Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Sonnet for All Saints Day

The dark is bright with quiet lives and steady lights undimmed

All Saints Day falls on November 1st, 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. This sonnet comes from my sequence Sounding the Seasonswhich came out last year with Canterbury Press. My new book of poetry The Singing Bowl, was published last Friday and is already available on Amazon and from book stores. If you are in Cambridge why not come to the Launch at St. Edwards church at 7:30pm on Wednesday 6th November. All of my books are available from this page on Amazon USA and this page on Amazon UK.

The image below the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale

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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Ode to St. Cecilia: New poetry and music from Guite and Redford!

cecilia-4I have been commissioned by JAC Redford the LA-based composer and orchestrater, to write an Ode to St. Cecilia for a new piece of music he has in turn been commissioned to write. I’m happy to say it has its premiere this weekend. Here is JAC’s announcement:

Announcing the world premiere of Sound Becoming Song, a new composition for a cappella choir with music by J.A.C. Redford to poetry by Malcolm Guite.

Sunday, 27 October 2013 8:00 PM Pomona College, Bridges Hall of Music 150 E. 4th Street, Claremont, California 91711

The new work is part of a concert entitled “Songs of Celebration” featuring the Millennium Consort Singers, directed by Martin Neary, with organist Edward Murray and the Pomona College Choir, conducted by Donna M. Di Grazia.

The program, honoring St. Cecilia, patron saint of music,
also features a world premiere by Tom Flaherty,
along with music by Benjamin Britten, Gerald Finzi and James MacMillan.

Free admission with open seating, no tickets. Doors open 30 minutes prior to performance Seating is limited, so please arrive early to guarantee your seat!

So if you are in or near Claremont, do go along.

Meantime here is the text of my ode and ask a recording of my reading it. In the recording I also talk a little about the inspiration and how it came to be written. I hope you enjoy it. Margot Krebs Neale has contributed the beautiful image which follows the poem As Usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

Ode to St. Cecilia

You rested briefly here Cecilia

In this good ground, the Roman catacomb:

Its rounded vaults are rich with sudden sound

As pilgrims hymn you through the darkened air.

For you made music in your martyrdom,

Transposed the passion of your wedding night

To angel-given garlands, wreathed in light.

In all your three days dying you made room

For beautiful abundance, gifts and giving,

Your death was blessing and your passing praise,

As you gave way to grace,

Like music that still lives within its dying

And gives in giving place.

 

Cecilia, give way to grace again,

Transmute it into music for us all:

Music to stir and call the sleeping soul,

And set a counterpoint to all our pain,

To bless our senses in their very essence

And undergird our sorrow in good ground.

Music to summon undeserved abundance,

Unlooked for overbrimming, rich and strong,

The unexpected plenitude of sound

Becoming song.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

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A Birthday Sonnet for Samuel Taylor Coleridge

samuelcoleridgeThe great Poet, philosopher, and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st of October in 1772, so I cant resist re-posting this sonnet for his birthday!.

I could not begin to reckon the debt I owe him; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved, his contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what htey saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide.In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians which will be part of my new book The Singing Bowl, coming out on October 25th with the Canterbury Press. If you are in Cambridge then why not come to the launch in St. Edward’s church at 7:30pm on November 6th?

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

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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CS Lewis and The Inklings ‘Ideas’ with CBC Part 2

lewis-inklings-featuredAs part of the commemorations for Cs Lewis’s ‘Jubilee’ year the Canadian Broadcasting Company have commissioned two in depth programmes on CS Lewis and the Inklings for their Flagship ‘Ideas’ series. I was happy to be involved with Frank Faulk in this endeavour and did an extensive interview with himwhich has been used in both programmes. I was impressed by the research he has done for this programme and the range of people he has speaking on it. Two good results of that research are first that he is not content with second hand cliches about Lewis but goes out of his way to scotch falsehoods, and secondly that he gives due weight to the neglected ‘other inklings’ beyond Lewis and Tolkien, and particularly gives the much-neglected Owen Barfield who is allowed at last to come into hi own. Finally, Faulk has, in my view rightly, identified Imagination, and the truth of Imagination as the key to the whole ‘Inklings endeavour. Here is my post on the first programme. Here us what CBC say to introduce the second program on their website:

C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams were the core of the legendary literary group The Inklings at Oxford University. They were united by a love of myth and the belief that it is through the imagination that reality is illuminated. In Part 2 of this series,  producer Frank Faulk looks at C.S. Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity, and his deep friendship with Tolkien, Barfield and Williams. Together Lewis and his three friends would forge a radical critique of modernity’s reductionist, mechanistic and materialistic understanding of reality. It is a critique that today remains more relevant than ever.

And here is the link to both the first and second programmes:

Lewis and the Inklings Part one

Lewis and the Inklings Part two

I hope you enjoy them.

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A Sonnet for St. Luke the Physician and Evangelist

St. Luke accompanied by his ‘creature’ the winged ox

Continuing with Sounding the Seasons, my series of sonnets for the church year, here is a sonnet for St. Luke whose feast day falls on the 18th of October. My sonnets, in that series, present the four evangelists together and the imagery in those sonnets is influenced  by the images 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. The photographer Margot Krebs Neale has again provided a thought-provoking photograph to interpret the poem, in this case one taken by her son Oliver.  The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press  and is available from all the usual amazons etc.

As well as being himself a Physician, and therefore the patron saint of doctors and all involved in healing ministry, Luke is also the patron of artists and painters. His gospel seems to have a particular connection with those on the margins of his society. In Luke we hear the voices of women more clearly than in any other gospel, and the claims and hope of the poor in Christ find a resonant voice.

This is my 300th Blog post and my blog has received just over 211,000 views since I began it, so may I take this opportunity to thank all the many readers and followers of this blog for your encouragement comment and support and to invite you, should you be in or near Cambridge, to come and meet me at the launch of my next book The Singing Bowl, at St, Edward’s Church in Cambridge on November 6th at 7:30 pm

‘...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.

Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for this image

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Canadian Thanksgiving; a Sonnet for my Canadian Friends

At the Fork, in Winnipeg

At the Fork, in Winnipeg

As this Monday 14th October is Thanksgiving Day in Canada am posting here a sonnet for Thanksgiving which I have written for all  my North American friends. But today I am particularly grateful for the hospitality I recieved on my Recent trip to Winnipeg from Steve Bell, and the good people at St. Bendict’s Table and St. Benedict’s Monastery.

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 American 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.

This sonnet comes from my sequence Sounding the Seasonswhich came out last year with Canterbury Press. since we don’t keep thanksgiving I have made it pasrt of a mini-sequence of three centred on the feast of All Saints, which we have recently celebrated. I took the photograph on a morning walk by the river cam, a walk whose views are a constant spur to thanksgiving! The image that follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale My next book with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl, comes out this month! Come to the launch at 7:30pm on November 6th At St. Edward’s in Cambridge.


Thanksgiving

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 embodied souls 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 God’s 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.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

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CS Lewis and The Inklings ‘Ideas’ with CBC

lewis-inklings-featuredAs part of the commemorations for Cs Lewis’s ‘Jubilee’ year the Canadian Broadcasting Company have commissioned two in depth programmes on CS Lewis and the Inklings for their Flagship ‘Ideas’ series. I was happy to be involved with Frank Faulk in this endeavour and did an extensive interview with him, some of which is used in this first programme and most of which will be in the second one, to be broadcast on the 17th to which I will post a link next week. I was impressed by the research he has done for this programme and the range of people he has speaking on it. Two good results of that research are first that he is not content with second hand cliches about Lewis but goes out of his way to scotch falsehoods, and secondly that he gives due weight to the neglected ‘other inklings’ beyond Lewis and Tolkien, and particularly gives the much-neglected Owen Barfield who is allowed at last to come into hi own. Finally, Faulk has, in my view rightly, identified Imagination, and the truth of Imagination as the key to the whole ‘Inklings endeavour. Here us what CBC say to introduce the program on their website:

C.S. LewisJRR TolkienOwen Barfield and Charles Williams were the core of the legendary literary group The Inklings at Oxford University. They were united by a love of myth and the belief that it is through the imagination that reality is illuminated. In this two-part series producer Frank Faulk first explores the early life of C.S. Lewis, and the experiences that would shape him on his journey to becoming one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers and writers on Christianity. Part 2 airs Thursday, October 17.

And here is the link to the page from which you can listen to and download the program:

Lewis and the Inklings Part one

 

I hope you enjoy it.

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A Poetry Celebration for Kathleen Raine Oct. 12th at Girton

Kathleen Raine

Kathleen Raine

I am honoured to have been chosen to read at this year’s Poetry Celebration for Kathleen Raine, organized by The Temenos Acadamy,  as Kathleen was once a fellow of Girton, the Celebration this year is being held in her old college. The evening starts on 12th October at 6pm. readings from 6:45, and the evening finishes at 8pm. Tickets are available on the door or from temenosacadamy@myfastmail.com  Poets invited to read include Sebastian Barker, Hilary Davies, Jane Draycott, James Harpur, Grevel Lindop, and Clive Wilmer. Each poet will read from their own work and one poem of their choice by Kathleen Raine. I am going to read ‘Air’ from her suite of poems about the four elements so I will also be reading some of my own poems that play with or reflect on the traditional four elements, including this one about a walk in Grantchester Meadows, which will be published in my nest book The Singing Bowl:

As usual you can hear it by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ sign

//

Out in the Elements

I crunch the gravel on my ravelled walks

And clabber with my boots in the wet clay

For I myself am clay that breathes and talks

Articulated earth, I move and pray

Alive at once to walk and be the way.

The root beneath, the branch above the tree

These hedges bright with blossom, white with May,

Everything concentrates, awaits in me

the coming of the One who sets creation free

Earth opens now to sudden drumming rains,

The raised and falling waters of the sea

Whose tidal pull and play is in my veins

Spilling and spreading, filling, flowing free

Whose ebb and flow is still at work in me

And in the wombing pulse of play and work

When heart beats pushed in waves of empathy

Till waters broke and bore me from the dark

And found this foundered shore and took me from the ark

As rain recedes I pause to fill my pipe

And kindle fire that flickers into light

And lights the leaf all curled and cured and ripe

Within a burr-starred bowl. How fierce and bright

It glows against the cold. And I delight

In taste and fragrance, watching whisps of grey

And graceful smoke in their brief flight,

As sun breaks from the clouds and lights my way

I feel the fire that makes the light that makes the day

Now air is all astir in breaks and blasts,

The last grey rags of cloud are blown aside

The hedgerows hush and rustle in the gusts

As clean winds whistle round me. Far and wide

Bent grasses and frail flowers lean aside

I breathe the world in with this brimming breeze

That tugs at me and eddies at my side

Quickens and flickers through the tangled trees

And breathes me back to life and brings me to my knees

Akin to every creature I will learn

From each and all the meaning of my birth

I love the dust to which I will return

The subtle substance of my mother earth,

From water born by fire fathered forth,

An index and epitome of nature,

I sum and summon all the world is worth,

And breathing now His elemental air

I find the One within, without, and everywhere.

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A Sonnet for St. Francis

st-francis-of-assisiIn honour of the great saint, whose feast day falls on October 4th, and as a reflection on the new Pope who has chosen that saint’s name, and so affirmed their common task, in Christ, to rebuild his Church, I thought I would post this sonnet which reflects the way Francis responded to Christ’s call by casting away the rich trappings he had inherited and embracing holy poverty.The sonnet, composed since his election, is also a prayer that Pope Francis the 1st will enable the wider church to do the same! As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title

My sonnets for the Christian Year are available from Canterbury Press Here and on Kindle here

This sonnet for Francis will appear in my new book The Singing Bowl, published on October 25th by Canterbury Press. come to the launch at St. Edwards Church at 7:30pm on 6th November


‘Francis, Rebuild My Church’; a sonnet for the Saint and for the new Pope

‘Francis rebuild my church which, as you see
Is falling into ruin.’ From the cross
Your saviour spoke to you and speaks to us
Again through you. Undoing set you free,
Loosened the traps of trappings, cast away
The trammelling of all that costly cloth
We wind our saviour in. At break of day
He set aside his grave-clothes. Your new birth
Came like a daybreak too, naked and true
To poverty and to the gospel call,
You woke to Christ and Christ awoke in you
And set to work through all your love and skill
To make our ruin good, to bless and heal
To wake the Christ in us and make us whole.
Pope Francis

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A Spell for National Poetry Day

Here is a poem called Spell, which I re-post for National Poetry Day, as it celebrates the magic powers of language itself. I have written in a previous post about the ‘daily miracle’ of our language and literacy, the magical way that words can summon up images, images that bring with them whole worlds, all the hidden correspondences between Word and World, a magic witnessed by the way a word like spell means both to spell a word and to make magic, the way chant is embedded in enchantment, the way even the dry word Grammar turns out to be cognate with Glamour in its oldest magical sense. But if all language is a kind of spell, it is a Good Spell (or Gospel as we later shortened that term). For Christian Faith points to a single source, in the Word, the Logos of God, for both the mystery of language and the mystery of being. Christ is the Word within all words, the Word behind all worlds.

Certainly many Christian writers have reflected on the paralells between the Genesis narrative in which God says “Let there be..” and each thing he summons springs into being, and the way, the uttering of words, the combination and recombination of a finite set of letters, can call into being the imaginary worlds, the sub-creations, as Tolkien calls them, that God in his Love has empowered us to create. It seems that being made as ‘Makers’ (the old word for poets) is one of the ways in which we are all made in God’s image.

Of course, because we are fallen we can abuse this gift of sub-creation, we can abuse language itself, making the very medium of creation a means of destruction. I have explored that shadow side of language in my poem “What IF…” But now I want to celebrate the God-given power and mystery of language, the magic of naming, the summoning powers entrusted to us in the twenty-six letters of our alphabet., in a sonnet I have simply called “Spell”. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.

This poem will appear in my next collection The Singing Bowl which will be published at the end of October by Canterbury Press

Spell

Summon the summoners, the twenty-six

enchanters. Spelling silence into sound,

they bind and loose, they find and are not found.

Re-call the river-tongues from Alph to Styx,

summon the summoners, the shaping shapes

the grounds of sound, the generative gramma

signs of the Mystery, inscribed arcana

runes from the root-tree written in the deeps,

leaves from the tale-tree lifted, swift and free,

shining, re-combining in their dance

the genesis of every utterance,

pattering the pattern of the Tree.

Summon the summoners, and let them sing.

The summoners will summon Everything.

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