Category Archives: literature

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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St. Patrick: A Sonnet and a Snippet!

PilgrimYear_SaintPatrickMemeI have written a sonnet for Saint Patrick’s day! It will eventually go into a collection of sonnets for the saints of these islands, but here it is in advance. This particular poem was prompted by my good friend Steve Bell who was writing a fascinating multi-media ebook called the Pilgrim Year and who wanted me to write something for St. Patrick’s day. He sent me his own prose meditation on the story of Patrick and the poem arose out of that. so, whilst you can read and hear the poem here, for the full story check oiut Steve’s ebook. It is available on app called ‘Snippet’ which enables Steve to embed some of his excellent music and some video footage into the text. You can explore it further Here. Steve really emphasised the way Patrick had at first been kidnapped and held as a slave in Ireland, and what a courageous and kingdom moment it was when he chose to return voluntarily to share the gospel with his oppressors, and that is where my sonnet starts!

As always you can hear the sonnets by clicking o the title or the play button

Patrick

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,

Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!

Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,

With open love to your old enemies,

Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,

Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.

You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins

Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

 

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,

Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,

Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,

And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:

A gospel seed that flowers in belief,

A greening glory, coming into leaf.

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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 4: De Magistro

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

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 I gave the third of them Vexilla Regis, today I am posting the Fourth, De Magistro.’ This poem is set for Thursday ion The Word in the wilderness and the introduction is taken from that book.

Many of us can probably point to a figure like Virgil in our lives, not only an author, but a living friend and teacher, who meets us at the right moment, sets us on a good path and guides on our journey. In this poem, I celebrate someone who did that for me, the teacher, in fact, with whom I first read Dante. My poem takes its point of departure from the moment of transition we considered in Wednesday’s end of the Inferno when the poets emerge at last from the dark and see again the sky and stars, and their preparation to begin the painful and yet joyful ascent of Mount Purgatory.

Again and again I find Dante’s poem gives me glimpses of places I have been, and places I may well yet find myself, and in doing so it gives me a map, and with the map, a way forward. When I wrote this poem I was emerging from period of depression. I was grateful to be past the worst but I realized that I had work to do, things to redeem, an ascent to make. To do so I had to call to mind all the resources available to me, and I found myself summoning the powers of the poetry I had read, the insights and example of the teachers who had guided me, and above all concentrating, as they had done, on the joyful task of teaching itself. The title of this poem, ‘De Magistro’, means ‘Of the Teacher’ and it is also the title of a little book by St Augustine, co-written as a dialogue with his beloved son Adeodatus, in which father and son explore together what it means to learn and to teach and come to the conclusion that at any moment when we suddenly ‘recognize’ a truth, and make a glad, inner assent to it, it is not the outward and visible teacher, the person in the room, who is the ultimate source of that truth and that assent, but rather an ‘inner’ teacher, deep within us, a source of light and truth to whom we have brought each proposition for confirmation, and that teacher, said Augustine is Christ, himself, the Logos, the Word in each of us, who guides us through the wilderness. At such moments of joyful recognition both teacher and pupil discern the Word in and through one another, and in and through the words they share.

Dante’s poem begins ‘in a dark wood’ in ‘midmost of the path of this life’. Sometimes words themselves can seem like a tangled wood, but a good teacher can show us the path, and guide us gradually to find the true source of all language and meaning in Christ the logos, and I have tried to evoke that experience in this poem, in the lines:

 

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.

 

Perhaps, in the midst of this Lenten journey this is a good time to remember, give thanks and pray for those teachers, official and unofficial, through whom Christ has ‘brought us safe thus far’.

 

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 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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Filed under literature, Poems

Dante and the companioned journey 3: Vexilla Regis

Plan of the Inferno by Daniel Heald

Plan of the Inferno by Daniel Heald

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 I gave the second of them Through the Gate, today I am posting the Third, Vexilla Regis.’

In this third reflection on on my pilgrim/reader’s journey through Dante’s Commedia, I come to the end of the Inferno and the wonderful moment of reversal/renewal when, having sunk to the lowest depths, the very centre of the earth’s gravity, they realise that if they can just keep going and not give up or give in at this point, then everything will be upended,they will pass the centre and be climbing again on the journey back to light, proving what a later mystic, John of the Cross wrote, that ‘the way down is the way up’.

One other thing I might note by way of background to my poem is that ‘Vexilla Regis‘, which means the Royal Banner or Standard is a wonderful early mediaeval hymn about the cross of Christ, the apparent tree of defeat, becoming truly the tree of victory, the flag that rallies every faint and falling Christian back to the battle, back to hope and triumph in their true Captain. In Hell Dante hears a hideous parody of this hymn applied to Satan, so in my own poem about recovery I take up the true version as my witness to the saving power of the cross.

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 always you can hear the poem by clicking on the Title or the ‘play’ button

3 Vexilla Regis

 

 

3 Vexilla Regis

 

I hear His call, now help me to respond

My freeing muse, I need your presence here

For poetry alone moves me beyond

 

The known and over-known, beyond the sheer

Drop into darkness and the all-unknown

To the last limits and the true frontier,

 

Where Light and life dare to begin again.

Reason alone will never take me there,

The shaping spirit of imagination

 

Must also be my guide and bring me where

We pass the centre, turn the world around

And find the first steps of the hidden stair

 

That climbs out of these pits, far underground,

Against the stream of Lethe. Help me climb

Out of the depths that you have helped me sound.

 

Little by little, one step at a time

Towards the other side, the star-lit world

Where he has gone before and for all time

 

The world-tree’s steadfast roots are crossed and coiled

But on the tree of life He dies for me

Vexilla Regis sounds and all unfurled

 

The royal banners of the true and free

Stream out against the tempest and the fear

And summon me to all that I should be.

 

Up from that black and smothered atmosphere

I toil towards the light The worst is past

I hear the voice that called me, deep and clear

 

And let Love draw me into light at last.

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Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Poems