Every now and then I come across a poem by Alice Meynell, and decide to go look for her and find out more about her. Till now, I haven't. But already it's obvious she was someone whose life experience was rich and enriching, whose contribution to her times like that of many women was overlooked by virtue of her being a woman. Late Victorian patriarchy and anti Catholic bias led to her being shunned for Poet Laureate; her contribution to the Suffragist movement is all but ignored, and at times misleadingly omitted from the narrative. She was one of a growing number of literary Catholics whose poetry and essays explored those realities of faith and questioning, from the standpoint of a Catholic heart and mind seeking to be faithful, yet doing so with intellectual integrity and emotional honesty.
I want to know more about her, and I want to read her best poems. Because again and again I've found that the poet who reveres the word as the currency of human thought and feeling, has a charsimatic quality of language that makes mystery communicable; not as lucid clarity and definition, but as articulated longing, as holy imagination, as intellectual and spiritual humility in the presence of the sacred.
Here is one of Meynell's poems which I know well, and need to know better, because it points to a way of seeing people, and seeing Christ in and through others.
"The Unknown God”
One of the crowd went up,
And knelt before the Paten and the Cup,
Received the Lord, returned in peace,
and prayed Close to my side. Then in my heart I said:
‘O Christ, in this man’s life
This stranger who is Thine in all his strife,
All his felicity, his good and ill,
In the assaulted stronghold of his will,
‘I do confess Thee here,
Alive within this life; I know Thee near
Within this lonely conscience, closed away,
Within this brother’s solitary day.
‘Christ in his unknown heart,
His intellect unknown - this love, this art,
This battle and this peace, this destiny
That I shall never know, look upon me!
‘Christ in his numbered breath,
Christ in his beating heart and in his death,
Christ in his mystery! From that secret place
And from that separate dwelling, give me grace!’