Beauty and Mystical Poetry

Interview With Winner of Mystical Poetry Award

ROME, FEB. 16, 2007 ( Writing mystical poetry is to go from ” from ecstasy to ecstasy,” says the most recent winner of the Fernando Rielo Foundation’s mystical poetry prize.

Father Valentin Arteaga, superior general of the Order of Clerics Regular, known as the Theatines, was awarded this year’s prize for his work “Oficio en mi menor” (Office in Mi Minor). The Theatine priest received a monetary prize of €7,000 ($9,194).

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Arteaga comments on the award, and the task of writing mystical poetry.

Q: To write mystical poetry and to earn money for it is almost a miracle. How do you feel about it?

Father Arteaga: You are very good to highlight the world “miracle.” We live amid miracles, and we live thanks to them. In other words, trembling and astonished, by things and events.

Poetry is a gift and consequence of admiration and leads one by the hand to gratefulness.

I am living the reception of the Fernando Rielo Award with thanksgiving. As regards the €7,000, I answer sincerely: They are a gift to me from the provident God who always goes out to meet the needy.

We Theatines are rich in poverty; in our life we seek only the kingdom of God. However, as the Theatine house in Naples, the most important of the order, is at present in a very precarious situation, and is currently preparing for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the “dies natalis” [day of birth] of St. Andrew Avelino, the €7,000 have gone to help out there.

Q: The award committee noted that there is amorous passion for the divine in your poems, biblical references and nostalgia of a past transfigured by faith. Do you agree?

Father Arteaga: Indeed, the book awarded is a book of experience, of the rapture and tremor of the mystery. I wander through the territory of the heart, which is the territory of memory. To believe is to remember glimpsing at the same time the future dumbfounded. The future is God.

I agree about the biblical references. In the end, the whole Bible is pure poetry, mystical song and astonishment. And faith is a higher vision which gives us the grace to know what we do not know and to discover what is not seen.

Q: Mysticism, by definition, is about few words. What is mystical poetry for you?

Father Arteaga: Believe me, to start with, it’s not that easy for me to answer you because, in my opinion, poetry, if it is true, does not admit adjectives. Poetry is nothing more than poetry.

But it always refers to contemplation. To move in poetry is to go from ecstasy to ecstasy. One babbles; finds it very difficult to express anything. It is an attempt to defeat the angel who is trying to strip you.

In the end, overcome and with one’s garments on the floor, one only hears “that babbling something or other” of St. John of the Cross and you die from the longing to take refuge in silence. A good poet friend of mine used to say that “the deepest truth is silence.”

Q: Do you find that poetry, beauty — what is beautiful and authentic — are present in the Church?

Father Arteaga: Look here! — The Church is much more beautiful than the bride of the Song of Songs. But she is made up of us, clergy and laity who, it would seem, suffer today, like everyone else, from the “deficit” of the value of gratitude.

Today’s culture tends more toward the useful, the practical and the profitable. This also happens in the pastoral area. Apostolic work is reduced to plans and strategies, leaving poetry and beauty to one side as if they were items “on sale.” In seminaries and novitiates there is no place for aesthetic recreation.

Thanks be to God, Pope John Paul II wrote poetry and Benedict XVI loves to play Mozart every now and then. Going against the current, the people of the Fernando Rielo Foundation convoke the World Prize for Mystical Poetry every year. That’s very good.

I am convinced that a psalm in perfect Gregorian helps the believing experience more than reading certain pastoral letters.

St. Cajetan, founder of the Theatines, used to say that the Church — “in herself without stain or wrinkle but prostituted in her ministers” — needs clerics that “make virtues attractive and vices abhorrent.”

As I believe Dostoevsky said: “Beauty will save the world. The very ugly is atheist.” But Rainer Maria Rilke also affirmed: “These are bad times for poetry.” It must be remedied, don’t you think?

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