Daily Archives: December 4, 2016

A Sonnet for Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, on his feast day

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar's monument

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar’s monument

Nicholas Ferrar

Nicholas Ferrar

The Church of England keeps December 4th as the feast day of Nicholas Ferrar, the devout Anglican who founded the Community of Little Gidding in the early seventeenth century. Ferrar was trying to find a fruitful via media between protestant and catholic understandings of what it is to be Christian. As a member of a reformed church he and his community were devoted to reading the scriptures in their own language, to sharing their faith, and to worshipping together in the beautiful services of the Book of Common Prayer. But he was also keen to preserve and explore the Catholic heritage of community life, the daily offices of prayer, and praise, the pattern of Benedictine work and prayer, rooted in the psalms and the gospels. in holding these together he was recovering and preserving what he called. ‘The right good old way’. His great friend George Herbert, from his death bed sent Ferrar the manuscript of all his poems, and it was Ferrar who published them for all of us. In the 1930s TS Eliot visited Little Gidding, and eventually enshrined the experience of prayer and awareness granted him there, in the poem Little Gidding, the last of the Four Quartets.

Ferrar died on the 4th December 1637, the day after Advent Sunday, at 1 am, the hour he had always risen for prayers, and my sonnet touches on that. Certainly the place in which he and his community kept prayer going at all times, recited the psalms, and lived out their gospel harmony, is still soaked in prayer, still, a place through which the eternal light shimmers into time, still, as the inscription on the chapel says, ‘The very gate of Heaven’.

I would like to dedicate this sonnet to the memory of Susan Gray, a friend and parishioner who loved Little Gidding, both the place and the poem. When I took her last communion to her in the Hospice, she spoke the line from Little Gidding ‘In my end is my beginning’.

This poem is now published by Canterbury Press in my collection Parable and Paradox

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

For Nicholas Ferrar

 

You died the hour you used to rise for prayer.

In that rich hush beneath all other sounds,

You rose at one and took the midnight air

Rising and falling on the wings and rounds

Of psalms and silence. The December stars

Shine clear above the Giddings, promised light

For those who dwell in darkness. Morning stirs

The household. From the folds of sleep, the late

Risers wake to find you gone, and pray

Through pain and grief to bless your journey home;

Those last glad steps in the right good old way

Up to the door where Love will bid you welcome.

Love draws us too, towards your grave and haven

We greet you at the very gate of Heaven.

 

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Annunciation by Scott Cairns

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

Yesterday we considered a poem by John Donne, today we pair and compare it with a poem of the same title by Scott Cairns. I draw out some of the parallels and differences in the brief essay on this poem in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word. The image above  was created by Linda Richardson in her book of visual responses to Waiting on the Word. Linda writes:

This poem spoke particularly to my Celtic ancestry and my earthy upbringing in a farming community. As children we spent good days outside throwing dried cow pats and crab apples at each other and stacking bales of hay. I confess that without Malcolm’s commentary I would have wallowed in the lovely words of this poem without necessarily returning to Genesis at all!

The work I made is on brown wrapping paper and is full of rich earth colours. I tore a hole in the paper, leaving the virgin white paper showing through and surrounding the hole with large stitches in thick embroidery cotton. It is meant to suggest a radiating of light, or perhaps a womb, or the homeliness of stitching.

You can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle and you can hear me reading the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Annunciation by Scott Cairns

Deep within the clay, and O my people

very deep within the wholly earthen

compound of our kind arrives of one clear,

star-illumined evening a spark igniting

once again the tinder of our lately

banked noetic fire. She burns but she

is not consumed. The dew lights gently,

suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.

And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become

the kindled kindred of a King whose birth

thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

 

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Filed under literature, Poems