The 26th of May is the day the Church remembers and celebrates the Venerable Bede, who died on that day in 735 (This year we celebrate him on the 25th, as the 26th is Trinity Sunday!) Bede was a Saint and Scholar, whose wonderful Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is still the major source for early English History, as well as being, in itself a deeply inspiring book. He is buries in Durham cathedral and set above his tomb, in beautiful shimmering letters is the text of one of the prayers he wrote. My sonnet in celebration of Bede draws on this prayer so I give its text here in both Latin and English and have posted a photograph of it below the poem.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. This poem will be published in my next collection of verse ‘The Singing Bowl’, due out in November with the Canterbury Press
Christus est stella matutina, Alleluia
Qui nocte saeculi transacta, Alleluia
Lucem vitae sanctis promittit, Alleluia;
Et pandit aeternam, Alleluia
(Christ is the morning star who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life & opens everlasting day.)
We had our Mothering Sunday in Lent this year. but I understand May 12th is Mother’s day in America so I am reposting this poem today for all my American friends and readers.. It’s a thanksgiving for all parents, especialy for those who bore the fruitful pain of labour, and more particularly in this poem I have singled out for praise those heroic single parents who, for whatever reason, have found themselves bearing alone the burdens, and sharing with no-one the joys of their parenthood.
John 12 1-8 tells us of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus.I love this intense and beautiful moment in the Gospels, The God of the Cosmos enters as a vulnerable man into all the particular fragility of our human friendships and intimacy. I love the way Jesus responds to Mary’s beautiful, useless gesture and recognises it as something that is always worth while, something that will live forever, for all the carping and criticism of Judas, then and now.
This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.
I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above and to Margot Krebs Neale for the one below. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button
Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,
The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.
From this coming Sunday, Passion Sunday, we move into the season of Passiontide which leads us through Holy Week into the heart of the Christian Faith in the Mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
now on Kindle
Passiontide is also the core season, and forms the core sequences, in my sonnet cycle Sounding the Seasons. I will be re-posting the full cycle of the stations of the cross on passion Sunday itself and again on Good Friday, and during Holy week the sonnets composed for each day. So all the relevant poems will be available freely from this blog. But I know many churches and individuals wanting to use these poems in passiontide will be planning services in advance so it may be more convenient for them to have the book to hand as it contains indexes and appendices specifically designed to help with worship planning. It is available in the UK in a matter of days from Canterbury Press and from Amazon. However I understand there have been problems with obtaining copies in America. Canterbury only ship to the states every two months and the first shipment I think sold immediately. More will be sent, but in the meantime I am happy to say that a Kindle version will be available for instant download on March 21st which will at least be in time for Holy Week. Other non-kindle ebook formats will follow shortly. The Kindle version can be ordered already from these individual pages:
The fourth Sunday of Lent happens also to be Mothring Sunday. Continuing in my series of sonnets for the Church Year I have written this one for Mothering Sunday. It’s a thanksgiving for all parents, especialy for those who bore the fruitful pain of labour, and more particularly in this poem I have singled out for praise those heroic single parents who, for whatever reason, have found themselves bearing alone the burdens, and sharing with no-one the joys of their parenthood.
In my post of 5th February ‘On Reading the Commedia’ I shared with you the first in a new sequence of nine poems about the experience of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. At one level the pilgrim in that poem is Dante, narrating in the first person, but at another level its all of us and the terrain he maps out and travels through is the terrain of our own souls. In this second poem I follow him through the gate and down the dizzying and narrowing spirals of hell, past the first and obvious heats and lusts, down to the frozen core where he imagines satan, frozen in ice endlessly and meaninglessly consuming the souls of others. But a key feature of Dantes journey is the realisation that Someone has gone before, time and again they see signs that Christ has been this way, that he has harrowed Hell, to take captivity captive and free the prisoners. My own poem is written in the conviction that that there is no depth or recess, no sin or secret, in me or in anyone beyond the light of Christ, but we have to open the gate and let him come down to our depths, let his Light reveal and name and heal what we have hidden. Dante’s poem, his amazing cartography of Hell is written to help us do that. So here is the second of my ‘Dante ‘ Sequence. As before, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
Milton wrote an Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, which no one can hope to emulate, but in the following poem I have followed his lead in drawing a contrast between the various gods of the Classical world and the full and astonishing revelation of God’s love in the manger at Bethlehem. This was originally a short three verse poem, but at the behest of Steve Bell I have re-written it so that it is now also a song, with a tune of his composing on his wonderful new Album Keening for the Dawn. I have written about our collaboration here. I have also recorded a reading of this poem which you can hear by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or the title
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.
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.
Let me take you to one of the most magical moments in The Divine Comedy, Dante’s poetic account of our pilgrim journey into the heart of God. Dante’s story starts in ‘the middle of the way of this life’, it starts with the poet knowing he’s lost the right path and wanting to find it again. The journey takes him down through the narrowing circles of Hell, to the cold centre of the frozen ego, and then up again, out from Hell, up into the light and air, to re-orient, having seen what he needs to leave behind. Now he must begin again, this time on the positive path, climbing the holy mountain with other pilgrim souls, trying to get back to the garden of our true humanity on the mountain top.
It is just at this moment of new beginning of starting the positive journey, in the second canto of the middle book, the Purgatorio, that the magic moment happens. Dante and his guide Virgil are on the mountain island, looking around before they start the long climb when a boat load of other pilgrim souls arrive and they disembark on the island, also wondering where and how to start this stage of their pilgrimage and who else might be here to accompany them on their journey. Suddenly amongst that troop of confused souls Dante recognises, and is in turn recognised, by an old friend! It is Cassella, a singer and musician from Florence. They rstore one another’s sense of belonging and Dante knows that what he needs now before he starts the journey, is the solace of a song. So he asks Casella to sing for him ‘to solace my soul somewhat…for it is weary.’ So Casella sings. But not just any song. He does a beautiful thing here, he sings one of Dante’s own poems back to him as a song! As Dante says ‘he sang so sweetly that I still hear that sweetness sound in me’. And its not just Dante whose transfixed by the music; ‘My master, I and all that company around the singer seemed so satisfied as if no other thing might touch our minds we were all motionless and fixed upon the notes…’
In the allegory of course Dante is saying many important truths; that music and the arts help us on our journey, that friends are there to echo back to us our own words and works but in a new way, and just when we need them. Yet when I read this I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have someone turn one of my poems into a song and sing it back t me .. how cool would that be?
Steve Bell singing a ‘Guite’ poem
Well in this last year I have had just that experience, and I can tell you, its fantastic. I can also tell you that Dante was right about music and friendship as absolute essentials for our pilgrim journey -but you knew that already. As you know I have spent the last two years gradually posting to this blog the sonnets I am writing for our journey through the year, which are being published all together next month in my book Sounding the Seasons. Now back when I posted my sonnet on the baptism of Christ, together with a sermon on the subject I thought that was it, job done. Not so. Only a few days later I got an email from my friend the Canadian singer songwriter Steve Bell to say that the sonet had (literally) struck a chord with him and he had turned it into a song! Attached to the email was an mp3 file. and that’s when I had my ‘Casella moment’! My old poem had become completey new for me! It was given back to me by Steve at just the right moment with a lilt and lift in it, an invitation to adventure and wayfaring which was just what I needed at that stage in my own spiritual journey. Now both my book of poems and Steve’s new album are coming out, almost together, in two halves of the world, and both have been created to help us begin again our soul’s journey.
Just so you can get a taste of my ‘Casella moment’ I’ve got Steve’s permission to to put his song here, right next to my poem. So you can read the poem and then hear the song.
Then do head over to Steve’s site and check out the rest of the Album, which is out now. Its astonishing. If your’e in Cambridge come along to the launch of Sounding the Seasons on December 5th at 7:30 in St. Edward’s Church where there will be copies of Steve’s album also available.
So here’s the poem:
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
And here’s Steve ‘Casella’ Bell’s magical re-working, you can click on the ‘play’ button or the word epiphany:
Continuing in my series of sonnets for the Church Year I have written this one for Mothering Sunday. It’s a thanksgiving for all parents, especialy for those who bore the fruitful pain of labour, and more particularly in this poem I have singled out for praise those heroic single parents who, for whatever reason, have found themselves bearing alone the burdens, and sharing with no-one the joys of their parenthood.
I am grateful to Oliver Neale for his thought-provoking work as a photographer, and, as always, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title