Category Archives: Poems

O Radix: A Third Advent Reflection and Sonnet

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse

Over the course of Advent I am posting again the seven ‘Great O’ advent Antiphons together with my verse reflections on them. Today we come to the third Advent Antiphon, O Radix! This prayer calls on Christ as the Root, an image I find particularly compelling and helpful. The Antiphon Prayer, whose text I give below, is referring to the image of he ‘tree of Jesse’ the family tree which leads to David, and ultimately to Christ as the ‘Son of David’, but for me the title Radix, goes deeper, as a good root should. It goes deep down into the ground of our being, the good soil of creation. God in Christ is, I believe, the root of all goodness, wherever it is found and in whatsoever culture, or with whatever names it fruits and flowers. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit said Christ, who also said, I am the vine, you are the branches. I have tried to express some of my feelings for Christ as root and vine more elliptically in my song The Green Man, but here I do it more directly in my sonnet on the third Advent Antiphon. Once again you should be able to hear it by clicking on the play button before the poem or by clicking on the link in the title of the poem. I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful picture that follows the sonnet. These Advent sonnets are now gathered together in a larger cycle called ‘Sounding the Seasons’ and which takes you right through the church year from Advent to the feast of Christ the King. It is out now with Canterbury Press, available in various bookshops, from Amazon, or direct from Canterbury Press. You can also hear this sonnet recited as part of a song on Steve Bell‘s amazing new album Keening for the Dawn.

Some more of my poetry for this seasons, including some new work is taken up into a new Ebook by Steve Bell called Advent, part of a series he’s started called Pilgrimage Its beautifully presented and includes songs, visual art and video as well sat Steve’s prose and my poetry. You can find out how to download and enjoy it here

 

O Radix

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing
as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,

Rose from a root invisible to all.

We knew the virtues once of every weed,

But, severed from the roots of ritual,

We surf the surface of a wide-screen world

And find no virtue in the virtual.

We shrivel on the edges of a wood

Whose heart we once inhabited in love,

Now we have need of you, forgotten Root

The stock and stem of every living thing

Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,

For now is winter, now is withering

Unless we let you root us deep within,

Under the ground of being, graft us in.

Picture by Margot Krebs Neale

Picture by Margot Krebs Neale

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Entertaining Words: a sonnet about writing

What happens when I'm writing

What happens when I’m writing

As I make changes in my life to make more room for writing I have been reflecting on the process of writing itself, and particularly on what is happening when I write poetry. I want to resist the popular image of the writer as a lonely isolated ‘creative’  somehow making it all up and achieving it by themselves. It seems to me we all receive an inheritance of language, insights, images and ideas, which we in our turn, take and shape and pass on, that all writing is part of a collaboration, a collective human effort to articulate, explore and celebrate the miracle and mystery of our being here. This is especially true of language itself: every word we use has been used, enriched and nuanced by someone else before us. I take great comfort from the fact that all the words I use are older and wiser than I am, and I sometimes think it’s my task not so much to impose myself on the words that come to me as I start writing, as to welcome them, make them comfortable, listen to what they have to say, and ask them if there are other words,friends of theirs, who might like to join the party. My task as a poet, thinking of form and arranging lines and rhymes, is not so much that of a general imposing order as that of a genial host, arranging the places at a dinner party with a view to eliciting the best conversation from his guests. As usual I found that these thoughts and the words that went with them began to arrange themselves in the form of a poem, which I have called Hospitality. As this is a season in which many of us will be extending hospitality to friends and family, I thought it might be a good time to post it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

Hospitality

 

I turn a certain key within its wards,

Unlock my doors and set them open wide

To entertain a company of words.

Whilst some come early and with eager stride

Others must be enticed and coaxed a little,

The shy and rare, unused to company,

Who’ll need some time to feel at home and settle.

I bid them welcome all, I make them free

Of all that’s mine, and they are good to me,

I set them in the order they like best

And listen for their wisdom, try to learn

As each unfolds the other’s mystery.

And though we know each word is my free guest,

They sometimes leave a poem in return.

 

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A Sonnet for Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, on his feast day

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar's monument

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar’s monument

Nicholas Ferrar

Nicholas Ferrar

The Church of England keeps December 4th as the feast day of Nicholas Ferrar, the devout Anglican who founded the Community of Little Gidding in the early seventeenth century. Ferrar was trying to find a fruitful via media between protestant and catholic understandings of what it is to be Christian. As a member of a reformed church he and his community were devoted to reading the scriptures in their own language, to sharing their faith, and to worshipping together in the beautiful services of the Book of Common Prayer. But he was also keen to preserve and explore the Catholic heritage of community life, the daily offices of prayer, and praise, the pattern of Benedictine work and prayer, rooted in the psalms and the gospels. in holding these together he was recovering and preserving what he called. ‘The right good old way’. His great friend George Herbert, from his death bed sent Ferrar the manuscript of all his poems, and it was Ferrar who published them for all of us. In the 1930s TS Eliot visited Little Gidding, and eventually enshrined the experience of prayer and awareness granted him there, in the poem Little Gidding, the last of the Four Quartets.

Ferrar died on the 4th December 1637, the day after Advent Sunday, at 1 am, the hour he had always risen for prayers, and my sonnet touches on that. Certainly the place in which he and his community kept prayer going at all times, recited the psalms, and lived out their gospel harmony, is still soaked in prayer, still, a place through which the eternal light shimmers into time, still, as the inscription on the chapel says, ‘The very gate of Heaven’.

I would like to dedicate this sonnet to the memory of Susan Gray, who died this April, a friend and parishioner who loved Little Gidding, both the place and the poem. When I took her last communion to her in the Hospice, she spoke the line from Little Gidding ‘In my end is my beginning’.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

For Nicholas Ferrar

 

You died the hour you used to rise for prayer.

In that rich hush beneath all other sounds,

You rose at one and took the midnight air

Rising and falling on the wings and rounds

Of psalms and silence. The December stars

Shine clear above the Giddings, promised light

For those who dwell in darkness. Morning stirs

The household. From the folds of sleep, the late

Risers wake to find you gone, and pray

Through pain and grief to bless your journey home;

Those last glad steps in the right good old way

Up to the door where Love will bid you welcome.

Love draws us too, towards your grave and haven

We greet you at the very gate of Heaven.

 

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World’s End; A New Advent Sonnet

its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves

its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves

Advent has a moving, double focus. We focus on the coming of Christ, both as he came, the babe of Bethlehem and as he promises to come again at the end of all things. The readings in church on this first Sunday in Advent made this clear, as we heard the challenging verses of Mark chapter 13 verses 24 to the end. This passage, in which Jesus speaks of the end of all things, but paradoxically calls his disciples to hope, is known to scholars as the ‘little apocalypse’, and its amazing how preachers manage to shy away from it whenever it crops up!

This year I have tentatively begun a new sonnet sequence called ‘Parable and Paradox’ in which I am trying to reflect, as honestly as I can, on the teachings of Jesus as I hear them read to me over the year. So here first is the reading I heard on Sunday, and then the sonnet I have written in response. I was especially moved by the unexpected word ‘tender’, in the midst of all that apocalyptic imagery, when Jesus, in describing the signs of spring in a fig tree, says ‘its branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves’.

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. You can find some other sonnets from the new ‘Parable and Paradox’ sequence Here and Here

Mark 13:24-end

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’


World’s End

So we begin to contemplate the End

With shadowed glimpses of apocalypse.

How can we even start to understand?

The heavens shaken, and the vast eclipse

Of everything that we have ever known.

Then, suddenly revealed, the power and glory

Once-veiled in symbols of the lamb and throne,

The all-revealing climax of our story.

 

About that day, you tell us, no one knows

But we must wake and watch for you, look up.

Yet hidden in this warning you disclose

A tender yearning, a deep stirring hope,

And bid us, in the visions that you bring,

To see the world’s end as a sign of spring.

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Advent in Music, Poetry, and Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday! The first Sunday in the Church’s year. The beginning of a holy season in which we connect again with our ‘inconsolable longing’, as CS Lewis called it, our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already, come as child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let him come to us again.

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us!

I have responded to these seven “Great O” Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ’s Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. These sonnets form the opening sequence of my larger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages. That cycle has been published as a book called Sounding the Seasons. It is available  from Canterbury Press, the publishers, and is also available from from Amazon etc. The book is also available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here.

Over the course of this Advent season I shall post these sonnets onto my blog, so here is the first one; O Sapienita, (O Wisdom). I shall also give you the original o antiphon, in both Latin and English. You should also be able to hear the antiphons sung and hear me read the sonnet if you click on the play button just before the poem, or else click on the title of the sonnet to be taken to my audio page. Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

One of my great joy’s is that these sonnets have also inspired some beautiful work from other Artists and Musicians. Steve Bell has woven some of them into his award-winning Advent CD Keening for the Dawn (also see the links at the bottom of this page)) and now JAC Redford, who originally set my O Sapientia sonnet to choral music has now completed a suite of all seven sonnets. these have been professionally recorded, I will post further details once that recording has been released.Meanwhile you can learn more about my work with JAC and to play a recording of his setting of O Sapientia see my earlier post here)

In a new development for this year Steve Bell has also produced a wonderful, media-rich resource for Advent as a ‘snippet’ ebook, The Pilgrim Year Advent to which I have also contributed poems and reflections which you can check out Here

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.


O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Another way you might like to consider entering into and rediscovering Advent as a season of longing is through Steve Bell‘s new cd Keening for the Dawn. Steve has written a moving sequence of songs taking us from  longing and waiting in the dark, through the oracles of prophecy, to the first fulfilment in the birth of Christ and the deeper glimpses of epiphany. He has woven some of my poetry into his songs and I feel deeply honoured to be part of this record.

Steve Bell's Advent Album

Steve Bell’s Advent Album

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Thanksgiving: a sonnet

thanksgivingThere is no feast of Thanksgiving in either the British national or church calendars, but it seems to me a good thing for any nation to set aside a day for the gratitude which is in truth the root of every other virtue. So on the eve of American Thanksgiving, I am re-posting here  an Englishman’s act of thanksgiving. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the play button if it appears or on the title.

I composed this as part of a friendly competition with some American poets to compose Petrarchan sonnets on the theme of Thanksgiving. Check out this Excellent Sonnet from my friend the academic and poet Holly Ordway. You will see that we have both been influenced by the ideas and language of CS Lewis’s fellow inkling Charles Williams.

This sonnet comes from my sequence Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press The book is available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here. Since we don’t keep thanksgiving I have made it part of a mini-sequence of three centred on the feast of All Saints, which we have recently celebrated. The image that follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale


Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,
Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life that embodied souls can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
The warp and weft that no one can unravel.

So I give thanks for our deep coinherence
Inwoven in the web of God’s own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for you all, with every breath.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

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The Feast of Christ the King; a sonnet

20111119-111210.jpg
We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But for this Sunday the lectionary does an unexpected, but very wise thing. It sets as a reading the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King, hidden beneath the rags and even in the flesh of his poor here on earth. As Tolkien, that profoundly christian writer knew, He is our Strider, whose glory is for the most part hidden, as he walks in our midst and shares the burdens of our journey. And though we will be with him at that coronation when his true glory is revealed and the usurping Dark Lord is finally overthrown, we have the honour of meeting and knowing here, in the midst of our quest, for he has come to lead us us through middle earth and even asks us to play our part in proclaiming the Return of the King.

Here is a sonnet written in response to the gospel reading for the feast of Christ the King.

This sonnet comes at the end of my sequence ‘Sounding the Seasons’ published by Canterbury Press.

The book is available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here

You can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or by clicking on the title.

Christ The King

Mathew 25: 31-46

Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.

Aragorn

A hidden King, clothed in humility

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