Continuing, with our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we come to a phrase which in some ways parallels ‘soul in paraphrase’ and that is ‘heart in pilgrimage’. They are both modest: the paraphrase is never perfect, the pilgrim has not yet arrived. Pilgrimage is indeed a rich theme for understanding prayer, suggesting that each prayer is itself a step on a journey, and that though the journey is towards a holy place, the holiness of that end reaches back and sanctifies the journey itself. We learn as much, and are sometimes blessed as deeply on the twists and turns of our long journey, as we are when we arrive at the place of pilgrimage. And so it is with prayer. For me the archetypal prayer/pilgrimage is the story of the pilgrim Dante, and each of us with him, starting ‘In the middle of the way of this life’, astray in a dark wood, but found again by Love (through Poetry) and set on the right path once more. So this sonnet uses Dante’s Terza Rima rhyme scheme.
Once Dante had come into my poem, it was natural that he should be joined by the other great writers on pilgrimage, Chaucer and then Bunyan, ‘a tinker our of Bedford/A vagrant oft in quod’ as Kipling called him. My sonnet here addresses my own heart, as Dante addresses his, and is an encouragement to set off and to keep going, much needed at this stage in Lent!
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button
I start with Dante in a darkened wood
Well past the middle of my mazy way,
My beating heart sustains this flesh and blood,
A sounding drum that will not let me stay
Stuck in the sluggishness of middle age.
For here are April showers, and a new day,
As Chaucer joins me in my pilgrimage;
The mottled glory of his company,
With all their tales to tell, gives me new courage.
And now a Bedford tinker comes to me
And sings: Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Death where’s thy sting, where grave thy victory?
So, pilgrim heart, keep beating, fierce and free,
Your last beat brings me where I long to be.