“A person should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day, in order that worldly cares not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In this time of quarantine, Goethe’s words resonate as never before. Music, poetry, and paintings draw us to beauty, as a divine source of strength, of joy, and of transcending the difficulties of our current lives. The Episcopal traditions teach that the church sacraments serve as outward and visible signs for an inward and spiritual grace. Poetry, music, and the arts may serve a similar role, particularly in Episcopal schools. In the absence of face to face contact with friends, neighbors, and loved ones, our souls long for outward and visible signs to remind us of an inward and spiritual grace.

One of my favorite poets is the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Richard Eberhardt. He attended the small chapel where I preside as vicar during the summers in Harborside, Maine. Frequently, I find myself trying to articulate an idea and Eberhardt’s poetry captures its essence with beautiful clarity. After reading one of his poems last summer in chapel, a parishioner asked: “Did you know that Richard Eberhardt* taught at St. Mark’s in the English department?” Delighted to make this connection, I want to share one of his poems that speak to Goethe’s assertion that God plants “a sense of the beautiful” in our hearts.  

This week at St. Mark’s we are celebrating National Poetry month; I invite you to read this poem by Richard Eberhardt, as he expresses the experience of divine presence found in the “illimitable essence” of nature’s miracles. 

Undercliff Evening

I feel illimitable essence,
As if I could express everything
Known to man. This omnipotence 
is a gift of nature in radiant acclaim

That I can know a secret of being.
This instant a parti-colored butterfly
Flew across my sight, real as evanescence,
Startled me into its non-verbal reality

Bandied butterfly, severed spectacle,
Coming to consciousness for an instant
You are a messenger of supernatural power
You escape words of poetry.

I try to put you in words, you are evidence
Of a dream of insubstantiality,
A moment of perfection in a dream of time,
You vanish forever, I shall not know you

But as a feeling of illimitable essence,
When the world, despite error and chaos,
Announces gripped summits, elects to show
Mysteries beyond our tongue, shafts of light.

I did not ask you to come to me,
I did not ask you to fly by my face,
But you erase my heavy thoughts,
You bring me into lightness and grace.

Today, may you experience the lightness and grace found in poetry.  
* For all you baseball fans, Richard Eberhardt’s grandson is Ben Cherington, former general manager of the Red Sox and current general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.    

-- The Rev. Katie Solter, St. Mark’s School

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