Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 28, 2015

Celebrating God's Creation

In thankfulness for Pope Francis' journey to the United States and his reminders of the need to love, appreciate, and care for God's creation (especially in his recent encyclical Laudato Si) share these poems by Anne Sexton and e e cummings with your students. Background information on the authors, the reading, and follow up assignments are taken from The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith Through Literature, Art, Film, and Music.

Welcome Morning

Anne Sexton

Author Background

Anne Sexton (1928–1974) continually struggled with depression. Several times she attempted suicide and underwent many treatments to help improve her mental illness. Writing poetry helped her deal with her emotions in a creative way. Her poems reflect the joys, sorrows, and struggles of her personal life. Anne Sexton was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Near the end of her life, she was drawn to Catholicism, and her religious interest is seen in many of these later poems, especially those found in the collection The Awful Rowing Toward God.

Before the Reading

“Welcome Morning” is one of the most joyous poems in American literature. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton experienced God’s presence in the simplest pleasures, as is represented in the verses that follow.

Welcome Morning

There is joy

in all:

in the hair I brush each morning,

in the Cannon towel, newly washed,

that I rub my body with each morning,

in the chapel of eggs I cook

each morning,

in the outcry from the kettle

that heats my coffee

each morning,

in the spoon and the chair

that cry “hello there, Anne”

each morning,

in the godhead of the table

that I set my silver, plate, cup upon

each morning.

All this is God,

right here in my pea-green house

each morning

and I mean,

though often forget,

to give thanks,

to faint down by the kitchen table

in a prayer of rejoicing

as the holy birds at the kitchen window

peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,

Let me paint a thank-you on my palm

For this God, this laughter of the morning,

Lest it go unspoken.

The joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,

Dies young.

i thank you God for most this amazing

e e cummings

 

Author Background

e e cummings (1894–1962) is known for his unique use (and non-use) of capitalization in grammar. He was born in Massachusetts to a middle class family who had great appreciation for the arts. His father was a Unitarian minister. Cummings was educated at Harvard and then served as an ambulance volunteer in France during World War I. Cummings was an enormously popular as both a poet and a painter during his lifetime.

Before the Reading

Familiarity often prevents us from seeing. Try to remember your excitement about first seeing the ocean, or flying in a plane, or tasting an ice cream cone. Compare those experiences to your experiences of the same events today. Why has the sense of wonder and joy gone? By using grammar and the lack of capitalization in his own idiosyncratic way, e e cummings takes the worn phrase, “thank you, God,” and makes us see that act of gratitude in a new and explosive way.

i thank you God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Reading for Comprehension

  1. How is God known to Anne as she grooms herself upon awakening? As she eats her breakfast?
  2. What does Anne feel called to do when she realizes that God is present everywhere?
  3. What does the poet feel called to do with the experiences that she has had?
  4. What are the only words that are capitalized in e e cummings’ poem?

Reading for Understanding

  1. How does the choice of capitalization provide a clue for getting at the main idea of Cummings’ poem?
  2. Philosophers and theologians tell us that God reveals himself through our senses. Give four examples of how this is expressed in the poems by Sexton and Cummings?
  3. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear” (Lk 8:8). What lines in Cummings’ poem refer to this biblical text?
  4. Is it possible for one to look without seeing or to hear without listening? How are racial, religious, and gender prejudices examples of this?
  5. Ecstatic joy is a common phenomenon among saints. What is it about their “seeing” that causes this joy?

Activity

  • In many ways, Anne Sexton’s poem is a modern version of the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s song of praise found in the Gospel of Luke (1:46–55). Read the Magnificat and Sexton’s poem, and then compose your own “song of praise,” listing several things for which you are grateful to God.

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