

And all was for an apple
An apple that he took
As the clerkes founden
Written in their book

And then something something, the gist being that if he hadn't eaten the apple then Mary would never have been the Queen of Heaven. Therefore, Deo Gracias - Thank God.

I apologise for my poor memory. I liked your poem a lot.

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