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.

 

8 Comments

Filed under imagination, Poems

8 responses to “A Sonnet for Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, on his feast day

  1. Anne Boileau

    I spent a memorable day at Little Gidding under the tutelage of Graham Fawcett, who led a group in a close reading of T S Eliot’s poem of that name. George Herbert lives in in on his poems and hymns, thanks to Nicholas Ferrar. My friend Ronald Blythe speaks of the poet as if he knew him personally. So your sonnet struck a note with me on many levels. Thank you.
    Anne Boileau

  2. As one who characterizes himself as an Anglican Baptist (woe is me) I find in Ferrar a distant kindred spirit of a small community. Resisting labels is hard to do, but the journey is well worth it.

  3. Margaret Naismith

    I travelled from New Zealand to Little Gidding in 1993 lured by Eliot’s poem and remember sitting in the chapel and reading it, which was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

  4. pokeyone

    Beautifully written, John. Happy to know about this saintly man; thankful that the holy place he founded still thrives. I hope many others continue to pursue reconciliation within and between our Catholic and Protestant communities.

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