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April 4, 2005

the solitude of a papal poet

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:56 am

In his book, The Pontiff in Winter : Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of

John Paul II  (2004),  John Cornwell writes that the papal role takes over the

personality of the individual who is elected to the “strangest, most impossible

and isolating and job on earth.”  [p.8]  He quotes Pope Paul VI:  “I was solitary

before, but now my solitariness becomes complete.  Hence the dizziness,

the vertigo.”

 

JP2poetry  Karol Wojtila, who became John Paul II, was also a poet of note,

especially in the years before his papacy. See The Place Within (1982).  In 

The Pontiff in Winter, Cornwell tells of an incident that may help us understand

the papal solitude of John Paul.  [p. 9]  It revolves around a theologian who sat

next to the Pope at a Vatican dinner:


“Holy Father, I love poetry and I’ve read all of your verse.  Have

you written much poetry since you became Pope? ” To which the

Pope said: “I’ve written no poetry since I became Pope.”   So the

theologian said: “Well, why is that, Holy Father?”  The Pope cut

him dead, turning to the person on the other side. 

 

Twenty minutes later, John Paul turned to the theologian and said

curtly: “No context!”  That was all.  . . . .

 

But [John Paul] had imparted a tragic truth perhaps.  The papal office

takes over the whole person.  That is what the job demands.  When he

said there was no “context” for poetry, he seemed to be acknowledging

that, in the depths of his soul, deep down where the poetry is written,

there lies a terrible, vertiginous solitude.

I’d like to think that Karol Wojtila made himself a promise after that awkward   JohnPaul2

dinner encounter — to reconnect to the part of him that was the poet. The

small volume of published in 2003, The Poetry of Pope John Paul II,  may

have been the result of that pledge.

 

When I read The Pontiff in Winter last month, I was saddened at the thought 

of a poet too consumed with the obligations of office to have the time and the

“context” to write poetry.  John Paul II and I may have disagreed on many

issues, but I bet he would agree with me that the dignity he asserted for every

human being includes the right to maintain a connection between daily life and

the inner soul — so that each of us has the opportunity to nurture a relationship

with our personal Muse.  No job, not even one as important as the papacy,

should take away the poetry of life. 

6 Comments

  1. A wonderful, poignant observation.

    Comment by Charles D. Chalmers — April 4, 2005 @ 11:52 am

  2. A wonderful, poignant observation.

    Comment by Charles D. Chalmers — April 4, 2005 @ 11:52 am

  3. Thank you, Charles.  A wonderful, thoughtful comment!

    Comment by David Giacalone — April 4, 2005 @ 3:55 pm

  4. Thank you, Charles.  A wonderful, thoughtful comment!

    Comment by David Giacalone — April 4, 2005 @ 3:55 pm

  5. A wonderful, poignant observation.

    Comment by Charles D. Chalmers — April 4, 2005 @ 6:04 pm

  6. A wonderful, poignant observation.

    Comment by Charles D. Chalmers — April 4, 2005 @ 6:04 pm

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