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Breaking the Silence

Poetry and the Kenotic Word


Malgorzata Grzegorzewska, Jean Ward and Mark Burrows

This book of essays on poetic speech, viewed in a literary-critical, theological and philosophical light, explores the connections and disconnections between vulnerable human words, so often burdened with doubt and pain, and the ultimate kenosis of the divine Word on the Cross. An introductory discussion of language and prayer is followed by reflections linking poetry with religious experience and theology, especially apophatic, and questioning the ability of language to reach out beyond itself. The central section foregrounds the motif of the suffering flesh, while the final section, including essays on seventeenth-century English metaphysical poetry and several of the great poets of the twentieth century, is devoted to the sounds and rhythms which give a poem its own kind of «body».
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Eugenio Montale, “The Poor Nestorian at a Loss”


The Italian poet Eugenio Montale (1896–1981), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975, had a troubled relationship with the Absolute, a relationship that began in his youth about a century ago and ended only with his death. Montale expressed this through a continuous and unceasing dialogue in his poetry between the human “word” and the divine Word. As he suggests in writings over the span of his life, he was conscious of what he viewed as an unbridgeable distance between the “relative” and the “absolute”, not only in a philosophical or theological sense but also in the artistic context of the poetic and “meta-poetic”. He voices this early in his vocation as a poet in the way he approaches the “aporia” of the (human) word. In one of his most memorable short poems “Non chiederci la parola” [“Don’t ask us for the word to square…”], he writes:

Don’t ask us for the word to square our shapeless spirit on all sides, and proclaim it in letters of fire, to shine like a lost crocus in a dusty field. … This, today, is all we can tell you: what we are not, what we do not want. (Galassi 39)

Non chiederci la parola che squadri da ogni lato l’animo nostro informe, e a lettere di fuoco lo dichiari e risplenda come un croco perduto in mezzo a un polveroso prato. … Codesto solo oggi possiamo dirti, ciò che non siamo, ciò che non vogliamo....

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