Music and poetry thrive within a vision of life that has been informed by an incarnational theology. When we view these arts with confidence that our embodiment is blessed and the material world is capable of conveying the sacred, their richness becomes evident and abundant. A musician, writer, and teacher, who approaches these arts with a deep awareness of this potential can bring them to life and enable others to participate in that life more fully. And this, I suggest, is why H. Wendell Howard, the most frequent contributor of articles to this journal, has been highly effective in numerous articles about music and literature.
Because Logos does not publish poetry, our readers have not had an opportunity to become familiar with Howard's work as a poet through the pages of the journal. His 1999 collection, titled "In Praise of Women: Poems," demonstrates his ability to depict the dignity and beauty of the human person at all stages of life through an unflinching and loving gaze that sees essential qualities engraved upon the body.1 For instance, the opening poem of the collection, "The Scholar-Teacher," depicts an old woman who through "her wrinkled/ Face, like hands kept overlong in tepid water" projects [End Page 4] the dignified melancholy of the aging teacher who knows that the abundance of her knowledge was usually received incompletely by her young students, leaving her
. . . waiting for the hearts ofThem so busy at some other work to clutch herUnsubstantial manna measured out to feed their unknownNeeds.
A later poem conveys the sense of unlimited promise and the irresistibly enlivening presence of a young granddaughter who "on year-old wobbling legs of shyness" and with "an eager mind and bold imagination" exhibited in the energetic playful explorations of a child, has such power upon the speaker that she "thawed my blood and suppled me in portions."
Howard's poems, in keeping with a mature understanding of an incarnational vision of life, are never idealizing; although the analogy is unbalanced, it is nevertheless the case that just as the crucifixion does not annul the dignity conferred upon human flesh through the Incarnation, so also the inevitable flaws of real human bodies neither disrupt nor distort that dignity in daily life. In "In a World Where the Magic Is Otherwise Gone," the speaker recognizes the confused unavoidable pain of long-term relationships and accepts such suffering: "I would not wish the hurt away, ev'n if I could,/ For my hurts rise from love, and to wish one away wishes both." Yet the intense joy of love in such a relationship does open a perspective upon transcendence: "And our hunger for loving fortissimo swells/ Toward the day when we'll taste one another unhampered by dark." Another poem in this anti-idealizing mode, "Flawed Perfection," acknowledges the blemishes of the flesh while recognizing that even a catalog of so-called defects does not destroy the fullness of the human person known through love: "Her beauty is a coalescing whole." The tendency to use the immature idealization of love in some popular songs is skewered by "Lying Songs," in which the [End Page 5] speaker talks back to popular refrains: "'I Took One Look at You . . . and Then My Heart Stood Still'/ Projection! Dream perfection to the fleshly fair impart!"
This mode of incarnational vision exhibited in Howard's poems is amply on display as well in his insightful commentaries on literature and music published in his many essays for Logos. Howard's first article for this journal appeared in 1:4 in Fall 1998 and was a study of Puccini's opera, Suor Angelica, arguing, as was stated in the subtitle, that this was Puccini's Catholic opera. "It is not Catholic because the principal character is a nun, or because the action occurs in a convent, or because the dramatic conflict stems from serious sins, or because a miraculous vision appears at the end, although all of these elements contribute to its Catholicity. What truly makes it Catholic is its statement about the power of God's forgiveness" (100). The article speculates that perhaps this opera lags...