God, Poetry, Universities: A Selective Recounting of a Faculty Meeting

My institution, Felician University, is a Franciscan-Catholic institution–in fact, it’s The Franciscan University of New Jersey (pre-eminent among all of the others here). In deference to that fact, our faculty meetings usually begin with a prayer, euphemistically called a “reflection,” but almost always oriented toward worship of the Judeo-Christian God. Having heard eight years of God talk, I decided to do something different for yesterday’s meeting of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. I decided to subject my colleagues to some good old-fashioned paganism, opening the meeting with the straightforwardly idolatrous seventh stanza of Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.” (The Dean was away.) 

It was my first “reflection” in my eight years at the institution. I even dressed up for the occasion: I wore my orange, black, and yellow AC/DC “For Those About to Rock” necktie. I had to check the weather forecast ahead of time to make sure that it was going to be sunny that day: would have been embarrassing as hell if it had rained. But no, it was a solemn and serene autumn day with a bit of lustre in the sky. At 1 pm, I called the meeting to order, cleared my throat, and invoked what seems to me a neglected deity at my institution.

The day becomes more solemn and serene
         When noon is past; there is a harmony
         In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
                Thus let thy power, which like the truth
                Of nature on my passive youth
Descended, to my onward life supply
                Its calm, to one who worships thee,
                And every form containing thee,
                Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind
To fear himself, and love all human kind.


My colleagues were briefly puzzled. An awkward silence followed, accompanied by weak WTF smiles. I feel like I might subtly have over-emphasized the word “worships,” when a more moderate substitute for that word might have sufficed (e.g., “likes” or “upvotes”).

We then had a brisk half hour tutorial on the new D2L Brightspace Learning Management System (“Hi, we’re Desire2Learn. Our friends call us D2L. Our solutions help you make learning experiences better”). The meeting adjourned at 1:37 pm.

Chalk up another faux pas for Khawaja. Not the first. Or the last.

5 thoughts on “God, Poetry, Universities: A Selective Recounting of a Faculty Meeting

  1. Perhaps the puzzlement was at the syntax. I couldn’t parse it the first time through reading it; hearing it would have made it impossible.

    I see no reason why this poem is not open to a theistic interpretation. It’s not the best interpretation, even laying aside knowledge of its author’s religious tendencies — but the author is dead, as we all know; at least this one is, as I can attest, having visited his grave and left a cigarette as a votive offering — but there’s hardly anything preventing us from taking ‘thy’ to refer to God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps the puzzlement was at the syntax. I couldn’t parse it the first time through reading it; hearing it would have made it impossible.

      Even with the lilting cadences of my mellifluous voice? (I actually suspect that you’re right, but it’s not half as amusing as the suggestion I made in the post.)

      I see no reason why this poem is not open to a theistic interpretation.

      The title? It’s a Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, not to God. I suppose (by hypothesis) God is intellectually beautiful, but he’s not Intellectual Beauty itself. You could take the poem that way, if you indulged in a reader’s form of poetic license, but it’s not what the poem is about (and not, I think, a natural way of reading it).

      Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
      Bird thou never wert,
      That from Heaven, or near it,
      Pourest thy full heart
      In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

      Higher still and higher
      From the earth thou springest
      Like a cloud of fire;
      The blue deep thou wingest,
      And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

      Were it not for the title, you could interpret that as addressed to an angel (hence about one). But the title clinches it for me–it’s addressed to a skylark, hence it’s about a skylark.

      Let’s hope Shelley had a nice smoke.


      • God is not intellectual beauty itself? Oh dear, Thomism really didn’t rub off on you at Notre Dame, did it? Or Augustinianism. Or Catholicism.

        That’s alright, though, I’ve met plenty of Catholics who have no idea that God *is* beauty according to their religion’s best thinkers.


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