Monthly Archives: September 2015

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, the 29th September brings us 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.

This poem also appears as the epigraph in the new edition of Holly Ordway’s excellent book Not God’s Type’ which I highly recommend. 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.

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.

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Another Pint Of Porter Please

I'll have another pint of porter please

I’ll have another pint of porter please

As I’m on holiday I’ll continue the holiday mood with another Ballade, this time in praise of plain honest Porter, and therefore also a praise of English Village Inns. As usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

I’ll have another pint of porter please

 

‘Be careful what you wish for, so they say,

For you may get more than you bargained for,

Things seem ‘free heaven’ but there’s hell to pay,

‘The plays the thing’, beware of the encore,

Too much of a good thing, the thirst for more,

Can trip you up or bring you to your knees.’

It’s good advice I’m choosing to ignore

I’ll have another pint of porter please

 

Some rich men seem to drink champagne all day

It’s all on credit, they don’t keep the score

They drink red wines from Beaune to Beaujolais

Some of them talk of terroir, what a bore,

Or tell me that some vintage has a flaw,

I can’t keep spending with the likes of these,

My landlord has some better stuff to pour,

I’ll have another pint of porter please.

 

I love the mullioned snug, the brewers dray

And all the tapster’s tacit craft and lore.

To reach a village inn when skies are grey,

To step out of the rain and through the door,

To feel the warmth, to tread the stone-flagged floor,

And sit beside the fire and take our ease,

This is the bliss our little life is for,

I’ll have another pint of porter please

 

Prince, there’s an inn that you have kept in store,

And given to St. Peter both it’s keys,

I’m on my way, but tell him, well before,

I’ll have another pint of porter please.

 

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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 was published in this book The King James Version at 400. But I have also published a sonnet for Andrewes in my recent book for Canterbury Press  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.

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Whoever Welcomes

Icon of Christ with the Children

Icon of Christ with the Children

I come now to a reflection on the passage in chapter 9 in Mark’s gospel in which Jesus welcomes the child into the midst and then unfolds for us the very meaning of welcome, indeed unfolds the whole Gospel as a kind of welcome:

Mark 9 :36-37

Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

 

I love the way each welcome seems nested and folded inside the other and it prompted this sonnet as part of my work in progress ‘Parable and Paradox. It was just after I had finished writing this poem that I first saw the terrible image of Aylan Kurdie’s little body washed up on the beach which only gave added urgency to our need to recover a gospel of welcome. In some ways this sonnet is a companion piece to my sonnet ‘Be Opened’

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

Whoever Welcomes

‘Welcome’, the word is always on your lips,

Each welcome warms another one inside,

An interleaving of relationships,

An open door where arms are open wide.

First welcome to the child and through the child

A welcome to the Saviour of the world

And through the Saviour’s welcome all are called

Home to the Father’s heart. Each call is curled

And nested in another, as you were

Nested and nestled in your mother’s womb,

As Mary carried One who carried her,

And we are wrapped in you, deep in the tomb,

Where you turn our rejection into welcome,

And death itself becomes our welcome home.

 

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A Sonnet for St. Matthew’s Day

St. Matthew by Rebbecca Merry

September the 21st is St. Matthew’s day, so here, once more, 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 I repost this in the midst of the current refugee crisis the final couplet seems more pressing than ever, as one aspect or another of things unfolding around us bring some facet of the gospel into even sharper focus.

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’

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Be Opened

Ephphatha-Be-opened-300x198I have been meditating on the sayings of Jesus for my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox, and as I reflected on the astonishing story in Mark 7:31-37 about the healing of the deaf and dumb man I was struck by how powerful and resonant was Jesus’ command ‘Be Opened!’. Mark thought it so important that he gave it to us in Aramaic as well as Greek: Ephthatha! Be Opened’.

I believe that all the sayings of Jeus recorded in the Gospels are not only his words to those particular people there and then, but are also his words to each of us individually, and to all of us collectively as the church and, more widely, as humanity, words that come to us quietly sometimes, or suddenly in crisis, but we must have ears to hear. As the church closes ranks against the world, as the world divides and fights against itself, as the razor wires go up around the edge of europe and the borders of the comfortable close against the needy, I feel more and more the urgency of Jesus great command Be opened!

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

Be opened

 

Mark 7: 31-37

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’


Be opened. Oh if only we might be!

Speak to a heart that’s closed in on itself:

‘Be opened and the truth will set you free’,

Speak to a world imprisoned in its wealth:

‘Be opened! Learn to learn from poverty’,

Speak to a church that closes and excludes,

And makes rejection its own litany:

‘Be opened, opened to the multitudes

For whom I died but whom you have dismissed

Be opened, opened, opened,’ how you sigh

And still we do not hear you. We have missed

Both cry and crisis, we make no reply.

Take us aside, for we are deaf and dumb

Spit on us Lord and touch each tongue-tied tongue.

 

Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 27, 2015. Hungary made plans on Wednesday to reinforce its southern border with helicopters, mounted police and dogs, and was also considering using the army as record numbers of migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, passed through coils of razor-wire into Europe. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1PU25

Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 27, 2015. Hungary made plans on Wednesday to reinforce its southern border with helicopters, mounted police and dogs, and was also considering using the army as record numbers of migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, passed through coils of razor-wire into Europe. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTX1PU25

 

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Smoke Rings From My Pipe

A free man blowing smoke rings from his pipe (Photo Lancia Smith)

A free man blowing smoke rings from his pipe (Photo Lancia Smith)

I have been reading a collection of Ballades by GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and their friends and it prompted this more playful piece of light verse about the pleasures of smoking my pipe and composing verse in the ‘Temple of Peace’, my trysting place with the muse. I have slightly tweaked the Ballade form by playing variations on the repeating line rather than simply repeating it verbatim. You can hear the poem, as usual, by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. The atmospheric photo is by the wonderful photographer Lancia Smith. I hope you all enjoy this, it goes out particularly to my generous friend Jerry Root who gave me one of the most beautiful pipes I possess.

Smoke Rings From My Pipe

All the long day’s weariness is done

I’m free at last to do just as I will

Take out my pipe, admire the setting sun

Practice the art of simply sitting still

Thank God I have this briar bowl to fill,

I leave the world with all its hopeless hype,

Its pressures, and its ever-ringing till,

And let it go in smoke rings from my pipe

 

The hustle and the bustle, these I shun

The tasks that trouble and the cares that kill,

The false idea that there’s a race to run,

The pushing of that weary stone uphill,

The wretched i-phone’s all-insistent trill,

Whingers and whiners, each with their own gripe,

I pack them in tobacco leaves until

They’re blown away in smoke rings from my pipe

 

And then at last my real work is begun,

My chance to chant, to exercise the skill

Of summoning the muses, one by one,

To meet me in their temple, touch my quill

( I have a pen but quills are better still)

And when the soul is full, the time is ripe

Kindle the fire of poetry that will

Breathe and expand like smoke-rings from my pipe

 

Prince I have done with grinding at the mill,

These petty-pelting tyrants aren’t my type,

So lift me up and set me on a hill,

A free man blowing smoke rings from his pipe.

 

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