Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Bad Poetry of Modern Hymnody

Classic Esolen. From Crisis:
In an earlier column, I asked why we could not sing hymns from the Christian treasury, which is nearly two thousand years old, and which features composers with names like Bach and Handel and poets from Prudentius to Thomas Aquinas to Isaac Watts, the Wesleys, and John Henry Newman, rather than silly, sloppy, banally sentimental, and often ungrammatical lyrics set to off-off-Broadway show tunes. I sensed from the comments that people don’t consider metrical poetry to be an art, with standards of excellence or at least of good workmanship, nor do they consider that the lyrics of hymns are supposed to be poems and should be judged as such.

I think I know what explains this disregard of the poetic art. Poetry has simply vanished from what remains of popular culture. It’s not an important part of the lives of ordinary people. I have a copy of the poems of Bliss Carman, from the 1930s, given as a birthday gift from one woman to another and signed inside the cover. Carman was popular, in the true sense of the word, as were Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. When Henry Longfellow was an old man, several boys showed up at his door in Cambridge because they loved his poems. They had never met him, but they knew it was his birthday, and they came to thank him and congratulate him. Longfellow welcomed them and they enjoyed the afternoon together. That was Longfellow’s seventy-fifth birthday, his last in the world. (Read more.)

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