Too Gentle...

I came across a note the other day that James Kavanaugh died. You may or may not know who that is and may or may not care. But I do.  A good friend introduced me to Kavanaugh's poems years ago.  I had just graduated from seminary with a master of divinity degree; yes, a master of divinity...god, that's arrogant. Kavanaugh's poetry shook me at the time, it spoke to places in my life where Greek and Hebrew and systematic theology could not reach.  It reminded me I do not want to be a master of anything, but rather a searcher of everything.

James Kavanaugh was ordained and actively ministered for ten years as a Catholic Priest before attending Catholic University in Washington D.C. While working on his second doctoral degree, he wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post entitled "I am a Priest, and I want to marry." The year was 1967, the year I was born. Although it was written under a pseudonym it was received with such commotion and outrage that the secret would not be kept for long. He then exploded onto the American scene with A Modern Priest Looks At His Outdated Church.  The New York Times called it "a personal cry of anguish that goes to the heart of the troubles plaguing the Catholic Church."  Soon Simon and Schuster came calling with a book deal.

Though a gifted scholar, with degrees in psychology and religious philosophy, he took a leave of absence from the priesthood; Kavanaugh would not be collared anymore.  Forty years ago in a decrepit New York residence hotel, Kavanaugh rejected lucrative offers to write what publishers wanted.  Instead, he feasted on bagels, peanut butter, and cheese whiz...and wrote his first poetry book There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves.  The book was turned down by a dozen publishers because everyone knows poetry doesn't sell.  It went on to sell over a million copies.  You may not have one of those million copies. But I do.  

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant's profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant's world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant's world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.


  1. Thanks John, for sharing this remarkable life with us. I have long loved that poem, highly subversive yet tender to its core. Not many pull off that combo!

  2. Beautiful poem.

    I think I may be like that.

    But then, maybe many of us are, and that's the point.

  3. I appreciate this ... greatly.

  4. I spent years searching bookstores for everything of his I could find. The first poem of his I ever read was There Are Men To Gentle, which I came across in a dusty used bookstore. I was smitten.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. I didn't know of him. it's beautiful what he wrote. He's not lonely anymore.

  6. This man's words captured my heart years before I knew the One who compels the words of the heart. May people always find his poetry in unexpected places and come to life!