Monthly Archives: November 2016

Advent Sunday:Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti painted by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti painted by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Advent is a season for stillness, for quiet, for discernment. It is a season of active waiting, straining forward, listening, attentive and finely tuned. Such is Advent, inwardly and spiritually, but of course outwardly and visibly, outwardly and audibly, it is the season when our eyes and ears are most complete assailed by all the glitz and glitter of a prematurely celebrated Christmas, all the pressure and sales-hype, the stresses on the diary and the wallet, the unremitting insistence of syrupy canned carols in the shopping mall. Of course partying and celebration are wonderful things and there is great joy to be had in the real meetings of faith and friendship in these days, but whilst Advent is still Advent, its good to keep a quiet space, a sacred time, an untrammelled sanctuary away from the pressures, to be still and hear again one’s deepest yearnings for a saviour. I hope that the poems from my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word, will help people to do just that. I am posting them here s that you can hear and read them, and if you have the book you will also find in that a meditative/reflective essay on each poem. I am posting this one for Advent Sunday, then we will take a break until Thursday 1st of December. From then onwards I will post a poem each day and I am happy to say that these poems will be accompanied by original paintings made in response to them by Linda Richardson. Linda is an artist who lives in my village of Linton and has made a beautiful book of images in response to each of these poems as part of her own Advent devotion and this year she has kindly agreed to share them with us.

Linda Richardson in her studio

Linda Richardson in her studio

Today’s poem, the first in our series, is Christina Rossetti’s ‘Advent Sunday’. Most people will know her beautiful poem In the Bleak Midwinter, now set as a Christmas hymn. She was one of the great poets of her time and the author of some deeply moving Christian verse. Indeed her book simply titled Verses includes a sequence on the church year called ‘Some Feasts and Fasts’ of which ‘Advent Sunday’ is the first. She frames this poem not only in the context of the Collect for Advent Sunday, about the coming of Christ, his Advent at the end of time, but also the Gospel of the Day: Christ’s story of the maidens with their lighted lamps awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Rossetti takes the Gospel phrases and opens them out profoundly, allowing us to identify ourselves first with the bridesmaids and then with the bride herself.

You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Advent Sunday  Christian Rossetti

 

BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out

With lighted lamps and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

 

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,

Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

 

It may be at the crowing of the cock

Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

 

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:

His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

 

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,

Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

 

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,

She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

 

His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;

He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

 

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,

And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out

With lamps ablaze and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

Tomorrow will be the first Sunday of Advent, so I thought I would repost this link to my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word. This Anthology which offers the reader a poem a day throughout Advent and on through Christmas and Epiphany. I also offer a little reflective essay to go with each poem, which I hope will help the reader to get into the depths of the poem more easily and will draw out some of the Advent Themes and the way the poems link to each other. The book works entirely as a stand-alone thing and could be used privately or in groups, but I shall also be recording each poem and will post a recording of my reading of that day’s poem for each day of Advent on this blog, so that readers of the book who wish to, can also hear the poem being read. Readers of this blog can of course also enjoy hearing the poems, and might like to get hold of the book (which is also on Kindle) so that they can follow along the text and read the interpretive essay.

Last year we enjoyed the poetry accompanied by Lancia Smith’s interpretive photographs, this year, continuing that tradition of art to accompany poetry, I am happy to say that we will have an original painting to accompany each poem from the talented Linda Richardson, who created a book of images to reflect on each poem whilst she was using the book devotionally last year, and has kindly agreed to share those pictures with us this year. Do join us on the journey via the pages of the book and the pages of this blog.

Malcolm

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A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

You chant again the telling charm

You chant again the telling charm

King David is the archetypal sacred singer, the psalmist in whom and through whom every passion can be lifted into poetry, and lifted through that poetry to God. His psalms sound Praise and Lament together, the wounds and glories of Eros and the wounds and glories of  Agape. It has often seemed to me that Leonard Cohen was a latter day David, as he too addressed the Lord and said

‘From this broken hill,

all your praises they shall ring

if it be your will

to let me sing.

Today I composed this poem about his passing in the mediaeval Rondeau form. The Rondeau is also the form used in the poem In Flanders Field and it seems a fitting form for this occasion. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button

A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

 

Like David’s psalm you named our pain,

And left us. But the songs remain

To search our wounds and bring us balm,

Till every song becomes a psalm,

And your restraint is our refrain;

 

Between the stained-glass and the stain,

The dark heart and the open vein,

Between the heart-storm and the harm,

Like David’s psalm.

 

I see you by the windowpane,

Alive within your own domain,

The light is strong, the seas are calm,

You chant again the telling charm,

That names, and naming, heals our pain,

Like David’s psalm.

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Thanksgiving: a sonnet

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 on the eve of  an American Thanksgiving, which I know may be difficult for many families as it brings to the surface tensions arising from the election and its result, I am re-posting here  an Englishman’s act of thanksgiving for one another and for all our interconnectedness as human beings. 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 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 Seasons published by Canterbury Press The book is available from Amazon in the UK  and in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon US. 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 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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Ode to St. Cecilia

cecilia-4The 22nd of November is the feast day of St. Cecilia, Christian Martyr and Patron Saint of music. A few years ago I was 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, which had its premiere in LA in 2013.

I published the Ode myself this year in my new collection Songs and Sonnets and here, for this year’s St. Cecilia’s day is the text of my ode and a recording of my reading of 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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Everything Holds Together: The Feast of Christ the King

christ-the-king-constantinopleToday is the Feast of Christ the King, and one of the readings set this year is Colossians 1:11-20 a passage containing the beautiful Hymn to Christ, the core verses of which are these: 15-17:

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers — all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together.

So here is a poem I wrote about those verses, it is taken from my book Parable and Paradox, but this poem also appears on a wonderful album by Alana Levandoski , Behold I Make All Things New,

Here is the poem. the Greek phrase in the poem ‘Eikon tou theou, means image of God and is taken directly from the Greek text of Paul’s letter

Everything Holds Together

 

Everything holds together, everything,

From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,

To secret seeds that open every spring,

From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,

Everything holds together and coheres,

Unfolding from the center whence it came.

And now that hidden heart of things appears,

The first-born of creation takes a name.

 

And shall I see the one through whom I am?

Shall I behold the one for whom I’m made,

The light in light, the flame within the flame,

Eikon tou theou, image of my God?

He comes, a little child, to bless my sight,

That I might come to him for life and light.

As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or play button, but better still you can hear it with Alana’s music, hear the other three poems that are woven in with it and see the beautiful paintings by Julie Ann Stevens that go with the Album. You can check out Alana’s website here.

 

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Hilda and Caedmon

 

Hilda of Whitby

Hilda of Whitby

This Saturday, the 19th of November, is the feast day of Abess Hilda of Whitby, and I am posting this poem in her honour a couple of days early so that those who wish to copy or use it in services or for personal prayer on the day can do so. Saint Hilda was great leader of the Church in England and the first patron of English Christian poetry. She also presided at the crucial and controversial Synod of Whitby and brought that Synod to a fruitful and peaceful conclusion. When I posted this sonnet on her feast day two years ago it happened that the church’s General Synod was meeting and I had that in mind as part of my prayerful remembrance of Hilda, as you will hear in the preamble to the recording of the poem.

This year its another aspect of her story I’d like to highlight, to which I also allude in my poem. This is the story of Caedmon, the earliest English poet whose name is known. Bede tells the story of how he came to his vocation as a poet:

According to Bede, Cædmon was a lay brother who cared for the animals at the monastery Streonæshalch (now known as Whitby Abbey). One evening, while the monks were feasting, singing, and playing a harp, Cædmon left early to sleep with the animals because he knew no songs. The impression clearly given by St. Bede is that he lacked the knowledge of how to compose the lyrics to songs. While asleep, he had a dream in which “someone” (quidam) approached him and asked him to sing principium creaturarum, “the beginning of created things.” After first refusing to sing, Cædmon subsequently produced a short eulogistic poem praising God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

Upon awakening the next morning, Cædmon remembered everything he had sung and added additional lines to his poem. He told his foreman about his dream and gift and was taken immediately to see the abbess. The abbess and her counsellors asked Cædmon about his vision and, satisfied that it was a gift from God, gave him a new commission, this time for a poem based on “a passage of sacred history or doctrine”, (account taken from this Wiki article )

So as I remember Hilda with thanksgiving I also give thanks for all the churches and church leaders who have been patrons of the arts and especially those who have found a space and place for poetry in liturgy. I give thanks too for all those churches who have chosen to weave my own poems into liturgy and sermons and pray that those words have been fruitful

The icon of Hilda above is from the St. Albans Parish website The Daily Cup

The sonnet also appears in my second poetry book with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on its title or on the play button

Hilda of Whitby

 

Called to a conflict and a clash of cultures,

Where insults flew whilst synod was in session,

You had the gift to find the gift in others,

A woman’s wisdom, deftness and discretion.

You made a space and place for poetry

When outcast Caedmon, crouching in the byre,

Was called by grace into community

And local language joined the Latin choir.

 

Abbess we need your help, we need your wisdom,

Your strong recourse to reconciliation,

Your power tempered by God’s hidden kingdom,

Your exercise of true imagination.

Pray for our synods now, princess of peace,

That every fettered gift may find release.

 

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