Pope finds his poetic muse again


Pope John Paul reflects on nature, his death and his life in new poetry that marks his return to verse after a break of nearly a quarter of a century.

The poetry, written by hand in Polish and called "Roman Triptych," is to be officially presented in Poland and the Vatican today.

According to sources in Rome who have seen it, the poetry is a three-part reflection. In the second part, called "Meditations on Genesis on the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel," the 82-year-old pope reflects on the frescoed hall in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace where he was elected and where his successor will be chosen.

In a section about what he calls "the memorable year of two conclaves," the pope dwells on events that took place in August 1978, when Pope John Paul I was elected. He died after little more than a month in office.

The pope then looks back at the conclave that ended with his historic election as the first non-Italian pope in more than 455 years.

The first part of the poetry, "The Stream," is a reflection on nature. The pope, an avid mountain climber in his youth, has a dialogue with a mountain stream he encounters and tells it that he, too, is flowing through life.

The third part of the poem is a meditation on the story of Abraham, the biblical figure honored by all three of the major monotheistic religions -- Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The pope was a prolific poet before his 1978 election as Roman Catholic leader and he has returned to one of his first passions after a long break imposed by his office. Age, ailment and the shadow of death apparently have given him fresh inspiration, which he once said the weight of the papacy had knocked out of him.

In a television documentary in 1999, British historian Eamon Duffy recounted a revealing episode about the pope and poetry. Duffy told of a priest who sat next to the pope at a dinner in the Vatican in the early 1980s. He asked: "Holy Father, I love poetry and I've read all your verse. Have you written much poetry since you became pope?" The pope said "no," but did not explain. After 20 minutes, he turned to the man and said only: "No context."

The response, Duffy said, meant that the onerous papacy had forced him to submerge his innermost feelings, which have now resurfaced.

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