Thursday 6 June 2024

Saint Thomas and the Forbidden Birds - James Matthew Wilson

Saint Thomas and the Forbidden Birds 
ISBN 9781685780944

Saint Thomas and the Forbidden Birds - James Matthew Wilson

This is the third volume from James Matthew Wilson I have read, last year I read Praying the Nicene Creed, and loved it. This year I read Two Poems for Martyrs. And I loved the two poems. So I picked this up the day the eBook was available. Wilson mentioned on social media that Two Poems was his shortest volume also  that Catholic Modernism and the Irish "Avant-Garde": The Achievement of Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin, and Thomas MacGreevy which is his longest. This one is in between. I have added several of his works to my watch list either for eBooks to become available or to be available via adaptive technology. I have a dual form of dyslexia and prefer eBooks so I can change the font and colour of the font and page to make reading easier. I might give in and pick one up but am slow to get around to reading physical books. But for now I loved this volume and that it was available digitally. The description of this volume states:

“In James Matthew Wilson's fourth full-length collection of poems, the writer joins the great saint and theologian Thomas Aquinas to pause before "the thought of earthly sorrows" and to pray for "such a world that had so much to say."

These poems stand in wonder before the tumult and beauty of created things and the capacity of the soul to rise above it. We move from encounters with the world as revelation, mystery, and promise, to great scenes of sin and fracture such as the bombing of Dresden, the execution of the Roman philosopher Cicero, and scandals in the Church. The volume begins with the prospects for an unborn child soon to enter our stormy world and concludes with a "Farewell" to the place, home, and setting of many of these poems.

Saint Thomas and the Forbidden Birds is a story and pilgrimage through the troubles of our age and beyond them to the reason for our hope, "for all things turn about the love of God."”

The sections and peoms in this volume are:

To an Unborn Child

The Garden
Return to Saint Thomas
Incense on the Air
O, Tamar
A Withered Tree
The Fishing Camp
The Darkness Coming
Teele Square Sunday Morning, Summer 2001
From The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk
Waking in Dresden

Saint Thomas and the Forbidden Birds
The Wisdom of Old Men
A Wedding Night
First Light
The Death of Cicero
Elegy for a Tow Truck Driver
The Great State of Alaska
In the Fullness of Rhyme
The Prow of the House
In the Holding Cell
The Weakness of Men
The Kitchen Stove
Fire Light

James’ Book
For Russell Kirk
First Words
After a Line by Maurice Scève
Elizabeth to Her Cousin
An Encounter
For Martha
By That Heart Known
At Season’s End
High Seriousness
The Love of God
Vanished Fire

Farewell to Berwyn
About the Author

Typically when I review a book of poetry I include a few poems from the collection that really spoke to me. Here are the ones I selected to share in this review:


     East Lansing, Michigan
     On either side, the highway’s barren stretch
     Is dwarfed by sweeping wastes of prairie grass,
     Its pale dry leaves beneath dark heads of vetch
     And clumps of sumac shimmering like glass.

     To look on this, you’d think man had just come,
     Bloomed with the Queen Anne’s lace, and will not last;
     What little he set down as soon succumb
     To stands of pine and maple or wind’s blast.

     But, if you see the little streets erupt
     On ancient marsh, the pool hall and brick church,
     Where we boys grew both conscious and corrupt
     Dispelling boredom, entering on the search

     For just what sort of men we should become,
     You’ll learn the place is thick with ghosts, is haunted
     By faces kissed, fists thrown, and words that drum
     Through time, as we sought what it was we wanted.

This was actually the first poem I read in the book. I looked at the list of poems and flipped to this one. In mart being of both Irish and Scottish heritage the title grabbed my attention. In school I was often referred to as Big Mac, and one of my brothers nickname has mac in it as well. I have gone back and reread it a few times.

The Wisdom of Old Men

Up north, in winter, at the snowy deer camp,
The old men circled always near the fire,
Kept company with the crack of burning logs,
Their backs leaned in and smooth beneath plaid flannel.

And what they were about, I do not know,
Who darted in and out with skis or sled,
Or tramped knee-deep through silent, buried woods
To follow deer tracks miles from the cabin.

Their slowing bodies cool and stiff, they may,
With nothing left to do, have only sought
The heat that sweated from the barrel stove,
Its blackened sides, its flickering mouth ajar.

But, even in my youth, I saw them there,
As those charged with remembering days past,
With pondering the clockworks of the world,
As gear on gear ground through their ordered circles;

Those who descended to a place of freedom,
Where we may wonder at what has been made,
As Nestor, old, among the furious Greeks,
Sat by and spoke above his warming hands.

I love winter camping, and this poem brought to mind my many years as a scouter and winter camping. It had me reflecting on the older scouters when I was a young leader, and the fact that I am now older than many of them were then. Snowshoeing into Algonquin Park, cross country ski trips in southern Ontario. And the wood stove and fire. A warm drink at the end of a journey or the end of a day.

     For Russell Kirk

     The panting ideologues who pace their rooms
      Hear the word “order” and cry out in fear
     That it is just a shibboleth for dooms
      As yet unseen but whose goosesteps they hear.
     But, it is better taken as the word
      A bachelor mulls as he writes through the night
     And which enables him, some thought occurred,
      To set it down in prose both broad and tight.

     While others lapse upon their couch in dreams,
      Or type with bloodshot eyes and whiskey breath,
     The ordered man appears as his work seems
      Fixed with a permanence to outlast death.
     Cathedral glass has color and firm border,
      As do such men conformed by love to order.

I have yet to read any Russel Kirk, but his works have been on my ‘to be read’ pile for a number of years. I even have a friend who did his PhD thesis on Kirk’s works. So the title caught me from the beginning. And the last two lines have really stuck with me.

I freely admit I am not a literary critic. With my dual form of dyslexia I was just passed through on school. I do not know proper grammar or spelling rules. But I love books and reading. And I do enjoy poetry. This was a volume I enjoyed a great deal. Once I learned to read it was whole worlds that I never knew existed, and the poems in this volume were inspiring, encouraging and at times challenging. I believe this is an excellent collection of poems. It is one I know I will return to. 

This is an excellent little volume. I really wish some of James older volumes were available digitally. This one being available as an eBook was a blessing. This is a great collection of poems I can easily recommend!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2024 Catholic Reading Plan

Books by James Matthew Wilson:
The Vision of the Soul
The Hanging God
Some Permanent Things
The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking
The Strangeness of the Good
The River of the Immaculate Conception
Catholic Modernism and the Irish "Avant-Garde
Four Verse Letters

Contributed to:
The Slumbering Host
An Outcast Age
T. S. Eliot and Christian Tradition

Two Poems for Martyrs - James Matthew Wilson

Praying the Nicene Creed - James Matthew Wilson - CTS Prayers and Devotions

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