Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Sonnet for All Saints Day

The dark is bright with quiet lives and steady lights undimmed

All Saints Day falls on November 1st but many churches will keep the feast on this Sunday the 30th October. So here is my sonnet for All Saints Day, a little in advance, for anyone who might want to read or make use of it in a service. On the feast of All Saints we celebrate the light of Christ reflected in the saints, living and departed who surround and inspire us even in our present darkness. The image I have chosen to accompany this poem is of candles lit to celebrate All Saints day in Poland. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the title.

All Saints

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards

Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,

It glances from the eyes, kindles the words

Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright

With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,

The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.

Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing

He weaves them with us in the web of being

They stand beside us even as we grieve,

The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,

Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above

The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,

To triumph where all saints are known and named;

The gathered glories of His wounded love.

'Each shard still shines' image by Margot Krebs Neale

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A Sonnet for St. Luke

St. Luke accompanied by his 'creature' the winged ox

Continuing my series of sonnets for the church year, here is a sonnet for St. Luke. When the series is published as a book I intend to gather the four evangelists from their respective days and bring their four sonnets together as a sequence. This sequence will be bound together by the image of the four living creatures round the throne of God and the tradition that each of these creatures represents both an aspect of Christ and one of the Four Evangelists. For a good account of this tradition click here. I am drawing my inspiration both from the opening page image of each Gospel in the Lindesfarne Gospels and also from the beautiful account of the four living creatures given by St. Ireneus, part of which I quote below. For the purpose of my ‘live bloggng’  of the festivals, in the course of this year, here is St. Luke, restored to the chronological sequence. As always you can hear the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title of the poem.

‘...since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. ‘  St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (ca. 120-202 AD)  –  Adversus Haereses 3.11.8

 Luke

His gospel is itself a living creature

A ground and glory round the throne of God,

Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature

And One upon the throne sees it is good.

Luke is the living pillar of our healing,

A lowly ox, the servant of the four,

We turn his page to find his face revealing

The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.

He breathes good news to all who bear a burden

Good news to all who turn and try again,

The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,

A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,

The voiceless find their voice in every word

And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.

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Hugh Latimer Martyred 16th October 1555

Latimer's Pulpit, you can touch the wood.

Today, on the exact anniversary of his Martyrdom by fire in 1555 I stood in the very Pulpit from which Latimer had preached, to preach a sermon celebrateing his memory and re-affirming the gospel for which he died. On this aniversary therefore I am posting again the Sonnet I wrote called Latimer’s pulpit. It is part of a sequence of St. Edward’s sonnets you can read here, but I republish it on its own, for Latimer’s day.

Here first is a preliminary note about the pulpit:

Ours is known as Latimers Pulpit,  for Hugh Latimer the great Saint and Martyr preached there often, and it was in this pulpit that he preached the famous sermon of the card, to which my sonnet alludes.

In that sermon he imagines that we are losing a card game with the devil. One after another he lays out the black suit of our sins, he holds all the cards and is ready to take the ‘trick’ of our souls, but Christ leans forward and lays on top of all those sins the trump card that wins us back; the king of hearts, for in a universe where God is love, then love is always trumps. At the end of the sermon he exhorts his hearers to do for others what Christ has done for them. When people deal you cards of malice, hate, or envy always and only reply by trumping hate with love. His great love, even of his enemies, shone through when he was burned at the stake for his faith in 1555. It is an extraordinary experience to touch the wood, and to stand in that pulpit and preach as I do each week.

And here is the poem, as always you can hear it by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears or by clicking on the title:

Latimer’s pulpit

Latimer’s pulpit, you can touch the wood,
Sound for yourself the syllables of grace
That sounded and resounded through this place;
A quickened word, a kindling for good
In evil times; when malice held the cards
And played them, in the play of politics,
When knaves with knives were taking all the tricks,
When Christendom was shivered into shards,
When King and Queen were pitched in different camps,
When burning books could stoke the fire for men,
When such were stacked against him –even then
Latimer knew that hearts alone are trumps.
He gave the King of Hearts his proper name,
He touched this wood, and kindled love to flame.

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The Ballad of the White Horse a complete reading in 9 podcasts

In a previous post on the anniversary of 9/11 I read an extract from GK Chesterton‘s extraordinary Ballad of the White Horse, which seemed to me uncannily apt for the day.

I have had a very positive response to that posting, so at the request of a number of people I have now made a recording of the entire poem which I have organised into 9 podcasts with links to all 9 episodes gathered onto this page.

As I remarked on the 9/11 anniversary ,the poem, whose own 100th anniversary falls this year, is as much a poem about modern times as it is a ballad of the days of King Alfred. In 1911 Chesterton foresaw that the modern Nihilism and worship of the ‘superman’ embodied in the writings of Nietzsche together with false worship of race and a cult of violence, would likey wreak unimaginable damage in the new century, as proved to be the case. He also saw that a renewal of the vision of joy and humility that is at the heart of the Christian creed was the only way to resist the death-wish which is the shadow side of our fallen humanity. He wrote a poem at whose heart is a call to courage kindled not by probable chances of success but by what he called ‘the joy without a cause’. Many Englishmen called to combat in the two world wars, went out with this poem in their pockets and were greatly strengthened by it. The Times quoted it twice in leaders each at key points in the second world war; “nought for your comfort” was the leader headline after the disaster of Crete and Alfred’s great cry ‘The high tide’ and the turn’ was the headline after the D Day landings. And yet this poem, once so centrally part of the national consciousness, is now hardly known at all or read, but its time must suely come again.

Chesterton had a big influence on the Inklings, the writers who clustered around Tolkien and Lewis and there are a number of echoes between the Ballad of the White Horse and the Lord of the Rings. Especially the descriptions of Colan the Celt and his people, who, like the elves, are always haunted by the sound of the sea and have their hearts in an undying land. Likewise the detail of battle in which Alfred and his Celtic allies are sundered and the Celts, given up for lost re-emerge as though they were the armies of the dead and put their foes to flight, that meeting on the field of battle against all odds is very like the events on the fields of the Pelanor. But perhaps the greatest similarity is in the ending of the two tales. In the final book of the Ballad, ‘The Scouring of the Horse’ Chesterton deals with the problem of the peace, the problem that after winning on the battle the wariors find corruption at home and have to confront evil in another form and in their own native place. Whilst Alfred leaves Wessex to confront the Danes in London the weeds are allowed to grow over the White Horse and at this point Chesterton gives Alfred a vision of the future and calls England to an eternal vigilance. I think the very namng, let alone the plot features, of Tolkien’s ‘Scouring of the Shire’ are derived from this.

You can read and download the entire text of the poem here, though better still buy an old hardback copy. They are very cheap and still widely available.

My reading of each of the episodes can be found through the links below and you will find, on my podomatic page, that I have also given a brief introduction to each book. I have left the settings so that the episodes can be downloaded, so you can listen to them off line or even, if you wish, burn them to a cd and use them to while away the hours on long car journeys! I hope you enjoy them, let me know what you think.

The Ballad of the White Horse, read by Malcolm Guite:

The Dedication

Book I The Vision of the King

Book II The Gathering of the Chiefs

Book III The Harp of Alfred

Book IV The Woman in the Forest

Book V Ethandune: The First Stroke

Book VI Ethandune: The Slaying of the Chiefs

Book VII Ethandune: The Last Charge

Book VIII The Scouring of the Horse

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A Villanelle for National poetry day

Ah, here is the poem thats causing the problem! Its by Guite of course!

It’s National Poetry Day here in the UK so I thought I’d post this villanelle up in honour of the day. I was once photocopying some poems for a talk when the whole machine ground to a halt, totally jammed. I pulled what poetry I could from its innards and rushed off to give my talk. when I came back the lady in charge of the machine pointed an accusing finger and said “Your poetry is jamming my machine!” I thought that was such a great line that I stole it and wrote her this poem to make ammends.

As always you can hear it by clicking the ‘play’ button, if it appears or else clicking the hyperlink in the poem’s inordinately long title. 🙂

On being told my poetry was found in a broken photocopier

My poetry is jamming your machine

It broke the photo-copier, I’m to blame,

With pictures copied from a world unseen.

 

My poem is in the works -I’m on the scene

We free my verse, and I confess my shame,

My poetry is jamming your machine.

 

Though you berate me with what might have been,

You stop to read the poem, just the same,

And pictures, copied from a world unseen,

 

Subvert the icons on your mental screen

And open windows with a whispered name;

My poetry is jamming your machine.

 

For chosen words can change the things they mean

And set the once-familiar world aflame

With pictures copied from a world unseen

 

The mental props give way, on which you lean

The world you see will never be the same,

My poetry is jamming your machine

With pictures copied from a world unseen

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St. Francis drops in on my gig!

St. Francis Jongleur de Dieu

This is a poem for Francis the poet, a song for Francis the singer. Indeed its a sonnet that started life as a song!

St.Francis loved the Jongleurs and  Troubadours that passed through Assisi. As a young man he played and sang for his friends. After his conversion and calling he carried through that joy of making verse and music, and his canticle of the sun composed and sung towards the end of his life is testimony to that. When I was a novice in the third order it happened that I was ofered a set of pub gigs that clashed with some of the third order prayer meetings. Without a moment’s hesitation the novice master sid to me “Play the gigs Malcolm, thats where Francis would be.”

Here’s a poem/song that arises from playing a pub gig on St. Francis’s day.

“Hard-core Troubadour” is the title of a great song by Steve Earle (but its not about St. Francis!)

As always you can hear it by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears. Otherwise click on the title of the sonnet and it will take you to the player on the audioboo page.

St. Francis drops in on my gig

I didn’t think I’d find you in this place

I guess you must have slipped in at the back

I’m lifting my guitar out of its case

But seeing you I nearly put it back!

You smile and say that it’s your local too,

You know the ins and outs of inns like this,

The people here have hidden wounds like you,

And you have bidden them to hidden bliss.

‘Francis I’ve only straggled after you,

I’ve never really caught your melody,

The joy you bring when every note rings true…’

But you just laugh and say ‘play one for me!’

This one’s for you then, on the road once more,

The first, the last, the hard-core troubadour.

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