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From being to faith: the poems of Helen Pinkerton.

THE year 2009 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Helen Pinkerton's first book of poems, Error Pursued (1959). It was a slight chapbook, containing only thirteen short lyrics, and went little noticed, save by a small circle of readers and certain judges of fine book production, who gave its press an award (Pinkerton, "Personal Interview"). (1) Pinkerton's only full-length collection, Taken in Faith (which appeared from Swallow Press in 2002), contained roughly sixty poems. By any quantitative standard, this is a small achievement. Indeed, one may fear that her recent, mammoth history of Harvard University veterans of the Confederacy, Crimson Confederates (2010), alongside her monograph and essays on Herman Melville and Civil War literature, so dwarf the size of her poetic output that the latter will be swept aside and Pinkerton will come to be known exclusively for her work as a literary scholar and Civil War historian. (2)

That would be a great shame. In her handful of poems, Pinkerton has provided American literature a number of masterpieces in several poetic genres; some few of her lyrics stand up among the most accomplished, and certainly the most intellectually sophisticated, of meditative poems of the last century. Beyond these individual achievements, there is a coherence to Pinkerton's corpus, a unity greater than the sum of its parts, the realization of a personality, just shy of the type that T. S. Eliot identified with the major poet. According to Eliot, minor poets produce anthology pieces, they may even produce reams of brilliant lines, but we know a major poet when we sense that each individual work contributes to the construction of some larger whole, the realization (not to say the expression) of a personality. (3)

We may note certain biographical details about the poet whose personality these poems in some sense recompose--at least those details that most evidently occasioned and informed her work's development. Pinkerton was born in 1927 in Butte, Montana. As she mentions in her great early poem, "Elegy at Beaverhead County, Montana," her father was a miner and the family's moves through the Northwest were driven by that work. In the poem, Pinkerton observes,
   Sons of unsettled men sometimes remained
   To change the land through labor and design.
   He left, rejecting when he might have gained,
   But only found another ore to mine. (Taken in Faith 8)

From the perspective of maturity, and from that of an intellectual Catholicism to which we shall turn shortly, Pinkterton's poem takes her father for a symbol of concupiscence, of insatiable bodily appetite in a fallen world. Rather than accepting and "sticking with" what Wendell Berry has called the gift of good land, her father drove on and was killed in a mining accident when she was eleven years old (1938). (4) The mature Pinkerton reflects that, as he was driven by concupiscence, her father could not find the goods that would truly satisfy his desire. In consequence, he sought after much in this world, gaining neither what he thought he wanted nor what would have given earthly contentment or lasting peace:
   For that rich butte in whose deep shaft he died,
   Where I first saw, as silver as its earth,
   Another stream flow west from the Divide,
   Gave to him nothing of its final worth. (Taken in Faith 8)

Pinkerton's mother was of Catholic ancestry, and made some notional gestures of initiating Pinkerton into the Church, but these made little impression on the child (Pinkerton, "Personal Interview"). And yet, the westward flow of the stream in the "Elegy" alludes to the unintended but great gift her mother would ultimately provide to her. After Pinkerton's graduation from high school, the family moved out of state, winding up eventually in California. "We arrived in Palo Alto in June 1944," Pinkerton told me in a correspondence we have been conducting for half a decade now; "both of us went to work in the local fruit cannery for excellent wartime wages, and I applied for admission to Stanford. I took one entrance test, showed my high school grades, and was accepted. Entering in the fall of 1944, I intended to major in journalism, while continuing to work every summer and in the library during the school year" ("Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being" 32).

Although a great lover of literature from her earliest youth, Pinkerton enrolled almost on a whim, during her first year, in a course taught by the controversial Stanford professor, poet, and critic, Yvor Winters. About journalism, she has commented, she almost immediately forgot; she intuited poetry was her vocation, and, over the years, Winters would strongly encourage that sense of purpose, securing for her a Jones graduate fellowship in 1949, which gave her time to write poems and facilitated her transition to advanced study at Harvard. Winters helped her cultivate a wide-ranging taste in poetry, but passed on to her a particularly high evaluation of poems that matched strict formal mastery to subdued, rational discursive statement.

WINTERS'S influence on her aesthetic sense would prove foundational for much else. She would marry another Winters student, Wesley Trimpi, who eventually joined the faculty of the Stanford English Department. But Winters also introduced her to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and to the books of the French neo-Thomist philosopher, Etienne Gilson. No Christian himself, Winters nonetheless accepted the account of the history of philosophy Gilson provided in The Unity of Philosophical Experience (1937), which demonstrated as far as possible the singular achievement of Aquinas among medieval and modern philosophers. Winters would claim in his essay on the achievement and confusion of Henry Adams that Aquinas

endeavored as far as possible to establish a separation between philosophy and theology; philosophy was guided by natural reason, theology was derived from Revelation. But he believed that philosophical knowledge was possible, and in his pursuit of it, he composed the most complete and lucid critique of previous philosophy that has been made, and the most thorough and defensible moral and philosophical system, in all likelihood, that the world has known. (In Defense of Reason 375)

For the intellectual who would be rational, who would think philosophically even if he could not think theologically, Aquinas and Gilson were most trustworthy guides. (5)

Pinkerton's familiarity with the metaphysics of Aquinas and Gilson would soon surpass Winters's. He knew best Gilson's Unity, which focused on the tempering of the reason to reality (being), and showed the experimental coherence of philosophy's achievements along with its missteps. (6) Pinkerton read this book, but also went on to read the neo-Thomist's masterpiece, Being and Some Philosophers (1949), whose history of the distinction between essence and existence in western philosophy holds up St. Thomas as the one true existential philosopher. Aquinas did not simply provide a "defensible moral and philosophical system," as Winters proposes. Rather, Gilson shows that Aquinas's focus on existence as constitutive of the real perceived a truth no other thinker before or since had--and so made possible a rational encounter with beings as "radically contingent" participants in the Being who had created them (Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers 90, 160-162). Pinkerton came to ground her own poetry on this precise innovation of Thomist metaphysics, much as Winters had his on a vaguely Thomist understanding of reason (Wilson, "Representing the Limits of Judgment" 400-401).

This metaphysics resonated with and yet corrected her almost forgotten childhood Catholicism, providing as it did a commanding intellectual structure that attended to the substance of, and behind, individual experience. Aquinas's metaphysical demonstration of the existence of God, and of the existence of all things as a participation in God's existence, confirmed her intellect in theism, and, as it were, baptized her desire for God. As Winters would observe, even in Error Pursued, Pinkerton was a "devotional poet," but her fascination with Gilson would open up new intellectual vistas that make her poems of belief and doubt among the most exacting and austere in our language (Winters, Forms of Discovery 342). Gilson's writings eventually persuaded her to return to the Catholic Church. That return, worked through in the discursive and autobiographical dialogue "The Return" (Taken in Faith 11-16), would only be completed decades later, when, in her seventies, Pinkerton received the sacrament of Confirmation.

Even a passing examination of Pinkerton's work identifies it as a continuation of the tradition of the Stanford School of poets that began with Winters and includes the likes of J. V. Cunningham, Charles Gullans, Catherine Davis, Edgar Bowers, and Thom Gunn. Like them, she is accomplished in terse, epigrammatic versification and, indeed, exceeds most of them in her adherence to the true conventions of accentual-syllabic prosody (Wilson, "The Realism of Helen Pinkerton" 629-632). She does not write in free verse, as Gunn often did, and she violates iambic pentameter (her usual measure) even less frequently than did Cunningham or Gullans. But rather than conceiving of this continuity as one of the perpetual student, we should understand it as a development of the Stanford school in a distinctly Catholic, neo-Thomist direction. As such, Pinkerton's work also fits into the broader tradition of modern American Catholic poetry, which begins with the work of George Santayana, T. S. Eliot, and Allen Tate. Unlike many American Catholic poets--indeed, modern American poets in general--who treat verse as a mere opportunity to express disingenuously spontaneous moments of inspiration, ecstasy, or doubt, Pinkerton's poetry outstrips even Eliot's in adhering to the clear lines of meditation on the life of philosophical theology. Her work revives the old devotional poetry traditions of Thomas Aquinas and Dante, and, in other respects, of George Herbert and Edward Taylor by simply setting before us the substance of and reasoning behind that devotion. One looks in vain for cheap appeals to emotion in Pinkerton's writing; it is all austere, not to say unfeeling, in mode, and both definitive and 'certain of its subject matter.

Take, for example, two early poems of definition written under Winters's tutelage. In her pair of lyrics "Error Pursued," Pinkerton attempts the improbable--to diagnose the guilt of an atheist precisely for his atheism. While it may be natural for the believing Christian to see the error of unbelief, just such error should be invisible or non-existent to the unbeliever. But Pinkerton views unbelief as a species of pride, and the blindness of pride all persons may know cripples the mind's own self-knowledge:
   Guilt unavowed is guilt in its extreme.
   It still accumulates with strict regard
   For time and act, although you cannot name
   The creditor you own. And your supreme
   Defiance stirs rough gestures that have marred
   Your art beyond repair or graceful shame. (Taken in Faith 19)

The inability to name God as the "creditor" results also in the inability to repent of one's nonetheless real guilt, and this in turn deforms the "art" of the rest of one's life. As Aristotle observed, a small error in the beginning leads to a great error in the end. But there is more:
   Arrogance is a pose disclosing fear
   Of law, whose constancy will let you die.
   Nor mind nor body is your own to bend
   In final alteration; even here,
   Where the offending will would still deny
   Dependence, know denial too must end. (Taken in Faith 19)

Since Nietzsche and Freud, Christian theism has frequently been diagnosed as an avoidance of reality. Those too weak to face their mortality or to stand on the integrity of their own reason and power must lean upon the crutch of a just and loving God. (7) Pinkerton answers this argument by following a tradition that dates back at least to St. Augustine's criticisms of the Stoics and skeptics, but which found new life in the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Matthew Arnold in combating the secular humanism of the modern era. The will not to believe in a creator outside us and keeping us in existence derives from a desire not to owe anything to anyone, not to have to rely on another--or to be possessed by another--as we surely do if our individual existences are merely participations in the true existence of God. (8) The brave front of psychoanalysis amounts to an arrogant "pose." One claims, in a sense, to be self-created rather than creaturely, to find one's end in the private will rather than in an unacknowledged but no less binding law above ourselves. While one lives, one may deny the existential dependence of the self on the God who is Being Itself, but the approach toward death will, at the last, reveal that dependence even to the one who denies it.

In another pair of early poems, the "Holy Sonnets," Pinkerton explores her own confession of dependence, which begins in the intellectual conviction wrought by St. Thomas's metaphysics, but which reaches no certain end in conventional piety or experience of rebirth in faith. In the first, she finds concrete expression for the experience of participated existence. If God is Existence Itself, one would not experience Him as an object in experience but as its very ground. So, Pinkerton writes,
   I did not see you even when I went
   From the long afternoon's forgetfulness
   Into a night of knowing the distress
   Of questioning your presence and intent. (Taken in Faith 17)

This scene of movement and interrogation is that of experience, and in her experience she knows also unhappiness and the desire for some reply to her "mind in stress." But God is hardly the warm therapeutic embrace--one contained object among others--that comforts and relieves us of the burden of mortality. And so, Pinkerton prays, "Be with me casual and concomitant / As gentle breathing in a midnight sleep" (Taken in Faith 17). The autonomic character of our breathing serves as a simile for our, as it were, absolutely autonomic participation in being. To be made aware of one's participation in existence is to become conscious of oneself as creature and of God as Being. (9)

The second "Holy Sonnet" explores the natural craving for God to confront us "With bells and horns, the sounding of a drum," with all the slap and shock of experience that would raise belief above the horizon of doubt (Taken in Faith 18). But this is, once again, to reconfigure God as an object in our experience rather than to understand Him as the condition of there being any experience to be had in the first place. The remainder of the poem follows the great self-examination of the memory in St. Augustine's Confessions Book X. Augustine searches all that is in him for God, and then, seeing that the contents of his life are in his memory, realizes he must reach beyond memory's normal objects (by traveling still farther inward) even to approach God. Because God is nearer to him than he is to himself, Augustine proclaims, "Lo, you were within, / but I outside, seeking there for you" (Confessions 262). So Pinkerton's poem confesses, "I knew that I must travel to the end / Of me, depart thence to that which was / No part of me" (Taken in Faith 18). This journey, as Augustine's book shows, and as Pinkerton's poem indicates, is not one of certain belief merely deepening into knowledge, but rather an experience of the vacillation of our being between the limits of nothingness and Being Itself: "denial in me was / Infinity and bore a different name" (Taken in Faith 18). To deny the God of Being Itself would be, she elsewhere suggests, to fall in love with nothingness.

Nor incidentally, after her career as a poet of laconic and chiseled devotional lyrics at Stanford, Pinkerton discovered an abiding love for the fiction and poems of Herman Melville, a novelist Winters had celebrated almost as the American Homer engaged in hand-to-hand combat with nothingness and the absolute (Winters, In Defense of Reason 211213). Although Pinkerton continued on to Harvard for doctoral work, she has observed that her education at the hands of Winters and certain other Stanford professor-poets was so thorough that her years in Cambridge left almost no impression (Pinkerton, "Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being" 43). But she wrote her dissertation on Melville, which was never published, and she eventually did publish a monograph on Melville's The Confidence Man (Melville's Confidence Men and American Politics in the 1850s, 1987). Perhaps more decisively, Melville's Battle Pieces, a collection of poems on the Civil War, would induce Pinkerton to become an expert herself on the War. She has published essays and reviews of the literature of the war, as well as the aforementioned volume, Crimson Confederates (consisting of biographical entries of 356 Harvard graduates who fought for the Confederacy). These events inform in marked but unsurprising ways the poetry she has written during the last two decades.

I want to suggest that Pinkerton's work falls, again, "just shy" of Eliot's rare and exacting standard for the major poet. Its slightness of size certainly prevents its becoming the complex whole he would require (think of how one may get lost in the thick, square body of Thomas Hardy's collected poems, which builds up a narrowly-formed but whole character), and so does its relative restriction of subject matter. However, acknowledging these limits, something great has been achieved, worthy of our attention and appreciation. As noted above, Yvor Winters remarked near the end of his life that Pinkerton was

strictly a devotional poet; she appears to live in a tightly closed world, to be unaware of most that is going on around her. Yet ... she is a master of poetic style and of her material. No poet in English writes with more authority. (Forms of Discovery 342)

Those who know Pinkerton's work have had to consider these lines very seriously; they are among the few substantial critical statements that have been made about it, and they come from a source uniquely suited to take her measure. Though decades have passed since Winters wrote these words, and though Pinkerton has in fact written the bulk of her poems since then, their emphasis on the narrow limit of her attentions remains, in a sense I would like to qualify, valid.

Pinkerton's work stands out from almost all twentieth-century poetry in its relative indifference to--not to say incapacity for--representing the furniture of the contemporary world. She is, as a true descendent of Winters, a poetic conservative, devoted to the mastery of prosodic technique. Unlike Winters, however, her poems do not usually take as a point of departure the unreason or distress of the historical moment, electing instead to polish and refine questions and conflicts that evidently derive from her own quotidian life until they can find not only expression in lasting language but also comprehension in permanent formulae. (10)

To advance this claim by means of a counter-example, let us turn to one of her best short poems, "Autumn Drought." It does attend with great pain to detailing the crisis of culture evident at Stanford University in the 1970s and, appropriately, this is a poem that meditates on the legacy of Winters:
   November brings no rain. Brown stubble blackens.
   Torn paper litter, wind-blown with the leaves,
   Piles up against dead stems. As traffic slackens,
   Nightfall brings fear, and always now one grieves.

   Where I once listened, lonely as these young,
   But with some hope beyond what I could see
   That meaning might be mastered by my tongue,
   Anonymous process now claims them and me.

   Though one I loved taught here, provoking strife
   By speaking truth about the human word,
   And died--as few men do--ready for life,
   I, teaching in his absence, seem absurd... (Taken in Faith 22)

Pinkerton's poems often touch on the minutiae of the quotidian world as a point of departure. But her poems seldom idle in such detail--a fault for which Winters reprimanded Robert Frost (Winters, The Function of Criticism 179). Instead, they move swiftly from the particular to the permanent, or rather, they try to capture the permanent in the particular. But "Autumn Drought" is an elegy after the fashion of the poem about her father. The historical person and place must remain constantly in view, and any meaning the poet articulates must keep in close contact with such concrete realities. The poem is in memory of Winters and closely follows his style, but the decaying, littered landscape testifies to how poorly he is remembered at the school where he taught. Following Milton's "Lycidas," Pinkerton engages in the "pathetic fallacy": the death of Winters, and the neglect he suffers a decade after his death, manifests itself in the dry land of Palo Alto. As Pinkerton portrays herself in the poem, her student days at Stanford were ones of youth and a hope for the life of the mind and the training of the wit. But now "process," the decline of an age, but also the fashionable determinisms of postmodern literary and cultural theory just then coming into fashion, ruin the physical and spiritual lives they influence. Her particular position, a surviving witness of a lost greatness, leaves her "absurd." No role could be more particular, more concrete and historically specific; and yet, the movement of the poem as a whole elevates Winters to an exemplar of the rational poetic humanism he espoused for decades and, thereby, raises us from the peculiarities of the scene to the permanent example his life provides--and the present rebuke it makes of a forgetful "Touristic" age.

CENTURIES from now, should our ancestors sort through the ephemeral artworks that rubbished the last century and, moreover, should they observe how even the truly lasting works seemed disproportionately obsessed by the ephemera and detritus of our culture (The Waste Land syndrome), they may wonder: Was there any poet who examined our world--regarding its weaknesses, imperfections, and evils--and fashioned the kind of permanent statements that the lyricists of the English sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of the Italian thirteenth century, or the epigrammatists of Classical Rome, crafted out of and for their own?" If they do so inquire, that will be a very good thing--and for two reasons. It will mean, of course, that poetry has survived the complicated (not to say sophisticated) nihilism and materialistic hedonism of our literary and artistic culture during the last century, despite all the odds. Furthermore, it will be in that light that Pinkerton's work shows to its best advantage. Too quiet and rational to attract the attention of the loquacious emotivists crowned evanescent monarchs in our media age, Pinkerton's work holds up well in a higher standard of judgment with a longer historical sense. She compares well with John Donne and George Herbert, while between her work and that of the likes of Lynn Hejinian, David Antin, John Ashbery, or Mebdh McGuckian there is no intelligible comparison at all.

I have made bold claims. Of what, then, does this narrow, permanent, and great body of work consist? We have seen that her earlier poems were generally lyrics, and I would suggest that they synthesize four congenial influences. They manifest a sense of verse form that seeks to represent and honor the powers of discursive reason as Winters defined it (In Defense of Reason 17-29). They continue a native English tendency to the meditative lyric as Louis L. Martz defined it in his landmark work of literary criticism, The Poetry of Meditation (1953), which emphasizes the composition of specific place, sustained rational reflection, and a conclusive readjustment of the will. (12) Further, Pinkerton engages the critique of the ideology of Romanticism as an erotic drive to self-perfection that proves an unexamined course to self-annihilation, which Denis de Rougemont made a central question of intellectual history with his book Love in the Western World (1939). In "The Return" and "The Romantic Eros," Pinkerton elaborates her criticism of arrogant unbelief by building upon the insights of de Rougement. The Swiss philosopher had argued that human eros amounted to a desire to possess and use for one's pleasure all things outside the self; in the process, one reduces the world to an object of desire, denying its independent worth and integrity (Rougemont 61). This leads one to become a devouring appetite bent on a love of things-that-are-not and, ultimately, on one's own self-annihilation. Pinkerton defines this condition critically in "The Romantic Eros," where she observes,
   Your name is Nothing. God without being, sly,
   Your forms seem finite and always lie.
   Passion ignores what is to reach for you,
   Untouchable, unanswering, untrue.

   All that I am not, cannot be, and was
   You promise in seducing me, because,
   Unreal, you realize yourself in me.
   I thought my coldness was your property. (Taken in Faith 21)

To love through eros is to love the unrealities that appetite produces as fantasy--a nothingness the embrace of which amounts to one's own dissolution. De Rougemont famously contrasted this pagan eros with agape, or Christian love (68). Pinkerton appropriately contrasts the erotic "God without being" with the agape of the God who is Being and gives being to things and calls them good: "For I now judge what is, be it this or this, / To be a good" (Taken in Faith 21). I have argued elsewhere that she quickly saw that the romantic eros de Rougemont critiqued finds its opposite not only in agape, but in the Christian metaphysics found, as we saw, in Etienne Gilson's studies of St. Thomas Aquinas. (13) All four of these influences--Winters, Martz, de Rougemont, and Gilson--meet in the opening two stanzas of Pinkerton's "Celebration," which run as follows:
   Another spring dries in the wild-oat grasses.
   The morning wind rises in leaves of rose
   And radiant green--the black-oak at our windows-While
   ocean fog drifts down the skyline passes.
   Before the summer's leaf and its repose
   Mowers will pile the white-gold hay in windrows.

   In this loved scene being and essence shine;
   It is and is itself, like Dante's wheel,
   While whole and part, each subatomic spark,
   Dependent for existence, undivine,
   Disclose the self-existent, first and real.
   Light springs from light and not from primal dark. (Taken in Faith

These stanzas are exemplary of Pinkerton's method. She composes a place with swift but precise detail and looks into it, perceiving not merely the "life of things"--as William Wordsworth put it in a poem to which this one is apposite, "Tintern Abbey"--but the ontological foundation of things (Wordsworth 133). Her poems draw us toward a vision of the world that only Aquinas's metaphysics of existence can comprehend. The Romantic poets and German idealist philosophers frequently suggested that the mind of the sensitive person "half-creates" the world it perceives (Wordsworth 134). Pinkerton's poems more surely locate the source of all things in their Creator, the "self-existent, first and real" God. In so doing, she reminds us that the systematic, vivid, and compelling vision of Dante (to whose final vision of heaven the poem refers) was not the mere product of some mythical medieval cultural unity--its power lies in its truth, and its truth in the attention to what is real, in the intellectual grasp of existence in itself by way of its participants.

The subsequent stanzas turn to a "resolution" of the will, offering a prayer for the future flourishing of a young child, a hope that he will evade the intellectual errors of the "Romantic Eros" that haunts our and every age (Taken in Faith 24-25). I have already suggested that a fair number of Pinkerton's poems dramatize those errors; indeed, some of her best poems--"Subjectivity" (Taken in Faith 5) and the two-part "Error Pursued"--are critiques of the solipsism resultant of a worldview beholden to modern idealism rather than Thomist realism. Once one follows the idealist philosophers in taking the cogito and its ideas as the starting point of philosophy, one can never rejoin them to being, and thus philosophy remains trapped on the side of subjectivity (Gilson, Unity of Philosophical Experience 255).

As seems fitting, given her slight quantity of production, Pinkerton's finest short poem demonstrating her four most distinguished influences is the early "For an End," whose brevity matches that of another teacher and friend, the master of clenched epigrams, J. V. Cunningham:
   Had I not loved,
   I had not believed,
   And not believing,
   Had been deceived.

   Had I not loved,
   I had not known
   Either your being
   Or my own.

   Had I not loved,
   I had not known
   That you could love
   Both mind and bone.

   Had you not loved,
   When your decree
   Seemed total loss,
   You had lost me. (Taken in Faith 34)

As in the "Holy Sonnets," Pinkerton here situates her confrontation with being and the erotic temptation to nothingness in the more fundamental context of grace and faith. While it is true that her poems often have at their center the apprehension of the "God whose essence is existence" and who "grants / Existence momently" (Pinkerton, Taken in Faith 14), such a natural theology of the reason is preceded and followed by apprehensions beyond reason. First, an understanding of God as Creator and Giver of being entails that he "gives himself" to us, "drawing" us "in caritas" (Taken in Faith 14). But prior to the perception of being and the drawing of supernatural love is the condition described in "For an End," namely, the call of grace and the response of faith. As such, her poems dramatize the awakening from a romantic love of nothingness to a rational perception and love of being as a participating good. As good, being draws us to Being Itself in love, and we at last become aware that a divine creative grace precedes us in existence and thought--and finds consummation in our faith.

IN subsequent years, Pinkerton would continue to develop meditations on the nature of Being and faith, on the nature of the human person as destined for unity with Being Itself, but always tempted to negate all things through worldly desire and the will to self-possession. However, the mode, or rather, the genre, of those meditations would change. Her most ambitious poems, and, for a particular reason, the hardest to evaluate, compose a series of verse letters in the personae of historical figures who played some role in, or had reason to contemplate the significance of, the American Civil War. Collected in Taken in Faith as "Crossing the Pedregal," they include: Massachusetts Judge Lemuel Shaw's meditation on his attempts to stave off the War and on the work of his son-in-law, Herman Melville; a letter from Melville in which he reevaluates the meaning of the Civil War; a letter of Confederate General Richard Taylor to the New England historian and philosopher, Henry Adams; and--marking the series' conclusion--Mary Custis Lee's letter to her husband in the waning days of the Confederacy.

These poems have earned Pinkerton a new audience, and yet they are hard both to access and to appreciate. Pinkerton has noted her great affinity for the dramatic monologue form, from which naturally these letters derive, and yet her stylistic gift, which benefited much from a fifth major influence beyond those discussed above--her early study of Rosemund Tuve's Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (1947)--is more obviously for the discursive lyric than for the projection of character through unguarded speech so essential to the monologue tradition. Much as happens in W. H. Auden's The Age of Anxiety, the voices in these letters sometimes bleed together rather than distinguish themselves as should characters in such a grand drama. However, while Auden's eclogue simply failed to create distinctions between the different voices, Pinkerton's verse letters resemble one another precisely because of their faithfulness to their historical sources. The decorous, even turgid, formality notable in the correspondence of the figures Pinkerton reanimates reappears in her poems. When I first sat down to study these poems, I was taken aback to discover how exactly Pinkerton had gotten Melville's voice, but that it was just in reproducing it so faithfully that she had let the voice of the poem become less rather than more distinct from those of the other letters. (14) Even "Crossing the Pedregal," Mary Custis Lee's intimate letter to her General husband, lacks the individual turns of phrase we are used to finding in the dramatic monologue.

The challenge of the poems extends into the subject matter. Perhaps only one familiar with the details of the War can appreciate the exactitude of the expert that Pinkerton brings to them. Not only do they reflect the history of the time accurately, they also dilate upon the real apprehensions and insights of the figures she represents. Melville's and Lee's letters are especially accomplished in this case: they consist primarily of the respective characters' reflections on the nature of the war and religious belief - they are, as the Civil War diarist Mary Chestnut phrased it, almost entirely "subjective days" (qtd. in Stem 130). What Pinkerton gives us, however, is not her free fancy, but dramatization grounded in patient study and solid research. This, again, only will become apparent to the reader who is knowledgeable both about these personages and the War, and also views it as something more than a historical or political event. One must see the War as exemplary of the modern condition. Pinkerton intimated some of this in our correspondence when she discussed the origin of "Alike and Yet Unlike: General Richard Taylor Writes to Henry Adams":

I have read [Henry Adams'] Education at least six or seven times, besides his fascinating novel Democracy (which is central to this poem) and his histories. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres was my early guide at those marvelous places in my youthful travels. I felt that I knew the man well enough to use him as the friend in Taylor's letter. Taylor himself wrote the finest memoir to come out of the war (except Grant's) and was the original inspiration for the poem. I felt I knew Adams' soul enough to have an idea how Taylor, a much simpler man, would write to him. Also, I was struck by the fact that two such talented and intelligent men were drawn to become friends, although enemies in the war. Taylor was a man of an uncomplicated Christian faith (as were countless Southern leaders), while Adams represented the New England sophisticated skeptic. A Christian such as Taylor, however, has had enough experience of death to understand that when a man faces immediate (or lingering) death day after day he looks to "last things" with a different view from that of a man who never has. He is truly "educated," as Adams claimed he never was. (Pinkerton, "Personal Interview")

As her discussion of Taylor's Christianity suggests, for Pinkerton, the Civil War is a decisive intellectual--more strongly, an existential and theological--moment in modern and American life. The cumulative perspective of the poem reveals the influence of the German political philosopher Eric Voegelin, whom Pinkerton knew well during his declining years spent at Stanford (Pinkerton, Taken in Faith 125). Pinkerton refers to Voegelin's The Political Religions (1938), The New Science of Politics (1952), and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (1958) in her prose (Trimpi, "Acts of Resistance" 136-138), and in these poems we find that Voegelin's fundamental concern with the totalitarian cultic form the modern state has taken provides a thematic connection between the four letters. (15) According to Voegelin, the modern age is describable chiefly in terms of the rise of political "gnosticism" or "ideology"; that is, the rise of internally coherent, closed systems of political thought that propose to offer a key to history and a final solution to its problems, as if the problems of history could be solved in history. A modern Platonist, Voegelin believed that the life of the philosopher--oriented and aspiring always toward the Good, and yet unwavering in acceptance of the failure of any human person or human society to realize the Good in history--was the measure of honest and true thought. Modern thinkers, above all Hegel and Marx, promoted a kind of utopian faith, one that contended the problems endemic to human life could be removed if their system were actualized; Voegelin believed all such systematic thinking tried to close off attention to the Real and the Good alike, substituting an immanent eschaton for the transcendent end to which the human soul is properly ordered. Modern politics had been explicitly infected by this utopianism, and so the modern State had attempted to close off the religious and rational nature of man found in his contemplation of the Good, by deifying the State. Politics thus becomes a gnostic religion--incorrigible by critique precisely because it tries to close off attention to the reality against which all ideas must be measured and promises to solve the problem of history and bring its travails to a close.

Pinkerton's poems depict the Civil War as the moment gnostic politics, or political religion, came to America. The issue at stake in these verse letters is not primarily the uncontested justness of ending American race slavery, though the effort to establish at last such justice while preserving the rule of law drives the plot of Shaw's letter. Rather, Pinkerton attends more closely to the way in which the realization of that justice led indirectly to the supporters of the Union conceiving it as, in Shaw's words, "man's dearest hope" (Taken in Faith 49), to which all other beliefs must be subordinated and for which all things else might be sacrificed:
   For if the Union fail because the South
   Could not depend on Northern loyalty
   To oaths and laws, made at our sacred union,
   Then there fail also all our hopes for freedom ... (Taken in Faith

These lines echo President Lincoln's message to Congress on December 1, 1862, in which he proclaims, "We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth" (Lincoln 97). They also bring out an ominous ideological significance in those lines. The Union becomes sacred, a religion for a modern, northern American culture that has lost the ability to believe in Christianity. With her compelling cast of characters, Pinkerton suggests that the skepticism of Herman Melville and Henry Adams begets, in a sense, the political religion of Lemuel Shaw. And these Yankees compare, in this respect, unfavorably with those Confederates in the poems who stand out as counter-modern, anti-Statist, stripped of ideology, and face-to-face with God. Taylor, Stonewall Jackson, and the Lees all exemplify a profound Christian Stoicism, attentive to the suffering of this world, and able to endure it because of a steady vision of the Good that is the transcendent end of human life beyond history's vale of tears. They appear as consummate Voegelinian heroes, whose well-ordered souls beget order in the societies in which they live, move, and have their being--whether that society be the battle field or the private house. Their fight against the Union, Pinkerton suggests, is not primarily for the freedom of "States' Rights," but for the freedom to act nobly and with fortitude in light of Man's highest destiny. They are not against the Union as a political regime so much as against the Union as religion, as an ideology that would unite all human reason and love under the force of the State. Lemuel Shaw, the first character to appear in the series, can scarcely begin to grapple with such matters. So bound is he to the imperatives of civil order that the immense moral choice with which he is confronted (whether to remand an escaped slave back to the South or to free him and risk the coming of war) seems insolvable only because his moral vision is already gnostic, already inclined to deify the ship of state--"For states, you know, and nations are like ships" (Taken in Faith 50)--and ready to impose on the nation the law of the sea with its absolute discipline and sovereignty, just as Melville depicted it in Billy Budd.

Shaw represents the judgment that the Civil War was justified simply to maintain the sacred Union and, indeed, that preserving it trumped in importance even ending the evil of slavery. By turning from Melville's father-in-law to Melville himself in the second letter, Pinkerton further exposes the gnosticism of Shaw's position and prepares us to view the individual heroism of the Confederates with the same sympathy and respect Melville discovered in himself. In the aftermath of the war, Melville would come to admire those who chose absolute loyalty to the "claim that lies nearest the human heart" over an "airy mode of written law / That had no symbol but a flag" (Taken in Faith 63). The condign symbol of our deepest loyalties, we are left to infer, is the Cross, not the Stars and Stripes. And thus, for Melville, the problem of the War is embodied not in the captain of a ship but in the tragic daughter of Thebes, Antigone (Taken in Faith 62)--she who must decide between incompatible transcendent and immanent laws. Reflecting on Nathanial Hawthorne and his New England Puritan past, Melville indicates that the "unchristian hate for evil" of the abolitionist north derived from their loss of faith in and love of a God who "would always lie beyond them" (Taken in Faith 65). The campaign to end the baleful institution of slavery soon becomes the cover not only for gnostic political ambitions but for the sinister aims of serpents in search of power (Taken in Faith 70). In Richard Taylor and Mary Custis Lee, we are invited to see the Christian heroism Melville--he "without faith" (Taken in Faith 72)--revered. The simplicity and integrity of these two historic figures are presented in vivid narrative and affecting detail, so that they alone appear undeluded by either the evils of slavery or the "rotten Vanity Fair" (Taken in Faith 73) of the Union. For both of them, the War's meaning cannot be reduced to "the secular state, nor mystical Union" (Taken in Faith 75), but rather must be understood in terms of history as revelation, as the field of action where human souls may have "their confrontation with the timeless" and order themselves accordingly (Taken in Faith 76). This is Voegelin's very theory of history; Pinkerton's great achievement in these verse letters is the compelling way in which she brings this theory to dramatic life in the actual testimony and experience of these great figures from the Civil War era, and thus makes a case for the moral significance of the War itself as a struggle for religious or spiritual order against the forces of political gnosticism.

LYRICS and verse letters compose the first and second sections of Pinkerton's Taken in Faith. The third and final section, "Bright Fictions," consists of a series of ekphrastic poems; that is, poems inspired by and commenting on works of visual art. These were Pinkerton's main poetic output for many years, up to the relatively swift composition of the long verse letters. Their practice logically extends out of the early lyrics. In these poems, she generally submits her voice to the meaning of the work of art at hand, just as the selection of subjects also involved a sort of submission, since Pinkerton permitted herself only to write poems on works she had seen in person (Pinkerton, "Personal Interview"). Further, Pinkerton uses a strict nine-line pentameter stanza for each poem, giving the series a recognizable formal coherence well suited to this particular species of the "poetry of meditation." In three poems, she "breaks" this discipline only to the extent that she allows herself two or more stanzas rather than the usual one; but in every other way, the adherence to this form is upheld. The first "Fiction," on an "Early Cycladic Harpist," begins,
   Oval the sweep, the motion horizontal,
   The arched harp seems the entrance to a world
   Where sunlight falls on singing faces, arms
   Uplifted--instrumental to mused charms. (Taken in Faith 95)

We find upon entering this world of bright fictions the same concern with Being developed in the lyrics, as well as an elaboration of Pinkerton's reflections on the daily drama of religious belief presented in the last two of her verse letters. The poem on Vermeer's Young Woman with a Water Jug serves simply as a gloss on the painting for most of its length, setting forth the manner in which a work of art--or even the imagined figure represented in a work of art--remind us of the nature of being as gift. As Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jacques Maritain, and Martin Heidegger variously remind us, the principle consequence of art as the gratuitous or "autotelic" presence of being-as-beauty is to drive home beauty and being alike as pure gift (Wilson, "The Realism of Helen Pinkerton" 634). As such, they speak of a giver we cannot know after the fashion we know the objects of our senses (material things) or even the objects of our intellects (ideas). Vermeer's woman, while being painted, reflects,
   "It is as if this precious light,
   Uniting me and him who looks at me,

   "Imaged the unsourced being, first and real,
   That gives our being momently, our seeing
   And what we see, knowing and what we know.
   It is as if my task, privately done,
   Its time and place not in the world's arena,
   Showed truth beyond geography's fine maps
   Or charts of the astronomer--truth needed
   By him who paints me here in his bright fiction,
   Alone, as he is too, and also not alone." (Taken in Faith 106)

Postmodern art and literature have frequently--gleefully--constructed endless and circular networks of referentiality in order to suggest the instability of meaning--the ultimate want of foundation to subtend most of what we take for truth. Pinkerton's poem dismisses this practice outright. Her poem is about Vermeer's painting; the painting is of a female figure; the female figure derives from a real woman, whose thoughts are of the reality she perceives; the reality her senses perceive is finally grounded on something her intellect can apprehend if not comprehend: the Real Itself, the self-existent Being who is God.

A work of art seldom can make an argument for some particular truth, but it may illustrate the logic of it. Thus, were we to encounter, say, a contemporary installation piece composed of junked furniture and a television screen flashing streams of commercials and news items, we may say, "Indeed, I sometimes feel as if all truth were simply a manufacture of some corporation, intended for my digestion not as a person but as a consumer in mass society." But then, we leave the gallery and go back to our regular lives, where truth immediately imposes upon us as we try to cross the street safely and meet for dinner, say, the woman we love. We might think such topical art gets at something, but it is a partial representation and of strictly limited validity; depending on our humor, we may flirt with incoherent untruth, but the world coheres around us as we walk through a real door and down a true flight of steps to somewhere, for some definite purpose.

Pinkerton's Vermeer takes an approach that defers to reality rather than asserts a critical ideology. It illustrates the likely and satisfactory movements of thought for one who pauses in his walking long enough to ask why things exist rather than not--and is then seized by the perception of their gratuity. The identity of artworks as tokens of pure gift may remind us of the contingency and gratuity of all things--as reflection in the light of faith may lead us to see that they are founded upon a necessary Love. This perception may be less immediately "useful" or topical than the (hypothetical) postmodern installation piece described above, but it is one that, once understood, we do not set aside as soon as we set down Pinkerton's poem. Rather, we learn to "dwell poetically," to accept the meaning with which the things of this world may grace us.

THE penultimate of the "Bright Fictions" included in Taken in Faith (several others have appeared in Pinkerton's small-circulation chapbooks and in other publications), on Gari Melchers's Writing, returns to a theme more extensively developed in Mary Custis Lee's letter. Pinkerton's career as a scholar came second to her life as a wife and mother, which is one reason, she told me, why her dissertation was not submitted until many years after she started at Harvard in 1950 ("Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being" 41). In "Crossing," Lee describes the losing and regaining of her Christian faith only through quiet suffering in her own person while under house arrest after the Union's capture of Richmond. Through meditation on the stoicism exhibited by her husband in his adventures during the Mexican-American war, as she finds it recounted in a memoir, Custis Lee arrives at a faith that is strengthened through suffering. Far from the high theater of war, and yet unsheltered from its destruction, Mary Lee gains a perspective on religious belief peculiar or proper to her womanhood; though it comes from the outward heroism her husband had exhibited, it remains distinctly cloistered in character. (16)

Pinkerton's poem on Writing distills this point by creating a contrast between the traditional domestic life of women and the masculine world beyond. A woman writing within the domestic sphere--an image derived from Melchers's image, but drawing in Lee implicitly, Edith Wharton explicitly, and, reflexively, Pinkerton as the author of the poem--stands as quiet affirmation of the order of creation in opposition to that great poet of flux, mortality, and emptiness, Wallace Stevens. In an early poem, "The Return," Pinkerton had mentioned Stevens as the poet of nothingness--"wide water without sound"--against whom the poetry of the self-existent God stands (Taken in Faith 14). There, Pinkerton's persona returns to Butte to make peace with her past, only to find herself compelled to surrender her Stevens-influenced fixation on nothingness (a female voice) to accept the God of her fathers (represented by a masculine figure in the poem). So, here, the female domestic order--which Stevens's "Sunday Morning" had famously co-opted for rebellion against religious faith and Being Itself- reasserts its casual, harassed sense of the meaning of things. Such women see that "Order, the beauty even of Beauty is" (Taken in Faith 117). They understand that in the order of a household or the world, such formal beauty expresses the ordered beauty of the soul, and bespeaks, because it participates in, Beauty itself. The Thomism of the lyrics and the Voegelinian concern with order of the verse letters converge in the "Bright Fictions." This perception provides the ground for refusing Stevens:
   Stevens, though you sought order in the sea
   And grander heavens, the threat of nothingness
   Unmanned you. Most women have no time for such,
   For fate constrains them to immediate means,
   The quiet art of keeping calm the house. (Taken in Faith 117)

Perhaps these closing lines may serve as an apology for Pinkerton's work not being on a grander scale than it is, or for not having appeared in the kind of large quantities we tend to associate with the work of a major poet. I would suggest, as she has herself, that Pinkerton's thin oeuvre is the natural product of her having been the sort of woman she describes in this poem. Her attentions were given primarily to the ordering of a household and the living well of a life (not to mention to the work of a literary and historical scholar).

As she once observed in a letter to Winters regarding "The Romantic Eros," for all the striving toward abstraction and indifference to the concrete details of the present historical moment her poems exhibit, they arose directly out of her lived experience (Dickson 33). She is the sort of poet, she expressed to me, who does not wake up each morning and sit down to write a poem, but writes a poem when her experiences, maturing through reflection, happen to require one: the order she struggles to maintain in life demands, on occasion, the ordered reflection of verse. Given how few poems most persons' lives demand, we may wish to reverse our judgment on the "slightness" of her poetic output. She has published more than seventy poems in her lifetime, some of which are great and will almost surely last, but all of which exhibit the most legitimate kind of necessity for any species of writing: they tell us something that needs saying and which bears repeating, that the mystery of life and poetry lies in the almost ungraspable existential fact that, through uncaused grace, there is something rather than nothing. To live well is to encounter not merely experience but existence itself, and to rise from the knowledge of being to the gift of faith.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. Selected Writings. Ed. Ralph McInerny. London: Penguin Books, 1998. --. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Vol. 1. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1948.

Arnold, Matthew. Dissent and Dogma. Vol. 6 of Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold. Ed. R. H. Super. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan E 1968.

Augustine, St. The Confessions. Trans. Maria Boulding. Hyde Park, NY: New City P, 1997. Berry, Wendell. Gift of Good Land. New York: North Point P, 1981.

--. Life is a Miracle. New York: Counterpoint, 2001.

--. The Unsettling of America. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996.

Dickson, Gary, ed. Yvor Winters: A Special Issue. Sequoia 6.2 (Winter 1961).

Eliot, T. S. Selected Essays 1917-1932. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1932.

--. On Poetry and Poets. London: Faber and Faber, 1957.

Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion. New York: Norton, 1989.

Gilson, Etienne. Being and Some Philosophers. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949.

--. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. Trans. A. H. C. Downes. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame E 1991.

--. The Unity of Philosophical Experience. San Francisco: Igantius E 1999. Lincoln, Abraham. Great Speeches. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1991.

Martz, Louis L. The Poetry of Meditation: A Study of English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century. New Haven: Yale UP, 1962.

Melville, Herman. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1866.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Works. Ed. Orson Falk. 5 Vols. New York: Tudor Publishing, 1932.

Pinkerton, Helen. Error Pursued. Iowa City: Cummington P and Stone Wall P. 1959.

--. "Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being." Interview with James Matthew Wilson. Think Journal 3.3 (Winter 2011): 31-48.

--. Personal Interview. 9 July 2007. Unpublished.

--. Poems 1946-1976. Huntsville, TX: Goodman Gybbe, 1984.

--. Taken in Faith. Athens: Swallow Press/Ohio UP, 2002.

Rougemont, Denis de. Love in the Western World. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. On Religion. Trans. John Oman. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Yrubner, and Company, 1893.

Stern, Julia A. Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010.

Trimpi, Helen P(inkerton). "Acts of Resistance: Finlay on Winters's 'To the Holy Spirit.'" In Light Apart: The Achievement of John Finlay. Ed. David Middleton. Glenside, PA: Aldine P. 1999. 136-151.

--. Crimson Confederates. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2010.

--. Melville's Confidence Man and American Politics in the 1850s. Hamden, CT: Published for The Academy by Archon Books, 1987.

--. "Poetry from Old Fields." Sewanee Review 115.4 (Fall 2007): 603-615.

Tuve, Rosemond. Elizabethan and Metaphyiscal Imagery. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961.

Voegelin, Eric. Modernity without Restraint. Vol. 5 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin Columbia, MO: U of Missouri P, 2000.

Wilson, James Matthew. "The Realism of Helen Pinkerton." Christianity and Literature 58.1 (Fall 2009): 629-652.

--. "Representing the Limits of Judgment: Yvor Winters, Emily Dickinson, and Religious Experience." Christianity and Literature 56.3 (Spring 2007): 397-422.

Winters, Yvor. Collected Poems. Denver: Alan Swallow, 1960.

--. Forms of Discovery. Chicago: Swallow P, 1967.

--. The Function of Criticism: Problems and Exercises. Chicago: Swallow P, 1957.

--. In Defense of Reason. Athens: Swallow P/Ohio UP, 1987.

Wordsworth, William. The Major Works. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.


(1) The complete transcript of my extensive interview-by-correspondence with Helen Pinkerton remains unpublished. However, "Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being" in Think Journal prints edited excerpts from the first half of the interview. When appropriate, I cite these published excerpts in lieu of the complete interview.

(2) Pinkerton publishes poems under her maiden name, and scholarship as Helen R Trimpi. I provide citations of her works under the name used in the particular publication.

(3) On this point, see Eliot's "What is Minor Poetry?" (On Poetry and Poets 45-6), especially "Yeats" (On Poetry and Poets 253-7), where he sets out his theory of personality in its final form. His essays on Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights--"Thomas Heywood" (Selected Essays 152-153), "John Ford" (Selected Essays 179), "Philip Massinger" (Selected Essays 192)--mark Eliot's attempt to sketch this theory of the author as the character or personality created by the totality of his works through concrete instances.

(4) Berry has spent much of his career arguing against "the domestic colonialism that, by policy, converts productive farm, forest, and grazing land into strip mines" (The Unsettling of America 6), and speaks of the "strip-miner" and "exploiter" in contrast to the "nurturer" (The Unsettling of America 7-8). This use of the strip mine as image of exploitation provides a gloss on Pinkerton's poem. Following Wallace Stegner, Berry would later adopt the terms "boomer" and "sticker" to distinguish the two competing traditions of exploitive hyper-mobility and communal nurturing and settlement in American history (see, for example, Life is a Miracle 131-132).

(5) Winters's admiring discussions of Aquinas indicate he had sensed an opportunity to accept Aquinas as a philosophical rather than a theological master on the basis of Gilson's account of him (Unity of Philosophical Experience 49-50).

(6) The limit of Winters's Thomism stops well short of Christianity, but he evidently valued Aquinas as a master of reason. Thus, he writes, "I myself am not a Christian and I fear that I lack permanently the capacity to become one, but Aquinas's examination of the nature of man appears to me acute and extremely usable, and his disposition of theological difficulties perhaps the best disposition possible" (In Defense of Reason 408).

(7) See Freud, The Future of an Illusion 30, and Nietzsche 3.17-21.

(8) Pinkerton's emphasis on the gratuity, or "giveness" in the language of phenomenology, of our radically contingent existence as creatures and our consequent need to acknowledge the gift primarily derives from her reflections on the existential metaphysics of Aquinas, as Gilson formulates it in Being and Some Philosophers (cf. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy 66-83). But, as a matter of general apologetics rather than scholastic metaphysics, her verses may be compared with Augustine. Early in The Confessions, the saint recalls the sense of happiness and completion he felt in an early friendship. When the friend dies, he is thrown back upon himself and concludes, after the manner of the Stoics, "it appeared to me that unity, in which the rational mind subsisted, was itself the essence of truth and of the supreme good" (Augustine, The Confessions 4, 15, 24). He eventually discovers that he "needed to be open to the radiance of another light in order to become a partaker in truth," that truth lies not in the mind but in God (4, 15, 25). For a modern, rationalistic version of this sense of the gift of being as a foundation for religious belief, see Arnold, Dissent and Dogma 181, and Schleiermacher, On Religion.

(9) For Aquinas, man is a twofold composite being, comprising essence and existence, and to whose essence belongs both form and matter (On Being and Essence 2, in Aquinas Selected Writings 32); the angels are onefold composites, possessing their essence by nature but participating in existence (On Being and Essence 4, in Aquinas Selected Writings 41). Only in God does essence in no way differ from existence but is identical with it: "His essence is His existence... God is His own existence, and not merely His own essence" (Summa Theologica 1,3,4). As such, "God is essential being, whereas other things are being by participation" (Sunzma Theologica 1,4,3). Participation, here, means that an angel "is form [essence] and existence, and that it has existence from the first being who is existence alone, and that this is the first cause, God" (On Being and Essence 4, in Aquinas Selected Writings 43). Because we are not self-created, that is, because all creatures have their existence from another, their present participation in existence demonstrates that there must be something that is by its nature Existence Itself, in whose necessary existence the contingent beings of creatures participate. For Gilson and Pinkerton, this irreducible mystery of the existence of something rather than nothing is the foundation of all other knowledge and belief. It is worth repeating that, in Winters's work, these claims were hastily affirmed as reluctant necessities in establishing the reliability of human reason to know reality and judge it in moral terms; his main interests lay elsewhere (In Defense of Reason 10, 14; cf. Wilson, "Representing the Limits of Judgment" 405-406).

(10) Winters's mature meditative lyrics, as required by the genre, always begin with a concrete scene and scenario, but often are occasioned by some moment of loss or crisis, as in "The Last Visit," "Before Disaster," "On the Death of Senator Thomas J. Walsh," "To Edwin V. McKenzie," and "To a Woman on Her Defense of Her Brother Unjustly Convicted of Murder" (Collected Poems 58, 82, 87, 102-103).

(11) The literary history Winters taught Pinkerton held up the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as the high water mark of the lyric poem (Function of Criticism 59).

(12) Pinkerton defines the tripartite form more loosely: "I simply adapted the internal meditative structure he [Martz] describes: description ('seeing the spot'), meditation proper, and the 'turn to address'..." ("Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being" 39).

(13) Wilson "The Realism of Helen Pinkerton" 643-648; cf. Pinkerton "Helen Pinkerton: The Love of Being" 47-48.

(14) See the "Supplement" appended to Melville's Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, the voice of which Pinkerton reproduces faithfully.

(15) These three monographs are collected in Modernity without Restraint.

(16) Given the Voegelinian theme of the poems, Mary Lee's domesticity reminds us that the end of historical experience is not worldly progress (or the gnostic's immanentized eschaton) but an apprehension of transcendent truth by clearly distinguishing one from the other.
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Author:Wilson, James Matthew
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
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Date:Mar 22, 2012
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