Category Archives: imagination

A Sonnet for Palm Sunday

We come now, with Palm Sunday, to the beginning of Holy Week and in the sonnets that follow I have explored the idea that what was happening ‘out there’ and ‘back then’ as Christ entered Jerusalem is also happening ‘in here’ and ‘right now’. There is a Jerusalem of the heart. Our inner life also has its temple and palaces, its places of corruption, its gardens of rest, its seat of judgement.

In the sequence of sonnets which begins today I invite you to walk with Christ, and let him walk with you on both an outer and an inner journey that leads to the cross and beyond.

Do feel free to reproduce these poems for any Church services in which you may wish to use them, just include a line to say “From Sounding the Seasons, by Malcolm Guite, CanterburyPress 2012″

This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all 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 and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle.

As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the evocative images that accompany these poems. Of the image at the beginning of this post she writes:

– Who stands in the eye of the camera? behind that gate?
– The Savior? or me looking out and seeing in my fellow being an incarnation of the Saviour?

and for the image below she says: ‘this wax the child is melting could symbolise this resistance which becomes the source, the stock of the light that comes from us.’

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or on the title of the poem

Palm Sunday

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

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A Sonnet for the Annunciation

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings

Wednesday 25th of March is the feast of the Annunciation, that blessed moment of awareness, assent and transformation in which eternity touches time. In my own small take on this mystery I have thought about vision, what we allow ourselves to be aware of, and also about freedom, the way all things turn on our discernment and freedom.

As so often I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the accompanying images, and she has kindly offered the following note for the images that accompany this sonnet:

‘As I was making suggesting a picture for another sonnet, Malcolm said he was working on the Annunciation sonnet. A little cheeky I sent a picture of a beautifully blurred lily wondering if it might help. Malcolm liked it and could see angel wings in it, I thought we needed a face. A young woman of sixteen. One of the many 16 years old I know and love or…myself. I remembered and found this picture of me taken when I was 16 or 17. Why me? Because of the “We” of the first strophe, I read it like an “I” : We see so little, only surfaces, and yet we have a choice.

« Quel fruit lumineux portons-nous dans l’ombre de la chair? » What luminous fruit do we carry in the shade of our flesh?

« un fruit éternel enfant de la chair et de l’Esprit ». An eternal fruit, child of the flesh and the Spirit »

May we be granted the joy of giving it to the light.’

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 and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. It is 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. You may also like to check out Steve Bell‘s wonderful Snippet eBook The Pilgrim Year, in which this sonnet also appears, together with some of my reflections on Fra Angelico’s great fresco of the Annunciation.

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ buton or on the title.

Annunciation

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

but on thi day a young girl stopped to see

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Passion Sunday: the Stations of the Cross

Mantegna,_Andrea_crucifixion__Louvre_from_Predella_San_Zeno_Altarpiece_Verona

Mantegna,_Andrea_crucifixion__Louvre_from_Predella_San_Zeno_Altarpiece_Verona

Today is Passion Sunday, and I am once more making all my sonnets on the Stations of the Cross available, together with their recordings, for any individuals or Churches who may want to use them over the course of the next two weeks. I will post them again on Good Friday. They have been used in many different and creative ways by diffent churches since they were published and this year they are being used this year in a performance called  ‘Passion; a contemporary journey to the cross’, a remarkable interpretation of them in dance and music choreographed and danced by Claire Henderson Davis. We have taken this performance to a number of Cathedrals and will finish the Lent part of the tour at Ely Cathedral on good Friday. We hope also to take the piece up to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. All the details about that tour are Here

Now here is a complete sequence of my sonnets for the Stations of the Cross, which form the core of my book Sounding the Seasons. Please feel free to make use of them in anyway you like, and to reproduce them, but I would be grateful if you could include in any hand-outs a link back to this blog and also a note to say they are taken from ‘Sounding the Seasons; seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Canterbury Press 2012′  so that people who wish to can follow the rest of the sequence through the church year, or obtain the book, can do so. The book has an essay on poetry in liturgy with suggestions as to how these and the other sonnets can be used.

I will post them again on Good Friday

The Images are taken from a set of stations of the cross in St. Alban’s church Oxford. I have also read the sonnets onto audioboo, so you can click on the ‘play’ button or on the title of each poem to hear it.

These sonneReaders of these sonnets might also be interested to know that Dr. Holly Ordway has given a series of excellent podcast talks based on these sonnets and you can find those here: Holly’s Podcasts

Stations Of the Cross


I Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice

With which he speaks in judgment, all his powers

Of perception and discrimination, choice,

Decision, all his years, his days and hours,

His consciousness of self, his every sense,

Are given by this prisoner, freely given.

The man who stands there making no defence,

Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.

And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels

That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts

It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.

He gives himself again with all his gifts

Into our hands. As Pilate turns away

A door swings open. This is judgment day.


II Jesus is given his cross

He gives himself again with all his gifts

And now we give him something in return.

He gave the earth that bears, the air that lifts,

Water to cleanse and cool, fire to burn,

And from these elements he forged the iron,

From strands of life he wove the growing wood,

He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion

He saw it all and saw that it is good.

We took his iron to edge an axe’s blade,

We took the axe and laid it to the tree,

We made a cross of all that he has made,

And laid it on the one who made us free.

Now he receives again and lifts on high

The gifts he gave and we have turned awry.


III Jesus falls the first time

He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion

And well he knows the path we make him tread

He met the devil as a roaring lion

And still refused to turn these stones to bread,

Choosing instead, as Love will always choose,

This darker path into the heart of pain.

And now he falls upon the stones that bruise

The flesh, that break and scrape the tender skin.

He and the earth he made were never closer,

Divinity and dust come face to face.

We flinch back from his via dolorosa,

He sets his face like flint and takes our place,

Staggers beneath the black weight of us all

And falls with us that he might break our fall.

20110418-125224.jpg

IV Jesus meets His Mother

This darker path into the heart of pain
Was also hers whose love enfolded him
In flesh and wove him in her womb. Again
The sword is piercing. She, who cradled him
And gentled and protected her young son
Must stand and watch the cruelty that mars
Her maiden making. Waves of pain that stun
And sicken pass across his face and hers
As their eyes meet. Now she enfolds the world
He loves in prayer; the mothers of the disappeared
Who know her pain, all bodies bowed and curled
In desperation on this road of tears,
All the grief-stricken in their last despair,
Are folded in the mantle of her prayer.

20110418-125536.jpg

V Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

In desperation on this road of tears
Bystanders and bypassers turn away
In other’s pain we face our own worst fears
And turn our backs to keep those fears at bay
Unless we are compelled as this man was
By force of arms or force of circumstance
To face and feel and carry someone’s cross
In Love’s full glare and not his backward glance.
So Simon, no disciple, still fulfilled
The calling: ‘take the cross and follow me’.
By accident his life was stalled and stilled
Becoming all he was compelled to be.
Make me, like him, your pressed man and your priest,
Your alter Christus, burdened and released.


VI Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Bystanders and bypassers turn away
And wipe his image from their memory
She keeps her station. She is here to stay
And stem the flow. She is the reliquary
Of his last look on her. The bloody sweat
And salt tears of his love are soaking through
The folds of her devotion and the wet
folds of her handkerchief, like the dew
Of morning, like a softening rain of grace.
Because she wiped the grime from off his skin,
And glimpsed the godhead in his human face
Whose hidden image we all bear within,
Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain
The face of god is shining once again.



VII Jesus falls the second time

Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain,
Through our bruised bruises and re-opened scars,
He falls and stumbles with us, hurt again
When we are hurt again. With us he bears
The cruel repetitions of our cruelty;
The beatings of already beaten men,
The second rounds of torture, the futility
Of all unheeded pleading, every scream in vain.
And by this fall he finds the fallen souls
Who passed a first, but failed a second trial,
The souls who thought their faith would hold them whole
And found it only held them for a while.
Be with us when the road is twice as long
As we can bear. By weakness make us strong.

VIII Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

He falls and stumbles with us, hurt again

But still he holds the road and looks in love

On all of us who look on him. Our pain

As close to him as his. These women move

Compassion in him as he does in them.

He asks us both to weep and not to weep.

Women of Gaza and Jerusalem,

Women of every nation where the deep

Wounds of memory divide the land

And lives of all your children, where the mines

Of all our wars are sown: Afghanistan ,

Iraq, the Cote d’Ivoire…  he reads the signs

And weeps with you and with you he will stay

Until the day he wipes your tears away.

IX Jesus falls the third time

He weeps with you and with you he will stay

When all your staying power has run out

You can’t go on, you go on anyway.

He stumbles just beside you when the doubt

That always haunts you, cuts you down at last

And takes away the hope that drove you on.

This is the third fall and it hurts the worst

This long descent through darkness to depression

From which there seems no rising and no will

To rise, or breathe or bear your own heart beat.

Twice you survived; this third will surely kill,

And you could almost wish for that defeat

Except that in the cold hell where you freeze

You find your God beside you on his knees.


X Jesus is stripped of His garments

You can’t go on, you go on anyway
He goes with you, his cradle to your grave.
Now is the time to loosen, cast away
The useless weight of everything but love
For he began his letting go before,
Before the worlds for which he dies were made,
Emptied himself, became one of the poor,
To make you rich in him and unafraid.
See as they strip the robe from off his back
They strip away your own defences too
Now you could lose it all and never lack
Now you can see what naked Love can do
Let go these bonds beneath whose weight you bow
His stripping strips you both for action now


XI Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.


XII Jesus dies on the cross

The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black
We watch him as he labours to draw breath
He takes our breath away to give it back,
Return it to it’s birth through his slow death.
We hear him struggle breathing through the pain
Who once breathed out his spirit on the deep,
Who formed us when he mixed the dust with rain
And drew us into consciousness from sleep.
His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Mantles his world in his one atmosphere
And now he comes to breathe beneath the pall
Of our pollutions, draw our injured air
To cleanse it and renew. His final breath
Breathes us, and bears us through the gates of death.


XIII Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross

His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Now on this cross his body breathes no more
Here at the centre everything is still
Spent, and emptied, opened to the core.
A quiet taking down, a prising loose
A cross-beam lowered like a weighing scale
Unmaking of each thing that had its use
A long withdrawing of each bloodied nail,
This is ground zero, emptiness and space
With nothing left to say or think or do
But look unflinching on the sacred face
That cannot move or change or look at you.
Yet in that prising loose and letting be
He has unfastened you and set you free.

XIV Jesus is laid in the tomb

Here at the centre everything is still
Before the stir and movement of our grief
Which bears it’s pain with rhythm, ritual,
Beautiful useless gestures of relief.
So they anoint the skin that cannot feel
Soothing his ruined flesh with tender care,
Kissing the wounds they know they cannot heal,
With incense scenting only empty air.
He blesses every love that weeps and grieves
And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.
The love that’s poured in silence at old graves
Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,
Is never lost. In him all love is found
And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

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My sermon series: ‘To Be A Pilgrim’

chaucerDuring this last Lent Term I preached a series of seven sermons at Girton College, exploring the theme of pilgrimage, first in scripture and then in the writings of Dante, Chaucer, Raleigh, Herbert, Bunyan, and CS Lewis. These are now up on the college website as audio clips you can listen to onsite or download for later listening. Here are links to all seven.
Unfortunately the final one o Lewis is cut off about half way through as the recorder stopped functioning or ran out of space. But you will probably see where I was going with is

This collection contains 7 media items.

Media items

A journey through the wilderness: Lent and the tradition of pilgrimage

Sunday 18 January: Choral Evensong Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: A journey through the wilderness: lent and the tradition of pilgrimage

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 4 Mar 2015

Dante: Through Hell to Heaven

   0 views

Sunday 25 January: Choral Evensong Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: Dante: Through Hell to Heaven

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 18 Mar 2015

Chaucer: Stories along the way

Sunday 1 February: Choral Evensong Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: Chaucer: Stories along the way

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 18 Mar 2015

Special Alumni Service – Raleigh: The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage

Sunday 8 February: Special Alumni Service, 2.30 p.m. Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: Raleigh: The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 18 Mar 2015

Herbert: Notes on the journey

Sunday 15 February: Choral Evensong Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: Herbert: Notes on the journey.

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 18 Mar 2015

Bunyan: To be a pilgrim

Sunday 22 February: Choral Evensong Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: Bunyan: To be a pilgrim

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 18 Mar 2015 recording incomplete

CS Lewis: Yearning for the far off country

Sunday 1 March: Choral Evensong Speaker: Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. Title: CS Lewis: Yearning for the far off country

CollectionGirton College Chapel Sermons; To be a Pilgrim

InstitutionGirton College

Created: Wed 18 Mar 2015

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Dante and the companioned journey 7-9: Paradise!

image from Danteworlds

image from Danteworlds

Having been through Hell (as it were), climbed together the steep terraces of the Holy Mountain of Purgatory and danced through the fire at its summit, back into the garden of our beginnings, we come now to the final section of my Dante Sequence. This is the first of my three poems responding to the Paradiso the poem in which, reunited with his beloved Beatrice, Dante ascends through the spheres of the heavens to attain at last a mystical vision of the God who is all in all, three in one and yet looks on us with a human face.

In some ways Inferno and Purgatorio are easier to read because they chart, with harrowing honesty, the familiar territory of our own experience, whereas Paradiso challenges us with a way of seeing reality, utterly itself, in all its variety and particularity, and bathed in the light of Love, which we have not yet attained. But the key I think is to recognise that just sometimes, and by sheer grace, we get a glimpse of the Paradisal or Beatific view of things, as the disciples did at the transfiguration, and from there we can begin to imagine, and so learn to love and grow into our paradise.

The key verbs throughout the Paradiso are ‘Look’ and ‘Love'; Dante is gradually transformed by learning to look at everything, himself and Beatrice included with the gaze of Love with which God beholds his creation and this prepares him gradually for the final look, the beatific vision in which he himself, together with the sun and the other stars becomes and is moved by the Love he beholds.

7 Look up!

In this first poem I reflect on Dante’s ascent through the first three spheres of heaven, the Moon, Mercury and finally the third Heaven, Venus, the sphere in which our Eros is perfected by Agape.

Look Up!

Look up at the resplendent lights of heaven

In all the glory of their otherness,

Within you and beyond you, simply given!

 

Let go your grandeur, love your littleness,

Begin a journey into clarity

And find again the love in loveliness,

 

The constant love in your inconstancy.

Reflected light you’re not yet fit to bear,

Pearlescent preface to eternity,

 

She glimmers through the veils you make her wear,

Delights and glories in each difference,

In every variation everywhere.

 

Now let love raise and ravish every sense,

Quicksilver scatterings of consciousness,

She makes you myriad-minded, you can dance

 

In her swift sway and swing, the suddenness

of ecstasy, third heaven’s heady swirl,

That lifts and flings her lovers into bliss.

 

Remember tenderly, you glimpsed a girl

Whose smile transfigured all without her knowing,

The tangles of your loving here unfurl

 

And find their freedom, every knot undoing,

Mistakes unmade, and unkind words unsaid

The spring released at last and freely flowing

 

As freely you forgive yourselves. The seed

of love, long-planted, breathes and blossoms here

Where you in-other one another, freed

 

And ensphered where love has cast out fear.

 

8 Circle Dance!

As Dante and Beatrice rise through the traditional seven heavens of mediaeval astronomy, the experience of each is lovelier and more intense, each sphere as it were prepares and trains Dante’s sight for the holiness and beauty of the next.

For Dante the Heaven of the Sun represents and embodies the light and life of the mind, the sheer joy of pursuing and apprhehending truth. It is in that sphere that he meets the great masters of Christian intellectual life from Boethius, who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy through to to the great Dominican and Franciscan masters of thought St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. For Dante the life of mind, the pursuit of truth and the interweaving of intellectual exchange, are seen not as contention or rivalry, as they might be in some places, but as a kind of glorious circle dance, centred on the Logos who is the light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world. The theologians whirl around Dante and Beatrice in sheer joy and energy. That is the true vision of the life of the mind!

When I came up to Cambridge as a young man I was on my second read-through of the Commedia and I was delighted to discover that almost all the philosophers whom Dante meets in the Heaven of the Sun were still on my syllabus to read! Starting with Boethius, whose Consolation of Philosophy still remans one of the most important books in my life.  Though earthly universities are not always an earthly paradise, I still enjoy in my Cambridge life some glimpses of Dante’s vision of the dancing and illuminated life of the mind!

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

A sun-warmed sapling, opening each leaf,

My soul unfolded in your quickening ray,

‘the inner brought the outer into life';

 

I found the light within the  light of day,

The Consolation of Philosophy,

Turning a page in Cambridge, found my way,

 

My mind delighting in discovery,

As love of learning turned to learning love

And explanation deepened mystery,

 

Drawing me out beyond what I could  prove

Towards the next adventure, every chance

Discovery a sweet come-hither wave,

 

Philosophy a kind of circle dance,

Weaving between the present and the past,

The whole truth present in a single glance

 

That looked on me and everything in Christ!

Threefold Beholding, look me into being,

Make me in Love again from first to last

 

And let me still partake your holy seeing

Beyond the shifting shadow of the earth,

Minute particulars, eternal in their being,

 

Forming themselves into a single path

From heaven to earth and back again to heaven,

All patterned and perfected, from each birth

 

To each fruition, and all freely given

To glory in and give the glory back!

Call me again to set out from this haven

 

And follow Truth along her shining track.

 

9 The Rose

I come now to the final part my sequence of nine poems reflecting on the exprerience of reading, and re-reading Dante’s Commedia. By the end of the Paradiso Dante has taken us to the very limits of human thought and expression, to the brink of a reality which is beyond language, and yet which is the true source of all reality. That source is Love, ‘the Love that moves the sun and the other stars’, and the whole purpose of the poem is that we learn and choose also to be moved by, and find our peace, in that Love.

To describe his journey, Dante used the astronomy of his day, but the truth of his message does not depend on one scientific model, or another, but on what lies behind the reality they model. In this poem I have tried to hint at the exprerience of reading Dante with our own, equally marvelous and mysterious cosmology in mind.

 

as usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play button.


9 The Rose

A white rose opens in a quiet arbour

Where I sit reading Dante, Paradise

Unfolding in me, opens hour by hour,

 

In sunlight and amidst the hum of bees

On a late afternoon. I think of how

Everything flowers, the whole universe

 

Itself is still unfolding even now

Sprung from a stem of singularity

Which petals time and space.  I think of how

 

The very elements that let my body be

Began and will continue in the stars

Whose light and distance frame our mystery,

 

And how my shadowed heart still loves, still bears

With every beat that animates  my being,

Eternal yearnings through the turning years.

 

I turn back to the lines that light my seeing

And lift me to the limits of all thought

And long that I might also find that freeing

 

And enabling Love, and so be caught

And lifted into His renewing Heaven.

Evening glimmers, and the stars come out,

 

Venus is shining clear, my prayers are woven

Into a sounding song, a symphony,

As all creation gives back what is given

 

In music made to praise the Mystery

Who is both gift and giver. Something stirs

A grace in me beyond my memory

 

I close the book and look up at the stars.

stars1

These Dante poems are all  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

If you missed the earlier episodes, here are the links to the other poems in this sequence:

Previous poems in this Dante Series:

Inferno:

1 In Medias Res

2 Through the Gate

3 Vexila Regis

Purgatorio

4 De Magistro

5 Love in Idleness

6 Dancing Through the Fire

Paradiso

7  Look up

8 Circle Dance

 

 

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Dante and the companioned journey 6: Dancing Through the Fire

 

Botticelli illustrates Purgatorio 27, Dancing through the Fire

Botticelli illustrates Purgatorio 27, Dancing through the Fire

 

‘From wrong to wrong the exasperated sprit proceeds/ unless restored by that refining fire/ where you must move in measure like a dancer’

These words from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding have always struck a chord with me. They allude, of course, to the moment near the end of the Purgatorio when the pilgrims ascend towards the Earthly Paradise, the garden of our origins and of our restored humanity, at the summit of the Holy Mountain. But Eden is surrounded by a circle of fire. The poet-pilgrims must pass through that fire, in which the last of love’s imperfections will be purified. Desire for the beloved must be redeemed from the possessive  lust which makes a person an object, and restored to that wholeness of love in which the beloved is desired and loved, body and soul, for herself as  person. It is only when Virgil reminds Dante that his beloved Beatrice is waiting for him beyond the fire that he has the courage to enter the flame.

This poem is also set for this Saturday in The Word in the wilderness. Here’s what I wrote about it there:

So, at the end of this ‘Dante’ week, I give you my own poetic response to Friday’s passage from the Purgatorio. And I take occasion in this poem to thank God for the poets, the warm-hearted poets whose strength, and yes, sometimes weakness too, was in their service of Eros, but who always gave me, as the pagan Virgil gave Dante, a new kindling of hope and longing; a vision, even through the warmth of earthly love, of the eternal Love of Heaven. Through them I learned that the right response to Eros is not to ask for less desire, but for more, to deepen my desires until nothing but Heaven can satisfy them. I also take occasion here to think about the art of poetry itself. There is a parallel, I think between our love-life and the making of poetry. In both there is an initial gift and inspiration, a subtle and all-transforming intuition of beauty. But in both this might easily be frittered away or corrupted. The first glimpse, the intuition, which as it did for Yeats’s Wandering Aengus, should lead to a life-times quest, can be lost or dissipated in the pursuit of one will’o’the wisp after another. Or we can be faithful to it: that first intuition, that graceful gift of love can be attended to, and shaped. We can craft for it a steady reliable form and a home. We can bring it, in poetry and in love-life through slow growth to fruition. So I praise the poets, among them Dante himself, who

 

taught me by example how to bring

The slow growth of a poem to fruition

And let it be itself, a living thing,

 

And we can do more than that. Poetry must begin with specific and loving attention to the particular and the earthly, but it doesn’t end there. And so I praise the poets who

 

Taught me to trust the gifts of intuition

And still to try the tautness of each line,

Taught me to taste the grace of transformation

 

And trace in dust the face of the divine,

Taught me the truth, as poet and as Christian,

That drawing water turns it into wine.

 

The lines, the images, the sounds and rhythms of a poem are all physical things of this world, and yet, somehow in them and through them, another light shines. George Herbert put it perfectly when he said

 

A man that looks on glass

On it may stay his eye

Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,

And then the Heavens espy.

 

And all this, that is true of poetry, is also true of the transformation of Eros in our lives. The familiar face of the person we live with, the quality of their steadfast covenant love can suddenly become a window through which the face of the God, who loves us in and through them, shines. Marriage itself is intended as the sacrament in which that transformation can happen, and that is why the marriage service alludes to our Lord’s presence ‘at a wedding in Cana of Galillee’. For the miracle that was wrought there, in which the very act of drawing water in Christ’s presence has turned it into wine, is a sign of what can happen to all we love and make in this world, poems and relationships, if we open them up to Christ.

 

This poem which shares the title and subject of my most recent cd Dancing Through the Fire is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title, and I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the lovely interpretative image which follows the poem

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button

Dancing Through The Fire

‘per te poeta fui, per te Christiano‘  ( purg 22:73)

 

Then stir my love in idleness to flame

To find  at last the free refining fire

That guards the hidden garden whence I came.

 

O do not kill, but quicken my desire

Better to spur me on than leave me cold.

Not maimed I come to you, I come entire

 

Lit by  the loves that warm, the lusts that scald

That you may prove the one, reprove the other,

Though both have been the strength by which I scaled

 

The steps so far to come where poets gather

And sing such songs as love gives them to sing.

I thank God for the ones who brought me hither

 

And taught me by example how to bring

The slow growth of a poem to fruition

And let it be itself, a living thing,

 

Taught me to trust the gifts of intuition

And still to try the tautness of each line,

Taught me to taste the grace of transformation

 

And trace in dust the face of the Divine,

Taught me the truth, as poet and as Christian ,

That drawing water turns it into wine.

 

Now I am drawn through their imagination

To dare to dance with them into the fire,

Harder than any grand renunciation,

 

To bring to Christ the heart of my desire

Just as it is in every imperfection

Surrendered to his sharp refiners fire

 

That love might have Its death and resurrection.

DSC04828refiners fire

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Dante and the companioned journey 5: Love-in-Idlness

Dante meets Belaqua from a Bodleian Maanuscript

Dante meets Belaqua from a Bodleian Manuscript

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence.

Yesterday, with De Magistro we began the ascent of Mount Purgatory. As he begins his ascent of the Holy Mountain, Dante runs into, indeed nearly trips over, an old friend called Belaqua, a Florentine lute-maker and musician. Dante is delighted to see him there as one of the redeemed, since in Florence he seemed, as many musicians seem to their friends now, to spend alot of his time just ‘hanging out’ with other musicians and not getting on with anything in particular. Then Dante is disturbed to notice that that is exactly what Belaqua still seems to be doing on the Holy Mountain, just lounging around, until Belaqua explains that this is actually his penance! He is obliged to hang around waiting for the exact amount of time he wasted on earth, before he can begin his true his ascent. What was previously just ‘time wasting’ is now being converted by grace into ‘otium sacrum’ that holy leisure, that pause and patience, that long wait in which at last we let God be God. It’s no wonder that Samuel Becket, who was to invest so much imagination into what it means to wait, was very drawn to this passage and that the hero of his semi-autobiographical short stories is called Belaqua. I wrote this poem over thirty years ago, influenced as much by Becket as by Dante, towards the end of an apparently fruitless period of lostness and indolence. Placing it now in this new sequence is itself a parable of what I understand redemption to be.

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title, and I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the lovely interpretative image which follows the poem

Love In Idleness

When I am bogged in indolence again

It’s purgatory for me, as for Belaqua,

Hanging around instead of getting on

 

With his salvation.  I can’t lift a finger.

The snow is falling heavily outside.

The earth gets lighter as the sky gets darker.

 

I shiver where I’m sitting (window wide

for snow-flakes to drop in and fade away)

And hide myself in something else’s hide.

 

Coat panther-black and shabby hat wolf-grey,

As my numb fingers wrap about my pen,

all I need is fire and something to say.

 

Belaqua’s lute speaks with the tongues of men,

The tongue-tied mind is loosened into praise

I slip the disc back in its sleeve again.

 

One side is columns stiff with turgid prose

About the quattrocento.  On the other

A sound-box holds the craftsman’s fretted rose

 

With Florence in the background.  What a cover

For the God who spoke through someone else’s fingers

When ours were still entwined with one another.

 

ages ago we heard the music linger

before this light had lost its  radiance

And cast on love the shadow of our Hunger;

 

We spoke of free-will and of innocence

And trod the pavements of the fourth cornice

Where Love is to be purged of indolence.

 

I write these verses pending my release

I write these verses pending my release.

I write these verses pending my release.

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Filed under imagination, Poems