There is so much happening here, so many threads of connection flowing to and from this deep source of love and gospel vision. my sonnet for this central and sacramental day can only suggest one or two of them. Margot’s image, above, and Oliver Neale’s image below, take us a little further.
This sonnet, and the others I have been 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.
You can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button
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.
Readers of my sonnet sequence for the church year may have noticed how often I allude to stories or images from John’s Gospel. I confess it is my favourite and recently I have had the chance to reflect on it in prose as well as poetry, in a series of lectures at St. Edwards, which are now all recorded and available, and downloadable, on my podcast. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my Sonnet on St. John’s Gospel and also to gather in one place links to all five talks, one on the prologue and one each on the key words: Light, Life, Love, and Glory.
So here are the links to my five talks. You can click on the title to go to my podomatic site from which you can download the talk, or subscribe to them all via itunes etc. or you can simply play the talk from this page using the ‘play’ button.
So keep his fires burning through the night Beacons and gateways for the child of light.
In our poetic journey through the sacred seasons of the year we have come to midsummer! The traditional Church festival for this beautiful, long-lit solstice season is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which falls on June 24th, which was midsummer day in the old Roman Calender. Luke tells us that John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so this feast falls half way through the year, 6 months before Christmas!
The tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve with the lighting of Bonfires and Beacons is very ancient, almost certainly pre-Christian, but in my view it is very fitting that it has become part of a Christian festivity. Christ keeps and fulfills all that was best in the old pagan forshadowings of his coming and this Midsummer festival of light is no exception. John was sent as a witness to the light that was coming into the world, and John wanted to point to that light, not stand in its way, hence his beautiful saying ‘He must increase and I must diminish’, a good watchword for all of those who are, as the prayer book calls us, the ‘ministers and stewards of his mysteries’.
I have written two sonnets, one for St. John’s Eve reflecting on the lighting of the fires and another for St. John’s day in which , in honour of the Baptist, I reflect on the mystery and grace of baptism itself.
I am very grateful to the artist Rebecca Merry for her beautiful interpretation of this feast and these poems.
As usual you can hear the poems by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title.
Kindling the imagination. Photo courtesy of Lancia smith.
A while back I agreed to do an extended interview for the Photographer Lancia Smith’s excellent Web site The True the Good and the Beautiful, which she was going to run alongside some superb photographs she had taken at this years CS Lewis Summer Institute. When Lancia sent me the questions and I began to answer them, I realised that she had such a gift for framing the questions that I was delving deeper and giving better and more coherent answers than I had done before, even in my own ‘notes to self’ about what I was thinking. Her interview, in three parts, covered everything for my childhood, my journey to faith and the first kindlings of my love of literature, to my understanding of balance and variety in life and writing, my attutudes to suffering and depression, and finally delving deeply into the heart of what I am saying in Faith Hope and Poetry and helping me to set out my own poetic credo. I thought readers of these pages might be interested to see the interview so I am posting links to all three parts below, each with a little hi-light to give you a flavour of whats in each section. I hope you will also enjoy a more general exploration of her site. Click on the title of each part to go to that section of the interview.
The three parts of the interview are each illustrated by some of the remarkable Photographs she has taken, one of which I have posted above, and another of which has now prompted some further collaborative work with another artist
What role does inspiration play in your work? Where does inspiration come from for you? What are sources of Joy?
Now there’s a question! At one level, everything is gift; to live, to breathe, to comprehend, to write, to create. Even when we are ‘working’ at these things with all our might, it is still a gift, still a grace to be alive at all and able to work at anything. So I don’t think of the creative process as a certain amount of hard work topped up by inspiration, I see the work itself as the inspiration. Having said that there are of course times when one is more or less aware of the nudge, the proffer, the gift of words and lines and images, arising as given things from an unguessed at depth and one receives them gladly. I find inspiration throughout nature but especially in images of light and water, light reflecting on water. The lines in my sonnet ‘O Oriens’: “ So every trace of light begins a grace/ In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam/ Is somehow a beginning and a calling;” are literally true.
I think the poetic language about waiting on a muse is something to take very seriously and I think the reality behind every Muse is the Holy Spirit.
How do you overcome the difficulties you encounter in your own life and reconcile their reality with the beauty that you also must bear witness to? How is it that you are able to see what is bitter and not what it ought to be and yet be able to also witness the Beauty that is beyond it?
You are certainly right about the burdens and shadows, and right to say that a creative vocation seems to involve a particular kind of exposure and vulnerability to periods of darkness and depression. I think there are several important truths to notice here. The first is that sometimes tears and grief are the right, and indeed, only possible response to things. The Bible is full of tears and outpourings of grief, and there is no promise that we will not shed them, only that one day God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. And He can only do that because as a human being He has shed them himself, and knows from the inside what the depth of our agony can be. So there is a proper place for the depiction of suffering and the expression of bitterness in Art as in life. We don’t need some anodyne sugary literature saying peace, peace, when there is none. But it is also true that the agony in the Garden and Good Friday are not the end of the story. ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green’, and Love has the last word.
Why have you pursued poetry as your venue? Why poetry instead of great fiction like LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia? Those genres draw on ancient theme, myths, metaphor and work to heal and to illuminate. What is the compelling call of poetry and song-lyrics for you?
Well your phrase ‘compelling call’ is just the right one. There is something in poetry itself, in the magic of rhythm and rhyme, which woke me up, and called me. Reading certain poems I would feel something quickening in me, ‘my heart in hiding stirred’ to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Poetry, for me, always carries a sense of chant, and it is from chant that we get both, enchantment and chanson, both magic and song.
There is so much happening here, so many threads of connection flowing to and from this deep source of love and gospel vision. my sonnet can only suggest one or two of them. Margot’s image, above, and Oliver Neale’s image Below, take us a little further.
You can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button