Monthly Archives: September 2013

Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael at Mont St. Michell -photo by Margot Krebs Neale

Continuing my sequence from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press, we come, this Sunday, to the feast of St. Michael and All Angels which is known as Michaelmas in England, and this first autumn term in many schools and universities is still called the Michaelmas term. The Archangel Michael is traditionally thought of as the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and following an image from the book of Revelation, is often shown standing on a dragon, an image of Satan subdued and bound by the strength of Heaven. He is also shown with a drawn sword, or a spear and a pair of scales or balances, for he represents, truth, discernment, the light and energy of intellect, to cut through tangles and confusion, to set us free to discern and choose. He is celebrated and revered in all three Monotheistic religions. There is a good, full account of him here. And here is a bright and playful image of him by the Cambridge Artist Rebecca Merry, who has done a number of icons and other images of the Archangels. You can see more of her art here, and also in the Byard Art Gallery.

And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright

And here is a response to the poem from photographer Margot Krebs Neale, weaving the words at the heart of the poem into the heart-shaped image. More of Margot’s work can be seen here.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or the title. Many of you have commented on how good it is to be able to hear the poems, and I’m glad thats working. I also love hearing poets read their own work and have been revelling in an amazing resource from the British Library, a triple cd of British Poets reading their own work and from there I’ve stumbled onto the fabulous Shakespeare Online resource. Sadly this is not the bard himself on audioboo, but, next best thing, its a chance to hear great pasages, including several sonnets as they would have been pronounced in Shakespeare’s day! After this digression amidst the greats here’s my effort:

Michaelmas

Michaelmas gales assail the waning year,

And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright.

He strips dead leaves; and leaves the living clear

To flourish in the touch and reach of light.

Archangel bring your balance, help me turn

Upon this turning world with you and dance

In the Great Dance. Draw near, help me discern,

And trace the hidden grace in change and chance.

Angel of fire, Love’s fierce radiance,

Drive through the deep until the steep waves part,

Undo the dragon’s sinuous influence

And pierce the clotted darkness in my heart.

Unchain the child you find there, break the spell

And overthrow the tyrannies of Hell.

2 Comments

Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

The Word and the words: a sonnet for Lancelot Andrewes

Lancelot Andrewes preacher and translator

September 25th is Lancelot Andrewes Day, when the Church remembers one of its greatest preachers and the man whose scholarship and gift for poetic phrasing was so central to the making of the King James version of the Bible. My own Doctoral thesis was on Andrewes and he has exercised a huge influence on me. On the 400th anniverseary of the KJV I gave a lecture for the Society for the Study of Biblical Literature on Andrewes and translation which will be published later in September. But i have also included a sonnet for Andrewes in my forthcoming book The Singing Bowl, so here it is. As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button .

Lancelot Andrewes

Your mind is fixed upon the sacred page,
A candle lights your study through the night,
The choicest wit, the scholar of the age,
Seeking the light in which we see the light.
Grace concentrates in you, your hand is firm,
Tracing the line of truth in all its ways,
Through you the great translation finds its form,
‘And still there are not tongues enough to praise.’
Your day began with uttering his name
And when you close your eyes you rest in him,
His constant star still draws you to your home,
Our chosen stella praedicantium.
You set us with the Magi on the Way
And shine in Christ unto the rising day.
 

I also gave a talk about Lancelot Andrewes and the translation of the King James Bible to the Chelmsford Cathedral Theological Society which various people have asked to hear. They have sent me a recording which I am posting here. The talk itself doesn’t start until about three minutes into the recording and last for about 50 minutes with a question and answer session afterwards.

1 Comment

Filed under christianity, literature

A Sonnet for St. Matthew’s Day

St. Matthew by Rebbecca Merry

September the 21st is St. Matthew’s day, so here is a sonnet for the Evangelist, drawn from my sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons. Like my sonnets for the other three evangelists, it draws on the traditional association of each evangelist with one of the four living creatures around the throne of God. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. I am grateful to Rebecca Merry for the image above.

Matthew

First of the four, saint Matthew is the Man;
A gospel that begins with generation,
Family lines entwine around the Son
Born in Judea, born for every nation
Born under Law that all the Law of Moses
Might be fulfilled and flower into Grace
As every word and deed in time discloses
Eternal love within a human face.

This is the gospel of the great reversal
A wayside weed is Solomon in glory
The smallest sparrow’s fall is universal
And Christ the heart of every human story
‘I will be with you, though you may not see
And all you do, you do it unto me’

1 Comment

Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Poems

Hildegard of Bingen: A Sonnet

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

The 17th of September is the feast day of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable and prophetic woman, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, and whose many works in theology, music, visual art, poetry and drama are still inspiring people today. Indeed she is coming more and more into her own, as one of her key ideas ‘Viriditas’, or the greening and life-renewing work of the Holy Spirit, seems especially apposite for our time. See this page on her by a contemporary Benedictine.

The photo below is by Margot Krebs Neale

I wrote this sonnet at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire where I shall be giving an Advent retreat next year. It will be published in my next volume of poetry The Singing Bowl, Canterbury Press, which will be launched at St. Edward’s Church Cambridge at 7:30pm on November 6th

As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the play button or the title.

Hildegard of Bingen

A feather on the breath of God at play,

You saw the play of God in all creation.

You drew eternal light into each day,

And every living breath was inspiration.

You made a play with every virtue playing,

Made music for each sister-soul to sing,

Listened for what each herb and stone was saying,

And heard the Word of God in everything.

 

Mother from mother earth and Magistra, 

Your song revealed God’s hidden gift to us;

The verdant fire, his holy harbinger

The greening glory of viriditas.

‘Cherish this earth that keeps us all alive’

Either we hear you, or we don’t survive.

 

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

11 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

The Singing Bowl: Glances

Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows

Here is another poem from The Singing Bowl, in advance of its publication in October. I mentioned in my last post that The Singing Bowl begins with a section called Local Habitations, celebrating epiphanies in particular places. This is followed by a section called ‘The Four Loves’ which is a set of poems exploring and evoking love and friendship. This poem, Glances, which opens that second section, is in some ways a bridge between the two. It is a celebration of love and friendship, but like the poems in the first section, it is also about an epiphany in a particular place. ‘The Green Man’ in this poem is a pub in Grantchester, and the meadow, is of course Grantchester meadows, already so celebrated in song and poetry. The epiphany was a sudden awareness of everything as gift and especially of receiving a familiar landscape as a new and unfamiliar gift because you see it through someone else’s eyes.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

Glances

For Maggie and Cathy

Down from the Green Man, where the meadow starts,

And through the meadow to the running stream

We saunter into summer side by side,

The three of us, and watch as three swans glide

Like some heraldic emblem in a dream

That only opens up to open hearts.

Walking between you everything I see

Is doubled and redoubled through your eyes

And through the words and silences we share,

And everything is gift! I stop and stare.

Everything dances, everything! Surprise

Glances between you both, glances to me,

And glances from the child in me who stands

Unseen between us almost holding hands.

like some heraldic emblem in a dream

like some heraldic emblem in a dream

5 Comments

Filed under Poems

The Singing Bowl: Southwell Leaves

pgreenman

The Green Man at Southwell

To celebrate the fact that we now have a publication date (October 25th) and a Launch Date (November 6th) for my new volume of poetry The Singing Bowl, I am going to feature some of the poems in it, on this blog in some of my posts leading up to the publication. It is a more wide-ranging colection than Sounding the Seasons, and its opening section ‘Local Habitations’ is a series of poems celebrating moments of epiphany in specific and particular places. Today’s poem, Southwell Leaves was inspired by the extraordinary mediaeval ‘green man’ and foliage carvings in Southwell Minster. It is also in some ways a companion piece to my song The Green Man. In that song I celebrate fruitfulness, fecundity and resurrection, with just an implicit hint of the hidden Christ in the Green Man imagery, but in this poem I go more deeply into that Christ-presence and focus on o the cross, on the letting go, the seed that is willing to have its husk flailed away and be dropped into dark winter ground, that there might be resurrection for us all.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

Southwell Leaves

Amidst the tympanum

His stone hair startles from

A face in the foliage.

Not just the bearded barleycorn

But a whole field springing,

The vine and all its tendrils,

Unfold from the face,

Trip from the tongue

That speaks the Word

Amidst the tympanum.

 

But by the rood-screen here,

His face is set like flint,

The Word unheard,

He gives his back to the smiters

His cheeks to them that pluck out the hair,

His spring is come to shame and spitting,

Under the blows the cut stones splinter

The Green Man comes to winter,

To the harness and the harrow

As flails fall to split the bearded husk

And seeds fall to the furrow,

Amidst the tympanum,

Hard by the rood-screen here.

southwell leaves

Southwell Leaves

5 Comments

Filed under imagination

From Westminster to Cambridge! A special day on CS Lewis Nov. 23rd.

mag7I know that many of my friends and readers will be going to the Westminster Abbey conference and celebrations to mark the  occasion of CS Lewis’s admission to ‘Poet’s Corner’. Those who are coming over for the Westminster event may like to know that on the very next day, November the 23rd, there will be a one day conference on Lewis as Critic in Magdalene College Cambridge, where Lewis was a fellow whilst he was Cambridge’s Chair in Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature. There’s a wonderful line-up for this one day event, speakers include Professor Helen Cooper, who is Lewis’s sucesor in the Cambridge Chair, and Dr Rowan Williams, now master of Lewis’s old college. This will be an important event as academics from Cambridge and beyond re-assess Lewis’s importance as critic, and the way in which his literary scholarship developed and influenced the rest of his work. I will be giving a paper on his important short book ‘The Abolition of Man’, assessing the various ways in which it has proved prophetic and looking at its implication for contemporary education.

Full details are available by clicking this link: Lewis as Critic conference

You can register for the conference or make any enquiries by emailing here: lewisascritic@gmail.com

Finally here is a brief extract from the conference website:

This conference aims to redress this neglect by reappraising the significance of Lewis’s contribution to the practice of criticism, fifty years on from his death (22nd November, 1963). We will be joined by the Rt. Rvd. and Rt. Hon. Dr. Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College and recent author of a book on Lewis’s Narnia; Professor Helen Cooper, current Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature – the post created for Lewis; Professor Ad Putter; Professor Stephen Prickett; Dr. Stephen Logan and Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite.

We have plenty of time for discussion in the day and would love you to join us to mark this anniversary and explore Lewis’s role as critic.

I look forward to this immensely.

3 Comments

Filed under imagination, Theology and Arts