I am continuing, with our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, this time responding to Herbert’s line ‘The Christian Plummet, sounding heaven and earth’.
Herbert is referring to the plummet or sounding line used on ships to measure the depth below the keel, lowered into the waves on a marked line and then hauled up so that the linesman could tell the helmsman what depth he had below his keel. In my own poem though I felt moved to imagine things from the point of view of the plummet itself, and to put into the context of prayer my own and other people’s experience of suddenly plummeting down into depression. I especially responded to seeing the words ‘Christian’ and ‘plummet’ together. Some Christians can give you the impression that unless your constantly cheerful you’re not a true believer or haven’t ‘heard the gospel’, as though Jesus had never endured the agony in the garden. But it’s my conviction that a person is just as much a Christian when they are plummeting down and sounding depths others may not know, as when they are cheerful.I hope this poem may help those who have had similar experiences of plummeting.
With this line in Herbert’s Prayer, and this sonnet, in my responding sequence, we begin as it were a new movement in the overall music of the piece, we transpose from a major to a minor key. We might call the first movement, the one we have just completed, ‘Abundance’, its key motif set by the opening phrase ‘the Church’s Banquet’, and the second movement, which starts here and carries through to ‘christ’s side-piercing spear’, we might call ‘Plunge and Shadow’ as it deals with the darkness and struggle which is also necessarily part of our prayer lives. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’button.
Down into the icy depths you plunge,
The cold dark undertow of your depression,
Even your memories of light made strange,
As you fall further from all comprehension.
You feel as though they’ve thrown you overboard,
Your fellow Christians on the sunlit deck,
A stone cold Jonah on whom scorn is poured,
A sacrifice to save them from the wreck.
But someone has their hands on your long line,
You sound for them the depths they sail above,
One who takes Jonah as his only sign
Sinks lower still to hold you in his love,
And though you cannot see, or speak, or breathe,
The everlasting arms are underneath.