A few weeks ago at lunch Fr. Joseph Fessio announced that he was planning to start an “anti-blog”. It would feature poetry. Of course, we were all intrigued, especially after Father recited some of the poems, first in German, then in translation. This “anti-blog” has now launched at www.AngelicPilgrim.com and features the poems of Angelus Silesius. Each poem is posted in German and English and includes audio of Fr. Fessio reading the poem in German.
Who was Angelus Silesius?
That is the literary name for Johann Scheffler, a 17th century convert from Lutheranism to the Catholic Church. He was born in Silesia in Germany and wanted to be a messenger (Latin: angelus) of God’s love. So he used that name Angelus (messenger) Silesius (from Silesia). He became very well known as a priest, poet, and mystic.
What was Hans Urs von Balthasar’s role in bringing these poems to your attention?
One of Fr. von Balthasar’s great contributions to ressourcement—retrieving the great works of the rich Catholic tradition—was to take selections from the works of important, mainly patristic, Catholic authors and arrange them in a way that showed the inner structure of the author’s thought. He did this, for instance, with St. Ireneus, St. Augustine, and Origen, producing books which were published in the publishing house he established, Johannesverlag. As part of this undertaking, he made a selection from the almost 1700 two-line poems of Angelus Silesius, whom he called “one of the greatest poets in the West” and published them originally as Sich auftun wie eine Rose (open oneself up [to God] like a rose). I read the book years ago and was very inspired by it. But I lent it to someone and it never came back. Somehow my interest was recently renewed and I obtained another copy, now published with the title Cherubinischer Wandersmann (Angelic Messenger, which is the same title as the original complete collection).
It seems that unlike prose, poetry is really still part of an oral tradition; poems don’t really come alive unless they are vocalized. Is that why you are posting these in audio format as well as text?
Yes. I included audio for the German (or as close to German as I could come) because I knew I couldn’t translate the poems into English poetry—and I’m not sure anyone can. My intent was to provide a very literal German interlinear translation, along with the audio clip, so readers would be able to experience the rythym, rhyme, and the beauty of the original. They might even learn a little German while they’re at it! (But there are a number of archaisms and poetic contractions, so if one were to try to say something with this vocabulary, German listeners might scratch their heads.)
Do you have a favorite of the poems of Angelus Silesius?
Almost everyone I read becomes my favorite at that moment. Here’s one that so impressed me that I have remembered it from the first time I read it:
Den engeln geht es wohl;
To the angels goes it well;
noch besser uns auf erden,
even better to us on earth,
Denn keiner ihrs Geshlechts
For none of their race
kann Gotts Gemahlin werden.
Can God’s spouse become.
Why are you calling this site an “anti-blog”?
For two reasons. Many blogs are very personal; they contain a lot of information about the author. This blog is entirely about someone else, not me. And blogs in general tend to provide an immediate and steady stream of comment on current events. This blog consists of texts over 300 years old—that are about eternity.
When can we expect to see these poems in book form?
I’m hoping to post one a day, and there are about a year’s worth in the book. God willing, we’ll have a book in a couple of years.
Visit Fr. Fessio’s “anti-blog” Angelic Pilgrim at www.AngelicPilgrim.com.