Monthly Archives: November 2013

Inconsoleable Longing; Advent in Music and Poetry

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 praying 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 larger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages. That cycle has been published as a book called Sounding the Seasons. It is available immediately from Canterbury Press, the publishers, and is also available from from Amazon etc.

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 Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

One of my great joy’s is that these sonnets have also inspired some beautiful work from other Artists and Musicians. Steve Bell has woven some of them into his award-winning Advent CD Keening for the Dawn (also see the links at the bottom of this page)) and now JAC Redford, who originally set my O Sapientia sonnet to choral music has now completed a suite of all seven sonnets, which will have its world Premiere on December 5th, at  8pm in St, Edward’s church. for full details and to download the poster/flyer click Thursday Concert Poster.  for the facebook page for this concert click here. To learn more about my work with JAC and to play a recording of his setting of O Sapientia see my earlier post here)

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.

Another way you might like to consider entering into and rediscovering Advent as a season of longing is through Steve Bell‘s new cd Keening for the Dawn. Steve has written a moving sequence of songs taking us from  longing and waiting in the dark, through the oracles of prophecy, to the first fulfilment in the birth of Christ and the deeper glimpses of epiphany. He has woven some of my poetry into his songs and I feel deeply honoured to be part of this record.

Steve Bell's Advent Album

Steve Bell’s Advent Album

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Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems

Thanksgiving; a Sonnet for my American Friends

thanksgivingThere 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 I am re-posting here  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 part of a mini-sequence of three centred on the feast of All Saints, which we have recently celebrated. The image that follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale


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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The Feast of Christ the King; a sonnet

20111119-111210.jpg
We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But for this Sunday the lectionary does an unexpected, but very wise thing. It sets as a reading the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King, hidden beneath the rags and even in the flesh of his poor here on earth. As Tolkien, that profoundly christian writer knew, He is our Strider, whose glory is for the most part hidden, as he walks in our midst and shares the burdens of our journey. And though we will be with him at that coronation when his true glory is revealed and the usurping Dark Lord is finally overthrown, we have the honour of meeting and knowing here, in the midst of our quest, for he has come to lead us us through middle earth and even asks us to play our part in proclaiming the Return of the King.

Here is a sonnet written in response to the gospel reading for the feast of Christ the King.

This sonnet comes at the end of my sequence ‘Sounding the Seasons’ published by Canterbury Press.

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.

Aragorn

A hidden King, clothed in humility

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Off to the Westminster Lewisfest!

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Tomorrow I travel down to Westminster Abbey to give my paper on Lewis and the Truth of Imagination, as well as to enjoy hearing Alastair McGrath, Michael Ward and others. I shall stay the night at the Abbey and then on Friday join the glad throng to hear Rowan Williams preach and see the plaque for Lewis unveiled in Poets’ Corner. Then on Saturday I will join Rowan Williams and Helen Cooper for a further conference on Lewis at Magdalene College in Cambridge. Now both my papers, the one at Westminster and the one at Magdalene, are going to end with poems. So, though I have posted these two poems before, I thought I’d put them together here, by way of a taster for the papers to come.

Both poems come from my new collection The Singing Bowl, and, as usual, you can hear them by clicking on the titles or the ‘play’ button.

So my paper on Lewis’s achievement as a poet and imaginative writer will end with this:

CS Lewis

From ‘beer and Beowulf’ to the seven heavens,

Whose music you conduct from sphere to sphere,

You are our portal to those hidden havens

Whence we return to bless our being here.

Scribe of the Kingdom, keeper of the door

Which opens on to all we might have lost,

Ward of a word-hoard in the deep hearts core,

Telling the tale of Love from first to last.

Generous, capacious, open, free,

Your wardrobe-mind has furnished us with worlds

Through which to travel, whence we learn to see

Along the beam, and hear at last the heralds

Sounding their summons, through the stars that sing,

Whose call at sunrise brings us to our King

Magdalene College Cambridge

Magdalene College Cambridge

And my paper at Magdalene on The Abolition of Man will end with this ‘found sonnet’ drawn entirely from that book:

Imagine

(A found sonnet from The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis)

Imagine a new natural philosophy;

I hardly know what I am asking for;

Far-off echoes, that primeval sense,

With blood and sap, Man’s pre-historic piety,

Continually conscious, continually…

Alive, alive and growing like a tree

And trees as dryads, or as beautiful,

The bleeding trees in Virgil and in Spenser

The tree of knowledge and the tree of life

Growing together, that great ritual

Pattern of nature, beauties branching out

The cosmic order, ceremonial,

Regenerate science, seeing from within…

To participate is to be truly human.

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Silence; a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

As we approach Remembrance Day I am reposting the sonnet about Remembrance Day silence, which I posted last year and which is now published in my book Sounding the Seasons. As you will see from the little introduction below, I wrote it in response to the silence on Radio 4, so it seems appropriate that this year it will be featured on Radio 4’s Remembrance Sunday Worship. the programme is broadcast at 8:10 on the 10th of November and will be live from Girton College Chapel. So here is the preface from last year’s post and the poem itself:

Last year on Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily wrote this sonnet. Since I posted it last year, here, and on audioboo, it has become the single most viewed and heard, of all my posts, and strangely, looking at the ‘stats I have found that almost half of my total ‘views’ have been from Germany, something that I find strangely moving. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded it on November 11th last year, minutes after having composed it, by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title.

The striking image above is ‘Poppy Day’ by Daliscar and the one below is ‘Silent Cross’ by Margot Krebs Neale

Silence

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.

Silent Cross by Margot Krebs Neale

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One Book,Three Launches! (Cambridge, Houston and Hatley St. George!)

singing bowlWell, my new collection of poetry, The Singing Bowl, is out at last. And this is to let you know that it is having not one, but three launches. Not because it is so stodgy and heavy that it will take three mighty hurls to get it off the ground (I hope -though you must be the judges) but because there are so many and various places with which I, (and my poetry), are somehow woven and connected.

So this Wednesday at 7:30pm there is the Cambridge Launch at St. Edward King and Martyr, the church I serve in the city centre, in and through whose ministry so much of the poetry has been written and to which my last volume, Sounding The Seasons, was dedicated. Come if you can for wine, cheese, poetry, and book signing.

Then on Friday (the 8th) we have the Houston Launch. Tempting to do this remotely, simply so that I could say’Houston we have a problem’, but I will be there for the CS Lewis Foundation’s Regional conference and they are kindly hosting a launch for the American edition of my book. It will take place at the opening reception of the conference. If you are not attending the whole conference you can still get a ticket to come to this evening event. contact Steve Elmore Here.

Finally on the 29th of Novemebr I will be doing a special launch/reading in the beautiful little church of Hatley St. George, in the village of the same name. One of the poems in the ‘Local Habitations’ section of the book is dedicated to that church and is about its unique silence and peace. they have the poem inscribed and hung on the church wall and have asked to have this special event to celebrate the publication of the book.

I hope you can get to one of these three, meantime I leave you with the Hatley St. George Poem. as always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

Hatley St. George

Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
You cannot stand as long and still as these;
This ancient beech and still more ancient church.
So let them stand, as they have stood, for you.
Let them disclose their gifts of time and place,
A secret kept for you through all these years.
Open your eyes. This empty church is full,
Thronging with life and light your eyes have missed.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
Shields of forgotten chivalry, and rolls
Of honour for the young men gunned at Ypres,
And other monuments of our brief lives
Stand for the presence here of saints and souls
Who stood where you stand, to be blessed like you;
Clouds of witness to unclouded light
Shining this moment, in this place for you.

Stand here awhile and drink their silence in.
Annealed in glass, the twelve Apostles stand
And each of them is keeping faith for you.
This roof is held aloft, to give you space,
By graceful angels praying night and day
That you might hear some rumour of their flight
That you might feel the flicker of a wing
And let your heart fly free at last in prayer.

hatley-window

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Filed under literature, Poems, St. Edward's