O, Cavalier


Today marks yet another important date: it is the 100th birthday of Sheldon Vanauken, author of my favorite book of all time, A Severe MercyHaving honored dear Davy with a sonnet on her illustrious centennial, I could not bear to let this day pass without acknowledging our great chum Van in like manner (though his gift is in the form of a bit of free verse). Reading A Severe Mercy not only incited an absolute volcanic eruption of latent longing and desire in my life, it breathed a loving affirmation that at once broke my heart and healed it. And though our copy has been nearly read to pieces over the years, I cannot so much as crack the cover without a burning rush of that original joy. This poem refers to Van’s final and ultimate surrender to Christ, some twenty years after Davy’s death, a “return to the Obedience” which led to the writing of this immortal book.

Happy Birthday, Van. We owe you the greatest debt. Look forward to telling you all about it over a heavenly pint someday.


O, Cavalier!

When once that gallant head went down
In fealty unforsworn,
And rebel heart consigned to Mercy’s cause,
Love’s triumph shook the earth for such proud prize
And heaven stooped to smile.

Knighted with a poet’s sword,
Branded by a lover’s seal,
The beauty of your breaking pierced the world.

Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website, LaniersBooks.com, and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.



    I remember exactly where I was when I read this book .
    Block Island, R.I. I had little boys then and read at night.
    Then I was on a rabbit trail to any other books by Sheldon.
    Thanks for this post. Her photo on your blog is stunning. Have you read
    any of his other books?

  2. Arthur Alligood

    I read “A Severe Mercy” for the first time earlier this summer. I have never been more moved by a book in all my life. It literally brought me to my knees.

  3. Lanier

    Bonnie, we have read other of his books. “Under the Mercy” was like a good, long visit with an old friend. And we love his sailing essays in “The Little Lost Marion”–read those multiple times. 🙂 (I also take a copy of “Mercies,” his collected poems, with me everywhere I go. ;))

    Re: Davy’s edition, yes, I’ve seen it. Still kicking myself over the signed copy I let slip through my hands a few years ago.

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