Here is the next poem in my series of posts for Advent, in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson
Today’s poem is Kenosis by Luci Shaw. 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.
Linda shares the following reflection on today’s art work:
The temptation as an artist is to illustrate a theme, but here is the problem: figurative painting grounds us in the human experience but the poem we read today, whilst rooted in the imagery of human experience, is transcendent because it points us to the divine nature of the new born child.
There are monks who celebrate the Christmas child as The Little Word, a title made even more tender, coming as it does from men who live such unsentimental and austere life. Malcolm tells us that the word infans means, literally, ‘without speech’, and so my approach to this work had to go beyond pictorial sentimentality. I wanted it to transcend speech and form as far as I could because receiving God in the form of a helpless baby is untranslatable in terms of human experience.
I painted the surface with thin washes of paint, rubbing it down between each coat, like sanding or planing wood. I wanted the surface to have quietness and transparency. On the top of this surface, in the finest pen, I drew delicate white tracery lines suggesting the softest threads of wool (from a sheepfold) that might swaddle an infant. In the top left corner I painted a lighter area, again rubbing it down to help us see through it. It hints at a doorway, alluding perhaps to Christ who is the door, who knocks at our door and who himself, ‘hung…..a door’.
As we come to this most beautiful of poems, all we can do is receive the vision and be stilled by its inner peace. ‘Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.’ (Psalm 131.)
In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.
He is so new, his silk skin has not yet
been roughed by plane and wooden beam
nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.
He is in a dream of nipple found,
of blue-white milk, of curving skin
and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb
of a warm heart’s repeated sound.
His only memories float from fluid space.
So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door
broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,
wept for the sad heart of the human race.
9 responses to “Kenosis by Luci Shaw”
This poem will bring tears to a nursing mom.
Profound and lovely post, Malcolm. Thank you.
The Painting, the Poem and the Message.
Pieces of the painting appear to me as water cascading down a solid rock wall. On the right facing panel, the water falls in even waves as the years of our life, inevitably to end at to bottom of the cliff.
On the left facing panel, there is a similar half rock wall, with water gently falling downwards. Just at the horizon of this waterfall, there appears to be a vast ocean, just visible over the edge. But, you have to earnestly look to see it. On the right side of the ocean, there is a vast green mountain of lush forest, while to the left side, there appears to be a giant tree reaching far up into the sky; with many branches full of brightly coloured yellow leaves.
There also appears to be an abundance of sunshine flowing endlessly into the background.
The poem talks of the birth of the lamb of God, reaching out of birth to the inevitable hardship of man-kind, toward the breaking of bread and the pounding of nails.
The panels in the painting, with the water falling to the ground, are like an old wooden door, eventually to be closed for ever.
There is a message of hope written on the panel on the right for the viewer to lift off and embrace; or not. The panel on the left implies hope offering the abundance of light and life
As you view these panels and read the message, which image would you embrace?. The choice is yours alone.
Thank you for the lovely poem Luci, and the wonderful painting Linda. And, thanks to Malcolm for this Advent post.
Thanks for this detailed and helpful response
Thou first make me trust, upon my mother’s breasts, Psalm 22: 9.
These poems, Linda’s art and her reflection and description of the thought process involved in her creating art are so provocative! Thank you for all of this.
Brilliant, thanks Malcolm.
I absolutely love this poem! Thank you so very very much! The artwork is gorgeous and so deeply thought and felt out, too. I do so ❤️ love this!