Photo of the Day Poems – Stripping the Veil of Familiarity

C. S. Lewis once addressed the topic of whether one should continue learning in the midst of troubled times in his sermon “Learning in War-Time” given at St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford, on Sunday, October 22, 1939. He would argue that, yes, we must continue to learn in spite of, or, perhaps, even because of the trauma that surrounds us. One would have to be an ostrich in order to be ignorant of the precarious state of our world eighty-three years later. In light of that truth, the following poem asks nearly the same question in response to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s comment about familiarity and beauty in A Defense of Poetry:

“[Poetry] strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty which is the spirit of its forms.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defense of Poetry

Admittedly, I struggled with writing a poem for this powerful photograph, not from the creative angle – not from some sense of writer’s block – but rather, in fear that I would cheapen this moment by my poetry. If poetry truly “lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty which is the spirit of its forms,” could that still be true here in an image that for many of us is far from familiar? (Be sure to read the caption posted on The Guardian’s website for this photograph). I believe the answer is yes. In fact, sometimes poetry is the salve necessary to open blind eyes. On this Ash Wednesday, I was grateful to spend some time meditating here. Let the deepening do its work, and see life through fresh eyes that reveal the truth and reality of Love incarnate.

Meditations on Mother and Child

by Vincent H. Anastasi 2019
With regards to Percy Bysshe Shelley

If poetry strips the veil
    of familiarity from the world
then what naked and latent beauty
    has been laid bare
    by this veiled woman with baby
    in triangular composition,
        Madonna and child,
        hastily fleeing Baghuz?

Can one even speak of beauty,
    the spirit of its forms,
when hate lies hidden
    somewhere behind this flight,
    violence necessitating evacuation,
    death dancing dimly in the distance?
Veil veils veil unless
    what is seen serves wholly
    as a corrective lens
    to our filtered myopia.
Perhaps therein lies the beauty:
    that these dim windows of the soul
        can be cured,
    the scales fall from blind eyes
    and we behold with First-Dawn’s newness
    these mantles of dust unmasked,
    illuminated by holy breath.

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