Poems from a Personal Journey
Eugene C. Bianchi
Parson's Porch Books (106 pp.)
ISBN: 978-1-946478-15-3; March 24, 2017
A poet muses on faith, peace, and the ties that bind in this accomplished collection.
It is fitting that Bianchi (The Bishop of San Francisco, 2005) should borrow his book’s epigraph from T.S. Eliot, who worked out some of his finer religious feelings in verse, as Bianchi devotes many of the poems in his collection to reflections on spirituality. He’s also a professor emeritus of religion at Emory University, so his explorations are both erudite and wide-ranging. For instance, “The Sacred Lives Quiet in the Ordinary” grows from a reference to the monk St. Ignatius: “In 1540 the Jesuits started by revising / monastic ways without losing their core. / Ignatius said: our manner is ordinary— / immersed in the fabric of everyday life, / to find the divine in all things.” In the last two lines, Bianchi establishes a tactful equilibrium between the “everyday” and the “divine,” and the supposed tension between them (which is really no tension) drives the rest of the poem.
“An Inward Olympics,” by contrast, begins with a quote from Rumi, the Muslim mystic who sought unity with the Godhead; it culminates with a moving image of ecumenism: “Suddenly it happens, a peaceable kingdom, / all seekers eating and drinking from the source /..../ In silent unity, spirit moves in and out, / And draws me smiling into the stream of now.” There’s a powerful immediacy to the poet’s language here, strung between two phrases—“suddenly it happens” and “the stream of now”—that nudge readers into the present moment.
References to Rumi, Ignatius, and other religious luminaries would seem to work at cross purposes; after all, how could followers of Jesus and Muhammad come together in a “peaceable kingdom”? But for Bianchi, such differences ultimately resolve into similarity, and the “Hum” of the book’s title is a metaphor for a “unifying process,” a “concert in the cosmic music hall.” Bianchi’s poetry is conversational without ever lapsing into the colloquial, and in his lessons on religion, the former professor educates without seeming didactic—no small feat for an academic. A sensitive volume in which art and religion merge.