Old Age by Edmund Waller

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December the 9th of December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Old Age by the Seventeenth Century poet Edmund Waller. This gentle meditation on old age, on the light that shines ‘through chinks that time hath made’, may be one source for Leonard Cohen’s famous lines about ‘how the light gets in’. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

Some years ago my husband began collecting World War Two letters from soldiers who were writing home. I did a photo transfer of one of these letters onto a canvas board and it has been in my studio for several years waiting for the moment when I would find a purpose for it.

With this as the ground, I painted the board and rubbed it down many times giving the effect of layers and layers, much like paint work in an old house. The top half of the painting is pink and infantile, the bottom half is black. The halves are separated and distanced by a rich gold band that connects the two but the image only works because light is there with the dark. The painting is uncluttered as that of a life paired down and the words are barely visible beneath the layers of paint, hinting at life nearly snuffed out, of a past and a memory fading away. The gold line foams and swells into the upper and lower halves of the painting suggesting the boundless nature of our inner spirit or the Divine Life that resides within us all. How much is visible of the gold within, is up to us and the grace of God. ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ (Isaiah 9:2)

 

You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Old Age

THE seas are quiet when the winds give o’er;

So calm are we when passions are no more.

For then we know how vain it was to boast

Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.

Clouds of affection from our younger eyes

Conceal that emptiness which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,

Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:

Stronger by weakness, wiser men become

As they draw near to their eternal home.

Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view

That stand upon the threshold of the new.

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Kenosis by Luci Shaw

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next poem in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is Kenosis by Luci Shaw. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda shares the following reflection on today’s art work:

The temptation as an artist is to illustrate a theme, but here is the problem: figurative painting grounds us in the human experience but the poem we read today, whilst rooted in the imagery of human experience, is transcendent because it points us to the divine nature of the new born child.

There are monks who celebrate the Christmas child as The Little Word, a title made even more tender, coming as it does from men who live such unsentimental and austere life. Malcolm tells us that the word infans means, literally, ‘without speech’, and so my approach to this work had to go beyond pictorial sentimentality. I wanted it to transcend speech and form as far as I could because receiving God in the form of a helpless baby is untranslatable in terms of human experience.

I painted the surface with thin washes of paint, rubbing it down between each coat, like sanding or planing wood. I wanted the surface to have quietness and transparency. On the top of this surface, in the finest pen, I drew delicate white tracery lines suggesting the softest threads of wool (from a sheepfold) that might swaddle an infant. In the top left corner I painted a lighter area, again rubbing it down to help us see through it. It hints at a doorway, alluding perhaps to Christ who is the door, who knocks at our door and who himself, ‘hung..a door’.

As we come to this most beautiful of poems, all we can do is receive the vision and be stilled by its inner peace. ‘Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.’ (Psalm 131.)


Kenosis

In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.

He is so new, his silk skin has not yet

been roughed by plane and wooden beam

nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.

 

He is in a dream of nipple found,

of blue-white milk, of curving skin

and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb

of a warm heart’s repeated sound.

 

His only memories float from fluid space.

So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door

broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,

wept for the sad heart of the human race.

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A Hymn of Heavenly Love Edmund Spenser

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is taken from Edmund Spenser’s Hymn of Heavenly Love. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda Writes about her image:

The theme of God’s love and action through Jesus is so unfathomable, so vast, neither words nor imagery are sufficient to grasp it and yet we continue to try. Words only refer to other words, images to created things. It is only through experience that we truly come close to the love that brings us peace, and even then only as a movement of heart and soul within us. Silence has so much to teach us about God, so the image I made reflects this silence. We call it faith because our experience is more often one of knowing about God in our heads, but actually experiencing that heart bursting glance of love is a rare occurrence.

In the painting, I imagine our fall into darkness, ‘enrooted in fleshly slyme’ in the dark paint at the bottom of the pages. Above that is the blue emptiness of the cosmos, but in one vertical line of yellow ochre, I imagine the act of the ‘eternal King of Glorie’, piercing the darkness of our consciousness, down descending into our heart and deepest being.


From An Hymn of Heavenly Love

Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,

In which He reigned with His glorious Syre,

He downe descended, like a most demisse

And abiect thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That He for him might pay sinne’s deadly hyre,
And him restore unto that happie state
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde;
Nor spirit, nor angel, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for man’s misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who selfe did slyde:
So, taking flesh of sacred virgin’s wombe,
For man’s deare sake He did a man become.
And that most blessed bodie, which was borne
Without all blemish or reprochfull blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torne
Of cruell hands, who with despightfull shame
Revyling Him, that them most vile became,
At length Him nayled on a gallow-tree,
And slew the lust by most uniust decree.
O huge and most unspeakeable impression
Of Love’s deep wound, that pierst the piteous hart
Of that deare Lord with so entyre affection,
And, sharply launcing every inner part,
Dolours of death into His soule did dart,
Doing him die that never it deserved,
To free His foes, that from His heast had swerved!
What hart can feel least touch of so sore launch,
Or thought can think the depth of so deare wound?
Whose bleeding sourse their streames yet never staunch,
But stil do flow, and freshly still redownd,
To heale the sores of sinfull soules unsound,
And clense the guilt of that infected cryme
Which was enrooted in all fleshly slyme.
O blessed Well of Love! O Floure of Grace!
O glorious Morning-Starre! O Lampe of Light!
Most lively image of thy Father’s face,
Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might,
Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight,
How can we Thee requite for all this good?
Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?
Yet nought Thou ask’st in lieu of all this love,
But love of us, for guerdon of thy paine:
Ay me! what can us lesse than that behove?
Had He required life for us againe,
Had it beene wrong to ask His owne with gaine?
He gave us life, He it restored lost;
Then life were least, that us so little cost.

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The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson. In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant.

Linda writes about today’s image:

How beautifully the subject of servant continues from yesterday, but in this poem we are served by God, not through human hands but through the material of our bodies and the environment. Perhaps we consider our bodies as our own possessions, unique down to our very DNA. But here we can ponder the thought that God sealed our skull and made our ribs. We are the created ones, we don’t create ourselves however much contemporary culture tells us otherwise.

Making an image every day is quite a challenge on top of family and work life. I already had this image in the studio and felt it suited the poem very well as it has a bark-like surface hinting at oaks on the upland, and primordial slumber. The words that sprung into my mind were, ‘who…shall speak of the Holiest’, and Psalm 139, ‘thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. I considered how I am a marvellous work, I am created by Him, utterly unique with my own fingerprint, and how His fingerprint is upon all His creation if only we took the time to see it. The art work was completed when I cut a square in the centre and placed a fingerprint upon it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title, and read my reflective essay in Waiting on the Word

From the Ballad of the White Horse

And well may God with the serving-folk

Cast in His dreadful lot;

Is not He too a servant,

And is not He forgot?

 

For was not God my gardener

And silent like a slave;

That opened oaks on the uplands

Or thicket in graveyard gave?

 

And was not God my armourer,

All patient and unpaid,

That sealed my skull as a helmet,

And ribs for hauberk made?

 

Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?

 

For God is a great servant,

And rose before the day,

From some primordial slumber torn;

But all we living later born

Sleep on, and rise after the morn,

And the Lord has gone away.

 

On things half sprung from sleeping,

All sleeping suns have shone,

They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,

The beasts blink upon hands and knees,

Man is awake and does and sees-

But Heaven has done and gone.

 

For who shall guess the good riddle

Or speak of the Holiest,

Save in faint figures and failing words,

Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,

Labours, and is at rest?

 

But some see God like Guthrum,

Crowned, with a great beard curled,

But I see God like a good giant,

That, laboring, lifts the world.

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Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

For the 5th of December the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above, bodying forth so much of the poem, was created by Linda Richardson, who writes:

Sometimes a piece of art comes into your mind already complete. So it was with this work. I used the homely linen fabric as the base, and in the middle of the work there is a rip, a rift, burnt round the edges. Beneath that, orange paper glows at the centre. The fabric is stained and frayed and there are pine needles stitched into the work because they make excellent fire lighters. The text is taken from Bible pages, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11.) I embroidered the words, ‘What did I know’ onto the work and added some turquoise silk. There are also real ruby beads and one pearl.

For me, the poem addresses the perfectionist in us who would like home life to be an idyll of peace and love when in reality we are dealing with the warp and weft in the characters of the people we live with. Don’t we all relate in some way to ‘the chronic angers’? So often we neither understand nor appreciate, ‘love’s austere and lonely offices’, and I think of my own Dad who used to get up at five in the morning to do a post round before he opened his shop and post office in the village where I grew up in Yorkshire.

Whilst this work may not be beautiful in a traditional sense, I wanted to combine poor cotton threads and paper with ruby and pearl to make use of many different materials, just like the diversity of human experience. We know where some of the stains, rips and burns are in our lives and it is often our challenge to be enriched by the silk, the gems and the pearls of promise that we also find within ourselves and each other.

You can find you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

 

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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Annunciation by Scott Cairns

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

Yesterday we considered a poem by John Donne, today we pair and compare it with a poem of the same title by Scott Cairns. I draw out some of the parallels and differences in the brief essay on this poem in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word. The image above  was created by Linda Richardson in her book of visual responses to Waiting on the Word. Linda writes:

This poem spoke particularly to my Celtic ancestry and my earthy upbringing in a farming community. As children we spent good days outside throwing dried cow pats and crab apples at each other and stacking bales of hay. I confess that without Malcolm’s commentary I would have wallowed in the lovely words of this poem without necessarily returning to Genesis at all!

The work I made is on brown wrapping paper and is full of rich earth colours. I tore a hole in the paper, leaving the virgin white paper showing through and surrounding the hole with large stitches in thick embroidery cotton. It is meant to suggest a radiating of light, or perhaps a womb, or the homeliness of stitching.

You can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle and you can hear me reading the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Annunciation by Scott Cairns

Deep within the clay, and O my people

very deep within the wholly earthen

compound of our kind arrives of one clear,

star-illumined evening a spark igniting

once again the tinder of our lately

banked noetic fire. She burns but she

is not consumed. The dew lights gently,

suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.

And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become

the kindled kindred of a King whose birth

thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

 

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Annunciation by John Donne

Annunciation by Linda Richardson

Annunciation by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 3rd in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is The Annunciation by John Donne, and once again it is accompanied by a beautiful illustration from the book of responses to these poems by Linda Richardson. She writes:

The imagery of The Annunciation is richly grounded in our Western consciousness. It is always a challenge for an artist to invent something new but I kept within the tradition, painting the girl and the angel. Mary is sitting on the floor clutching her shawl around her in an entirely human reaction to an incomprehensible encounter. The angel’s hand reaches from its heavenly page on the right into Mary’s world, the page on the left. I made the journal in a book about interior design and there was a small reptile printed on the page. I kept this in the painting and you will see it just below Mary. I included it as a nod to the traditional imagery of Mary with her foot on the serpent’s head alluding to the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, the ‘seed of the woman’, who will crush the ancient serpent. (Genesis 3)The quality of the paper is very poor and later I painted the image again, this time on canvas. In this painting neither the angel or the girl are seen. I wonder if this image speaks more powerfully to the spirit as it hints at emptiness, emptiness of the womb and the emptiness of our spirits as we wait to receive the gift of God.

Lao Tze says that it is a pot’s emptiness that makes the vessel useful, a room’s emptiness that allows us to inhabit it. And I wonder if it reminds you of Jesus Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit...’ It is not our fullness, our cleverness or our horde of knowledge that gain us the kingdom, but our poverty.

Linda's second painting

Linda’s second painting

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button and find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Annunciation

Salvation to all that will is nigh;

That All, which always is all everywhere,

Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,

Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,

Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie

In prison, in thy womb; and though He there

Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,

Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.

Ere by the spheres time was created thou

Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;

Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now

Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,

Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room

Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.

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