Peter O'Leary, Writing Religious Poetry and the Case of Frank Samperi
Reversion and the Turning
Poetry and the Case
of Frank Samperi
Idcirco accidit ut, quantum illos proximius imitemur, tantum
rectius poetemur. Unde nos doctrine operi intendentes, doctrinatas
eorum poetrias emulari oportet.
dante, de vulgare eloquentia, ii.
Thus it comes about that, the more closely we try to imitate the
great poets, the more correctly we write poetry. So, since I am
trying to write a theoretical work about poetry, it behoves me
to emulate their learned works of poetic doctrine.
translated by steven botteril
What is at stake in choosing to be a religious poet? We find the
strengths and weaknesses, the glories and the failures of this decision
in the case of Frank Samperi, an obscure, experimental American
poet of the twentieth century who wrote out of an explicitly Roman
Catholic vision of the universe. The challenge of reading Frank Samperi’s
poetry is the challenge of reading religious poetry. Is Samperi
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a poet of vision, of singular insight? Or is individual vision antithetical
to the doctrine he emulates in his poetry? In the Western tradition,
when we think of great religious poetry, we think of Dante,
Milton, Blake. Each is a poet of vision, of singular insight. Each is also
a Christian. Samperi mainly emulates Dante, who looked through
the communal vision of a medieval Catholicism, out of which his
own vision emerged. Samperi frequently appeals to the “theological
poet” who seeks after “Eternal form,” of which Dante is exemplary.
Samperi’s theological poet is removed from the world, a lonely
predator of the adoration. His separation and solitude are essential
to an understanding of God’s purposes: “true work can only have for
its vision the Eternal the final identification forgone the abstractive useless”
(from “Anti-Hero” in Quadrifarium).1
Who is the audience, then, of the theological poet who writes out
of the abstractive useless? Can we be nurtured by this poetry? Samperi’s
“theological poet” is an anachronism. By reverting to a
medieval imagination and cosmology, he seeks to fortify his poetic
vision. But the poetry—always resolutely spiritual in its aspirations—
is not in the company of Dante or Milton or Blake. It is not
great poetry. But it is spiritual poetry, and it is compelling poetry.
What makes it compelling? What makes it striking?
As phrased, these questions elude their real concern. Rephrased,
I might ask,Why am I so compelled by Samperi’s poetry? Why do I
find it striking? The challenge of reading religious poetry is a matter
of cardinal importance to me. This is because I am largely drawn
to poetry for its spiritual potentialities and potencies. This is also
because I consider myself a religious poet. Furthermore, I am a
There is a major tension between any communalistic adherence
(or indoctrination) and an individual talent, powerfully augmented
in poetry. As a poet informs her work with peculiar vision, it individuates
and takes on value. The poet who asserts a communal vision
acts as ventriloquist’s dummy. Who speaks? Not the poet. Doctrine
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speaks. Or dogma speaks. Communio is essential to Catholic faith and
prayer (just as the umma—the community of believers—is a priority
for any Muslim). You can’t believe merely in private. It is only in
the communio that collective prayer can be offered and felt through
the vehicle of the liturgy. Other prayer—petitio, or private asking;
meditatio, or listening to God; contemplatio, or silent attendance to
God’s presence—rests on the bedrock of communio. But poetry is not
prayer even when it is offered as prayer or is prayer-like. Poetry is
making. It is an emulation of God’s embouchure and the subsequent
vocables uttered at creation. But it is not prayer.
What is the value, then, of attending to a poet whose private
vision is an emulation of the communal vision of the Catholic faith?
And more to the case of Samperi, a communal vision that is resolutely
medieval in its understanding of the orientation of the
poet—as created—to the Divine—as Creator? The answers to these
questions are complex and tug at me with their valences. Frank
Samperi is not a great poet, as I have said. His work is not as important
to me—as a self-proclaimed religious poet—as Dante’s or Milton’s
or Blake’s. Nor is it as important to me as Whitman’s or
Dickinson’s, as Wallace Stevens’s, Charles Olson’s, or Robert Lowell’s.
Nor as important as Robert Duncan’s, H. D.’s, or Nathaniel
Mackey’s. Nor as important as Ronald Johnson’s. Nor as important
as John Taggart’s, the poet who introduced me to Samperi’s work.
But Samperi’s poetry is interesting and valuable in the example it
provides for understanding the plight of the spiritual artist, his follies,
his virtues, his worth. Furthermore, it is interesting in how it
prospects the possibilities of a Catholic mystical poetry, rooted in the
traditions of American experimentalism.
Defining the Spirit
I first encountered Samperi’s work in John Taggart’s essay, “The
Spiritual Definition of Poetry,” which is a review of Samperi’s unti-
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tled trilogy of books. Taggart’s essay is expository in that it describes
Samperi as an essentially visionary poet. It is also critical, in that it
presents Samperi as a poet who has not lived up to the visionary challenge
of his own poetry, which is to say that while vision may have
informed Samperi’s writing, he merely has asserted that vision,
rather than composed one (which is what, according to Taggart,
Blake and Dante did). Toward the end of the essay, Taggart proposes
a poetic program for obtaining this vision. “There are two ways to
secure this definition,” he writes, “for poets who would write from
the visionary imagination”:
1) arduous study of and complete immersion in mythic and
spiritual literature; 2) a like immersion in language. Poets will
have to find their own path in the first area. They may choose
to follow Plato through Plotinus on to Thomas Taylor and
Blake (or follow Blake to Plato). Which text, whether a part
of their own culture or not, does not matter. Eventually, they
will have developed a sense of the entire literature and will
have found what they specifically need, a discovery recognized
by sympathy as a vision. That is, the visions encountered do
not (and cannot) exactly duplicate the poets’, but by their
relative degree of congruence compel poets, like metaphor
itself, to reexamine their experience, to look again.2
When I first read this passage, it struck me as clarion. I copied it into
a notebook. It both affirmed my intuited path and gave it a form I
hadn’t yet discerned in it. Taggart’s essay did more toward articulating
a spiritual definition of poetry for me than had any other single
source. Even the caution about Samperi’s work at the end of his
essay—“The failure of these poems is a failure to engage the imagination
at sufficient depth and duration in the complex, organized,
and dynamic whole that is language”3—did not dissuade me from
seeking out Samperi’s work. How could I not? It had prompted Taggart’s
own superb essay.
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Looking back on Taggart’s piece through a lens of seven years
reading Samperi, I am moved again by its voice of conviction, by its
forward-looking tenderness toward a young poet like myself who
might come across it in need of the program he sketches out and
wanting a sense that discipline and attention comprise the beginning
of any worthwhile path in poetry. Now my admiration of this essay is
mixed with some qualms about it, particularly in the light of Samperi’s
verse. Is his imagination really insufficient? Perhaps it is misunderstood
or incompletely understood. I cannot elevate Samperi
any higher than his poetry will allow. Neither could Taggart. Exegesis
cannot replace actual poetic insight or accomplishment. Nonetheless,
rereading Taggart’s program, there is an almost therapeutic note
to his sense of reexamination that conflicts with the stringencies of a
spiritual path. Is the poet compelled to seek out the visionary imagination
toward some sort of betterment, whether emotional, psychic,
or poetic? As Michael A. Sells has noted, mysticism in the Judeo-
Christian traditions is marked by the unusual convergence of the
Semitic prophetic tradition with the worldview and cosmology of the
Greco-Roman world. As such, powerful speech—the very language
Taggart is asserting above—attains the vision of a “Ptolemaic symbolic
cosmology and a central assertion of one, transcendent principle
of reality.”4 Accordingly, mystical language directly reflects (and
deflects, or even shatters) the ascensional directive toward a hidden,
emanative, transcendent God. Furthermore, the holism of any mystical
vision is subordinated to its actual articulation or pronouncement.
The point is that God subverts all personal vision into divine
immanence or divine hiddenness. Vision fades. God perplexes. The
mystic hangs suspended, impermanent, between these fields.
These thoughts presume that Samperi is a mystic. And that Taggart
is not. These presumptions can’t be sustained. Both Samperi and
Taggart are poets. And poets are not mystics. But they can be mystical;
both Samperi and Taggart aspire to the mystical. More to the
point, they aspire to a mystical language. Both would agree that
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mystical speech is subordinated to and ultimately unraveled by the
divine. The communal audience for this speech fades as does the
mystic vision. So which is it, then? Does the poet immerse himself
in spiritual language toward eventual “reexamination of experience”
as that which substantiates the spiritual path in poetry? Or does the
poet fix his eye on the unfixable, immutable, always-hidden God
beyond the Ptolemaic universe he imagines himself in? The point is,
you can only do one or the other. You can’t do both.
There is the problem, too, of a sort of Wordsworthian reflection
that Taggart appears to be advocating. Taggart’s sense of religious language
in the passage quoted is that it functions as a retrospective, corrective
prism on experience. The lens of this language, hoever, is
wide-angled, at least according to his prescription that any religious
texts, from any culture, will do. Vision—as a thing received—is
never pick-and-choose (even when it’s something constructed, as in
Taggart’s own poetry). There are many paths, but a single path must
be chosen. Too many texts, too many traditions lead to flaccidity. It
may yet come to shock New Age spiritual seekers that Rumi was a
Muslim and that his vision was resolutely Islamic. Indeed, he couldn’t
have emerged out of a Christian tradition. Trinitarian subtleties
would have clouded his sense of God’s radical oneness.
What is Samperi’s view on religious language? In a late poem in
Lumen Gloriae, he reduces his view to a problem in fourteen words:
love knowledge divided
mysticism science divided
union identity divided
glorified body spiritual man undivided5
As language fractures, isolates, divides, the spiritual vision unifies,
making way for the undivided, unitive power of the glorious light. In
the indivisible light of the spiritual, love and knowledge unite;
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mysticism and science unite. Individual identity is absorbed into the
divine collective. Furthermore, to challenge Taggart’s assertion of the
necessity for religious poets to “reexamine their experience” from a
different angle in terms of Samperi’s work, the individual vision,
whether reexamined or reflected, subverts the communal vision,
which is the communio out of which any individual vision must be substantiated.
One of the mysteries of being a Catholic is your participation
in this communio as the thing that most fortifies your individual
religious experience. It is the thing that mysteriously connects a contemporary
Catholic with Joan of Arc or Giotto or St.Augustine, for
instance. It is the thing that draws the Catholic poet to Dante, who
epitomizes the poetic communio (he may in fact be that communio). To
be “undivided” from this communio is to represent it in poetry even as
you give it new contours, or new dimensions.
Even so, Samperi’s vision in his poetry can be as isolating as the
language with which he utters it. Are we, as his readers and his audience,
undivided in his poetry, even as we receive it? Can the spiritual
man, indivisible with the glorified body of light, be the religious
poet? As affective as Samperi’s poetry can be, I do agree with Taggart
that these poems fail, but not for the reason Taggart suggests(
that they fail to engage the imagination at significant depth in
the complex of language). They fail, instead, in their inability to
revert to the source of the communio out of which they arise. That
source is the Godhead—the uncreated God outside the bounds of
the created cosmos. It is not that Samperi has failed to imagine God
sufficiently; it is that he has failed to capture the motion that returns
his vision to God, thereby transfiguring it into the uncreated energy
of God, such that both he and his poem become “partakers in the
divine nature,” in the words of St. Peter.
Religious poetry is a spiritual art. Samperi’s is a poetry of spiritual
recovery, not of formal creation, nor even of a participation with that
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creation. The unitive power he aspires to is above and beyond him,
not something emanating from him, or created by him. It is something
he receives and reflects, not something he gives. In his poetry,
Samperi would restore us to the undivided, glorified body of God.
How might we understand this division and reunion, doctrinally?
The holiness of God is the inaccessible center of his eternal
mystery. What is revealed of it in creation and history, Scripture
calls “glory,” the radiance of his majesty. In making man in
his image and likeness, God “crowned him with glory and
honor,” but by sinning, man fell “short of the glory of God.”
From that time on, God was to manifest his holiness by revealing
and giving his name, in order to restore man to the image
of his Creator.6
Through creation (and the Fall), man is divided from the inaccessible
center of God’s eternal mystery. Yet this aporia of God’s abiding
mystery is evident in—revealed through—history. The poet receives
glimpses of this revelation, fragmentarily, which he reassembles and
restores in his writing. These, perhaps simplified, are the terms of
Samperi’s theological poet, and, in this respect, they are not so different
from the terms that describe the purpose of an Andalusian
Kabbalist, ca. 1300 c.e., or even an Alexandrian Gnostic, ca. 100 c.e.
However, participation is essential to any religious vision—something
both Kabbalist and Gnostic would affirm. As the energy of God
flows from the Godhead outside of creation into creation, so it must
be returned, flowing back to God to complete the circuit. This is
what St. Peter means when he understands us, through the Holy
Trinity, as “partakers of divine nature.” As Evagrius Ponticus, one of
the Greek Fathers, elaborated, “to know the mystery of the Trinity in
its fullness is to enter into perfect union with God and to attain to the
deification of the human creature.”7 “The divine nature,” affirmed St.
Gregory of Thessalonica, “must be said to be at the same time both
exclusive of, and, in some sense, open to participation.We attain to
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participation in the divine nature, and yet at the same time it remains
totally inaccessible.We need to affirm both simultaneously and preserve
the antinomy as a criterion of right devotion.”8
The antinomian character of such belief in spiritual poetry is
exemplified in Blake, especially the prophetic books. But Blake is
never merely lawless: the individual vision must coalesce into a communal
vision. What is his Jerusalem but a communio? For Blake,
Jerusalem is a woman who is the emanation of Albion. But she is also
the Heavenly City, which is the perfect society. She is both Divine
Vision and “the Mystic Union of the Emanation in the Lord.”9 Albion
is fallen primordial man, who aspires to return to Jerusalem through
the Divine Vision that emanates from her:
Albion replyd. Cannot Man exist without Mysterious
Offering of Self for Another, is this Friendship & Brotherhood
I see thee in the likeness & similitude of Los my Friend
Jesus said.Wouldest thou love one who never died
For thee or ever die for one who had not died for thee
And if God dieth not for Man & giveth not himself
Eternally for Man Man could not exist! for Man is Love:
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood10
Only in union is individual vision perfected. In elaborating Isaac
Luria’s Kabbalistic idea of divine withdrawal, or tsimtsum, by which
God condensed himself into a microscopic point and then withdrew
his presence from that point, such that he went into exile within
himself, Gershom Scholem identifies a feature of human participation
with the Godhead that Christian sources frequently ignore: its
tragic consequences, which are also somehow heroic. “But the precarious
co-existence of the different kinds of divine light,” he admits,
“produces new crises. Everything that comes into being after the ray
of light from en-sof has been sent out into the pleroma is affected by
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the two-fold movement of the perpetually renewed tsimtsum and of
the outward flowing emanation. Every stage is grounded in this tension.”
11 The tension necessitates human intervention. In this light,
God is incomplete without human reversion of divine energy to its
source, the pleromatic Godhead, en-sof, or God-beyond-knowing.
The tension is polar: God on one end, humans on the other. “For
Luria,” writes Scholem, “this process takes place partly in God, but
partly in man as the crown of all created being.”12
But Samperi is not a Kabbalist. Rather, he is a religious poet. For
any religious poetry, two linked questions are immediately raised:
which religion does his poetry represent? and Who is his audience?
Dante probably did not conceive of an audience outside of his Tuscan
Catholicism. Much of his poem would be lost on us today were
it not for the prodigious scholarship that has preserved for us Dante’s
Florentine culture. Rumi wrote in Persian but lived out his adult life
in Turkey. Today, his Mathnawi is often called the “Persian Qur’an.”
His audience is pan-Islamic, and thanks to copious translation, panreligious.
Even still, we do a disservice to the verse to read it outside
of the context of his Sufism and his adherence to Islam. Rumi’s
unitive vision supports the wide exposure his poetry lately has
received. It makes me wonder how much Dante Muslims read. Samperi,
the mystical Catholic, wrote a constricted, sometimes revelatory
experimental American poetry. Needless to say, his audience is
conspicuously limited. Those limitations will be addressed. For now,
we need to look at the basic problems arising in “religious poetry.”
The label of “religious poetry” raises present-day readers’ hackles
in protective expectation of something awful, useless, predictable,
and offensive. Patrick S. Diehl, in his book The Medieval
Religious Lyric, identifies three presumptions about modern poetry
that make religious poetry unpalatable: (1) poetry should be the
expression of an individual and not an institutional opinion; (2)
poetry should offer experiential not doctrinal truths; and (3) poetry
should have no palpable design on the reader.13
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Samperi’s poetry resolutely pits his paltry, often pathetic, individual
experience against the institutional and doctrinal truths of the
Catholic Church, which he sees in a glorious light. This means that
Samperi uses the beliefs, doctrines, and experiences of the Catholic
Church to elevate his personal experiences into a realm of meaning
and to exert a divine design on poetry in general. Such a move
would seem antithetical to the goals of modern poetry, at least so far
as Diehl has spelled them out. And while his poetry does not insist
on an irreversible itinerary of the soul to God, the overarching
design he illustrates is that of Paradise. Add to this the anachronism
of Samperi’s verse: his is not a twentieth-century Paradise, nor are
the truths he espouses those of the reforming church of Pope John
XXIII. His vision is distinctly medieval in that his relation to God, to
Christ, and to the intervening angels is hierarchical and vertical. His
vision is also medieval in that his engagement with the meaning of
this hierarchy is communal rather than individual, such that he
deflates personal interpretation as having no stake in the performance
of a religious poetry. In the prose portion of his poem “Via
Negativa,” Samperi claims, “Personalism does not belong to a spiritual
art.”14 In his meditation “Paradiso Canto Primo,” he insists, “The
Commedia is Eternal Form—not medieval art; therefore, any critical
evaluation is out of the question.”15 The poet who gestures
toward this Eternal form—through the medieval parago of
Dante—dismisses his audience. But this is the challenge for the
reader of religious poetry, especially Samperi’s religious poetry—
how not to dismiss him, and how not to be dismissed. To engage
Samperi is to engage the poetry of Paradise, of spiritual renewal.
Frank Samperi, Poet
Samperi belongs in the category of the overlooked talents of American
poetry of the last fifty years. He wrote his best poetry in the
1960s and saw it published partially in the 1970s. By the end of the
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seventies, he had faded almost entirely from the publishing scene, living
in obscurity until his death in 1991. Born in Brooklyn in 1933,
as a young man, Samperi—an orphan and auto-didact—sought out
Louis Zukofsky; letters between them date back to the time Samperi
was twenty-four.16 The older poet mentored him, connecting Samperi
eventually with Cid Corman, who became his champion and
publisher in Origin. Samperi was a fixture of Origin’s “Second Series,”
presented with the likes of Zukofsky, Ian Finlay, Gary Snyder, Lorine
Niedecker,William Bronk, and, of course, Corman himself. These
connections led to the publication of an untitled trilogy of books in
the early 1970s by Grossman/Mushinsha. Comprised of The Prefiguration
(1971), Quadrifarium (1973), and Lumen Gloriae (1973), these
books collected eighteen pamphlets and small books Samperi had
written in the late 1960s. The trilogy of books, designed and printed
in Japan, are strikingly beautiful, featuring rich and unusual stone
prints by Will Peterson on the dustjackets, as well as oblong pages
(10" x 5"), making for one of the handsomest books of American
poetry from this period.
Given its grand presentation, one might presume some attention
was paid to the poetry. Samperi’s trilogy received only two reviews:
Taggart’s and another by Corman, which is less a review and more
a praise of the poet. Despite this neglect, Samperi continued to publish
poems in Origin and Caterpillar, as well as collecting his poetry
in occasional editions published by small presses such as Elizabeth
Press and Station Hill. Even after he ceased to publish, Samperi
maintained active correspondence with a few poets—chiefly Corman
and Australian Clive Faust—and continued to write, producing,
along with the poetry, a remarkable translation of Dante’s Paradiso.
This said, Samperi’s work stands or falls on his unnamed trilogy. It
is the most complete presentation of his work we have available; it
is reasonably discrete; and it can be read beneficially as a progression,
beginning with poetic fore-time in The Prefiguration, establishing theological
and doctrinal principles in Quadrifariam, and attaining a
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formal poetic completion in Lumen Gloriae, which is less than half the
length of either of the other two collections. In appraising Samperi’s
poetry and in speculating on the plight of the religious poet, I will
focus my discussion entirely on this trilogy.
So what is his poetry like? Samperi utilizes three major styles and
forms in his writing, each of which bears directly on the theological
program and goals of the poetry: a usually lengthy objectivist list, but
frequently a short, uninflected imagist poem; a theological minimalism;
and a prose meditation. Of the objectivist list, I recognize
two species: (1) a spiritualized list nearly stripped of detail, frequently
involving the movement of an angel through the field of the
poet’s vision (I will designate such a list as communal in the Catholic
sense); and (2) an utterly quotidian list, sometimes cataloguing
things seen on walks through the park (birds, trees, hills), other
times directly expressing the poet’s pathos (these lists I will designate
personal). As an example of the communal, spiritualized poem, this
from “The Triune” (I should state, from a readerly and scholarly
perspective, Samperi offers certain aggravations: the books have no
page numbers and the poems never have titles: the forty-four lists in
“The Triune,” which is the first book in Quadrifariam, are each printed
one to a page, thirty-five lines long apiece):
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Each word or phrase occupies one line, eliminating any sort of
prosody. The rhythm of this poem is completely internal—by which
I mean internal to the reader, however fast he or she works down the
page. The visual effect is that of verticality, acting as “visional” spiritual
ladders to Paradise.
As an example of the second type of list, in which the poet records
quotidian details, here is another section from “The Triune”:
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Such poems typically go on for the full thirty-five lines, sometimes
concluding with an abstract noun (“wood/self ” in the case of the
poem just quoted), sometimes with overtly spiritual abstractions that
propose a teleology, as in these four lines from the poem directly following
the poem above: “therefore/ angel completely/ light/
cause.”19 As an aside, it’s worth noting that I am creating these categories,
which are not entirely tenable; frequently, the movement
from personal to communal causes a blur. In the long poem “Via
Negativa” in Quadrifariam, we encounter Samperi’s pathos:
2:30 in the morning
took a shower
a spiritual necessity
as if holiness
Despite the declaration of the spiritual need of such existential,
midnight crisis, I continue to find these lines a sad little documentary
about the life of the poet; just so, the seemingly endless lists of
walks in the park suggest a life of someone with too much ruminative
time on his hands (Samperi lived on government disability payments,
a welfare recipient). Even still, these lists fascinate. One
ponders, are these records, daily records of life lived, things seen? Or
are they subtler spiritual information, news from that paradise present
but invisible to us in our daily strivings?
So the list-poems represent the form to be found most frequently
in the Trilogy. Two other forms, used less often, are nonetheless
more telling in determining Samperi’s motivation and belief. The
second form I would designate is a rich, unpunctuated, repetitive
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theological catechism. The following two poems from “Unitiva Via”
(the unitive way) in Quadrifariam show Samperi at his most lucid:
theological poetry Eternal Form because the identification
Use the Gift clarifies the background (the intensification)
species in the Image
. . .
the glorified body the individual the universe
the identification the individual the universal formal
individual universal an identification undefined
Spirit the spirit an identification21
Typically, these poems utilize a Latinate and Church-inflected language
(Gift, species, Image), as well as delineating a usually mystical
Catholic doctrine. So for instance, in the first poem, Samperi
proposes that theological poetry reflects the species of the Eternal
Form, who is God, whose Image is Christ. As Christ clarifies the
“background” of God, through an intensification, so theological poetry
clarifies the Image of Christ through a further intensification.
Thus, the theological poem participates in the Eternal Form of the
Godhead. In the second selection, Samperi seemingly blurs the distinction
between the individual and the universal in the form of the
glorified body: this refers both to Christ and to the resurrection body
of Paradise. In fact, what he is proposing is that the meaning of the
relation between the individual and the universal can only be identified—
and thus understood—in the Spirit, part of the triune glorified
body. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the identification of the
glorified body possible.
Last, the third style I would indicate in Samperi’s work is an
extensive essay, usually on a theological theme, but sometimes on an
autobiographical or poetic theme. Embedded within these essays are
phrases that have an aphoristic quality that sometimes can sound like
the style of the theological, spiritual form, without the repetitions and
grammatical shifts that characterize it. In the other directions, these
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essays are sometimes transformed into lists. In the essay “Morning
and Evening,” Samperi writes,
Angelic knowledge despite “species connatural” is still a
There can be no audience when a work’s vision is total.22
These are challenging assertions. On the one hand, they propose that
Samperi’s poems aspire toward angelic knowledge (does he mean
knowledge—as in awareness—of the angels or the knowledge th
angels themselves have of God?). On the other hand, Samperi indicates
that when a work is replete with hard-won angelic knowledge—
which is both “connatural” and conflictive—then the work
requires no audience. This is to say that God—in the Species of
Christ—requires no audience because the work of God’s vision is
total, encompassing all. In “Crystals,” from The Prefiguration, an essay
that entertains spiritual and artistic contemplation, Samperi tells us,
The new man is always the spiritual man. . . .It all amounts
to this: if a man is capable of knowing completely, then his
companions are the angels. . . .
The beatific vision brings the world face to face with the
In the meantime, what do we do? ...
The hierarchical orders of the Church can only be valid
metaphorically; therefore, every movement toward specific
difference is the church’s movement toward its proper
“Prefiguration” refers to Catholic typology. Classic Christian biblical
typology proposes that parts of the Old Testament are antetypes to
the types that appear in the New Testament: so, Abraham prefigures
John the Baptist just as Moses (or David) prefigures Christ; the opening
of Genesis prefigures the opening of the Gospel of John. Like-
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wise, the antetype for the Catholic Church is the covenant of Abraham;
further, the church prefigures for us on earth the heavenly
order of Paradise. Thus, the believer gets a complex series of telescopes
and microscopes in which he or she can perceive God through
the lens of history; likewise, through a heavenly lens, God views life
in a kind of simultaneity, such that Moses is in fact Christ, is in fact
God himself. Just so, the building of the church itself is metaphorical
heaven and metaphorical narrative of the Life of Christ. And the
liturgical arts instruct the congregation in how to live not merely in
this life but also in the joyful hope of the coming glory that is their
promise. Given the prefigured perfection of these realms, what,
then, is spiritual artist to do? For Samperi, the theological poet does
not create these realms but renews them. He gives them new eyes,
Samperi As Medieval Poet
How do we read these poems? What does it mean for this man to be
uttering them? I have already proposed that Samperi be regarded as
an anachronistic medieval Christian poet. By understanding some of
the basic principles of medieval belief and poetic composition, particularly
in the light of St. Bonventure’s mystical Itinerarium (sometimes
called “The Soul’s Journey to God”), we can glimpse in
Samperi’s poems something of the lumen gloriae he intended them to
shine out of, so that, perhaps, we might resolve the conflict of the
creative poet whose theological convictions drive him toward
increasing poetic privacy.
Medieval culture was centripetal, theocentric, and ecclesiological.
By contrast, modern culture is centrifugal, anthropocentric,
and sociological. Medieval culture was paradigmatic; modern culture
is paradigm-breaking. The medieval universe was bounded and
elaborately interconnected; its principle of organization was the vertical
hierarchy of each being, event, or thing to the Creator. The
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horizontal plane of history and causation was similarly related to the
vertical hierarchy of the Creator. The modern universe is open,
elaborately interconnected, but indeterminate. It has a horizontal
orientation, determined by material and mechanism, sometimes
wobbled by paradigm-shifts; knowledge of this universe is an outwardly
spreading field that either does not include divine powers (as
in the case of some modern science), or includes an orientation
toward an inwardly radiating divine presence or power (something
like the interior justification of faith, which constitutes a private
witness). Chance operations—used rather prophetically in modern
art—are the great levelers. The cosmos of the medieval poet was
expressive of the will of God, which had once been transparent, but
following the Fall, has been known only through a painful spiritual
recovery and then only ever partially. Nowadays, the universe is an
unknown whose mystery we are gradually discovering through the
exercise of human reason. Humans are one element in this unfolding,
rather than the medieval instrument of it.24
Samperi’s poetry—like that of the medieval poet—is exemplary.
Exemplary of what? Who is the exemplar of this poetry? Obviously,
Christ.We need to make sense of the Triune God in which Christ
is consubstantial, with St. Bonaventure’s help, to understand the
example he sets for Samperi. Ewart Cousins writes, “For Bonaventure
the Father is the fountain-fulness, fontalis plenitudo, in whom the
divinity is fecund, dynamic, self-expressive.”25 Furthermore, the
Son intercedes for the Father in his created reality. The Son is the
expression of God in creation and is the one who refers back to him.
Medievalists call this fact “exemplarism” because Christ is grounded
in God and is God’s eternal Exemplar.26 This means that the Godhead
emanates through the universe, through Christ and the prism
of the Holy Spirit, and that we are led back to the Godhead through
the Holy Spirit and the angelic intelligences—particularly, in St.
Bonaventure’s universe, by the Six-wingèd Seraph whose description
is the work of his Itinerarium. St. Bonaventure wrote, “This is our
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whole metaphysics: emanation, exemplarity, consummation; to be
illumined by spiritual rays and to be led back to the highest reality.”27
Although this may sound rather passive—that the soul waits to be
visited and illuminated—it is more properly speaking antiintellective,
in that through contemplation,mystical activity, or poetic composition,
one seeks to exceed the limitations of the mind. St.
Bonaventure puts it succinctly at the conclusion of the Itinerarium:
In this passing over, if it is to be perfect, all intellectual activities
must be left behind and the height of our affection must
be totally transferred and transformed into God. This, however,
is mystical and most secret, which no one knows except him
who received it (Rev. 2:17), no one receives except him who
desires it, and no one desires except him who is inflamed in his
very marrow by the fire of the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent
into the world.28
It is in this spirit that Samperi rejects the notion of audience.Not out
of hubris, as Taggart suggests in his review of the trilogy,29 but out
of the sense that one’s communion as a theological poet is not with
the world but with the Corpus Christi, in whom all affection is
transformed into mystical knowledge. In “Anti-Hero” Samperi
It is true that my withdrawal from the literary world is complete,
but withdrawal can only mean desire of fame (vanity)—
writing is not pride: to write for Humanity God the
Subject alters every sense of the writer as personality: therefore,
it is not the writer’s job to seek out the latest innovations of
the day—the principles of the craft are perennial; he has
ancient teachers, and with them he silently converses.30
Samperi’s withdrawal is a struggle against writerly vainglory, against
an exaltation of his attention to God the Subject. In the privacy of his
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withdrawal is company—the ancient teachers. But also silence.
There is an ache to this quiet solitude that even Samperi’s argument
can’t mask.We feel his struggle,we maybe even sympathize with it.
Samperi’s conversation with the ancients is another problem altogether.
With whom did the ancients speak? Were they all private
seekers like Samperi, withdrawn from the literary world? Taggart
hears ventriloquism in Samperi’s verse, rather than seeing original
When I look into the “Triune” image [of Samperi’s poems],
however, I see Blake’s “Soul embraced by divine lover” at the
end of Jerusalem. It could easily have been “When the Morning
Stars sang together” or any other of Blake’s illustrations for the
Book of Job. The fact that I saw these “old” visions and not
Samperi’s “new” one is indication that his cumulative linear
shadow trace is not sufficient to render spiritual vision
Samperi has backed himself into a spiritual corner. When a reader as
sympathetic to him as Taggart struggles with the vision in these
poems, the poet is in trouble. When Samperi withdraws from the literary
world, his purpose is not to hide from or to alienate his readers.
If that were the case, why publish these poems in such elegant
books? What is Samperi’s appeal, if not to “render spiritual vision
Samperi’s purpose, like that of the writer of the medieval lyric,
is to restore a proper relationship with this divine truth. In this
respect, his poetry can seem incomprehensible, particularly in our
modern, secular world. Diehl makes an observation about medieval
poetry that is telling of Samperi’s work: “[B]oth verse translations
and medieval religious lyric produce the sensation that the poem is
still half-embedded in its matrix, half-emergent, haunted, or inhabited
by its origin.”32 Likewise, Diehl speaks of the typically paratactic,
discontinuous, and anacoluthic (meaning writing that lacks
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grammatical sequence or coherence) structure of medieval religious
texts. This happens because of the thematic verticality I’ve been
mentioning: meaning aligns in the heavenly realm; the earthly realm
merely alludes to that paradise. As Diehl explains, “In this structure,
ideas and phrases have the air of fragments washed down from higher
and older regions, their angles pointing out from the text to some
eternal point at which they will meet and marry into meaning, if the
reader has the qualification for ascending to that focus.”33
Samperi’s curious stance toward his (prospective, yet unrealized)
audience can be understood in this light: like Samperi himself, his
readers must aspire to the verse, use the brief phrases like rungs on
a ladder to lift themselves into the revelations of that “higher and
older region.” In the sequence “Anamnesis” in Quadrifariam (which
blends the list-form with the theological speculation-form), Samperi
can there be a poetry of place
no poetry that seeks to release
even the Material Ideal
can be dramatic
then what kind of poetry is left
given the Hegelian
there can be no poetry
because the upshot is
the Platonic user
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the kind of poetry
is the kind that resolves
what kind is that
Like an internal dialogue, Samperi poses questions here that here
answers: the final answer is that theological poetry is the kind that
resolves the book, the canzone, the song into one, into a unitive
expression (the resolution of book, canzone, and song had been
Dante’s goal in De Vulgare Eloquentia). Is Samperi’s theological poet
merely a genuflection at an ideal? What does this poetry look like?
Is Dante’s a theological poetry (remember, the Commedia is “Eternal
Form,” according to Samperi)? I ask these questions not in hopes of
some rhetorical progression of my argument. Rather, I’m troubled.
Samperi’s poetry is compelling to me, particularly in its indication
of a theological attainment. But I can’t find this attainment in the
poetry itself. I feel it pointing in the direction of that attainment
while still being itself incomplete. How do we inhabit this verse?
According to Samperi,we don’t. According to Samperi, the work of
the theological poet exceeds his audience, in that revealing God is his
goal; the revealed God is the receiver of the gift of his poem:
word it again
the imitator is in relation to
Use in the Gift
if this is so
then the notion of audience
takes its significance from
Spirit the spirit an identification
the final identification forgone
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the theological poet
the user and maker
in harmonious relation to
the Holy Spirit
because the true object
of the theological poet
is Eternal Form
Species in the Image
In the light of the Eternal Form revealed, Samperi reconsiders his
the senses of the audience
each member released
free to journey his own way
it must be so36
Samperi’s release of his audience is an abandonment of it to God or
to its itinerarium to God. Each must make this journey unimpeded.
Samperi’s verse stands less as a guidebook for that journey than as a
statement that he has tried to make it himself. As a record of his own
Journey of the Mind to God, it is curiously spare, resolutely unidirectional,
the story of God’s suffusion of the created world with his
It would be specious in the extreme for me to present Frank
Samperi as a medieval lyric poet, or as a modern poet who can only
be understood in the light of a medievalism. As important as St.
Bonaventure might have been to him (or Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas,
or St.Augustine for that matter [and Jacques Maritain needs also be
mentioned, insofar as Samperi’s work exists in the realms of
writing religious poetry
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Neo-Thomism]), he was a man living in New York City in the twentieth
century, writing an experimental American poetry he had
learned from Zukofsky, which he published obscurely in pamphlets
and then rather sumptuously in Japan, in books that few other poets
have taken the time to read. Is this neglect an accident, or might
there be something purposeful to it? Not every reader—not even
every Catholic reader—can be expected to recognize medieval theological
imperatives in his verse. There is, then, an inescapable sense
that in proposing a medieval portrait of Samperi as a poet whose
work can best, or only, be understood within the framework of an
antiquated Catholicism, I am excusing what is transparently bad, or
even worse, simply boring poetry.
Is Samperi’s poetry available to us, even as he aspires to the divine
realm of meaning that exists outside his poem, outside this world?
By asking this question so late in my argument, I want to assent less
that this poetry is worth the attention only of the specialist than I
want to voice my ambivalence. This ambivalence arises out of my
feeling that this poetry is incomplete, or incompletely realized, at
least in terms of the spiritual work it sets as its mission.Where is the
glorious light of this poetry?
St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to
increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it.”37 This
“showing forth” and “communication” of God’s glory suggests a
movement of God to and through creation—an emanating force
from beyond the created universe. Samperi’s poetry rehearses this
movement, or, rather, reflects it. What it lacks is its own radiance.
Radiance is generated by self-reflexivity rather than merely mirroring
God’s emanating energy. What Samperi’s poetry lacks is what
Plotinus identifies as the epistrophe of contemplative life, which
Stephan MacKenna rendered in his translation of the Enneads as
“Reversion-to-Source.” God’s energy can not be spent only into the
universe; it must be reverted to the source by action of contemplation
or by genuinely spiritual poetry. This is the poetic, mystical
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equivalent of the “partaking in the divine nature” about which St.
Peter spoke. In Plotinus’s foundational cosmology, the primal Unity,
or The One, “in its self-quest” or “in its reversion” to itself, has
vision. Its act of seeing “engenders” Mind, in whose circumradiation
and overflow the Soul is both its “utterance and act.”38 But this emanation
is incomplete without epistrophe: in reversion, energy is
returned to the Godhead:
Our being is the fuller for our turning Thither; this is our
prosperity; to hold aloof is loneliness and lessening. Here is the
soul’s peace, outside of evil, refuge taken in the place clean of
wrong; here it has its Act, its true knowing; here it is immune.
Here is living, the true; that of today, all living apart from
Him, is but a shadow, a mimicry. Life in the Supreme is the
native activity of Intellect; in virtue of that silent converse it
brings forth gods, brings forth beauty, brings forth righteousness,
brings forth all moral good; for of all these the soul is
pregnant when it has been filled with God.39
“Here” in this passage is “Thither,” which should be taken as the
atemporal motion of the Soul reverting to its source.
Samperi’s vision feels ingrown—insular—rather than reversionary
and expansive. In this respect, I agree with Taggart’s sense that
Samperi’s vision is not as strong as Blake’s or Dante’s, both of whose
visions are expansive and epistrophic.
The absence of epistrophe in Samperi’s poems speaks for itself. I
can not make his poems go where they already do not. Let me offer
two examples of epistrophe to hold up against Samperi’s vision. The
first comes from The Divine Names of Dionysius (usually referred to
by the scholarly appellation Pseudo-Dionysius, to distinguish him
from the Areopagite whom he was originally thought to be). Dionysius
relied on a Platonic triad Proclus elaborated into a spiritual
motion, or a set of motions, such that divine energies remain (moné),
proceed (proodos), or revert (epistrophe). Dionysius uses the
writing religious poetry
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scaffolding of Proclus’s thought, according to Bernard McGinn, to
introduce a mode of dense speculation that ultimately escapes the
thought on which it is built. The motion Dionysius saw in Proclus’s
Platonism revealed to him “how the unknown God always remains
supereminently identical with himself (mone), while overflowing
into differentiation in his effects (proodos) in order eventually to
regain identity by reversion (epistrophe).”40 God’s abiding in himself
while flowing out into aspects and attributes creates the possibility
of reidentification in humans, who revert that overflowed differentiation
of God into its begotten wholeness.
What makes this motion happen? How is it manifested? Love.
Dionysius identifies God with Eros. “Eros in Dionysius,” writes
McGinn,“is not only transcendent but also fully cosmic.”41 This is to
say that God’s longing is the human longing for God. In The Divine
Names, Dionysius explains:
On the one hand [God] causes, produces, and generates what
is being referred to, and, on the other hand, he is the thing
itself. He is stirred by it and he stirs it. He is moved to it and he
moves it. . . . He is yearning on the move, simple, self-moved,
self-acting, preexistent in the Good, flowing out from the Good
onto all that is and returning once again to the Good.42
Commenting on these lines, McGinn writes, “In the circle of love
that forms the Dionysian universe we have a God who becomes
ecstatic in procession and a universe whose ecstasy is realized in
reversion.”43 Why is a Plotinian “Reversion-to-Source” (epistrophe)
so essential to a communal Catholic poetry? Because reversion is
realization of the abiding energy of God’s love. Samperi’s poetry
lacks that realization because it fails to revert, not because he fails to
recognize God’s love. But can the failure of the agent of such reversion
(recall Isaac Luria’s sense that the process of restoration takes
place partly in God but partly in humans) be presumed to be a failure
on the part of God? Put another way, what does Samperi’s failure
say about the God he adores?
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To answer this question, we turn to another example of epistrophe,
this time from Dante’s Paradiso. When Dante ascends from the
spheres of heaven beyond the fixed stars into Paradise itself, he is
given a profound vision: he sees the motion of the spheres of heaven
in relation to an abiding light, more intense than anything he sees.
Of the spheres of heaven, he remarks, “and each was moving more
slowly according as it was in number more distant from the unit.”Of
the unit—the light itself—he adds, “And that one had the clearest
flame from which the pure spark was least distant, because, I believe,
it partakes more of its truth.”44 This point of light is the very light
that startled the groggy Dante at the start of his journey, frightened
from the base of a hill clad with rays sent out from this light (he didn’t
know what the light was at the beginning of the Inferno; only now
is he discovering its truth). In Paradise, seeing his wonderment,
Beatrice clarifies for him: “On that point the heavens and all nature
are dependent. Look on that circle which is most conjoined to it, and
know that its motion is so swift because of the burning love whereby
it is spurred.”45 It is at this point in the Paradiso that the reader
begins to experience an incredible image of reversion that occupies
the final six cantos of the poem.
Having initially been scared from clambering up the hill while
lost in the dark woods (the hill was the mountain of Purgatory),
Dante strayed further into the woods, where he found Virgil, who
led him spiraling down through Hell, and then Dante eventually
wound up along the path of Purgatory to the Earthly Paradise at its
summit, where he met Beatrice, who led him through the circles of
heaven to the rose of Paradise. All along, the reader has sensed
Dante’s movement to ever remoter regions of consciousness, to the
point where he perforates his way through the sphere of fixed stars.
It is at this point, after all this distance, that Dante sees the burning
point of light—so remote, yet “least distant.” But earth, and the
dark woods from which he initially emerged, is still at the center of
the poem. At this point, Beatrice reveals to Dante the ranks of
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angels—Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, and others—arrayed in a
winding, hierarchical circumference around God. “These orders,”
she explains to him, “all gaze upward and prevail downward, so that
toward God all are drawn, and all do draw.”46 This vision, of course,
is Dionysius’s, as recorded in his Celestial Hierarchies.
Their action—that which draws them toward God while prevailing
downward through the hierarchies of the cosmos—is contemplation.
In contemplation is reversion—epistrophe.What Dante
has accomplished in this canto is to revert the direction of his entire
poem: God, who was the circumferential outer limit of Dante’s cosmos
as the poem began, is now its absolute center, present in a
motion so swift because spurred by burning love. Dante’s poetry,
which has all along appeared a terza rima ladder to climb to God has
been transformed in this visionary instant into an intensely radiating
rose, petaled with angelic orders, God at its innermost center. In this
moment, our being is the fuller for turning Thither.
This is not to discredit Samperi’s achievement. It is to call to mind
the challenge of writing a Catholic mystical—and experimental—
poetry in America nowadays. Above all, as I read Samperi, I recognize
and pay homage to a poet who took up this considerable
challenge and who did not flinch in the light of it. In the Plotinian
mystical path I have described (which is the one that undergirds all
of Christian mysticism),we encounter the Monad of The One. Samperi’s
unitive verse is a direct treatment and praise of The One.
Henotheism defines his poetic work. As Plotinus notes, there must
be a Simplex that precedes the multiple emanation of the Godhead.
47 “Simplex” is Latin for unity. Samperi’s is resolutely a poetry
of the simplex; in this light, his vision clarifies for me. It is the inhering
resolve of his unitive vision I am drawn to when I read this poetry.
Samperi’s poetic vision has the action of water that has started to
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boil. Convection causes the hot water at the bottom of the pan to roll
to the surface, which in turn pushes the cooler water at the surface
to the bottom of the pan, where it is heated and rolls back up to the
surface, making something of a water-turbine. This feels like the
action of Samperi’s poems, this heated, inward rolling. Meister Eckhart
referred to this motion by its Latin, bullitio. He said that the
Image of God is an ebullitio, an overboiling, an ebullience; the creation
of something out of itself: “The image then is an emanation
from the depths in silence, excluding everything that comes from
without. It is a form of life, as if you were to imagine something
swelling up from itself and in itself and then inwardly boiling without
any ‘boiling over’ yet understood.”48 Samperi’s poems heat without
ever boiling over. Ebullitio, in contrast, is the action of Dante’s
and Blake’s poems (it is also the action of Whitman’s poems). These
are poems of an epistrophe—poems that revert the creative spark to
its source. I admire Samperi’s poems because they are on the brink
of this boiling over; but they never will. They never will turn Thither.
They abide in their reflective resolve, thinning, simplex, theological.
In the spiritual definition of poetry, the entry on Samperi
records these facts and saves them for us.
A poet searching for the spiritual definition of poetry needs to ask
one last question: if not Samperi, or something like Samperi, then
what? What might a positive contemporary Catholic poetry look
like? In his illuminating essay on Dante’s Commedia, Osip Mandelstam
insists, “It is inconceivable to read Dante’s cantos without directing
them toward contemporaneity. They were created for that purpose.
They are missiles for capturing the future. They demand commentary
in the futurum.”49 A contemporary Catholic poetry—American
or otherwise—is a commentary on the future Dante imagines in his
poem. Put bluntly, the poet of the new spiritual poem is a typologer,
making analogies from the future for understanding what Dante
understood for the present. A new Catholic poetry would be a poetry
of inwardness, of epistrophic interiority, but one that posited the
writing religious poetry
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most speculative analogies for understanding inner space. For a period
in the twentieth century, this could have been accomplished
through the metaphors of the Nuclear Age (as it largely was in James
Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover). Likewise, the Space Age
promised the same metaphorical potential (again, largely realized in
Ronald Johnson’s epic poem ARK). What is the new analogy? What
will make the new poem both thoroughly Catholic and completely
American, reflecting the spiritual essence of both? Toward that
unknown, I turn my attention Thither.
This essay has been improved by the attention it received from John Taggart, Michael Heller,
and Michael O’Leary. I’m grateful for their scrupulous readings. A shorter version of this
piece was presented at “The Opening of the Field: A Conference on North American Poetry
of the s.” National Poetry Foundation. University of Maine,Orono. June .
1. Frank Samperi, “Anti-Hero,” in Quadrifarium (New York: Grossman/Mushinsha,
2. John Taggart, “A Spiritual Definition of Poetry,” in Songs of Degrees (Tuscaloosa: University
of Alabama Press, ), –.
3. Ibid., .
4. Michael A. Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, ), –.
5. Frank Samperi, Lumen Gloriae (New York: Grossman/Mushinsha, ).
6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libraria Editrice Vaticana (Liguori: Liguori Publications,
), para. .
7. In Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (New York: St.
Vladimir’s Seminary Press, ), .
8. In Ibid., .
9. William Blake, “Jerusalem,” in The Complete Poems (New York: Penguin Classics,
), plate , ln .
10. Ibid., plate ln –.
11. Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans. Ralph Manheim (New
York: Schocken Books, ), .
12. Ibid., .
13. Patrick S. Diehl, The Medieval European Religious Lyric: An Ars Poetica (Berkeley: University
of California Press, ), .
14. Frank Samperi, Quadrifarium.
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16. I owe Mark Scroggins thanks for this information.
17. Samperi, Quadrifarium.
22. Frank Samperi, The Prefiguration (New York: Grossman/Mushinsha, ).
24. See Diehl, .
25. Ewart Cousins, “Introduction,” in Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God/The Tree
of Life/The Life of St. Francis, trans. Ewart Cousins, Classics of Western Spirituality
(Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, ), –.
26. Ibid., .
28. Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, sect. ., .
29. Taggart, .
30. Samperi, Quadrifarium.
31. Taggart, .
32. Diehl, .
33. Ibid., .
34. Samperi, Quadrifarium.
37. Catechism, para. .
38. Plotinus, The Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna (New York: Penguin Classics, ),
Ennead V, tract. , ch. ; .
39. Ibid., Ennead VI, tract. .; —.
40. Bernard McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism (New York: Crossroads, ), –.
41. Ibid., .
42. Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Divine Names,” in The Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid,
Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, ), –.
43. McGinn, .
44. Dante, Paradiso, trans. Charles S. Singleton (Bollingen, ), canto xxviii, ln –.
45. Ibid., ln –.
46. Ibid., ln –.
47. Plotinus, Ennead V, tract. .; .
48. Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart:Teacher and Preacher, ed. Bernard McGinn, Classics
of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, ), .
49. Osip Mandelstam, “Conversation about Dante,” trans. Jane Gary Harris and Constance
Link, in The Poet’s Dante, ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Rachel Jacoff (New York:
Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, ), .
writing religious poetry
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