Well Versed

Long-time Humanities Series Director Fr. Sweeney publishes volume of his poetry

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

For more than 40 years as host of a highly regarded lecture series in the humanities at Boston College, he shared a stage with the greatest poets in the English language, among them Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney.

Now, retired Lowell Lecture Humanities Series Director Francis Sweeney, SJ, has come out with a book of his own collected verse.

The recently published Morning Window, Evening Window , named for a poem inspired by the changing colors of stained glass at Chartres Cathedral in France, contains 51 poems written by Fr. Sweeney over the course of his life. It is his second volume of verse, following by 48 years Baroque Moment , in which some of the poems in the current collection originally appeared.

"There's a good deal of me in it, growing up and growing old," said Fr. Sweeney, who will read from his work at a book-signing reception on May 6 from 4 to 6 p.m. in Burns Library.

Fr. Sweeney taught poetry at Boston College from 1951 until his retirement two years ago, and his own verse has appeared over the years in the New York Times , Atlantic Monthly and the Jesuit magazine America .

As founding director of the Lowell Lectures Humanities Series at Boston College from 1957 to 1998, Fr. Sweeney brought hundreds of celebrated writers and artists to campus. Several of these visitors provided inspiration for his own poetry, said Fr. Sweeney, including Frost, Auden and the monk Thomas Merton, with whom Fr. Sweeney maintained a correspondence in the 1960s.

He said his favorite poems in the collection include "Autumn Country" and "Berkshire Landscape," inspired by his days at the Shadowbrook Jesuit novitiate in Lenox in the early 1940s. Another favorite, "Student Tour: 1939," was prompted by a visit he made to Europe in the summer before the outbreak of World War II.

Fr. Sweeney said he also is fond of "Fanfare for Elizabeth," which appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times on the day when the English queen was crowned in 1953. Another of his poems, "London Elegy," was published at the bottom of the New York Times editorial page in the days when the paper ran poetry there each morning.

His new volume of verse is separated into two sections, one containing poems written early in his career, the other containing more recent verse.

Mulling the works of half a century collected in his new volume of poetry, Fr. Sweeney said he remains pleased with most of the verses.

"Some of the early ones I would not write today," he said. "But others, particularly the later ones, ring true for me today. If I had written them today, I would be happy with them."

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