Thursday, January 31, 2008


What are my two loves of the Catholic tradition? Well, of coarse, God is first and foremost. Then comes my other two cherishings: sacred music and monks. God uses music and the lives of monks -who are already in love with Him - to romantasize the hearts of believers and inbelievers alike with transcendent sounds and consecrated quiteness. Both music and monks bring us closer to a mystery that has been revealed, but not fully.

The following poem, entitled Carthusians, was written by Ernest Christopher Dowson (1967-1900)about those superb and venerable Carthusian monks, who search for Him in ways and through paths known only to the holiest and the most true-hearted of human beings.

If you are not Catholic, the only thing I ask is that you keep an open mind about Carthusian monk tradition.


Through what long heaviness, assayed in what strange fire,
Have these white monks been brought into the way of peace,
Despising the world’s wisdom and the world’s desire,
Which from the body of this death bring no release?

Within their austere walls no voices penetrate;
A sacred silence only, as of death, obtains;
Nothing finds entry here of loud or passionate;
This quiet is the exceeding profit of their pain:

From many lands they came, in divers fiery ways;
Each knew at last the vanity of earthly joys;
And one was crowned with thorns, and one was crowned with bays,
And each was tired at last of the world’s foolish noise.

It was not theirs with Dominic to preach God’s holy wrath,
They were too stern to bear sweet Francis’ gentle sway;
Theirs was a higher calling and a steeper path,
To dwell alone with Christ, to meditate and pray.

A cloistered company, they are companionless,
None knoweth here the secret of his brother’s heart:
They are but come together for more loneliness,
Whose bond is solitude and silence all their part.

O beatific life! Who is there shall gainsay,
Your great refusal’s victory, your little loss,
Deserting vanity for the more perfect way,
The sweeter service of the most dolorous Cross.

Ye shall prevail at last! Surely ye shall prevail!
Your silence and austerity shall win at last:
Desire and mirth, the world’s ephemeral lights shall fail,
The sweet star of your queen is never overcast.

We fling up flowers and laugh, we laugh across the wine;
With wine we dull our souls and careful strains of art;
Our cups are polished skulls round which the roses twine:
None dares to look at Death who leers and lurks apart.

Move on, white company, whom that has not sufficed!
Our viols cease, our wine is death, our roses fail:
Pray for our heedlessness, O dwellers with the Christ!
Though the world fall apart, surely ye shall prevail.


Katie Alender said...

Last night I started watching "Into Great Silence", which I think is about Carthusians. My first instinct was to keep turning up the volume.

Adrienne said...

That is a beautiful poem. Thank you for bringing it to us. You really are all warm and squishy!

Tracy said...

Wonderful poem Tom!!

Tom in Vegas said...


Consecrated quiteness. If you can hear them, they're not Carthusians.