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.
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. Cristina