Category Archives: imagination

Week 3: Dante and the Companioned Journey

As usual, on each Sunday in Lent I am posting a week’s worth of recordings from from my book The Word in the Wilderness, for those who are following that this Lent.I am providing the texts of the poems and you can find my commentaries on those poems in the book itself. I am also taking the opportunity to correct one or two errors which crept into the printed book, in transcribing passages from Robin Kirkpatrick’s beautiful translation of Dante, which is used here with permission. The wonderful pilgrim image above is once again kindly provided by Lancia Smith and was taken by her on a recent visit to share in the life the church in South Africa.

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

SUNDAY

 

Late Ripeness Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004)

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year

I felt a door opening in me and I entered

the clarity of early morning.

 

One after another my former lives were departing,

like ships, together with their sorrow.

 

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas

assigned to my brush came closer,

ready now to be described better than they were before.

 

I was not separated from people, grief and pity joined us.

We forget ‒ I kept saying ‒ that we are children of the King.

 

From where we come there is no division

into Yes and No, into is, was and will be.

 

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago ‒

a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror

of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel

staving its hull against a reef ‒ they dwell in us,

waiting for a fulfilment.

 

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,

as are all men and women living at the same time,

whether they are aware of it or not.

 

MONDAY

 

Meeting Virgil

‘There is another road’ Dante

 

As I went, ruined, rushing to that low,

there had, before my eyes, been offered one

who seemed -long silent- to be faint and dry.

Seeing him near in that great wilderness,

to him I screamed my ‘miserere’: ‘Save me,

whatever – shadow or truly man – you be.’

His answer came to me: ‘No man; a man

I was in times long gone. Of Lombard stock,

my parents both by patria and Mantuan.

And I was born, though late, sub Iulio.

I lived at Rome in good Augustus’ day,

in times when all the gods were lying cheats.

I was a poet then. I sang in praise

of all the virtues of Anchises’ son. From Troy

he came ‒ proud Ilion razed in flame.

But you turn back. Why seek such grief and harm?

Why climb no higher up at lovely hill?

The cause and origin of joy shines there.’

‘So, could it be’, I answered him, (my brow,

in shy respect bent low), ‘you are that Virgil,

whose words flow wide, a river running full?

You are the light and glory of all poets.

May this serve me: my ceaseless care, the love

so great, that made me search your writings through!

You are my teacher. You, my lord and law.

From you alone I took the fine-tuned style

that has, already, brought me so much honour.

See there? That beast! I turned because of that.

Help me ‒ your wisdom’s known ‒ escape from her.

To every pulsing vein, she brings the tremor.

Seeing my tears, he answered me: ‘There is

another road. And that, if you intend

to quit this wilderness, you’re bound to take.’

(The Divine Comedy, I Inferno, lines 61−93)

 

TUESDAY

 

Through the Gate   Malcolm Guite

Begin the song exactly where you are,

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere.

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds, and fares

 

Through the dark pathways where you run and hide,

Through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as his wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark,

His light will go before you. Let him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call him to all you cannot call to mind.

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well-guarded fortress let his love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear his call at last. Will you respond?

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Towards A Shining World   Dante

Dante and Virgil emerge from hell and begin the ascent of mount purgatory

So now we entered on that hidden Path,

my Lord and I, to move once more towards

a shining world. We did not care to rest.

We climbed, he going first and I behind,

until through some small aperture I saw

the lovely things the skies above us bear.

Now we came out, and once more saw the stars.

To race now over better waves, my ship

of mind -alive again- hoists sail, and leaves

behind its little keel the gulf that proved so cruel.

And I’ll sing, now, about the second realm

where human spirits purge themselves from stain,

becoming worthy to ascend to Heaven.

Here, too, dead poetry will rise again.

for now, you secret Muses, I am yours…

Dawn was defeating now the last hours sung

by night, which fled before it. And far away

I recognised the tremblings of the sea.

Alone, we walked along the open plain,

as though, returning to a path we’d lost,

our steps, until we came to that, were vain.

Then, at a place in shadow where the dew

still fought against the sun and, cooled by breeze,

had scarcely yet been sent out into vapour,

my master placed the palms of both his hands,

spread wide, lighty and gently on the tender grass.

And I, aware of what his purpose was,

offered my tear-stained cheeks to meet his touch.

At which, he made once more entirely clean

the colour that the dark of Hell had hidden.

(The Divine Comedy, I Inferno,canto34  lines 133−end, and II Purgatorio,Canto 1 lines 1−8 and 115−29)

 

THURSDAY

 

De Magistro   Malcolm Guite

I thank my God I have emerged at last,

Blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars,

Bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

 

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours

Pacing your study, chanting poetry.

The Word in you revealed his quickening powers,

 

Removed the daily veil, and let me see,

As sunlight played along your book-lined walls,

That words are windows onto mystery.

 

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls

In music, from the tower of ivory,

And from the hidden heart, he calls

 

In the language of Adam, creating memory

Of unfallen speech. He sets creation

Free from the carapace of history.

 

His image in us is imagination,

His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath

Upon the letters of his revelation.

 

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path

That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.

You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

 

You showed me how my halting words might reach

To the mind’s maker, to the source of Love,

And so you taught me what it means to teach.

 

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove,

Climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.

Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

 

As fellow pilgrims on a needful journey

 

FRIDAY

 

The Refining Fire Dante

Over my suppliant hands entwined, I leaned

just staring at the fire, imagining

bodies of human beings I’d seen burn.

And both my trusted guides now turned to me.

And Virgil spoke, to say: ‘My dearest son,

here may be agony but never death.

Remember this! Remember! And if I

led you to safety on Geryon’s back,

what will I do when now so close to God?

Believe this. And be sure. Were you to stay

a thousand years or more wombed in this fire,

you’d not been made the balder by one hair.

And if, perhaps, you think I’m tricking you,

approach the fire and reassure yourself,

trying with your own hands your garments hem.

Have done, I say, have done with fearfulness.

Turn this way. Come and enter safely in!’

But I, against all conscience, stood stock still.

And when he saw me stiff and obstinate,

he said, a little troubled: ‘Look my son,

between Beatrice and you there ‘s just this wall….’

Ahead of me, he went to meet the fire,

and begged that Statius, who had walked the road

so long between us, now take up the rear.

And, once within, I could have flung myself ‒

The heat that fire produced was measureless ‒

For coolness, in a vat of boiling glass.

To strengthen me, my sweetest father spoke,

as on he went, of Beatrice always,

saying, it seems I see her eyes already.’

and, guiding us, a voice sang from beyond.

So we, attending only to that voice,

came out and saw where now we could ascend.

Venite, benedicti Patris mei!’

sounded within what little light there was.

This overcame me and I could not look.

(The Divine Comedy, II Purgatorio, Canto 27 lines 16−32 and 46−60)

 

SATURDAY

 

Dancing Through the Fire   Malcolm Guite

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 bright refiner’s fire

 

That love might have its death and resurrection.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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 imagination, Poems

He Shall Deliver Thee: A Response to Psalm 91

We come now to psalm 91, one of the most beloved in the whole psalter, and for good reason. It is a beautiful psalm of reassurance, of close and intimate trust in God’s loving purposes for us. And yet it is also a psalm that we must handle with the greatest care. Why? Because we know that this is the very psalm that Satan used to tempt Jesus! Our enemy took those beautiful verses:

For he shall give his angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.

And suggested to Jesus that he could therefore throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple and God would be sure to catch him! And the deeper temptation of course was to put God to the test, to destroy the intimate and trusting relationship he had with his Father by setting little tests and traps. So Jesus rightly replies, not just for himself but for all of us: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. I see that during the course of this pandemic Satan has been trying out the very same temptation with the very same psalm, and sadly some Christians have succumbed. ‘You don’t need a mask or a vaccine’, the tempter says, this time, ‘Look you’ve got psalm 91! Go ahead and throw yourself into the path of the pandemic unprotected, and even likely to infect others, and see, God will look after you because you are a special ‘super Christian”. But Jesus as has told us already not to abuse this psalm, for its deepest message is not about some temporary shield from earthly suffering, no Christian is promised that, but a much deeper assurance that God will be with us through every trial and suffering, and that in the end he will give us the thing we need most, and which no one can take away, which is salvation itself! And so the psalm ends:

Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my Name.

He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and bring him to honour.

With long life will I satisfy him: and shew him my salvation.

So my poetic response to this psalm focuses on that central promise and the deep comfort it brings through any and every trial.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

XCI Qui habitat

He shares our grief and wipes away our tears

And even in this life he shelters us

Beneath the shadow of his wings. Our fears

 

And hopes are known to him. His faithfulness

Will be our shield and buckler. We can trust

His constancy and know he will be with us;

 

With us through the best and through the worst.

I may be threatened by the passing harm

Of outward pestilence, but still I trust

 

He gives his angels charge, and with his arm

He shelters and embraces me. No power

Can separate me from his love. His Name

 

Is my protection and delight. I pour

My heart and soul to him in songs and psalms,

And he will bring me through my darkest hour.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

Our Brief Lives: A Response to Psalm 90

Psalm 90 is a meditation on time and eternity and it contrasts the brevity of our lives on earth with God’s eternal years, and yet it also speaks of how God, even from eternity comforts us, as we live in time, comforts us from one generation to another:

  1. LORD, thou hast been our refuge: from one generation to another.

  2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made: thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.

The key image for the brevity of our lives is the image of cut grass withering and fading:

As soon as thou scatterest them they are even as a sleep: and fade away suddenly like the grass.

In the morning it is green, and groweth up: but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered.

This image in the psalm put me in mind of Cut Grass, the poignant poem by Philip Larkin which begins:

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June…

I allude to the Larkin poem in my own response but I also turn the psalm around by meditating on how Christ has stepped out of eternity into time, to share our journey with us, to help us bear our griefs and wipe away our tears.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

XC Domine, refugium

A cosy comforter, a lucky charm?

Not with this psalmist, for he praises God

From everlasting ages, in his psalm.

 

A God of refuge –yes – and yet a God

Who knows the death that comes before each birth,

Who sees each generation die, a God

 

Before whom all the ages of the earth

Are like a passing day, like the cut grass

In Larkin’s limpid verse: ‘brief is the breath

 

Mown stalks exhale’. So we and all things pass,

And God endures beyond us. Yet he cares

For our brief lives, his loving tenderness

 

Extends to all his creatures, our swift years

Are precious in his sight. In Christ he shares

Our grief and he will wipe away our tears.

 

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

2 Comments

Filed under imagination

Who Knows This Agony? A Response To Psalms 88 &89

We come now to psalm 88, the lowest point of lament and despair in the entire psalter, the only psalm which does not have a ‘yet’ or a ‘nevertheless’ to redeem its pain, but, considered as a psalm in itself, ends in the same agony and loneliness with which it began:

My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me: and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight.

That is the end of the psalm, but it is not the end of the psalter, the book of praises. In fact, as Paula Gooder points out in the Introduction to David’s Crown, it is, in terms of the number of verses in total, the exact mid-point of the psalter, it is the middle, and not the end of the story. This is vital for us to remember: both that we can freely tell God our worst fears and feelings, as the psalmist does here, and also that we can know that those fears and doubts are not the end of our story, any more than they are the close of the psalter, for the psalter re-ascends from this darkness and closes with praise. It is this, which enabled me, in my response to psalm 88 to trust God with the uncensored bleakness of my own personal experience of darkness and depression.

And for that reason also, I have decided not to post this psalm alone but to pair it with psalm 89, indeed my poems for 88 & 89 are on facing pages in the middle of David’s Crown so that they can be read together. and the opening verse of psalm 89 is:

  1. MY SONG shall be alway of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth from one generation to another.

In my answering poem our agony, expressed in the poem on 88, is met by the agony of Christ who comes, in his compassion, to share our desolation with us, that he might redeem and heal it. and that is why these poems should be read as a pair.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXVIII Domine Deus

My saviour’s words of welcome ‘all is well’!

Was that just some false dream I used to have?

I tremble once more on the brink of hell,

 

Soon I’ll be weeping in its lowest pit. The grave

Would be a kinder place than this. The dead

Forget, but I remember and I grieve

 

For all that I have lost: the green leaves shed

And stripped from me, my lovers and my friends

All torn away. Just emptiness and dread

 

Are my companions now. No one defends

Or speaks for me. Lord I have cried to you

And you say nothing. Empty silence rends

 

My heart in pieces. There is no one who

Can find me now, for who could ever know

This agony unless they felt it too?

 

LXXXIX Misericordias Domini

Who knows this agony unless they feel it too?

You answer me in darkness from your cross,

It is your pain that draws my heart to you

 

As deep calls unto deep and loss to loss.

Your covenant was sealed in your heart’s blood

When it is pierced with mine. And our cries cross

 

In flesh and blood as I encounter God,

Not on the heights, but in the pit of hell.

Then I can sing the triumph of the good

 

Then I can truly know all will be well.

I recognise my saviour’s mighty arm

Because it has been pierced. The bloody nail

 

Means more to me than those who see no harm

And keep God as a talisman, a spell

A cosy comforter, a lucky charm.

 

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

9 Comments

Filed under imagination

All My Fresh Springs: A Response to Psalm 87

Psalm 87 gives us a moment of visionary uplift, much needed, before we plunge down into the shadows of psalm 88. It is a vision of Zion, the holy city, set upon a hill:

  1. HER foundations are upon the holy hills: the Lord loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
  2. Very excellent things are spoken of thee: thou city of God.

But perhaps the most significant phrase in the psalm is the final one:All my fresh springs shall be in thee. This speaks of more than an earthly city but the deep well, the spring of love arising from the presence of God in our own souls, for the true Sion is within us. I sometimes wonder if John Milton had this psalm in mind in the moving section of Book III of Paradise Lost where he says that in spite of his blindness:

Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit:

I certainly had Milton in mind when I wrote my own response to this psalm, and looked to him for example and inspiration in my own long poetic endeavour.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

 

LXXXVII Fundamenta ejus

Kindle these lines with all your quickening powers,

For all my springs of life arise from you,

And like blind Milton in his midnight hours

 

I visit Sion’s hill in dreams. I view

Siloam’s sacred brook and bathe my soul

In those pure streams that cleanse me and renew

 

My vision and my purpose, make me whole

And sound again. The city of my God

Shines clear once more upon his holy hill,

 

My feet are set upon the royal road

That leads me through these shadowlands, until

I hear the trumpets, and set down my load,

 

Beside the river bank and drink my fill

From that deep well of light at last and hear

My saviour’s words of welcome: ‘all is well!’

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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 imagination

Bright Star; a thanksgiving for John Keats

Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of John Keats, I am reposting this tribute to him for all his poetry has meant and continues to mean for me:

Sometimes a poet, or even a single poem, can save your life. It can take you the way you are, in a place of darkness, loss or lostness, and, without changing anything, transmute everything, make everything available to you new, having ‘suffered a sea-change/ into something rich and strange’. That’s how it was for me when I first encountered Keats, in my mid-teens,  a very dark period of my life. This poem, written in the Spenserian Stanzas he used so effectively, is an account of how he changed things for me, and in its own way an act of testimony and thanksgiving. It is set on the Spanish Steps and in the house there where Keats spent the last months of his life. It was there, in the room where he died, that I first read the sonnet Bright Star, written into the fly leaf of his Shakespeare.

This poem is published in my book  The Singing Bowl  which is published by Canterbury Press and available through Amazon etc.

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

Gold

The sun strikes gold along the Spanish steps,

Patches of god-light where the tourists stray.

The old house is in shadow and still keeps

It’s treasures from the searching light of day.

I found it once, when I had lost my way,

Depressed and restless, sheltering from rain,

Long years ago in Rome. But from that day

Everything turned to gold, even my pain,

Reading the words of one who feared he wrote in vain.

 

I too was ‘half in love with ease-full death’,

But standing by the window, near his bed,

I almost heard the ‘tender-taken breath’

On which his words were forming. As I read

I felt things shifting in me, an old dread

Was somehow being brought to harmony

Taught by his music as the music fled

To sing at last, as by some alchemy

Despair itself was lifted into poetry

 

I spent that summer there and came each day

To read and breathe and let his life unfold

In mine. Little by little, made my way

From realms of darkness into realms of gold,

Finding that in his story mine was told;

Bereavements, doubts and longings, all were there

Somehow transmuted in the poem’s old

Enduring crucible, that furnace where

Quick-silver draws the gold from leaden-eyed despair.

 

 

Now with the sun I come on pilgrimage

To find this house and climb the foot-worn stair,

For I have lived to more than twice his age

And year-by-year his words have helped me bear

The black weight of my breathing, to repair

An always-breaking heart. Somehow he keeps

His watch on me from somewhere, that bright star…

So, with the words of one who mined the depths,

I sing and strike for gold along the Spanish steps.

The house where Keats died, by the Spanish Steps, now a memorial, museum and library

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

9 Comments

Filed under imagination

Come Close And Comfort Me: A Response To Psalm 86

Psalm 86 is definitely  a psalm for these dark times: it’s a simple, heartfelt plea for help:

  1. BOW down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me: for I am poor, and in misery.

  2. Preserve thou my soul, for I am holy: my God, save thy servant that putteth his trust in thee.

  3. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I will call daily upon thee.

  4. Comfort the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

I wrote my response during the first big wave of the pandemic and also as I was getting just over the half way mark in the long and daunting endeavour of wreathing together the poems for David’s Crown, and it seemed to me that my response to this psalm was also a chance to pray for God’s help in writing them and to dedicate the work, asking him to sustain me through this long, committed effort in writing. So it is from this poem that I draw the dedicatory verses set at the beginning of the whole book.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXVI Inclina, Domine

That we may flourish in your tenderness

Bow down and hear the whispers of our fear

Our restless misery, our emptiness

 

Without you.  Christ come close to me and hear!

Come close and comfort me in troubled times,

I need your mercy now for I despair

 

Of any other help. The telling chimes

Of every passing bell might be my own.

Lift up my soul, and breathe through my poor rhymes

 

That I might lay these lines before your throne

A frail corona wreathed of fading flowers

To set against the gold of David’s crown,

 

Wrought in the pattern of my passing hours.

O you, who raised me from the depths of hell,

Kindle these lines with all your quickening powers.

 

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

2 Comments

Filed under imagination

Word in the Wilderness Week 1: The Pilgrimage Begins

image courtesy of https://lanciaesmith.com

image courtesy of https://lanciaesmith.com

As well as my posts from David’s Crown I will be continuing, each Sunday in Lent, to post the poems for the coming week, from My Word in the Wilderness anthology, for those who are following that. In this first week in Lent  Word in the Wilderness introduces poems about pilgrimage itself and our life as pilgrimage. We will reflect on maps and mapping, on how outer journeys and inner ones are linked, on what it is we learn from the landscapes through which we walk. But first we have a poem for the first Sunday in Lent. Properly speaking, all Sundays are exceptions to Lent, for every Sunday is a commemoration of the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, and so really part of Easter. We should see Sundays as little islands of vision in the midst of Lent, or perhaps as little oases or pools of reflection and refreshment on our Lenten Journey and that is how I shall treat them in this anthology. Once again thanks are due to Lancia Smith for the image which accompanies this week’s poems.

So to celebrate the first of them here is R. S. Thomas’s famous poem ‘The Bright Field’.

The Bright Field

MONDAY

The Pilgrimage   George Herbert


I travell’d on, seeing the hill, where lay

My expectation.

A long it was and weary way.

The gloomy cave of Desperation

I left on th’one, and on the other side

The rock of Pride.

And so I came to Fancy’s meadow strow’d

With many a flower:

Fair would I here have made abode,

But I was quicken’d by my houre.

So to Cares copse I came, and there got through

With much ado.

That led me to the wild of Passion, which

Some call the wold;

A wasted place, but sometimes rich.

Here I was robb’d of all my gold,

Save one good Angel, which a friend had ti’d

Close to my side.

At length I got unto the gladsome hill,

Where lay my hope,

Where lay my heart; and climbing still,

When I had gain’d the brow and top,

A lake of brackish waters on the ground

Was all I found.

With that abash’d and struck with many a sting

Of swarming fears,

I fell, and cry’d, Alas my King;

Can both the way and end be tears?

Yet taking heart I rose, and then perceiv’d

I was deceiv’d:

My hill was further: so I flung away,

Yet heard a crie

Just as I went, None goes that way

And lives: If that be all, said I,

After so foul a journey death is fair,

And but a chair.

TUESDAY

Satire III   John Donne


… though truth and falsehood be

Near twins, yet truth a little elder is;

Be busy to seek her; believe me this,

He’s not of none, nor worst, that seeks the best.

To adore, or scorn an image, or protest,

May all be bad; doubt wisely; in strange way

To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;

To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must and about must go,

And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.

Yet strive so that before age, death’s twilight,

Thy soul rest, for none can work in that night.

To will implies delay, therefore now do;

Hard deeds, the body’s pains; hard knowledge too

The mind’s endeavours reach, and mysteries

Are like the sun, dazzling, yet plain to all eyes.

WEDNESDAY

The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage   Walter Raleigh

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My scrip of joy, immortal diet,

My bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s true gage;

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Blood must be my body’s balmer,

No other balm will there be given;

Whilst my soul, like a quiet palmer,

Travelleth towards the land of heaven ;

Over the silver mountains,

Where spring the nectar fountains:

There will I kiss

The bowl of bliss;

And drink mine everlasting fill

Upon every milken hill:

My soul will be a-dry before;

But after, it will thirst no more.

Then by that happy blestful day,

More peaceful pilgrims I shall see,

That have cast off their rags of clay,

And walk apparelled fresh like me.

I’ll take them first

To quench their thirst,

And taste of nectar suckets,

At those clear wells

Where sweetness dwells

Drawn up by saints in crystal buckets.

And when our bottles and all we

Are filled with immortality,

Then the blessed paths we’ll travel,

Strowed with rubies thick as gravel;

Ceilings of diamonds, sapphire floors,

High walls of coral, and pearly bowers.

From thence to heavens’s bribeless hall,

Where no corrupted voices brawl;

No conscience molten into gold,

No forged accuser bought or sold,

No cause deferred, nor vain-spent journey;

For there Christ is the King’s Attorney,

Who pleads for all without degrees,

And he hath angels, but no fees.

And when the grand twelve-million jury

Of our sins, with direful fury,

‘Gainst our souls black verdicts give,

Christ pleads his death, and then we live.

Be thou my speaker, taintless pleader,

Unblotted lawyer, true proceeder!

Thou giv’st salvation even for alms;

Not with a bribèd lawyer’s palms.

And this is my eternal plea

To him that made heaven, earth, and sea,

That, since my flesh must die so soon,

And want a head to dine next noon,

Just at the stroke, when my veins start and spread,

Set on my soul an everlasting head.

Then am I ready, like a palmer fit;

To tread those blest paths which before I writ.

THURSDAY

Maps  Holly Ordway Check out Holly’s website HERE

Antique maps, with curlicues of ink

As borders, framing what we know, like pages

From a book of travelers’ tales: look,

Here in the margin, tiny ships at sail.

No-nonsense maps from family trips: each state

Traced out in color-coded numbered highways,

A web of roads with labeled city-dots

Punctuating the route and its slow stories.

Now GPS puts me right at the centre,

A Ptolemaic shift in my perspective.

Pinned where I am, right now, somewhere, I turn

And turn to orient myself. I have

Directions calculated, maps at hand:

Hopelessly lost till I look up at last.

FRIDAY

 The Song of Wandering Aengus   W. B. Yeats


I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And some one called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

SATURDAY

First Steps, Brancaster   Malcolm Guite


This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,
The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.

After the dimly burning wick of winter
That seemed to dull and darken everything
The April sun shines clear beyond your shelter
And clean as sight itself. The reed-birds sing,
As heaven reaches down to touch the earth
And circle her, revealing everywhere
A lovely, longed-for blue.
Breathe deep and be renewed by every breath,
Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

You keep the coastal path where edge meets edge,
The sea and salt marsh touching in North Norfolk,
Reed cutters cuttings, patterned in the sedge,
Open and ease the way that you will walk,
Unbroken reeds still wave their feathered fronds
Through which you glimpse the long line of the sea
And hear its healing voice.
Tentative steps begin to break your bonds,
You push on through the pain that sets you free,
Towards the day when broken bones rejoice

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

2 Comments

Filed under imagination

Mercy And Truth: A Response to Psalm 85

Psalm 85 contains, in my view, two of the most beautiful verses in the whole Bible:

Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall flourish out of the earth: and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.

But we live in a culture that has divorced and separated mercy and truth. On the one hand the ‘truth-telling of a call-out culture shows no mercy, and on the other, the apparent mercy of laissez faire indifference, or instant affirmation of every behaviour, shows scant regard for truth. But what God has joined together we should not put asunder, and in Christ the prophecy of this psalm finds fulfilment, for when we behold his glory we find, as John the evangelist said, that it is ‘full of grace and truth’. And so it was that in my psalm I prayed for a healing of our split culture, and prayed to Cjrost that he would join together what we have split asunder.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXV Benedixisti, Domine

His peace refreshes like a holy well,

His mercy turns me round and quickens me,

Lifts me a little higher for each fall.

 

And now within this psalm he summons me

To hear a truth my nation has ignored,

A truth forgotten in captivity.

 

So open me afresh to hear this word:

Mercy and truth are met together, peace

And righteousness have kissed each other. Lord

 

How is it we have sundered them? Can peace

Be founded where there is no righteousness?

Some speak the truth, but speak it with out grace

 

And, calling others out, are merciless.

Lord, join together all that we have sundered

That we may flourish in your tenderness.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, 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

A Sonnet for Ash Wednesday

Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s Cross

 

I am reposting this Ash Wednesday Sonnet from  Sounding the Seasons, with a new sense of urgency. It was eleven years ago that I wrote the lines:

The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.

Since then the destruction has increased, and more recently I wrote Our Burning World, set as an Anthem by Rhiannon Randle.

So here again is the sonnet and the little introduction I wrote for it a decade ago:

As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares. So some of those themes are visited in this sonnet, which is also found in my new book The Word in the Wilderness which contains these and other poems set out so that you can reflect on a poem a day throughout Lent. If you’d like to pursue the Lenten journey further the book is available on Amazon both here and in the USA and is also available on Kindle. 

As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the remarkable commentary on these poems which she is making through her photographs. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the Play Button

Ash Wednesday

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

And here, as a bonus track is a recording the singer-songwriter Bob Bennet sent me of a sung version of this poem which he composed minutes after hearing the poem for the first time. This is a rough ‘field recording’ taken whilst the song was still forming but he’s allowed me to share it!

If you are enjoying these posts, and you are still drinking coffee in lent, 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