Today, on Shrove Tuesday, I am reposting the first of the weekly series in which you can hear me read aloud the poems I chose for my Lent Anthology The Word in the Wilderness. In the book itself you can read my commentary on each poem but I thought the recordings of my reading them might be useful, especially to groups who are using the book together.Where copyright allows I will also post the texts of the poems themselves here. Once more I am grateful to Lancia Smith who will be providing specially made images for these weekly posts. Lancia has told me that today’s image of the shell suggests a sense of our being ‘cleansed and emptied of what we once carried now waiting for a new day of our own’. But there is also of course the other sense in which the scallop shell is a symbol of pilgrimage, and pilgrimage is very much the central theme of this book.
Speaking of images that arise from this poetry you might like to know that there is now a Facebook Group Sounding the Sonnets which has some lovely galleries of art they have made in response to the poems in this and my other books.
As always you can hear me read the poems either by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ button.
Today’s post takes us from Shrove Tuesday through to Saturday, the next post in this series will be on the first Sunday in Lent.
So here, first is the poem set for Shrove Tuesday, Seamus Heaney’s beautiful eleventh poem in the sequence Station Island:
Station Island XI Seamus Heaney/St. John of the Cross
And here is my sonnet for Ash Wednesday
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
On the Pinnacle
‘Temples and Spires are good for looking down from;
You stand above the world on holy heights,
Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,
Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.
Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection
And feel your kinship with the lonely star,
Above the shadow and the pale reflection,
Here you can know for certain who you are.
The world is stalled below, but you could move it
If they could know you as you are up here,
Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it
Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’
‘I was not sent to look down from above
It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’