Category Archives: literature

The Moons by Grevel Lindop

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

Here is the poem set for the 2nd December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, The Moons comes from Grevel Lindop‘s latest collection of poems Luna Park (which I highly recommend!) and is used with his permission

You can read my brief essay on this beautiful poem in Waiting on the Word, and click on either the title or the ‘play button below to hear me read it. Linda Richardson writes about her image:

‘Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.’ These final words were the ones that jumped out for me as I responded to this poem, and also Malcolm’s comment, ‘offered to a companion in the darkness of our common journey’. So my starting point was night time, the soul’s time, when light gleams through our consciousness in dreaming. The poem spoke to me of memory and the sharing of life with someone, not the immediacy of sense experience. To paint a moonlight image was too immediate so I let the words literally gleam in white ink on black paper. In this way I felt that it was keeping the integrity of the poem, that our memories are uniquely our own, and we will recall them either for enriching or impoverishing our lives and the lives of those who are on our common journey.I noticed that it was she who saw and brought him to seeing. It was the feminine leading the masculine away from the desk of the intellect, to step out into the dark womb of the night and to apprehend a phenomenon of nature, the wonder of the reflected light of the sun at night. I am left with the wonder of the contrasts in our lives, the light and dark, the male and female, all the many different parts that form one body and one spirit.


The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Too many moons to fill an almanac:

the half, the quarters, and the slices between

black new and silvercoin full –

pearl tossed and netted in webs of cloud,

thread of light with the dull disc in its loop,

gold shaving afloat on the horizon of harvest –

How many times did you call me from the house,

or from my desk to the window, just to see?

Should I string them all on a necklace for you?

Impossible, though you gave them all to me.

Still some of their light reflects from memory.

Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.

 

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The Glance by George Herbert

The Glance -Linda Richardson

The Glance -Linda Richardson

For the 1st of December the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is The Glance by George Herbert. The illustration above is the first in a series of responses to the book made by Linda Richardson which she has kindly agreed to share with readers of my blog. She writes:

The images that accompany the poetry in Waiting on the Word were part of my spiritual discipline in Advent 2015. I made an image every day, so they are experimental, sometimes impulsively done, often inspired by the work of other artists. If I had known they would be shown here, I probably wouldn’t have had the freedom to make one every day. I am delighted to show them, and to tell you how they came about, and would like to encourage you to have a go too. As I come to reflect upon my own work a year later, I can see nuances that I hadn’t intended, areas where my subconscious by-passed my mind and made artistic decisions that have only been revealed as I return to them now, twelve months later.

Here are Linda’s notes on today’s image:

One night, when I was very young, maybe as young as four, I had a strange and deep experience. I got up to sit near the storage heater in the bedroom I shared with my sister, drawn there by the little light and by the warmth. As I sat there I was overwhelmed with a feeling of utter joy, happiness and deep reassurance that I was part of something safe and deeply good.

I didn’t relate that experience to God and as I grew up, religion taught me that I could not trust myself, that God was watching me from a distance, and watching out for my sin. The experience I had as a child was not mediated to me through religion, but as I have continued in a religious tradition I can now see that child’s experience as God’s glance of love.

Meister Eckhart says: ‘The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.

In the very simple work I made as a response to the George Herbert’s The Glance, there are two eyes but one face, two tones of paper but one experience, and as I sit in daily meditation, I do so both in darkness and in light. God is the mystery that no-one wants, the mystery we see, ‘through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians). These days I mostly ‘see God face to face’ when I am outside watching the soaring flight of a flock of birds or hear a robin in winter. You may see The Glance as you lift a baby’s foot to your lips, or watch two elderly people walking along holding hands. Perhaps we see God in these diverse ways because, ‘We shall be like him for we shall see Him as He is’. (1 Corinthians).

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

The Glance

When first thy sweet and gracious eye

Vouchsaf’d ev’n in the midst of youth and night

To look upon me, who before did lie

Weltring in sinne;

I felt a sugred strange delight,

Passing all cordials made by any art,

Bedew, embalme, and overrunne my heart,

And take it in.

Since that time many a bitter storm

My soul hath felt, ev’n able to destroy,

Had the malicious and ill-meaning harm

His swing and sway:

But still thy sweet originall joy

Sprung from thine eye, did work within my soul,

And surging griefs, when they grew bold, controll,

And got the day.

If thy first glance so powerfull be,

A mirth but open’d and seal’d up again;

What wonders shall we feel, when we shall see

Thy full-ey’d love!

When thou shalt look us out of pain,

And one aspect of thine spend in delight

More then a thousand sunnes disburse in light,

In heav’n above.

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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

Having posted Christina Rosetti’s poem for Advent Sunday, I thought I would repost this link to my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word. This Anthology offers the reader a poem a day throughout Advent and on through Christmas and Epiphany. I also offer a little reflective essay to go with each poem, which I hope will help the reader to get into the depths of the poem more easily and will draw out some of the Advent Themes and the way the poems link to each other. The book works entirely as a stand-alone thing and could be used privately or in groups, but I have also be recorded each poem and will post a recording of my reading of that day’s poem for each day of Advent on this blog, so that readers of the book who wish to, can also hear the poem being read. The poems and postings, resume on December 1st. Readers of this blog can of course also enjoy hearing the poems, and might like to get hold of the book (which is also on Kindle) so that they can follow along the text and read the interpretive essay.

I will also repost the daily recordings each accompanied by an original painting from the talented Linda Richardson, who created a book of images to reflect on each poem whilst she was using the book devotionally, and has kindly agreed to share those pictures with us. Do join us on the journey via the pages of the book and the pages of this blog.

Malcolm

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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. 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 so 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, 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.

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.

 

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And Is It Not Enough? A Poem on National Poetry Day

what falling leaves disclose

what falling leaves disclose

October 7th is National Poetry Day. Falling as it does in Autumn, the most poetic of the seasons, I thought I might repost this Autumnal poem.

I had been wanting for a while to make an Autumn song and somehow catch in sound the feel I have for falling leaves and for what is cleanly revealed in the naked shape  of the trees. At the same time I had been reflecting again on why one writes at all. So much is beautifully shaped already and given by God, why should one try to shape it again in writing? And yet each day begins again the urge and calling to renew the rich connection, the covenant of word and world, to make, and then to walk, the airy bridge between our island minds, so that another self can say, ‘you feel it too’!. This poem rises out of all these things; an Autumn song that also feels its way, I hope, into the mystery of what is written, on the leaves of pages and of trees.

The photo is one I took on the banks of the Wear in Durham on the day this poem was composed. as usual you can hear me read the poem, and its preface, by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

And Is It Not Enough?

And Is it not enough that every year

A richly laden autumn should unfold

And shimmer into being leaf by leaf,

It’s scattered ochres mirrored everywhere

In hints and glints of hidden red and gold

Threaded like memory through loss and grief,

When dusk descends, when branches are unveiled,

When roots reach deeper than our minds can feel

And ready us for winter with strange calm,

That I should see the inner tree revealed

And know its beauty as the bright leaves fall

And feel its truth within me as I am?

And Is it not enough that I should walk

Through low November mist along the bank,

When scents of woodsmoke summon, in some long

And melancholy undertone, the talk

Of those old poets from whose works I drank

The heady wine of an autumnal song?

It is not yet enough. So I must try,

In my poor turn, to help you see it too,

As though these leaves could be as rich as those,

That red and gold might glimmer in your eye,

That autumn might unfold again in you,

Feeling with me what falling leaves disclose.

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On Reading the Commedia 9:The Rose

a white rose opens a white rose opens

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.

GuiteCommedia3If you have enjoyed reading these poems you may be interested to know that a Special Edition of them has been printed and bound in Florence by Aureo Anello Books. Printed in William Morris Troy Font, in a numbered limited edition of 250, these little chapbooks, with parchment covers, are being offered for a suggested donation of €15,00, to help the work of Anchoress and Dante Scholar Sister Julia Bolton Holloway who helps look after the famous ‘English Cemetry’ in Florence, where Elizabeth Barett Browning and other poets are buried. For Julia’s wonderful suite of web resources for Dante, Mother Julian, and mediaeval theology, start exploring here.  The special page telling you how to obtain Aureo Anello’s limited editions including my Dante poem is here.

I am Grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image of the rose, 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.

If you are enjoying these posts, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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stars1

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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On Reading the Commedia 8: Circle Dance

Gustave Dore Imagines the cCrcle Dance Gustave Dore Imagines the 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. The image by Margot Krebs Neale which follows the poem reflects both its opening line and the idea ( a direct quotation from the Commedia) that ‘the inner brings the outer into life.’

For an easy link to the rest of the sequence go to On reading the Commedia 7

Circle Dance

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.

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The inner brought the outer into life The inner brought the outer into life

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On Reading the Commedia 7: Look Up!

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.

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.

The image above comes from the University of Texas’s excellent web resource Danteworlds and the image which follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. If you have missed the other poems in this series i have put a list of links to them at the bottom of this page.

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.

If you are enjoying these posts, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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She glimmersSM

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

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On Reading the Commedia 4: De Magistro

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

With this fourth poem in my Dante series we leave behind the dark and stifled atmosphere of the Inferno and contemplate the holy mountain of the Purgatorio. Here souls already bound for Paradise are enabled to purify, strengthen and re-order their capacity for love so as to be ready for the love and joy of Heaven when they get there. In this book Dante shows how friendship, love, poetry and art are all means whereby God prepares our souls for the great ascent.Dante fills Purgatorio with tributes to friends and poets who have helped him. I open my own ‘readers pilgrimage’ here with a tribute to the teacher who first showed me how to read Dante, thus giving me the gift of a lifetime. This poem first appeared at the front of my book Faith Hope and Poetry.

As always you can hear my poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’. I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the contemporary image that follows the poem.

4 De Magistro

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.

photo by Oliver Neale

photo by Oliver Neale

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A sonnet for the Venerable Bede

bedeThe 25th of May is the day the Church remembers and celebrates the Venerable Bede, who died on that day in 735.  Bede was a Saint and Scholar, whose wonderful Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is still the major source for early English History, as well as being, in itself a deeply inspiring book. He is buried in Durham cathedral and set above his tomb, in beautiful shimmering letters, is the text of one of the prayers he wrote. My sonnet in celebration of Bede draws on this prayer so I give its text here in both Latin and English and have posted a photograph of it below the poem.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. This poem is from my collection of verse ‘The Singing Bowl’, published by  Canterbury Press

Bede’s Prayer:

Christus est stella matutina, Alleluia

Qui nocte saeculi transacta, Alleluia

Lucem vitae sanctis promittit, Alleluia;

Et pandit aeternam, Alleluia

(Christ is the morning star who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life & opens everlasting day.)



Bede

I kneel above your bones and read your words.

Church-Latin letters, shimmering in gold,

A kingdom-glimmer through the dark and cold,

A revelation gleaming on the shards

Of all our broken lives and promises.

Christus est stella matutina

Qui nocte saeculi transacta

Christ is the morning star. He promises

The light of life when this dark night is past…

Lucem vitae sanctis promittit

You speak for all his Wounded witnesses,

The morning star will shine on us at last.

Scholar and saint, illuminate the way

That opens into everlasting day.

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Bede's Prayer

Bede’s Prayer

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