July 2014 Sestinas
Nathan Lefler is Associate Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Scranton. His first book is due out this summer, titled, Theologizing Friendship: How Amicitia in the Thought of Aelred and Aquinas Inscribes the Scholastic Turn. He has published a number of articles engaging theo-poetic matters, but no poems to date. Among his favorite authors are St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Shakespeare, Melville, Chesterton, Tolkien, Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mauriac, Bernanos, Auden, Vernon Watkins, and Flannery O’Connor. Dr. Lefler lives in Scranton with his poet-philosopher wife, Annie, and their two very poetic children, Bruno and Noemi.
In a corner of our dust-beleaguered city
Stands a great square house, full of white-clad friars.
They study there and pray, and when it’s quiet,
When they sit praying in the chapel, young and old,
Then my eyes are opened, and their dear
Faces whisper gently: We are merry.
In the classroom and at table they are merry
And the rumor of it spreads across the city
(For the wind bears all spirits that are dear
And dearest are the spirits of these friars)
’Til their joy penetrates the young and old,
Unwitting, visited from cloistral quiet.
How is it urban chaos yields to quiet?
How clouded faces brighten and turn merry?
How come the tired litanies of the old,
The shrill cat-calls of boys throughout the city,
To cease in sudden wonder at these friars,
As if remembering something lost but dear?
What is it we recall that calls so dear
Across our lives of suffocating quiet?
What strange voice joining chorus with the friars
Urges us: No matter what, be merry;
Laugh in glad defiance of the city;
Sing paeans to faint memories of old?
In the house’s heart there lies a garden old,
O’ergazed for long years by a lady dear,
Though she hails now from a more constant city.
Her lively song still mingles with the quiet.
“Turn,” she calls: “Let go your sorrows and make merry;
Come quickly to the banquet with my friars.”
Like oil flows the love among the friars,
Running over Aaron’s beard in days of old,
Together bidding: “Eat, drink, and be merry,”
Reminding us with all their voices dear
Of the naturalness of eucharistic quiet,
A sweet foretaste of the eternal city.
Let us toil, then, in our city like good friars,
Bring forth in quiet, treasures new and old,
’Til we reach a haven dear where all are merry.