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Where Masonic poetry can be found, and what Masonic poetry is, are questions answerable onlyWafter the phrase is defined. If by Masonic poetry is meant verse written by a Mason about a symbol or about the Lodge or the Ritual, there is little of it, and in Masonic literature is no poem which a literary critic of competence would recognize as a masterpiece. Rob Morris wrote a volume of Masonic verse but had the misfortune not to be a poet; and those who have followed him have had a still larger share of the same misfortune. But there is no reason to limit Masonic verse so narrowly; there are great themes in Freemasonry in addition to its Landmarks and its Rules and Regulations; great themes in its history, its teachings, its spirit. If defined in this more inclusive sense there is much Masonic poetry, and of the very highest quality; much more in fact than Masons themselves can easily believe because it has never been collected in anthologies.
Of the poetry thus more broadly defined Robert Burns is the acknowledged laureate; second after him, and not far removed, is Rudyard Kipling—both were active and earnest Masons, and each held Lodge office; and after Kipling, though at a farther remove, is Edwin Markham, who acknowledged Masonry to have been the inspiration of many of his pages. Goethe, the greatest of poets since Shakespeare, performed the almost impossible feat of writing a poem on the philosophy of the Craft in his "A Mason's Ways." If Knighthood and Crusades are included in the Masonic purview, Scott and the French and Italian epic writers wrote thousands of pages.
But it is not so much among the classics, the standard writers, or in a whole corpus of work by any one writer, that the best and largest number of Masonic poems are found, but rather as a single poem, or only one or two, here and there among hundreds of poems. Longfellow's series of sonnets on Dante are in artistic skill his masterpiece; one of them is the description of a cathedral, and of perfect beauty.
Edna Millay's masterpiece is her sonnet on "Euclid." The theme of Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" is brotherhood, a brotherhood so inclusive that it gathers into its embrace animals, plants, "all things both great and small"; and the same theme animates Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a great work with an appeal in it for American Masons that our English Brethren may have difficulty in finding.
Scottish Rite Masons read Tennyson's Idylls of the Ring because in some pages those Vergilian leaves read almost like a gloss on certain of the High Grades; and the verse by Tennyson and a host of other poets on the Legend of the Holy Grail are a commentary of large and moving eloquence on the text of That Which Was Lost. And work, the Masonic theme par excellence, is being sung by a whole generation of Russian poets—and if they continue as they have begun they will yet find a way to bring the Fraternity back into their country because so many of them are Masons in spirit. And it is not to be forgotten that the oldest Masonic document in existence is itself a poem, composed in rhyme. If there were a Francis Palgrave in the Fraternity he could compile a Golden Treasury in many volumes
POETRY OF FREEMASONRY.
Although Freemasonry has been distinguished more than any other single institution for the number of verses to which it has given birth, it has not produced any poetry of a very high order, except a few lyrical effusions. Rime, although not always of transcendent merit, has been a favorite form of conveying its instructions. The oldest of the Constitutions, that known as the Halliwell or Regius Manuscript, is written in verse; and almost all the early catechisms of the Degrees were in the form of rime, which, although often doggerel in character, served as a convenient method of assisting the memory.
But the imagination, which might have been occupied in the higher walks of poetry, seems in Freemasonry to have been expended in the construction of its symbolism, which may, however, be considered often as the results of true poetic genius.
There are, besides the songs, of which the number in all languages is very great, an abundance of prologues and epilogues, of odesand anthems,someof which are not discreditable to their authors or to the Institution. But there are very few poems on Masonic subjects of any length. The French have indulged more than any other nation in this sort of composition, and the earliest Masonic poem known is one published at Frankfort, 1756, with the title of Noblesse des Franc-Maçons ou Institution de leur Sociéte avant le deluge universel et de son renouvellement apres le Deluge, Nobility of the Freemasons, or the Institution of their Society before the Universal Deluge and of its Renovation after the Flood. It was printed anonyrnously, but the authorship of it is attributed to M. Jartigue. It is a transier to verse of all the Masonic myths contained in the Legend of the Craft and the traditional history of Anderson Neither the material nor the execution exempt the author from Horace's denunciation of poetic mediocrity.
A selection of poems that are of sufficient merit to be notable exceptions to the above criticism by Doctor Mackey, are here inserted.
POINSETT, JOEL R.
Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced from Mexico the plant with crimson bracts which has become the national Christmas flower Poinsettia pulcherina. He was born in Charleston S.C., in 1779, like Paul Revere being of Huguenot descent, of parents who were able to send him to school in England, employ private tutors after his return, and finally to send him to Scotland for his education in law. He studied military sciences at Woolwich. After nearly four years of traveling about Europe, President Madison called him home for a-mission to South America to make the first of a long series of endeavors to create there a Good Neighbor policy. He served in the South Carolina legislatures then served as Minister to Mexico;
once, in Chile, he led one of those small, but critical naval battles (with Spain, then on the verge of a war with us) which so often decided our national destiny but are forgotten by Americans. While in office as Secretary of War during President Van Buren's administration he pioneered the way for what was to become the National Guard system, a scheme adopted from Eighteenth Century England for having an army without having professional soldiers.
Brother Poinsett w as a member of Solomon's Lodge, No. 1, Charleston; filled a succession of offices including Grand High Priest, and was elected Grand Master but could not serve because of his appointment as Secretary of War. It was as Minister to Mexico that he made a place for himself in Masonic history when he introduced Masonry into Mexico City; and could the Lodges there have resisted invasion by the Church from one side and politics from the other, the Mexican Craft would have developed into one of great strength along with the Craft in the United States and Canada.
POINTED CUBICAL STONE.
The Broached Thurnel, which see, mentioned by Doctor Oliver and others in the Tracing-Board of an Entered Apprentice, and known to the Freneh Freemason as the pierre cubiquc, has an ax inserted in the apex. Brother William S. Rockwell considered this feature in the Tracing-Board remarkable and suggestive of curious reflections, and thus reasoned:
The cubic stone pointed with an axe driven into it, is strikingly similar to a peculiar hieroglyphic of the Egyptians. The name of one of their gods is written with a determinative sign affixed to it, consisting of a smooth rectangular stone with a knife over it; but the most singular portion of the circumstance is, that this hieroglyphie, which is read by Egyptelogists, Seth, is the symbol of falsehood and error, in contradistinction to the rough, or brute, stone, which is the symbol of faith and truth. The symbol of error was the soft stone, which could be cut; the symbol of truth, the hard stone, on which no tool could be used.
Seth is the true Egyptian name of the god known afterward by the name of Typhon, at one time devoutly worshiped and profoundly venerated in the culminating epoch of the Pharaonic empire, as the monuments of P;arnac and Medinet-Abou testify.
But in time his worship was overthrown, his shrines desecrated, his name and titles chiseled from the monumental granite, and he himself, from being venerated as the giver of life and blessings to the rulers of Egypt, degraded from his position, treated as a destroying demon, and shunned as the personification of evil. This was not long before the exode of the children of Israel. Seth was the father of Judaeus, and Palestinus is the god of the Semitic tribes who rested on the seventh day, and bears the swarthy complexion of the hated race. Seth is also known by other names in the hieroglyphic legends, among the most striking of which is Bar, that is Bal, known to us in sacred history as the fatal stumbling block of idolatry to the Jewish people (see Triangle and Square).
In the Old Constitutions known as the Halliwell or Regius Manuscript, there are fifteen regulations which are called points. The fifteen articles which precede are said to have been in existence before the meeting at York, and then only collected after search, while the fifteen points were then enacted. Thus we are told—
Fifteen artyculus they there sougton,
bald fifteen poyntys there they wrogton.
The word sougton, means sought or Soured out; the word wrogton, wrought or enacted. The points referred to in the ritualistic phrase, arts, parts, and prints of the hidden mysteries of Masonry" are the rules and regulations of the Inntitution- Phillips's New World of Words (1706 editlon) defines point as "a head or chief matter." It is in this sense that we speak of the points of Freemasonry.
A rather significant use of the word is where it means to correct and complete the openings left between the stones in a wall, a meaning applied by the operative craftsmen that is very old and still very apt.
POINTS OF ENTRANCE, PERFECT.
In the earliest lectures of the eighteenth century these were called Principal Points. The designation of them as Perfect Points of Entrance was of a later date. They are described both in the English and the American systems. Their specific names, and their allusion to the four cardinal virtues, are the same in both; but the verbal explanations differ, although not substantially. They are so called because they refer to four important points of the initiation. The Guttural refers to the entrance upon the penal responsibilities; the Pectoral, to the entrance into the Lodge; the .lIanusl, to the entrance on the Covenant; and the Pedal, to the entrance on the instructions in the northeast.
POINTS OF FELLOWSHIP, FIVE.
There are duties owing by every Freemason to his Brethren, which, from their symbolic allusion to certain points of the body, and from the lesson of brotherly love which they teach, are called the Five Points of Fellounship. They are symbolically illustrated in the Third Degree, and have been summed up by Doctor Oliver as "assisting a Brother in his distress, supporting him in his virtuous undertakings, praying for his welfare, keeping inviolate his secrets, and vindicating his reputation as well in his absence as in his presence" (Landmarks i, page 185).
Cole, in the Freea sons Library (page 190) gives the same ideas in extended language, as follows:
1. When the necessities of a Brother eall for my aid and support, I will be ever ready to lend him such assistance, to save him from sinking, as may not be detrimental to myself or connection, if I find him worthy thereof.
2. Indolence shall not cause my footsteps to halt nor wrath turn them aside- but forgetting every selfish consideration I will be ever swift of foot to serve, help, and execute benevolence to a fellow-creature in distress, and more particularly to a Brother Freemason.
3. When I offer up my ejaculations to almighty God, a Brother's welfare I will remember as my own; for as the voices of babes and sucklings ascend to the Throne of Grace, so most assuredly vfill the breathings of a fervent heart arise to the mansions of bliss, as our prayers are certainly required of each other.
4. A Brother's secrets, delivered to me as such, I will keep as I would my own; as betraying that trust might be doing him the greatest injury he could sustain in this mortal life; nay, it would be like the villainy of an assassins who lurks in darkness to stab his adversary, when unarmed and least prepared to meet an enemy.
5. A Brother's character I will support in his absence as I would in his presence: I will not wrongfully revile him myself, nor will I suffer it to be done by others, if in my power to prevent it.
The enumeration of these Points by some other more recent authorities differs from Cole's, apparently, only in the order in svhich the Points are placed. The latter order is given by Doctor Mackey:
1. Indolence should not eause our footsteps to halt, or wrath turn them aside; but with eager alacrity and swiftness of foot, we should press forward in the exercise of charity and kindness to a distressed fellow-creature.
2. In our devotions to almighty God, we should remember a Brother's welfare as our own; for the prayers of a fervent and sincere heart will find no less favor in the sight of Heaven, because the petition for self is mingled with aspirations of benevolence for a friend. 3. When a Brother intrusts to our keeping the secret thoughts of his bosom, prudence and fidelity should plaee a sacred seal upon our lips lest, in an unguarded moment, we betray the solemn trust confided to our honor.
4. When adversity has visited our Brother, and his calamities call for our aid, we should cheerfully and liberally stretch forth the hand of kindness, to save him from sinking, and to relieve his necessities.
5. While with candor and kindness we should admonish a Brother of his faults, we should never revile his character behind his back, hut rather, when attacked by others, support and defend it.
The difference here is apparently only in the order of enumeration, but really there is an important difference in the symbols on which the instructions are founded. In the old system, the symbols are the hand, the foot, the knee, the breast, and the back. In the new system, the first symbol or the hand is omitted, and the mouth and the ear substituted. There is no doubt that this omission of the first and insertion of the last are innovations, which sprung up in 1843 at the Baltimore Convention, and the enumeration given by Cole is the old and genuine one, which was originally taught in England by Preston, and in the United States by Webb.
POINTS, THE FIVE.
See Chromatic Calendar.
POINTS, TWELVE GRAND.
See Twelve Original Points of Masonry.
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