Metamorphosis pp 291-298 | Cite as

St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures: the Metamorphic Effect of Poverty on Writing Poetry

  • Patricia Trutty-Coohill
  • Ellen J. Burns
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 81)


I think I owe you an explanation of how I, an art historian — not a linguist or musicologist, came to discuss St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures. It’s because the Canticle is a required text in the Siena College freshman Foundations Sequence. I couldn’t think of how to get the students interested in the Canticle; the reading was so prosaic, the meaning so obvious. There must be something poetic in the original language, I thought. So I found an Italian version on the web. This paper springs from that reading; it blossoms from the insights of musicologist Ellen Burns.


Metamorphic Effect Require Text Vernacular Literature Writing Poetry Feminine Word 
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  1. 1.
    Francis of Assisi, the Documents: Volume 1, the Saint, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap, J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M., New York: New York City Press, 1999, p. 26. Edward Armstrong’s St. Francis: Nature Mystic, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973; G. K. Chrsterton, St. Francis of Assisi, Garden City, NY: Doran, 1924; Eloi Leclerc, The Canticle of Creatures: Symbols of Union, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1970, were very useful.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Marion Habig finds it related to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sprung rhythm (St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983, p. 129).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, vol. 10, London: Macmillan, 1980, p. 539.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ernest Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception Through the Ear,” in his Essays in Applied Psychology, vol. 2 (New York, 1964), pp. 266-357.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis, 1228-29, in Documents I, op. cit., p. 227.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    In fact, Francis does not even mention the term in his little prayer-poem “Praise of the Virtues.” See Habig, op. cit. pp. 132-134. Francis was “hard on his body” to the day of his death, but, the Legend of Perugia tells us, “his primary and main concern was always to possess and preserve spiritual joy within and without. He declared that if the servant of God strove to possess, and preserve interior and external spiritual joy, which precedes from purity of heart, the devils could do him no harm.” He directed his brothers: “In my presence and in the presence of others, try to be always joyful, for it is not fitting that a servant of God appear before the brothers and other men with a sad and glum face” (Legend of Perugia, para. 97, tr. Paul Oligny, Habig, op. cit., pp. 1073-1074). My interpretation of eutrapelia comes from Donald Francis Blais, “Eutrapelia: The Dynamics of Divine and Human Playfulness,” Master’s Thesis, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, 1993, Ann Arbor: UMI.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    With regard to pleasantness in the giving of amusement the intermediate person is ready‑ witted and the disposition ready wit, the excess is buffoonery and the person characterized by it a buffoon, while the man who falls short is a sort of boor and his state is boorishness” (ii 7).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Habig, op. cit, p. 85. And just as Aristotle chastised excesses and meanness in joking, Francis excoriates the “religious who amuses himself with silly gossip, trying to make people laugh.”Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Documents I, pp. 251-252.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
  11. 11.
    Sed contra to Objection 1: It comes to the same whether we desire good, or desire delight, which is nothing else than the appetite’s rest in good: thus it is owing to the same natural force that a weighty body is borne downwards and that it rests there. Consequently just as good is desired for itself, so delight is desired for itself and not for anything else, if the preposition “for” denote the final cause. But if it denote the formal or rather the motive cause, thus delight is desirable for something else, i.e. for the good, which is the object of that delight, and consequently is its principle, and gives it its form: for the reason that delight is desired is that it is rest in the thing desired. ... Now such like words or deeds wherein nothing further is sought than the soul’s delight, are called playful or humorous. Hence it is necessary at times to make use of them, in order to give rest, as it were, to the soul ... Now these things are directed according to the rule of reason: and a habit that operates according to reason is virtue. Therefore there can be a virtue about games. The Philosopher gives it the name of wittiness (eutrapelia), and a man is said to be pleasant through having a happy turn* of mind, whereby he gives his words and deeds a cheerful turn: and inasmuch as this virtue restrains a man from immoderate fun, it is comprised under modesty. (*Eutrapelia is derived from trepein = ‘to turn’).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See The Assisi Compilation, no. 47 in Francis of Assisi: the Founder, vol. II, New York: New York City Press, 2000, p. 147: “He said: ‘Those brothers of mine who are led by curiosity for knowledge will find themselves empty-handed on the day of reckoning. I would prefer that they grow strong in virtue ...He did not say these things out of dislike for the study of Scriptures, but to drawn all of them back from excessive concern for learning, because he preferred that they be good through charity rather than be dilettantes through curiosity.” 13 Chapter VI of the Rule of 1223; see Documents I, p. 103.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Habig, op. cit., p. 86, no. XXVII.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of the Soul (commonly known as the Vita Secunda), no. 55; see Documents, op. cit, p. 284.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, Legenda Major, Chapter VII, 1; see Documents I, pp. 577-78.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Vittore Branca, “Creature lodanti nel Cantico di San Francesco,” in Letteratura filologia: studi in onore di Cesare Federico Goffis, Foggia: Bastogi,1985, p. 21.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Ibid., p. 20.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    My thanks to my colleague Paul Konye for these words.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Laurie Schneider Adams, The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction, New York: HarperCollins, 1996, p. 135. Ellen Burns’ suggestion.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia Trutty-Coohill
    • 1
  • Ellen J. Burns
    • 1
  1. 1.Siena CollegaUSA

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