Category Archives: imagination

A Sonnet for Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, on his feast day

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar's monument

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar’s monument

Nicholas Ferrar

Nicholas Ferrar

The Church of England keeps December 4th as the feast day of Nicholas Ferrar, the devout Anglican who founded the Community of Little Gidding in the early seventeenth century. Ferrar was trying to find a fruitful via media between protestant and catholic understandings of what it is to be Christian. As a member of a reformed church he and his community were devoted to reading the scriptures in their own language, to sharing their faith, and to worshipping together in the beautiful services of the Book of Common Prayer. But he was also keen to preserve and explore the Catholic heritage of community life, the daily offices of prayer, and praise, the pattern of Benedictine work and prayer, rooted in the psalms and the gospels. in holding these together he was recovering and preserving what he called. ‘The right good old way’. His great friend George Herbert, from his death bed sent Ferrar the manuscript of all his poems, and it was Ferrar who published them for all of us. In the 1930s TS Eliot visited Little Gidding, and eventually enshrined the experience of prayer and awareness granted him there, in the poem Little Gidding, the last of the Four Quartets.

Ferrar died on the 4th December 1637, the day after Advent Sunday, at 1 am, the hour he had always risen for prayers, and my sonnet touches on that. Certainly the place in which he and his community kept prayer going at all times, recited the psalms, and lived out their gospel harmony, is still soaked in prayer, still, a place through which the eternal light shimmers into time, still, as the inscription on the chapel says, ‘The very gate of Heaven’.

I would like to dedicate this sonnet to the memory of Susan Gray, a friend and parishioner who loved Little Gidding, both the place and the poem. When I took her last communion to her in the Hospice, she spoke the line from Little Gidding ‘In my end is my beginning’.

This poem is now published by Canterbury Press in my collection Parable and Paradox

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

For Nicholas Ferrar

 

You died the hour you used to rise for prayer.

In that rich hush beneath all other sounds,

You rose at one and took the midnight air

Rising and falling on the wings and rounds

Of psalms and silence. The December stars

Shine clear above the Giddings, promised light

For those who dwell in darkness. Morning stirs

The household. From the folds of sleep, the late

Risers wake to find you gone, and pray

Through pain and grief to bless your journey home;

Those last glad steps in the right good old way

Up to the door where Love will bid you welcome.

Love draws us too, towards your grave and haven

We greet you at the very gate of Heaven.

 

7 Comments

Filed under imagination, Poems

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.

6 Comments

Filed under imagination

Advent Sunday:Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti painted by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti painted by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Advent is a season for stillness, for quiet, for discernment. It is a season of active waiting, straining forward, listening, attentive and finely tuned. Such is Advent, inwardly and spiritually, but of course outwardly and visibly, outwardly and audibly, it is the season when our eyes and ears are most complete assailed by all the glitz and glitter of a prematurely celebrated Christmas, all the pressure and sales-hype, the stresses on the diary and the wallet, the unremitting insistence of syrupy canned carols in the shopping mall. Of course partying and celebration are wonderful things and there is great joy to be had in the real meetings of faith and friendship in these days, but whilst Advent is still Advent, its good to keep a quiet space, a sacred time, an untrammelled sanctuary away from the pressures, to be still and hear again one’s deepest yearnings for a saviour. I hope that the poems from my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word, will help people to do just that. I am posting them here s that you can hear and read them, and if you have the book you will also find in that a meditative/reflective essay on each poem. I am posting this one for Advent Sunday, then we will take a break until Thursday 1st of December. From then onwards I will post a poem each day and I am happy to say that these poems will be accompanied by original paintings made in response to them by Linda Richardson. Linda is an artist who lives in my village of Linton and has made a beautiful book of images in response to each of these poems as part of her own Advent devotion and this year she has kindly agreed to share them with us.

Linda Richardson in her studio

Linda Richardson in her studio

Today’s poem, the first in our series, is Christina Rossetti’s ‘Advent Sunday’. Most people will know her beautiful poem In the Bleak Midwinter, now set as a Christmas hymn. She was one of the great poets of her time and the author of some deeply moving Christian verse. Indeed her book simply titled Verses includes a sequence on the church year called ‘Some Feasts and Fasts’ of which ‘Advent Sunday’ is the first. She frames this poem not only in the context of the Collect for Advent Sunday, about the coming of Christ, his Advent at the end of time, but also the Gospel of the Day: Christ’s story of the maidens with their lighted lamps awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Rossetti takes the Gospel phrases and opens them out profoundly, allowing us to identify ourselves first with the bridesmaids and then with the bride herself.

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.

Advent Sunday  Christian Rossetti

 

BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out

With lighted lamps and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

 

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,

Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

 

It may be at the crowing of the cock

Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

 

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:

His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

 

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,

Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

 

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,

She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

 

His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;

He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

 

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,

And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out

With lamps ablaze and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

4 Comments

Filed under imagination

Ode to St. Cecilia

cecilia-4The 22nd of November is the feast day of St. Cecilia, Christian Martyr and Patron Saint of music. A few years ago I was commissioned by JAC Redford the LA-based composer and orchestrater, to write an Ode to St. Cecilia for a new piece of music he has in turn been commissioned to write, which had its premiere in LA in 2013.

I published the Ode myself this year in my new collection Songs and Sonnets and here, for this year’s St. Cecilia’s day is the text of my ode and a recording of my reading of it. In the recording I also talk a little about the inspiration and how it came to be written. I hope you enjoy it. Margot Krebs Neale has contributed the beautiful image which follows the poem As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.


Ode to St. Cecilia

You rested briefly here Cecilia

In this good ground, the Roman catacomb:

Its rounded vaults are rich with sudden sound

As pilgrims hymn you through the darkened air.

For you made music in your martyrdom,

Transposed the passion of your wedding night

To angel-given garlands, wreathed in light.

In all your three days dying you made room

For beautiful abundance, gifts and giving,

Your death was blessing and your passing praise,

As you gave way to grace,

Like music that still lives within its dying

And gives in giving place.

 

Cecilia, give way to grace again,

Transmute it into music for us all:

Music to stir and call the sleeping soul,

And set a counterpoint to all our pain,

To bless our senses in their very essence

And undergird our sorrow in good ground.

Music to summon undeserved abundance,

Unlooked for overbrimming, rich and strong,

The unexpected plenitude of sound

Becoming song.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

5 Comments

Filed under imagination, literature, Music, Songs

Everything Holds Together: The Feast of Christ the King

christ-the-king-constantinopleToday is the Feast of Christ the King, and one of the readings set this year is Colossians 1:11-20 a passage containing the beautiful Hymn to Christ, the core verses of which are these: 15-17:

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers — all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together.

So here is a poem I wrote about those verses, it is taken from my book Parable and Paradox, but this poem also appears on a wonderful album by Alana Levandoski , Behold I Make All Things New,

Here is the poem. the Greek phrase in the poem ‘Eikon tou theou, means image of God and is taken directly from the Greek text of Paul’s letter

Everything Holds Together

 

Everything holds together, everything,

From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,

To secret seeds that open every spring,

From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,

Everything holds together and coheres,

Unfolding from the center whence it came.

And now that hidden heart of things appears,

The first-born of creation takes a name.

 

And shall I see the one through whom I am?

Shall I behold the one for whom I’m made,

The light in light, the flame within the flame,

Eikon tou theou, image of my God?

He comes, a little child, to bless my sight,

That I might come to him for life and light.

As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or play button, but better still you can hear it with Alana’s music, hear the other three poems that are woven in with it and see the beautiful paintings by Julie Ann Stevens that go with the Album. You can check out Alana’s website here.

 

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, Music, paintings, Poems

Old and Worn; A Birthday Song

Old and Worn

Also Old and Worn

Now as I watch my life unroll, I read the poems on the scroll

And I do my best to savour every line

And every year that takes its toll, is laid down deep within my soul

But I can draw it up again like vintage wine,

These are lyrics from a song I wrote about 15 years ago as one of my birthdays rolled round. And as its my birthday today, the last year in which I can be ‘fifty something’, I thought for fun I would post it again. If the button doesnt appear below you can try clicking on the song title where I give the lyrics below. This is a take with just me playing both guitar parts and no other accompaniment. I have never recorded this properly but maybe one day I will.

Old and Worn

I was round rockin with the boys, they showed me all the latest toys,

They got gizmos now that could almost play the gig.

They like to tell me money talks, they sure can make those boxes squalk,

They say by spending out they’re bound to make it big

 

Chorus: But my Guitar is old and worn, made the year that I was born,

You could put it down as only wood and string

But when I open up that case and blow the dust from off its face

And lift it up, sometimes I swear I can hear it sing

 

Well I know the likes of you, you must have everything brand new

And you will trash it on the day its lost its sheen

And you know the likes of me you can leave me standing like a tree

But I’ve got roots and rising sap to keep me green

 

Chorus : And this Guitar that’s old and worn, made the year that I was born,

But its grown a tone that’s more than wood and string

And when I open up that case and blow the dust from off its face

And lift it up, sometimes I swear I can hear it sing

 

Now as I watch my life unroll, I read the poems on the scroll

And I do my best to savour every line

And every year that takes its toll, is laid down deep within my soul

But I can draw it up again like vintage wine,

 

Like this guitar etc.

 

Now this box of mellowed wood, sounds every bit as good

As the day its maker blessed it with a string

I can see it lying in the shade, remembering every note its played

And waiting for the day that’ll let that music ring

 

Cho: So I don’t mind my touch of grey, I’m not fearing for the day

When every buried seed is bound to have its spring

When Someone opens up my case, I’m gonna see Him face to face

And when I’m in my Makers hands He’ll hear me sing!

12 Comments

Filed under imagination, Music, Songs

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

The post, and poem below were first posted here four and a half years ago, but some of my friends may find this poem helpful this morning, so I am posting it again.  There’s really nothing else I can say.

It’s hard to see through tears, but sometimes its the only way to see, tears can be the turning point, the springs of renewal, and to know you have been wept for is to know that you are loved. ‘Jesus Wept’ is the shortest, sharpest, and most moving sentence in Scripture.

We have a God who weeps for us, weeps with us, understands to the depths and from the inside the rerum lachrymae, the tears of things.

Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for the images. as always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ buton if it appears.

Jesus weeps

 

Jesus comes near and he beholds the city

And looks on us with tears in his eyes,

And wells of mercy, streams of love and pity

Flow from the fountain whence all things arise.

He loved us into life and longs to gather

And meet with his beloved face to face

How often has he called, a careful mother,

And wept for our refusals of his grace,

Wept for a world that, weary with its weeping,

Benumbed and stumbling, turns the other way,

Fatigued compassion is already sleeping

Whilst her worst nightmares stalk the light of day.

But we might waken yet, and face those fears,

If we could see ourselves through Jesus’ tears.

10 Comments

Filed under imagination, politics