Timothy Murphy, formalist poet of the heart, will be long remembered for his inimitable style and formal mastery, the sheer volume and energy of his creative output, his contributions to the poetry community, his love of hunting and of the land, his open attitude about being both gay and conservative, and his strongly-felt re-conversion to Catholicism in his later years. One can’t easily sum up a life really, but this thoughtful review of his most recent poetry collection, Devotions (North Dakota University Press), helps. As does this obituary. And maybe the best of all is this interview, where Murphy talks about the moment, quite a miraculous one at that, when everything changed. Inspiring, no matter what your point of view on faith or politics. Beyond that, let his poetry speak:
The night you died, I dreamed you came to camp
to hear confession from an Eagle Scout
tortured by forty years of sin and doubt.
You whispered vespers by a hissing lamp.
Handlers, allowing you to hike with me,
followed us to the Bad Axe waterfront
down a ﬁrebreak this camper used to hunt.
Through all I said you suffered silently.
I blamed the authors of my unbelief:
St. Paul, who would have deemed my love obscene,
the Jesuit who raped me as a teen,
the altar boy when I was six, the grief
of a child chucked from Eden, left for dead
by Peter’s Church and all the choirs above.
In a thick Polish accent choked with love,
Te Dominus amat was all you said.
Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, and that night he visited me in a dream. This dream recurred three times. The last time was April 15, 2007—the night Pope Benedict XVI accosted American bishops over the matter of clerical sexual abuse—when this poem came to me in its entirety. I rose and immediately typed it. In every instance the dream was identical, and John Paul’s words were the same. Te Dominus amat is Latin for “God loves you.”— TM)
”Mizar” and “Alcor” in Winter
Cirrus dispersed. As a black night grew colder,
clearer, I spied the binary in the handle
of the Big Dipper dangling above my shoulder,
a pinprick twinkling by a blinding candle.
Absent the moon, its boreal corona,
I watched the stars rise east of Ellendale,
Guelph and Ludden, then wheel above Verona
and sleeping friends who farm near Englevale.
A thousand miles of road: I’d shunned the pavement
which bears the burdens I no longer ferry,
the cargo of material enslavement.
Six eagles hunted small game on the prairie.
An Arab prince’s fortunes once were measured
by blooded foals, by sons his wives could dandle,
by tributary quatrains to be treasured
and his eyesight: a pinprick by a candle.