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
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.
The Election of a new Pope is a matter of prayerful concern for all Christians, whether Roman Catholic or not. As the Cardinal’s meet in Conclave at St. Peter’s to choose the man they see as St. Peter’s successor, I thought it might be timely to remember the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings, was called by Jesus ‘the rock’, who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.
As always you can her the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title of the poem.
For various reasons I have been contemplating mortality, love, and loss of late and here is a poem which sprung out of that. Not that the poem is strictly autobiographical, I am not, as far as I know, about to leave this world, but I think it is good sometimes to imagine one’s last day, as prompted by happenstance, if only to cherish the more what Larkin called ‘the million-petalled flower of being here’.
I decided on this occasion to work with another metre, a different drum as it were. I usually write in iambs, often iambic pentameter, but on this occasion I opted for dactyls which gives the metre a strong spring and push, emphasising the incantatory effect of the repeated ‘never’s. Indeed I confess this poem was written as much for its music as for it’s meaning.
The picture below, whilst not quite ‘a resinous glade’ is one of the lovely woodland paths around Girton in which I delight to walk and sometimes compose.
As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button
I come now to the final part my sequence of nine poems reflecting on the exprerience of reading, and re-reading Dante’s Commedia. By the end of the Paradiso Dante has taken us to the very limits of human thought and expression, to the brink of a reality which is beyond language, and yet which is the true source of all reality. That source is Love, ‘the Love that moves the sun and the other stars’, and the whole purpose of the poem is that we learn and choose also to be moved by, and find our peace, in that Love.
To describe his journey, Dante used the astronomy of his day, but the truth of his message does not depend on one scientific model, or another, but on what lies behind the reality they model. In this poem I have tried to hint at the exprerience of reading Dante with our own, equally marvelous and mysterious cosmology in mind.
If you have enjoyed reading these poems you may be interested to know that a Special Edition of them has been printed and bound in Florence by Aureo Anello Books. Printed in William Morris Troy Font, in a numbered limited edition of 250, these little chapbooks, with parchment covers, are being offered for a suggested donation of €15,00, to help the work of Anchoress and Dante Scholar Sister Julia Bolton Holloway who helps look after the famous ‘English Cemetry’ in Florence, where Elizabeth Barett Browning and other poets are buried. For Julia’s wonderful suite of web resources for Dante, Mother Julian, and mediaeval theology, start exploring here. The special page telling you how to obtain Aureo Anello’s limited editions including my Dante poem is here.
I am Grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image of the rose, as usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play button.
Having been through Hell (as it were), climbed together the steep terraces of the Holy Mountain of Purgatory and danced through the fire at its summit, back into the garden of our beginnings, we come now to the final section of my Dante Sequence. This is the first of my three poems responding to the Paradiso the poem in which, reunited with his beloved Beatrice, Dante ascends through the spheres of the heavens to attain at last a mystical vision of the God who is all in all, three in one and yet looks on us with a human face.
In some ways Inferno and Purgatorio are easier to read because they chart, with harrowing honesty, the familiar territory of our own experience, whereas Paradiso challenges us with a way of seeing reality, utterly itself, in all its variety and particularity, and bathed in the light of Love, which we have not yet attained. But the key I think is to recognise that just sometimes, and by sheer grace, we get a glimpse of the Paradisal or Beatific view of things, as the disciples did at the transfiguration, and from there we can begin to imagine, and so learn to love and grow into our paradise.
The key verbs throughout the Paradiso are ‘Look’ and ‘Love’; Dante is gradually transformed by learning to look at everything, himself and Beatrice included with the gaze of Love with which God beholds his creation and this prepares him gradually for the final look, the beatific vision in which he himself, together with the sun and the other stars becomes and is moved by the Love he beholds.
In this first poem I reflect on Dante’s ascent through the first three spheres of heaven, the Moon, Mercury and finally the third Heaven, Venus, the sphere in which our Eros is perfected by Agape.
The image above comes from the University of Texas’s excellent web resource Danteworlds and the image which follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. If you have missed the other poems in this series i have put a list of links to them at the bottom of this page.
Botticelli illustrates Purgatorio 27, Dancing through the Fire
‘From wrong to wrong the exasperated sprit proceeds/ unless restored by that refining fire/ where you must move in measure like a dancer’
These words from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding have always struck a chord with me. They allude, of course, to the moment near the end of the Purgatorio when the pilgrims ascend towards the Earthly Paradise, the garden of our origins and of our restored humanity, at the summit of the Holy Mountain. But Eden is surrounded by a circle of fire. The poet-pilgrims must pass through that fire, in which the last of love’s imperfections will be purified. Desire for the beloved must be redeemed from the possessive lust which makes a person an object, and restored to that wholeness of love in which the beloved is desired and loved, body and soul, for herself as person. It is only when Virgil reminds Dante that his beloved Beatrice is waiting for him beyond the fire that he has the courage to enter the flame.
This episode has engaged my life and writing in various ways over the years and it is the title and subject of my most recent cd Dancing Through the Fire. Now I engage with it again as part of this sequence, in the terza rima that Dante used for his great poem.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the image which illustrates and interprets the poem at the bottom of this page
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.
Today is St. Peter’s day, when we remember the disciple who for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus ;the rock’, who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love. It is fitting therefore that it is at Petertide that new priests and deacons are ordained, on the day they remember a man whose recovery from mistakes and openness to love can give them courage. So I post this poem not only for St. Peter but for all those being ordained this weekend and in memory of my own ordination on this day 22 years ago.
As always you can her the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title of the poem.
Continuing my cycle of sonnets for the Church year. Here is one for Trinity Sunday. By coming to us as the Son, revealing to us the Father, and sending to us the Spirit, Jesus revealed the deepest mystery; that God is not distant and alone, but is three in one, a communion of love who comes to make His home with us.
The Rublev Icon, above, shows the Three in One inviting us to share in that communion. If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trnity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making. I have tried to suggest this throughout the poem and especially in the phrase ‘makes us each the other’s inspiration’ and Margot Krebs Neale has taken this idea of mutual and coinherent inspiration and remaking in the remarkable image she has made in response to this sonnet which follows the poem, an image which involves the mutually -inspired work of three artists and is one picture woven of three images. She writes to me about this image:
the picture of the infinite is by an artist i don’t know
the composition is by me
As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or on the title of the poem.
Readers who are interested in my use of the word ‘coinherent’ will find out more by watching the video of my talk about the British theologian Charles Williams, a friend and fellow inkling of CS Lewis which can be found here.