Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Walled Garden - a Poetry Collection by Andrew Thornton-Norris

I want to direct your attention to a collection poems by Andrew Thornton-Norris called The Walled Garden. It has been positively reviewed by figures known on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Annette Kirk, Fr Aidan Nichols, Fr John Saward, and Roger Scruton who said of Andrew’s poems that they “convey a gentle Christian vision, pertinent to the world in which we live.”

Quarterly Review’s Michael Davies hailed it as “a return to the great tradition.” You can read his detailed review of Andrew’s poems in this collection here.

Andrew Thornton-Norris’s work is accessible and noble, and even speaks to someone like me whose eyes ordinarily glaze over at the mention of poetry - honestly, read my article The Need for Beauty and Form in Poetry if you don’t believe me. I never studied literature formerly at any level, opting away from it at every opportunity; I never even did an English Literature class at high school - an omission in my education for which I am profoundly grateful I might add.

For me, Andrew’s poems have simultaneously the simplicity and the depth of a psalm or an Ambrosian hymn. This is not surprising, for he has a deep understanding of the connection between faith and the culture, and between the Faith and Western culture. It is because he understands both the cultural traditions of his faith and the culture of modern man that he knows how to make the first speak within the second through his poetry.

For evidence of his understanding of the tradition, I suggest you read his book The Spiritual History of English, in which he analyses the form - the underlying sentence structure and vocabulary - of the English language since the time of the Venerable Bede, and demonstrates how it has changed to reflect the culture of faith from which it emanates. As he describes it, modern English is less able to articulate the ideas and beauty of the faith than it was in the time of Shakespeare. You can read my review of this brilliant book in an article entitled A Book For Anyone Interested in the Evangelization of the Culture.

As the title of my review suggests, Andrew is not pessimistic, however, and is ready to stick his neck out and try to influence the culture through his own work, hoping to restore what has been lost and, (who knows?), perhaps help to raise it to something even greater. This is what all who are creative must do. As he wrote so revealingly in a recent post on the Beauty of Catholicism blog, “The modern artist or writer of faith has to inculturate his faith and work into the culture and the artistic forms of modern society in exactly the same way that a missionary has to inculturate his message into that of an alien culture. For that is exactly the circumstance that we face today, an alien culture, albeit one formed historically by our faith; and our challenge is to make our work ‘relevant,’ comprehensible and attractive to the modern consumer of that work, without diluting its content or alienating ourselves.”

I also recommend Andrew’s course, The Romance of the Soul, which is a study of mystical poetry, including the work of poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dante, St John of the Cross, T.S. Eliot and John Burnside, which is offered at Pontifex.University. He is also a regular contributor to the American magazine, the Imaginative Conservative.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here

The day I wandered after dusk
Across ploughed field and shadowed copse
And wondered of the busied world
If I should ever step there again.

For my heart was bleak as the plain ploughed field
And my mind was dark as the shadowed copse,
Where roosting fowl did cluck and screech
And flitting bats did dart among the flies.

Darkening skies of grey and silver and blue
With bursting coloured sunset nearly out of sight
As India from my nation's realm withdrew
And peaceful evening skies let no respite.

By Andrew Thornton-Norris - London, United Kingdom - 19 February 2012

The painting above is by English artist Alan Thompson.

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