For all the convenience, the ease of reference and access afforded by the ubiquitous ‘ebook’, I have been reminded recently in three very concrete ways of how precious and irreplaceable real books are with their tang, tinge, smudge and wear, and most of all their tangible personal history.
I’ll tell you today about the first of my three reminders, which came in a remote croft in Wester Ross in the far northwest of Scotland, an old place where my uncle lived and where, under portraits of my grandparents and great-grandparents, I can browse his library with its annotated volumes of Donne along with his own articles on the same, and the several volumes of my grandmother’s poetry. The reminder came this summer when my uncle’s widow gave me an old Bible. Beautifully bound and printed, it is inscribed with my great-grandfather’s name and dated 1876, it has his pencilled underlinings and annotations over his many years of reading, and best of all, on a slip of paper inside the front cover it has the poem he wrote for my great-grandmother on their wedding anniversary in 1894.
And learn how we, by God’s good guiding hand, Redeemed at last may reach the Heavenly Land
Of course the Bible is a precious book in any form, and I have, and consult, many Bibles. I even have a handy, searchable Greek New Testament on my iPhone! But this is different . The Bible itself is like a family album telling the long tale, over many generations of how God came to His people and, in the end, came to all of us in Christ. It is also the story of our long pilgrimage from the first garden of our beginnings, through the wilderness, and at last to the City of God in which the garden itself is renewed. But this particular copy of the Bible ties the threads of my own family into that bundle of life. In the anniversary poem my great-grandfather celebrates with his wife the way in which this particular Bible had accompanied them on their pilgrimage through time as they read it together:
“The years roll on unheeded in their flight
Maybe because you help to make them bright
Dear Wife in this our earthly pilgrimage
Each day may we peruse the sacred page
And learn how we, by God’s good guiding hand,
Redeemed at last, may reach the Heavenly land.”
And my jaw dropped whenI read this because I had used just that same image of pilgrimage together, in a Wedding anniversary poem I had written for Maggie some years earlier:
‘He made us, loved us, formed us and has set
His chosen pair of lovers in an ark.
Borne upwards by his spirit, we will float
Above the rising waves, the falling dark
As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,
Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven’
The tone, the tenor, the metre, and the meaning might all have been my great-grandfather’s!
It happened that I had with me the proofs for Sounding the Seasons, which I was still working on, and I had chosen one particular verse of Scripture (Luke 10:1) as an epigraph for the whole volume, to say that I was sending out my seventy sonnets, as bearers of good news, just as Jesus sent out the seventy. I should have known that when I turned to that page in my great-grandfather’s Bible, that verse would be underlined!
So when I pick up this worn old Bible and open it, I am in touch with something, and I have something to hand on, which no easy ebook, no digitised multi-version, will ever replace. I hope that by the time my great-grandchildren are reading it there will be a few more poems tucked inside!
Remind me to tell you about my other two reminders!
Joanna and Nicholas; a picture of joy! (Photo:Paul Clarke)
I had the great joy of preaching, in Portsmouth Cathedral at the wedding of my good friend Joanna Jepson, who is a well-spring and a great blessing to those who know her. She and her fiance had asked me for a poem as a wedding present and I was happy to oblige. I post it here with their permission in the hope that as well as being personal and particular to them, whose names are as it were watermarked into all I have written, it may also speak to other couples too.
As always you can hear it on audioboo by clicking on the play button if it appears or on the title of the poem
If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation 2 Cor.5:17
Now you have come at last to the first day
Inside that Love whose end is to begin.
Circles and spirals find their hidden way
Home to this centre where they hold and stay.
Old lives renew and quicken from within,
Love is the fountain in whose flow and play
All that you are is cleansed of every stain.
Singly you die and doubly live again.
Joy is alive in you like hidden grain
Open and growing in your common life
As you become each other’s dew and rain
Nurturing God’s good garden. Man and wife,
Now and forever, stand before your Lord
And be created by his Living Word.
I am posting here a recording of the first of five lectures in a series I am giving called Christ and the Cambridge Poets. They are all delivered in St. Edward’s Church in Cambridge and you will occasionally pick up little references to the churh itself, and to its history and association with these poets and especially to Latimer’s Pulpit All five of our poets (Spenser, Herbert, Smart, Tennyson, Lewis) will have seen it. this is the pulpit
Latimers Pulpit all five of our poets would have seen it
from which I preach every week.
My first poet is Spenser, the audio for this talk lasts about 70 minutes (I over-ran!) feel free to dip in and out as you like. As usual you can hear the audio by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or by clicking on the title
I post below the some extracts from the poems that I read and referred to in the lecture:
Spenser and the insights of Love extracts:
From the hymn to love:
The earth, the ayre, the water, and the fyre,
Then gan to raunge them selues in huge array,
And with contrary forces to conspyre
Each against other, by all meanes they may,
Threatning their owne confusion and decay:
Ayre hated earth, and water hated fyre,
Till Loue relented their rebellious yre.
He then them tooke, and tempering goodly well
Their contrary dislikes with loued meanes,
Did place them all in order, and compell
To keepe them selues within their sundrie raines,
Together linkt with Adamantine chaines;
Yet so, as that in euery liuing wight
They mixe themselues, & shew their kindly might.
So euer since they firmely haue remained,
And duly well obserued his beheast;
Through which now all these things that are contained
Within this goodly cope, both most and least
Their being haue, and dayly are increast,
Through secret sparks of his infused fyre,
Which in the barraine cold he doth inspyre.
Thereby they all do liue, and moued are
To multiply the likenesse of their kynd,
Whilest they seeke onely, without further care,
To quench the flame, which they in burning fynd:
But man, that breathes a more immortall mynd,
Not for lusts sake, but for eternitie,
Seekes to enlarge his lasting progenie.
From the hymn to heavenly love:
Till that great Lord of Loue, which him at first
Made of meere loue, and after liked well
Seeing him lie like creature long accurst,
In that deepe horror of desperyred hell,
Him wretch in doole would let no lenger dwell,
But cast out of that bondage to redeeme,
And pay the price, all were his debt extreeme.
Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,
In which he reigned with his glorious fyre,
He downe descended, like a most demisse
And abject thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That he for him might pay sinnes deadly hyre,
And him restore vnto that happie state,
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde:
Nor spirit, nor Angell, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for mans misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who self did slyde.
So taking flesh of sacred virgins wombe,
For mans deare sake he did a man become.
From the Amoretti
HAPPY ye leaues when as those lilly hands,
which hold my life in their dead doing might
shall handle you and hold in loues soft bands,
lyke captiues trembling at the victors sight.
And happy lines, on which with starry light,
those lamping eyes will deigne sometimes to look
and reade the sorrowes of my dying spright,
written with teares in harts close bleeding book.
And happy rymes bath’d in the sacred brooke,
of Helicon whence she deriued is,
when ye behold that Angels blessed looke,
my soules long lacked foode, my heauens blis.
Leaues, lines, and rymes, seeke her to please alone,
whom if ye please, I care for other none.
LEAUE lady in your glasse of christall clene,
Your goodly selfe for euermore to vew:
and in my selfe, my inward selfe I meane,
most liuely lyke behold your semblant trew.
Within my hart, though hardly it can shew,
thing so diuine to vew of earthly eye:
the fayre Idea of your celestiall hew,
and euery part remaines immortally:
And were it not that, through your cruelty,
with sorrow dimmed and deformd it were:
the goodly ymage of your visnomy,
clearer then christall would therein appere.
But if your selfe in me ye playne will see,
remoue the cause by which your fayre beames darkned be.
MOST glorious Lord of lyfe that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph ouer death and sin:
and hauing harrowd hell didst bring away,
captiuity thence captiue vs to win.
This ioyous day, deare Lord, with ioy begin,
and grant that we for whom thou didest dye
being with thy deare blood clene washt from sin,
may liue foreuer in felicity.
And that thy loue we weighing worthily,
may likewise loue thee for the same againe:
and for thy sake that all lyke deare didst buy,
with loue may one another entertayne.
So let vs loue, deare loue, lyke as we ought,
loue is the lesson which the Lord vs taught.
FAYRE bosome fraught with vertues richest tresure,
The neast of loue, the lodging of delight:
the bowre of blisse, the paradice of pleasure,
the sacred harbour of that heuenly spright.
How was I rauisht with your louely sight,
and my frayle thoughts too rashly led astray?
whiles diuing deepe through amorous insight,
on the sweet spoyle of beautie they did pray.
And twixt her paps like early fruit in May,
whose haruest seemd to hasten now apace:
they loosely did theyr wanton winges display,
and there to rest themselues did boldly place.
Sweet thoughts I enuy your so happy rest,
which oft I wisht, yet neuer was so blest.
BRING with you all the Nymphes that you can heare
both of the riuers and the forrests greene:
And of the sea that neighbours to her neare,
Al with gay girlands goodly wel beseene.
And let them also with them bring in hand,
Another gay girland
my fayre loue of lillyes and of roses,
Bound trueloue wize with a blew silke riband.
And let them make great store of bridale poses,
And let them eeke bring store of other flowers
To deck the bridale bowers.
And let the ground whereas her foot shall tread,
For feare the stones her tender foot should wrong,
Be strewed with fragrant flowers all along,
LOE where she comes along with portly pace,
Lyke Phoebe from her chamber of the East,
Arysing forth to run her mighty race,
Clad all in white, that seemes a virgin best.
So well it her beseemes that ye would weene
Some angell she had beene.
Her long loose yellow locks lyke golden wyre,
Sprinckled with perle, and perling flowres a tweene,
Doe lyke a golden mantle her attyre,
And being crowned with a girland greene,
Seeme lyke some mayden Queene,
Her modest eyes abashed to behold
So many gazers, as on her do stare,
Vpon the lowly ground affixed are.
Ne dare lift vp her countenance too bold,
But blush to heare her prayses sung so loud,
So farre from being proud.
Nathlesse doe ye still loud her prayses sing,
That all the woods may answer and your eccho ring
Now al is done; bring home the bride againe,
bring home the triumph of our victory,
Bring home with you the glory of her gaine,
With ioyance bring her and with iollity.
Neuer had man more ioyfull day then this,
Whom heauen would heape with blis.
Make feast therefore now all this liue long day,
This day for euer to me holy is,
Poure out the wine without restraint or stay,
Poure not by cups, but by the belly full,
Poure out to all that wull,
And sprinkle all the postes and wals with wine,
That they may sweat, and drunken be withall.
Crowne ye God Bacchus with a coronall,
And Hymen also crowne with wreathes of vine,
And let the Graces daunce vnto the rest;
For they can doo it best:
The whiles the maydens doe theyr carroll sing,
To which the woods shal answer & theyr eccho ring
AND thou great Iuno, which with awful might
the lawes of wedlock still dost patronize,
And the religion of the faith first plight
With sacred rites hast taught to solemnize:
And eeke for comfort often called art
Of women in their smart,
Eternally bind thou this louely band,
And all thy blessings vnto vs impart.
Thou glad Genius, in whose gentle hand,
The bridale bowre and geniall bed remaine,
Without blemish or staine,
And the sweet pleasures of theyr loues delight
With secret ayde doest succour and supply,
Till they bring forth the fruitfull progeny,
Send vs the timely fruit of this same night.
And thou fayre Hebe, and thou Hymen free,
Grant that it may so be.
Til which we cease your further prayse to sing,
Ne any woods shal answer, nor your Eccho ring.
And ye high heauens, the temple of the gods,
In which a thousand torches flaming bright
Do burne, that to vs wretched earthly clods:
In dreadful darknesse lend desired light;
And all ye powers which in the same remayne,
More then we men can fayne,
Poure out your blessing on vs plentiously,
And happy influence vpon vs raine,
That we may raise a large posterity,
Which from the earth, which they may long possesse
With lasting happinesse,
Vp to your haughty pallaces may mount,
And for the guerdon of theyr glorious merit
May heauenly tabernacles there inherit,
Of blessed Saints for to increase the count.
So let vs rest, sweet loue, in hope of this,
And cease till then our tymely ioyes to sing,
The woods no more vs answer, nor our eccho ring.
As they watch the Royal Wedding today and hear again, beneath the beautiful numinous arches of Westminster Abbey the cadences of the marriage vows, couples might be prompted to renew their own vows to one another. If so here is a sonnets about doing just that. The words in italics are taken directly from the wedding service
Maggie has a birthday in early March and every so often a sonnet would come along in time for it. For those of us prone to be shadowed by the long darkness of winter, March can be a very ‘low’ month when spring has not quite stirred, and this is a poem of thankfulness for fulfilment of that part of the wedding vows in which couples promise to ‘comfort’ one another
Comfort you comfort me my lover
When sleep is falling soft upon your breast,
All the long daylight weariness is over,
Our room is full of shadowed quietness.
Through darkened branches ring-doves dart and flutter
In sudden starts of dusk and scented air,
Beneath the rainfall’s hurried pater noster
The stirring trees are rooted deep in prayer.
Wild winds outside are beating out their vespers,
Eleison they wail at our distress,
We hold each other close to God in whispers
And love each other into thankfulness.
Till all the worlds dark, restless night is over
Comfort you comfort me my lover
To start my series of poems leading up to the Royal Wedding, here is a sonnet I wrote for Maggie for our wedding on St. Mary Magdalene’s day in 1984. We had chosen ‘the wedding at Cana’ as our reading, our reception was in the beautiful cloister garden of Westcott House in Cambridge. As always you can hear the sonnet either by pressing the ‘play’ button, if it appears in your browser, or else by clicking on the title of the poem.
As a second for my series of poems about marriage, leading up to the Royal Wedding, Here is a poem I wrote for Maggie, to accompany an anniversary gift of a silver brooch bearing the image of a mediaeval ship. Sadly we no longer have the brooch as it was stolen when our vicarage was robbed, though it looked a little like this:
Happily we still have the poem, as poetry, like love, is one of those things that nobody can actually steal. It goes like this:
As we approach St. Valentine’s day I thought I might post a sonnet on renewing Marriage vows which I wrote for my wife Maggie. It so happened that I began my ministry as a vicar in All Saints Hartford on Valentines day. I was priest in a beautiful mediaeval church where we had many weddings. Maggie and I decided that we would invite all the couples whose weddings we took there, year by year, to come back to the church each year on Valentine’s day and renew their vows with us as we renewed ours, (I’m delighted to see that my sucesor there is still keeping up the tradition!) and it was out of those yearly renewals that this poem arose. I hope it might be helpful for any couples out there who might want to renew their own vows this coming valentines day, if so please feel free to use or reprint this poem in anyway you like. The words in italics come from the Anglican Marriage service. In some ways this sonnet also continues the reflection on the gift of language and its mysterious powers, which have been the subject of my last few posts. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
The Hope Players, the company with whom I did the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, are beginning a new play called Redemption Song, written by Daniel Carlson and telling the story of the book of Ruth, from Naomi’s perspective. Daniel asked me to write a song for the play which could be woven in and out of the performance or sung by the characters. The Song is now on my new cd Dancing Trough the Fire, under the title A Song for Ruth. You can hear it and/or download it by clicking on the cd icon on the right hand side of this blog.Here’s what I’ve written:
Redemption Song (the Story of Naomi)
Sing a song of sowing
Of carrying the seed
A song of hopeful planting
To meet a future need
Sing a song of letting go
Of falling to the ground
Of burying that feels like loss
Still waiting to be found
There are no songs of famine
For hunger has no voice
The poor must scavenge what they can
The rich are spoiled for choice
The stones of fear and anger
Will strike you from behind
For hunger hates the stranger
And cleaves to his own kind
Sing a song of exile
Of loneliness and loss
A song of broken bridges
That nobody can cross
A song of desperation
For words you understand
A song of fearful labour
On someone else’s land
Sing a song of marriage
The grace of bride and groom
The fruitful vine around the door
And joy within the room
A song of love and longing
For the children yet to be
A quiver-full of future hopes
Aimed at eternity
Sing a song of mourning
The shadows and the tombs
The bitterness of broken hearts
And disappointed wombs
Sing a song of empty words
And unexpressed despair
Of reaching out at midnight
For the one who isn’t there
Sing a song of waiting
Of weeping on the earth
A song of expectation
And longing for new birth
Sing a song of patience
Of watching through the night
Sing the hours before the dawn
And sing the coming light
Sing a song of harvest
Of one who bind the sheaves
And one who gleans along the edge
The good another leaves
Sing a song of winnowing
And taking into store
Of Barley heaped like glowing gold
Upon the threshing floor
Sing out before the Lord of Life
Your songs of joy and pain
Sing of the years the locusts ate
That cannot come again
Sing to Him your hopes and fears
Your tales of right and wrong
And He will make your voice a part
Of His Redemption Song