Angelico Chavez (1910—1996) was a Franciscan priest — the first native to serve in this role in New Mexico. He wrote most of his poetry in English, although it was not his mother tongue; he occasionally wrote in Spanish and Latin as well. Chavez is best known as a poet, but also as an artist, fiction writer and historian.
He was born in and loved New Mexico, but various aspects of his life often called him away. In childhood his family moved to California, and in his youth he studied for the priesthood in Cincinnati and Detroit before returning to Santa Fe. He served as a chaplain in the south Pacific during WWII, and in Texas and Germany during the Korean War.
His poem The Virgin of Port Lligat, inspired by a Salvador Dali painting, was praised by T.S. Eliot as a “very commendable achievement”. As can be seen from the following selections, Angelico Chavez’s poetry often has a light, devotional tone.
I think of gray and grey
As different words.
Gray are the sides of battleships,
And grey are birds.
The one is stuff we touch
The other, dream;
Gray are new-painted sills, but grey
An age-toned beam.
Gray was the casket-cloth
That sad, sad day,
I saw a face that stays with me
Quiet and grey.
Jesus at the Well
Give me to drink this desert wine,
This water welled by men;
Amen, I say, but drink of mine,
You shall not thirst again.
Give me to drink, for I am I,
Begging from earthly jars,
Who plunged the Dipper in the sky
And splashed the night with stars.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca