Monthly Archives: October 2020

All Hallow’s Eve; a sonnet of reclamation

The dark is bright with quiet lives and steady lights undimmed

As we come towards Hallowe’en, its worth remembering that the word Hallowe’en itself simply means ‘the eve of all Hallows’, and All Hallows is the Christian feast of All Saints, or All Saints Day’, a day when we think particularly of those souls in bliss who, even in this life, kindled a light for us, or to speak more exactly, reflected for us and to us, the already-kindled light of Christ!,  It is followed immediately on November 2nd by All Souls Day. the day we remember all the souls who have gone before us into the light of Heaven.  It is good that we should have a season of the year for remembrance and a time when we feel that the veil between time and eternity is thin and we can sense that greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong. It is also good and right that the Church settled this feast on a time in the turning of the year when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead. But it was right that, though they kept the day, they changed the custom. The greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has been made by Christ and if we want to celebrate our loving connections we need only now make gifts to the living, as we do in offering sweets to the ‘trick or treaters’ in this season, and far more profoundly in exchanging gifts at Christmas.

Anyway, given that both these seasons of hospitality and exchange have been so wrenched from their first purpose in order to sell tinsel and sweeties, I thought I might redress the balance a little and reclaim this season with a sonnet for All Souls/All Saints that remembers the light that shines in darkness, who first kindled it, and how we can all reflect it.

If your church is marking all saints or all souls day do feel free to print the words or use the recording.

The image which follows this poem, and takes up one of its key lines, is by Margot Krebs Neale. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the title.

This sonnet are  from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press,

I am having trouble embedding the media player but if you click on the title it will take you to an audioboom page which on which you can play the recording

 

All Saints

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards

Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,

It glances from the eyes, kindles the words

Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright

With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,

The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.

Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing

He weaves them with us in the web of being

They stand beside us even as we grieve,

The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,

Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above

The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,

To triumph where all saints are known and named;

The gathered glories of His wounded love.

‘Each shard still shines’ image by Margot Krebs Neale

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!

Buy Me A Coffee

7 Comments

Filed under imagination

‘Undo Our Dark Confusion’: A Response To Psalm 53

Psalm 53 returns to the opening line of Psalm 14: ‘Dixit Insipiens:

  1. THE foolish body hath said in his heart: There is no God.

And if such perverse folly was the exception in the culture of Ancient Israel, it has become the rule in our own, and so for us this psalm has a contemporary ring. For me the folly is not so much in the moral failures which this psalm deals with as in the perverse materialist philosophy, the arrogant refusal of every intimation of immortality, the closed mind towards religion which one encounters everyday in the very people who make a boast of being open-minded, and as you will see that has formed the core of my poem in response to this psalm. But the poem, like the psalm which inspires it, is also a prayer, a prayer that God will undo our dark confusion, and, as he promised in Isaiah, take away the veil that covers the nations.

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.

LIII Dixit insipiens

Though we will flourish in God’s house forever,
We live within a world that counts him out
Of every calculation, one that never

Considers that it might be wrong. No doubt
Can pierce our presumption. We dismiss
The wisdom of the past, and yet we flout

The principle of open-mindedness,
Presuming from the start on our conclusion.
That cast of mind has cast a spell on us:

A spell of disenchantment, the illusion
That only matter matters. Break the spell
Lord Jesus and undo our dark confusion,

Deliver us again, remove the veil,
The thin familiar film that covers wonder,
Let us rejoice to see your light prevail.

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!
Buy Me A Coffee

8 Comments

Filed under imagination

The Ballad of the White Horse: a complete reading for King Alfred’s Day

October 26th is the day the Church remembers Alfred, King and Scholar who founded places of learning, translated Boethius’ consolation of philosophy and strove to preserve the Christian faith in the midst of the pagan Danish invasions. He is also the subject of GK Chesterton’s wonderful poem The Ballad of the White Horse. I recorded a reading of the whole poem back in 2011, on its 100th anniversary, and I thought I would repost it here, with links to the readings, in honour of Alfred’s day.This great poem is as much about modern times as it is a ballad of the days of King Alfred. In 1911 Chesterton foresaw that the modern Nihilism and worship of the ‘superman’ embodied in the writings of Nietzsche together with false worship of race and a cult of violence, would likey wreak unimaginable damage in the new century, as proved to be the case. He also saw that a renewal of the vision of joy and humility that is at the heart of the Christian creed was the only way to resist the death-wish which is the shadow side of our fallen humanity. He wrote a poem at whose heart is a call to courage kindled not by probable chances of success but by what he called ‘the joy without a cause’. Many Englishmen called to combat in the two world wars, went out with this poem in their pockets and were greatly strengthened by it. The Times quoted it twice in leaders each at key points in the second world war; “nought for your comfort” was the leader headline after the disaster of Crete and Alfred’s great cry ‘The high tide’ and the turn’ was the headline after the D Day landings. And yet this poem, once so centrally part of the national consciousness, is now hardly known at all or read, but its time must suely come again.

Chesterton had a big influence on the Inklings, the writers who clustered around Tolkien and Lewis and there are a number of echoes between the Ballad of the White Horse and the Lord of the Rings. Especially the descriptions of Colan the Celt and his people, who, like the elves, are always haunted by the sound of the sea and have their hearts in an undying land. Likewise the detail of battle in which Alfred and his Celtic allies are sundered and the Celts, given up for lost, re-emerge as though they were the armies of the dead and put their foes to flight, that meeting on the field of battle against all odds is very like the events on the fields of the Pelanor. But perhaps the greatest similarity is in the ending of the two tales. In the final book of the Ballad, ‘The Scouring of the Horse’ Chesterton deals with the problem of the peace, the problem that after winning on the battle the wariors find corruption at home and have to confront evil in another form and in their own native place. Whilst Alfred leaves Wessex to confront the Danes in London the weeds are allowed to grow over the White Horse and at this point Chesterton gives Alfred a vision of the future and calls England to an eternal vigilance. I think the very namng, let alone the plot features, of Tolkien’s ‘Scouring of the Shire’ are derived from this.

Here’s a quick youtube video of me reading some verses from the first part and setting the scene, then below that are the links for you to download audio of my reading of the whole poem:

You can read and download the entire text of the poem here, though better still buy an old hardback copy. They are very cheap and still widely available.

My reading of each of the episodes can be found through the links below and you will find, on my podomatic page, that I have also given a brief introduction to each book. I have left the settings so that the episodes can be downloaded, so you can listen to them off line or even, if you wish, burn them to a cd and use them to while away the hours on long car journeys! I hope you enjoy them, let me know what you think.

The Ballad of the White Horse, read by Malcolm Guite:

The Dedication

Book I The Vision of the King

Book II The Gathering of the Chiefs

Book III The Harp of Alfred

Book IV The Woman in the Forest

Book V Ethandune: The First Stroke

Book VI Ethandune: The Slaying of the Chiefs

Book VII Ethandune: The Last Charge

Book VIII The Scouring of the Horse

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!
Buy Me A Coffee

14 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Poems

‘Like A Green Olive Tree’: A Response to Psalm 52

After the astringency, the release and restoration of Psalm 51 the Psalter returns us to the image with which the whole collection opens: a green and flourishing tree deeply rooted in the goodness of God himself, and this time it is specifically an Olive Tree, the sign of peace and healing, of God’s deepest Shalom. We arrive at this image of the tree at the end of psalm 52 by way of contrast with the vain boasting of the tyrant, whom, in the end, God will ‘laugh to scorn’. My poem also mentions the tyrant in passing (for he is passing!) but begins and ends with the beautiful tree.

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.

LII Quid gloriaris?

Of all your loving God has done for you,
Of all his many mercies on your soul,
Surely the greatest was his planting you

Like a green olive tree, secure and whole,
To grow within his holy house forever.
Be rooted once again in the rich soil

Of his deep love, and know that none can sever,
No power on earth can ever separate
You from the steadfast love of Christ your saviour.

So let the tyrants boast. Their desperate
Endeavours to maintain their Godless power
Will come to nothing soon, evaporate

Like morning mist before the sun. The hour
Is coming and has come. Their time is up,
But you will flourish in God’s house forever.

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!
Buy Me A Coffee

5 Comments

Filed under imagination

‘He Mends Your Broken Bones’ a Response to Psalm 51

In our poetic journey through the psalms we come now to psalm 51, the great psalm of David’s repentance and renewal, and so also of ours. From the time these words helped David to confess his sin and come back to God to be cleansed, indeed, remade in his grace they have also provided very generation with the words of return, the courage of honesty, the promise and achievement of a new beginning. For those of us who encounter and pray the psalms in our liturgy, those of us for whom each psalm is still a song, the words of this psalm are inextricably linked with the astringent beauty of Allegri’s setting of the Miserere which we here sung always on Ash Wednesday but also on other occasions when we need it, and my poetic response is both to the psalm itself and to Allegri’s beautiful setting of it.

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.

LI Miserere mei, Deus

LI Miserere mei, Deus

 

He calls you to discern his time and season.

The sempiternal season of his mercy

Lifts like the sun above your dark horizon.

 

Expose your darkness, sing your miserere,

His light will judge, and judging, heal your sin.

Then bathe in sheer beauty, as Allegri

 

Sounds out your penitence, and let Christ clean

Your soul once more and scrub out every stain

Washing you thoroughly. For he has seen

 

What you confess and what you hide. Again

He mends your broken bones and makes for you

A clean heart, comes to comfort you again,

 

Comes with his Holy Spirit to renew

The spirit in you, calling you to sing

Of all your loving God has done for you.

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!
Buy Me A Coffee






			

5 Comments

Filed under imagination

Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a birthday sonnet, and a book

SamuelTaylorColeridgeThe great poet, philosopher, and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st of October in 1772, so I am reposting this sonnet for his birthday!

I should also mention that in 2017 I published Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge which has been well and widely reviewed and examines Coleridge’s life and faith in fresh ways, through the lens of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, his most famous poem.

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved, his contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what they saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my own struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide.In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my  book The Singing Bowl,  published last year by the Canterbury Press.

As Always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or clicking the ‘play’ button.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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!

Buy Me A Coffee

8 Comments

Filed under imagination

A Sonnet for St. Luke’s Day

St. Luke accompanied by his ‘creature’ the winged ox

The 18th of October, is the feast day of St. Luke the Physician and Evangelist, and so I am reposting this sonnet in his honour. This poem comes from Sounding the Seasons, my series of sonnets for the church year.  My sonnets in that series, include a mini-sequence on the four Evangelists together and the imagery in those sonnets is influenced  by the images of the four living creatures round the throne of God and the tradition that each of these creatures represents both an aspect of Christ and one of the four Evangelists.

‘...since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. ‘  St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (ca. 120-202 AD)  –  Adversus Haereses 3.11.8

For a good account of this tradition click here. I am drawing my inspiration both from the opening page image of each Gospel in the Lindesfarne Gospels and also from the beautiful account of the four living creatures given by St. Ireneus, part of which I quote above. As well as being himself a Physician, and therefore the patron saint of doctors and all involved in healing ministry, Luke is also the patron of artists and painters. In this iconographic tradition Luke’s emblem is the ox, the lowly servant His gospel seems to have a particular connection with those on the margins of his society. In Luke we hear the voices of women more clearly than in any other gospel, and the claims and hope of the poor in Christ find a resonant voice.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title of the poem. The photographer Margot Krebs Neale has again provided a thought-provoking photograph to interpret the poem, in this case one taken by her son Oliver of his brother Luc.  The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press  and is available from all the usual Amazons etc.

 Luke

His gospel is itself a living creature

A ground and glory round the throne of God,

Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature

And One upon the throne sees it is good.

Luke is the living pillar of our healing,

A lowly ox, the servant of the four,

We turn his page to find his face revealing

The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.

He breathes good news to all who bear a burden

Good news to all who turn and try again,

The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,

A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,

The voiceless find their voice in every word

And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.

Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for this image

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!

Buy Me A Coffee

1 Comment

Filed under christianity, Poems

‘Our God Shall Come: A Response to Psalm 50

Rebecca Merry’s cover for David’s Crown

We have come to an important milestone or staging post in our journey through the psalms: 50! A third of the way through! So I thought I’d take this occasion to confirm that this collection of responses to the psalms will indeed be coming out as a book next year, published by Canterbury Press under the title ‘David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms’. As you will see from the picture above Rebecca Merry, who did the cover art for Sounding the Seasons has also made some beautiful art work for the new book. So do look out for it.there is already a page for pre-orders here. 

Psalm 50 gives us a glimpse of God’s beauty and majesty as it glimmers already through the light and beauty of the world:

  1. THE Lord, even the most mighty God, hath spoken: and called the world, from the rising up of the sun unto the going down thereof.

  2. Out of Sion hath God appeared: in perfect beauty.

But it also promises a greater presence when he shall come in the fulness of his glory to bring justice at last to the earth:

Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: there shall go before him a consuming fire, and a mighty tempest shall be stirred up round about him.

He shall call the heaven from above: and the earth, that he may judge his people.

These themes added a sense of joy and promise to my poem. You can press the ‘play’ button to hear me read it

L Deus deorum
 
Your heart’s in heaven, keep your treasure there,
For Heaven itself is coming to the earth!
Our God is coming, and he will appear
 
In perfect beauty. All these pangs of birth
Will turn to joy as our whole world is born
Again in him. The pain, the want, the dearth,
 
The dark, will vanish in that rising dawn,
And all the creatures on a thousand hills:
People and beasts and birds, that holy morn,
 
Will join in one dawn chorus. Glory spills
Already from beneath that glad horizon
And even now you hear his voice. He calls
 
You through your conscience, and your reason,
He calls you through your deep imagination
He calls you to discern his time and season.

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!

Buy Me A Coffee

6 Comments

Filed under imagination

The Strong Song of His Wisdom: A Response to Psalm 49

Psalm 49, with its famous line: ‘I will incline mine ear to the parable: and shew my dark speech upon the harp’, is a psalm about listening, about tuning in to hear the voice of God’s wisdom, even in the midst of the cacophony of false claims that surround us. It’s a call to reject the world’s way, which trusts in passing wealth, and to put our trust again in the only thing that remains: the abiding love of God. This is a psalm that gives us back our spiritual compass in a world that veers back and forth between false hope and premature despair, and that is something I have tried to reflect in this poem.

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

XLIX Audite haec, omnes

Where Christ himself is there to welcome you
Then you are home, wherever you may fare.
And Christ will keep your inner compass true

Though all the world is rushing everywhere,
This way and that before the winds of fear,
 Between false hopes and premature despair.

But you can hear a different tune. You hear
The strong song of his wisdom. Open your ears
To hear his parables, although the foolish veer

Between their fatuous desires and fears,
With fickle fortunes that they fear to share.
Keep your security in Christ, who hears

The slightest murmur of your smallest prayer,
And do not be afraid, but trust in him,
Your heart’s in heaven, keep your treasure there. 

.

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!

Buy Me A Coffee

15 Comments

Filed under imagination

A Sonnet for St. Francis

st-francis-of-assisiSt. Francis Day falls on the 4th of October so I thought I would repost this sonnet which reflects the way Francis responded to Christ’s call by casting away the rich trappings he had inherited and embracing holy poverty.The sonnet, which I wrote shortly after the election of the new Pope, is also a prayer that Pope Francis the 1st will enable the wider church to do the same! As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title

My sonnets for the Christian Year are available from Canterbury Press Here and on Kindle here

This sonnet for Francis is taken from my book The Singing Bowl, published by Canterbury Press. It is also available from Amazon UK Here, and USA Here and in Canada it is kept in stock by SignpostMusic


‘Francis, Rebuild My Church’; a sonnet for the Saint and for the new Pope

‘Francis rebuild my church which, as you see
Is falling into ruin.’ From the cross
Your saviour spoke to you and speaks to us
Again through you. Undoing set you free,
Loosened the traps of trappings, cast away
The trammelling of all that costly cloth
We wind our saviour in. At break of day
He set aside his grave-clothes. Your new birth
Came like a daybreak too, naked and true
To poverty and to the gospel call,
You woke to Christ and Christ awoke in you
And set to work through all your love and skill
To make our ruin good, to bless and heal
To wake the Christ in us and make us whole.
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!
Buy Me A Coffee

Leave a comment

Filed under christianity, Current affairs, Poems