Monthly Archives: November 2011

Oh come, Oh come! Some Advent Reflections

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday! The first Sunday in the Church’s year. The beginning of a holy season in which we connect again with our inconsolable longing, as CS Lewis called it, our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already, come as child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let him come to us again.

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of prayng seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us!

I have responded to these seven “Great O” Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ’s Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. These Sonnets form the opening sequence of my latger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages.

Over the course of this Advent season I shall post these sonnets onto my blog, so here is the first one; O Sapienita, (O Wisdom). I shall also give you the original o antiphon, in both Latin and English. You should also be able to hear the antiphons sung and hear me read the sonnet if you click on the play button just before the poem, or else click on the title of the sonnet to be taken to my audio page. Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julian holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.


Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems


I am posting here a sonnet for thanksgiving day which I have written for my American friends. There is no feast of thanksgiving in either the british national or church calendars, but it seems to me a good thing for any nation to set aside a day for the gratitude which is in truth the root of every other virtue. So here is an Englishman’s act of thanksgiving. as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the play button if it appears or on the title.

I composed this as part of a friendly competition with some amrican poets to compose Petrarchan sonnets on the theme of Thanksgiving. Check out this Excellent Sonnet from my friend the academic and poet Holly Ordway. You will see that we have both been influenced by the ideas and language of CS Lewis’s fellow inkling Charles Williams.


Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,
Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life that souls alone can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
The warp and weft that no one can unravel.

So I give thanks for our deep coinherence
Inwoven in the web of Gods own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for you all, with every breath


Filed under literature

A sonnet for the feast of Christ the King

Here is a sonnet written in response to the gospel reading for the feast of Christ the King you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or by clicking on the title.

Christ The King

Mathew 25: 31-46

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.


Filed under christianity

Dancing Through the Fire -My New CD

An invittion to my CD Launch

As I start gearing up for the launch of my new CD Dancing Through the Fire, at St. Edward’s Church on Wednesday 23rd November 7:30pm. I thought I’d take a moment to give you an overview of the themes and feel of the whole Album. In subsequent posts I’ll be putting up the lyrics, and links to the recordings of individual tracks. The physical CD will be available from the day of the launch and I am hoping that downloads, from CD Baby, iTunes, etc will be available by that time or fairly shortly after. I will keep everyone posted from this blog and on Facebook. I have already posted some of the lyrics in earlier posts on this blog and I will put hyperlinks to those posts in what follows.

The CD is a collection of 13 new songs, my first ‘release’ since 2007’s The Green Man, and is out on the same label, Cambridge Riffs.  The CD’s eponymous opening track sets the theme for the rest of the album; ‘dancing through the fire’ alludes to some  lines in TS Eliot’s Little Gidding;

From wrong to wrong the exasperated sprit proceeds

unless restored by that refining fire,

where you must move in measure, like a dancer’

Those lines in turn refer to the great moment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, when having been through Hell, and climbed mount Purgatory, Dante comes to the last circle of fire which will purify his love and allow him to return to the garden of Eden and be reunited with his beloved Beatrice, so that they can make a further journey together into Heaven. Dante’s whole poem is about the intimate interlinking of earthly and heavenly Love, and its own smaller way, that is also the subject of this album. After the opening song, which sets the story of Dante’s pilgrimage and ours, to a driving, danceable rocking blues rythm, all the tracks are in one way or another songs of earthly and heavenly love. they cover a pretty wide range of musical styles too, everything from rocking blues through folk to rootsy country, basically all the music I love! An amazing bunch of musicians showed up to help me make this album adding upright bass, cello, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, sax, even hurdy gurdy! i’ll rell you more about them and post some pics in subsequent posts. meantime heres a rundown of the tracks that follow on from the opener Dancing Through The Fire.

Love in the Red tells the story of a couple’s love for each other surviving the present financial crisis,  a crisis which is itself the wreckage of failed love in the earthly city.

A Song For Ruth tells the story of the welcoming love for the stranger, and the solidarity in grief that brought Ruth and Naomi together, in an economic crisis in biblical times.

They Dont Make Movies (Out Of Love Like This) is a song of Married Love and a personal tribute to my wife Maggie

Numbers, comes to grips, as Dante did in the inferno, with the sheer wastefulness of casual violence and the wreckage it makes, so easily and so quickly, of all that Love builds over the years.

Lente Lente, is about the need for peace, rest and playfulness, the slow, beautiful times and places an friendships where Love can be healed and renewed.

Fade Away is a little blast of vintage stonesy rock on the perrenial theme of lost love

Bridegroom Blues; in this song the Bridegroom sings to the Bride he wooed and won and gave his life for. He loves her in all her colours, He knows she’s in trouble, but He is going to pull her through and bring her to her to the Marriage Feast.

The Messenger. I’ve taken another leaf out of Dante’s book for this one.

Moonlight. This is a poem I wrote when I was 17, and set to music when I was 53. The seventeen year old who wrote this romantic, moonlit lament is still in me somewhere, and still needs to voice that mingled sense of love and loss. It seemed only fair for the fifty three year old to give him a chance.

Recipe for Love. a little lightening of the tone here. I sat down to write ‘a song of great social and political import’ but instead this cheeky little song popped out. Love and good cooking always go together.

Rolling in the Hedgerows/Old Tom of Oxford. Now here’s a love song to language and landscape. A poet’s song to his muse who is always a mixture of language and landscape, though in her mystery she is so much more besides. In some ways this is a companion song to The Green Man, with its love of the fields and hedgerows of the English countryside, the place of my earthly pilgrimage. It leads into  the birdsong from the hedgerows and Ferdia Stone-Davis’s beautiful rendition of the English Folk Tune Old Tom of Oxford, on her Hurdy Gurdy

Tiger Love; I close with another poem-turned-song. I wrote the poem late in 1978, when the most powerful love I knew, the tiger in my poem, was intimate human passion, the overmastering passion Dante knew and wrote about in the Vita Nuova. But, like Dante, I didn’t know what was coming next, or who would meet me in the woods, in the middle of my way, the following spring. As Old Tom said :’In the Juvescence of the year came Christ the tiger’!


Filed under Songs

Silence (a sonnet for Remembrance Day)

I stood for the two minutes silence today and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily wrote this sonnet. I have also recorded it and you can hear it by clicking the ‘play button if it appears or clicking on the title.



November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seeths instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are singing as  we sing our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries  in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.


Filed under literature

The Inklings; Fantasists or Prophets? The Complete Set.

CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. JRR Tolkien: The Inklings!

Over the last month I have given a series of five talks at St. Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge, exploring the thesis that far from being backward-looking, reactionary or escapist, the Inklings were fully and prophetically engaged with the main streams of modernity, that they forsaw the coming crisis of meaning in the materialist West, and in particular the attendant crises of violence and environmntal degradation. I have tried to explain the way they forged a coherent alternative vision, which called for us to reintegrate Imagination and Reason as ways of knowing truth and relating to one another and the world. These talks have been recorded as audio and the last four were also filmed, and I have assembled on this page the complete set of links to these recordings so that anyone who wishes can return to this page when they have the time and follow the talks through in sequence.

Its been a remarkable experience putting together and delivering these talks, at once draining and exhilarating, and I have had a sense as they were delivered of a new synthesis coming together in my mind.  I hope therefore, when I have the opportunity, to write these talks up and tfurther explore and develop these ideas in book form. Watch this space!

I will give the audio links first and then the video. I should say that the sound level is very low for the third talk, on Charles williams so people may prefer to take that talk from the video. I am very grateful to Daniel Son for filming the last four talks.

Part 1 The Inklings Fantasists or prophets

Part 2 CS Lewis and the Cosmic Summer

Part 3 Owen Barfield; poetry and participation

Part 4 Charles Williams; the Pattern and Glory of Love (you will need to turn up the volume on this one!)

Part 5: Tolkien; Roots and Branches


Now here are the links to the youtube video of the last four talks, on the individual Inklings, kindly provided by Daniel Son. The CS Lewis video starts a couple of minutes into the talk but the rest are complete.

1 CS Lewis and the Cosmic Summer

2 Owen Barfield: Poetry and participation

3 Charles Williams, the Pattern and Glory of Love

4 Tolkien; Roots and Branches


Filed under christianity, ecology, imagination, Inklings, literature, St. Edward's, Theology and Arts