Monthly Archives: August 2020

The Quarantine Quatrains: A Limited Edition for The Care Worker’s Charity!

One of Roger Wagner’s illustrations for The Quarantine Quatrains

I am delighted to announce the fruition of a a special project that the artist Roger Wagner and I have been working on together for the last couple of months. You will remember that I have been composing some ‘Quarantine Quatrains’ , in the metre of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as a kind of ‘New Rubaiyat’ for our times. Happily this caught the attention of the excellent artist Roger Wagner, and, since the original Rubaiyat was so often published with beautiful illustrations, often exquisite Persian miniatures, Roger kindly agreed to make a beautiful set of seven ‘miniatures’, on Nepalese paper, illustrating and commenting on the text of my poem. As the final section of that poem is an elegy for the care workers who died of Covid themselves in the course of saving other people’s lives, we decided to dedicate this book to them and to donate our work on it, so that all profits, after the costs of printing, posting and packaging, could go to The Care Workers Charity. We engaged the Parchment Press in Oxford to produce a booklet with the poem and Roger’s illustrations beautifully reproduced, in a limited run of 6oo, numbered, and signed by both of us. By selling this at £15 inclusive of post and packaging (including postage to North America!), we hope to raise at least £5000 for The Careworker’s Charity.

So on this occasion, rather than buying me a coffee, why don’t you buy yourself this beautiful booklet, and at the same time support the care workers who are helping to get us all through this crisis. you can do so from this page on Roger’s website HERE 

Here, as a taster, is the final section of the poem with Roger’s beautiful illustration and embedded below that is a film, edited by Roger, in which the two of us discuss our inspiration for this project, and which also features a song setting of this section of the poem.

Roger Wagner’s Illustration of this final section

VII

35

At close of day I hear the gentle rain

Whilst experts on the radio explain

Mind-numbing numbers, rising by the day,

Cyphers of unimaginable pain

36

Each evening they announce the deadly toll

And patient voices calmly call the roll

I hear the numbers, cannot know the names

Behind each number, mind and heart and soul

37

Behind each number one belovèd face

A light in life whom no-one can replace,

Leaves on this world a signature, a trace,

A gleaning and a memory of grace

38

All loved and loving, carried to the grave

The ones whom every effort could not save

Amongst them all those carers whose strong love

Bought life for others with the lives they gave.

39

The sun sets and I find myself in prayer

Lifting aloft the sorrow that we share

Feeling for words of hope amidst despair

I voice my vespers through the quiet air:

40

O Christ who suffers with us, hold us close,

Deep in the secret garden of the rose,

Raise over us the banner of your love

And raise us up beyond our last repose.

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Bring Me To Thy Holy Hill: A Response To Psalm 43

Oh Jesus, show me once again the path out of my sadness

In many respects psalm 43 is a direct continuation of psalm 42, indeed some editions run them together, so this pairing of psalm 41/42 is a good place for my choice of the ‘corona’ form for this sequence of poems in which the last line of each poem forms the first line of the next, and at the end of my response to 43 I return to the image of the living waters which was central to my poem on psalm 42

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XLIII Judica me, Deus

Shucked of the husk of all my wasted years

I long to step forth, free of all encumbrance

To set aside the heaviness, the tears,

 

The sin that clings so close, the doleful hindrance

Of resentment and regret, to let them go

Roll them below the cross, as Christian once

 

Did in his pilgrim’s progress. Then I‘d know

A lighter step once more, the joy and gladness

The psalmist longs for here. Oh Jesus, show

 

Me once again the path out of my sadness

And set my steps back on your holy hill,

Send out your light and truth to be my witness

 

And since I cannot climb by my own will

Abide with me and be my will, my strength,

The living fountain whence I drink my fill.

 

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Living Streams: A Response to Psalm 42

Like as the hart desireth the water brooks

Psalm 42 is one of my all time favourites, I love its opening line:

  1. LIKE as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

In English, though not in Hebrew, this translation offers us that other sense of the deepest desires of the heart, which is, of course what the psalm is all about. And I love the image of the ‘water brooks’ the ‘living streams’ the ‘fontes aquarum’ as it was in the old Latin translation.

So it was a pleasure to make this response to the psalm, and to remind myself that though I am also an author of ‘dusty books’ and my words too have ‘rung from pulpits’, in the end it is not the words about God that we want, but God himself.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XLII Quemadmodum

You are my heart’s desire from first to last

Like as the hart desires the water brooks

So longs my soul towards you, so I thirst

 

For living streams, not for the dusty books

They write about you, nor the empty words

That ring from pulpits, nor the haughty looks

 

Of those who market you. These are the shards

Of broken idols. I long for the deep

In you that calls the deep in me, the chords

 

That sound those depths and summon me to weep

At first with tears of grief and then with tears

Of joy, that I may sow those tears and reap

 

A timeless harvest, that the ripened  ears

Of grain may shine as clean and clear as gold

Shucked of the husk of all my wasted years.

 

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St. Clare: a Sonnet

This mosaic in Assisi, Italy, photographed May 28, depicts St. Clare of Assisi holding a palm frond, a symbol of her entering religious life. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

August the 11th is the day the church remembers with thanksgiving the life and witness of St. Clare.  She was the friend and companion of Francis, and founder of the Poor Clares. Her love for Christ, her share in the vision of St. Francis and her extraordinary gifts a soul-guide, friend, and leader made her a shining light and a clear mirror of Christ for thousands in her lifetime and still a light and inspiration to Christians from many denominations today.

Clare wrote:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your entire being into the image
of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
as they taste the hidden sweetness
that God Himself has reserved from the beginning
for those who love Him”

So here is my sonnet in her honour reflecting on how the meaning of her name, ‘light and clarity’, was also the meaning of her life. This sonnet is taken from  The Singing Bowl , which is published by Canterbury Press and available through Amazon etc.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title.


Clare

Santa Chiara, lovely claritas

Whose soul in stillness holds love’s pure reflection,

Shining through you as Holy Caritas,

Lucid and lucent, bringing to perfection

The girl whom Love has called to call us all

Back into truth, simplicity and grace.

Your love for Francis, radiant through the veil,

Reveals in both of you your saviour’s face.

Christ holds the mirror of your given life

Up to the world he gives himself to save,

A sacrament to keep your city safe,

A window into his eternal love.

Unveiled in heaven, dancing in the light,

Pray for this pilgrim soul in his dark night.

 

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Be Merciful Unto Me: A Response To Psalm 41

After the ‘new song’ of psalm 40 we find ourselves once more grappling, in psalm 41 with feeling after God and finding him in the midst of suffering. In many ways the psalm, which seems to have been written in the midst of both physical illness and personal betrayal, speaks deeply into our own times, as it speaks of the Lord comforting us and making our bed in our sickness. And for Christian readers of course it has that sharp moment that seems to prophecy the intimate pain of Christ’s betrayal by Judas:

Yea, even mine own familiar friend, whom I trusted: who did also eat of my bread, hath laid great wait for me.

And yet the psalmist, even as he cries for mercy, recovers and closes the psalm with a glimpse of the beatific vision and the sheer blessing and glory of God’s eternal presence:

And when I am in my health, thou upholdest me: and shalt set me before thy face for ever.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: world without end. Amen.

Here is my poetic response to the psalm. As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XLI Beatus qui intelligit

That you might make me whole in every part,

Have mercy on me now. Oh raise me up

And comfort me when things just fall apart.

 

For you have known this too: the grip and grope

Of suffering, the time when comforts fail,

The false pretence of friendship, the false hope

 

Of some relief, the sense of being frail,

Of being helpless, wounded, vulnerable

And worst of all the sickening betrayal

 

By those we thought were closest. Miserable

Dependence on the ones who’ve lost our trust

What can I do but cry ‘be merciful

 

Be merciful and raise me from the dust

Restore my health, because I cry to you,

You are my heart’s desire from first to last’

 

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A Sonnet for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Rebecca Merry

Pausing for a moment in our progress through the Psalms I return to my series of sonnets ‘Sounding the Seasons’ of the Church’s year, to share a sonnet for today’s feast of the Transfiguration. This is the day when we remember how the disciples, even before they went to Jerusalem to face his trials with him, had a glimpse of Christ in his true glory. The Transfiguration is usually celebrated on August 6th, but sometimes on the Sunday nearest.

The transfiguration is also sometimes remembered just before Lent, which is a good time for it too, as I believe the glimpse of glory in Christ they saw on the mount of the Transfiguration was given in order to sustain the disciples through darkness of Good Friday. Indeed it is for a disciple, looking back at the transfiguration from Good Friday, that I have voiced the poem.

I am honoured to have had my work interpreted by two other Cambridge artists. The painting above is artist Rebecca Merry‘s response to the poem. Rebecca is well known for her paintings in egg tempora and in responding to this ‘iconic’ moment in the life of Christ she has drawn on her training in icon painting. She writes:

I wanted to stay with the idea of the circle for an important event in the life of Christ, and the theme of cycle and circle that is a theme of your book – the changing of the seasons, the unchanging nature of God. Underneath is the circle and the cross, a symbol also in Egyptian hieroglyphs of the city but of course the cross (or crucifix) is the meeting point of two worlds, heaven and earth, and the division of the upper circle as light and the lower as dark also symbolises this. The red is a recurrent themes of all the illustrations but here it implies Christ’s blood (and sacrifice) but also the life blood and life giver that God/Christ is to us all, giving light to the world.

The photograph which appears after the poem is by the Photographer Margot Krebs Neale. Margot has responded to the idea in the poem that the light of transfiguration is also kindled in us a response to Christ’s light. She writes:

As a person and as a photographer I so wish I could catch “the Love that dances at the heart of things”, and to have seen it not its reflection but the very Love in a human face…Imagine.

Well it was immediately clear I could not count on my work. But then, the light in us that leaps to that light, that trembles and tingles through the tender skin, I believe I witness that.

I am not sure what brought this smile on my friend’s face but I believe it had to do with her being seen, valued, loved. A camera is a light-box, and if I concentrate on them some people feel that it is their light and the light which I try to crystallise and they let them shine together.

I am very grateful to both of them. As always please feel free to copy or use the poem in prayer or liturgy; you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button or clicking on its title.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.

Transfiguration

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

Photograph by Margot Krebs Neale

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Lo, I Come: A Response To Psalm 40

Just beforeI continue with my psalm series, may I say thank you to everyone for the many messages of support, prayer and condolence, you have sent to me after mother’s death. I have been greatly comforted, and it was of course a comfort and blessing to have been with her when she died, and to send her on her way home with poetry prayers and blessings. She was very much the source of poetry in my life, and one of my later psalm poems, which I will share with you in due course, is a thanksgiving for my birth and for my mother. There will be a time, later, on this blog, when I am able to say more, but for a now, as I am sure she would wish, I am going to continue quietly with this series.

Psalm 40 is a favourite with many people and with good reason. It celebrates being lifted out of the miry clay and set firmly on the rock, and being given a new song to sing. Then, at its heart it has that beautiful revelation that it is not sacrifice and burnt offerings that God desires, but rather that we should come to him ourselves with open hearts and minds:

Sacrifice and meat-offering thou wouldest not: but mine ears hast thou opened.

Burnt-offerings, and sacrifice for sin, hast thou not required: then said I, Lo, I come,

In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfil thy will, O my God: I am content to do it; yea, thy law is within my heart.

It was that theme of coming to him with all we are, heart and soul, which formed the core of my own response to this psalm. This poem was also the occasion to express the heart of how I read the psalms as a Christian, and in some sense the key to this poetic sequence:

I sing my psalm in Christ who sings in me,

A new song made in his Love’s mystery

Christ had the psalms on his lips in his lifetime and when, as Christians, we pray and sing them, we do so with and in Christ, whose coming as Messiah is prophesied in so many of the psalms themselves.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XL Expectans expectavi

The stone itself will soon be rolled away,

I wait in patience, all expectantly,

Firm on this rock above the miry clay

 

Where he has set me in his loving mercy.

I sing my psalm in Christ who sings in me,

A new song made in his Love’s mystery:

 

‘Your wondrous works all rise like wings in me

And lift my heart to praise. I hear your call,

The simple call of Love: Oh come to me,

 

Bring me no gifts, for I have made them all,

Just bring yourself, and open up your heart.

And so I come to you and bring you all,

 

All that I am and have been; joy and hurt,

Glory and shame, I bring you everything,

That you might make me whole in every part.

 

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The Shell Is Breaking: a Response To Psalm 39

‘Take thy plague away from me: I am even consumed by the means of thy heavy hand.’

This verse from psalm 39 will resonate with all of us in the midst of the covid crisis, and so perhaps will those verses about our mortality and the frailty of things in this world, verses calling us to set our hope more firmly on God:

‘Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long: and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.

For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

And now, Lord, what is my hope: truly my hope is even in thee.’

For a Christian of course that hope is rooted in Christ, in his death and resurrection. This was all in my mind as I composed my poem in response to psalm 39, but so were those lines of Leonard Cohen’s, that it is just when you begin to perceive the ‘crack in everything’ that you also perceive that that is ‘how the light gets in’!

This present plague has prompted me, like many, to reflect that we must not return, afterwards, to our old ways, but must take this kairos moment as an opportunity to strengthen the things that remain and renew our true hope in Christ

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXIX Dixi, Custodiam

Deliver me and raise me from the dead

For I have walked in shadows. Nothingness,

The vanity of things fills me with dread,

 

The sheer inanity, the pointlessness

Of how we used to live – we can’t go back

To that – the rush that masked our emptiness,

 

All the pretence that covered what we lack

When what we really lacked was always you.

I held my tongue, but I could see the crack

 

In everything we build and say and do.

And now the crack is widening. I pray

That we will turn and see a light break through

 

These fissures that so fill us with dismay.

The death we fear is birth, the shell is breaking:

The stone itself will soon be rolled away.

 

If you are enjoying these posts, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!
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