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Manuel Casado Velarde, researcher principal of the project 'Public discourse' del Institute for Culture and Society
When praying is exciting
Holy Week is the high point of Christian celebrations. The Church, since Ash Wednesday, throughout Lent, has been preparing for the Easter Triduum in which each year commemorates the central mysteries of the faith. Mysteries whose contemplation so exceeds pure rationality that those who have enjoyed artistic talent have created masterpieces of human culture. All the fine arts -sculpture, painting, music, literature- have competed in giving their best to capture, in struggle with the ineffable, what is celebrated during these days: the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But I wanted to focus only on how literature, specifically poetry - the word in its fullness - has been able to embody the intensity of Christian experiences in the face of what we commemorate.
If the one who is called to contemplate and be amazed is the whole person, "with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his strength" (Mark 12:30), also with his senses and emotions, there is no better channel than the poetic word, "the highest radiance of language" (Ivonne Bordelois), with its power to move and impress in an almost physical way (Jorge Luis Borges).
As an unfolding of all the possibilities offered by human language, poetry is apt in sum Degree to climb the highest peaks of human experiences. There are to show it the "eight-thousanders" of poetry in Spanish language of all times, on both sides of the Atlantic, starting with St. John of the Cross, "the most poet of all saints.../ and the holiest of all poets...! (Manuel Machado).
Poems, unlike the sometimes so abstract language of some sentences, can provide the complement of "incarnation" proper to poetry, which we need so much. In particular, Lope de Vega has left a treasure trove of sonnets that gush with life. I copy the beginning of three of them: "Pastor que con tus silbos amorosos/ me despertastete del profundo sueño; Tú que hiciste cayado de ese leño/ en que tiendes los brazos poderosos...."; "You do not fall, Lord, you come down to look for me;/ so great was the guilt, so great its depth, that you had to kiss the impure earth/ to succeed in raising me from the earth"; or, finally, "When in my hands, eternal King, I look at you,/ and the candid victim I raise,/ of my daring indignity I am frightened/ and the mercy of your breast I admire".
The anonymous sonnet "No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte/ el cielo que me tienes prometido;/ ni me mueve el infierno tan temido/ para dejar por eso de ofenderte" (I am not moved, my God, to love you/ the heaven you have promised me;/ nor am I moved by the hell so feared/ to stop offending you); or that of Rafael Sánchez Mazas: "In front of the Cross, my eyes/ stay with me, Lord, thus looking/ and, without them wanting it, they are crying/ because they sinned so much and are cold"; and so many other poems that could be adduced, such as "Cristo de la Buena Muerte", by José María Pemán, the final prayer of El Cristo de Velázquez, by Miguel de Unamuno ("Tú que callas, ¡oh Christ!, to hear us"), or poems by the Chilean Nobel Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro or Ernestina de Champourcin.
It is not possible to read them without praying. To recite is, now, by its etymology, to pray, to divest ourselves of the monologuists' mark with which habit can perhaps rust our prayers. To say these verses is to endow our supplication with human thickness. It is to notice that the blood circulates more quickly. Praying with the poets allows us to feel in our own flesh how, in the best poetry of all times, Truth, Goodness and Beauty can be found quotation, at the same time; and how poetry -naturally, I repeat, the great, the excellent- is one of the arts that yellows the least, as written by the recent award Princess of Asturias, the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski.