Category Archives: Poems

A Sonnet for St. Matthew’s Day

St. Matthew by Rebbecca Merry

September the 21st is St. Matthew’s day, so here is a sonnet for the Evangelist, drawn from my sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons. Like my sonnets for the other three evangelists, it draws on the traditional association of each evangelist with one of the four living creatures around the throne of God. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. I am grateful to Rebecca Merry for the image above.

Matthew

First of the four, saint Matthew is the Man;
A gospel that begins with generation,
Family lines entwine around the Son
Born in Judea, born for every nation
Born under Law that all the Law of Moses
Might be fulfilled and flower into Grace
As every word and deed in time discloses
Eternal love within a human face.

This is the gospel of the great reversal
A wayside weed is Solomon in glory
The smallest sparrow’s fall is universal
And Christ the heart of every human story
‘I will be with you, though you may not see
And all you do, you do it unto me’

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Holy Cross Day: some sonnets on the cross

Today, is Holy Cross day. It originally commemorated the day when Helena the Mother of Constantine was believed to have found the true cross, astonishing the inhabitants of Jerusalem by searching the rubbish tip of Golgotha and, on unearthing this discarded sign of shame, exalting it as the greatest treasure on earth. But this festival has become since then a day when any of us can again find the cross, still a discarded sign of shame, and find in it the greatest treasure and the source of grace. To mark the day I am reposting here four of the sonnets for the Stations of the Cross, which form the core of my book Sounding the Seasons and are also intended to be read on Good Friday.

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. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are s available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle.

The Image above was made by Lancia Smith and the images below 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.

From The Stations Of the Cross

 


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.

 


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.

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A Quartet for Mary

The Theotokos of vladimirOn September 8th many churches across the world, both Catholic and Anglican, keep the feast of the Blesed Virgin Mary, fulfilling the scripture that says “All generations will call me blessed”, remembering the one who bore our saviour for us, who was full of grace.

It is true that some Christians have disagreed with one another bitterly about her, but equally, in every age and every church she has been, for many Christians, a sign of hope, an example of prayer, devotion and service, and an inspiration.

In a strange way, which I will write about one day, she was a sign of hope to me even before I was a Christian, and it was something numinous and beautiful in the paintings and poetry she has inspired that helped lead me to her Son.

I thought for this feast day, I would offer a quartet of sonnets in her honour, gathering together  the four sonnets about her which are part of my wider collection ‘Sounding the Seasons’. They take us, from the Annunciation and her ‘yes’ to the angel, through the Visitation, with its beautiful magnificat, to the birth of Jesus, and then to her presence with him on the via dolorosa and at the foot of the cross.

As always you can hear the poems by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears, or clicking 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.

 


The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

 

Theotokos

You bore for me the One who came to bless

And bear for all and make the broken whole.

You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’

You spoke aloud for every living soul.

Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,

Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,

Call me again, for I am lost, and  wild

Waves suround me now. On this dark sea

Shine as a star and call me to the shore.

Open the door that all my sins would close

And hold me in your garden. Let me share

The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.

Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery

And bring me to the One you bore for me.

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.

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Summer Tour Part 1: From Amherst to Vancouver (and some poems!)

Outside Emily's House in Amherst

Outside Emily’s House in Amherst

I’m just back from an exhausting, but stimulating, expedition to North America in which I travelled from Boston to Vancouver, from Seattle to Albuquerque, from Santa Fe to LA and then home, so I thought I’d share a little of my adventures on the way.

The adventures began flying in to Boston so as to speak at the CS Lewis Foundation‘s Eastern Regional conference in Amherst. The Conference was on the theme of Lewis and Truth in the Public square and I gave a keynote address, preached a sermon on the Sunday and led a seminar on poetry as well as giving a reading/performance of my songs and sonnets. There was an impressive mix of people from many walks of life and many different churches all drawn by the common strand of Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and the sense that his plea for the Faith as offering truths robust and relevant in the ‘public square’ and not just a private ‘lifestyle option was well worth exploring. A highlight of that conference for me was a visit to emily Dickinson’s house still preserved just as it was. Seeing the tiny desk on which she wrote such great poetry inspired a new poem in me which I have given in a separate blog post here.

Emily's desk

Emily’s desk

Then it was a flight to Vancouver to spend a week at Regent College teaching a course called ‘ Poetic reflections on the sayings of Jesus’ which gave me a chance to develop the themes and ideas set out in my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox. One of those themes was the way in which Jesus, in all his teachings, appeals directly to the imagination, as well as to the reason. In parables and paradoxes he asks us to imagine what the kingdom is like and to begin living, even now, as if we were already in it! Two poems in the new collection, particularly bring that into focus: ‘ As If’ and ‘Imagine’. The latter poem is also my own response to John Lennon’s song of the same name! As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button so here they are:

Parable and Paradox hi res

As If

 

Matthew 5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 

 

The Giver of all gifts asks me to give!

The Fountain from which every good thing flows,

The Life who spends himself that all might live,

The Root whence every bud and blossom grows,

Calls me, as if I knew no limitation,

As if I focused all his hidden force,

To be creative with his new creation,

To find my flow in him, my living source,

To live as if I had no fear of losing,

To spend as if I had no need to earn,

To turn my cheek as if it felt no bruising,

To lend as if I needed no return,

As if my debts and sins were all forgiven,

As if I too could body forth his Heaven.

 

Imagine

 

Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

 

Do not judge and you will not be judged.

Imagine if we took these words to heart,

Unselved ourselves and took another’s part,

Silenced the accuser, dropped the grudge…

Do not condemn, you will not be condemned.

Imagine if we lived our lives from this

And met each other’s outcasts face to face,

Imagine if the blood-dimmed tide was stemmed.

Forgive and you yourselves will be forgiven.

What if we walked together on this path,

What if the whole world laid aside it’s wrath,

And things were done on earth as though in heaven,

As though the heart’s dark knots were all undone,

As though this dreamer weren’t the only one?

 

With Luci Shaw at Regent College

With Luci Shaw at Regent College

My week at Regent ended with a wonderful invitation to join the poet Luci Shaw in one of her poetry readings, and so I had the opportunity to read to Luci in person, the poem I had written for her and published in Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button. Here it is:

For Luci Shaw

 

Luci I love the gift you have for green:

Green fingers in your garden, a green art

In writing too, a feel for life and growth,

Kindly encouragement and yet a keen

Eye for the form, for what needs weeding out

To give a poem room to breathe and grow.

I sense your patience when that growth is slow,

Knowing that slow growth bears a fuller fruit.

I love your eye for detail too, the rich

Particularity of earthy things,

The way you strike the right note till it sings,

And all you have withheld is within reach;

The poem opens for us, and makes room

For fleeting apprehensions to come home.

Luci and I deferring to one another at Regent!

Luci and I deferring to one another at Regent!

In my next post I will tell you about my holiday in the mountains in Whistler and my adventures at Kindlingsfest on Orcas Island!

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Emily Dickinson’s Desk

Emily's desk

Emily’s Desk

Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table.  I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.

Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)

 

Emily Dickinson’s Desk

So slight and spare a square of wood
Sustains so great a muse-
How plain and flat the door is made
To such a subtle maze.

Perhaps the limits of this desk-
-It’s strict restraint of space-
Informed the poet’s take and task
And turned restraint to grace.

Here in this narrow paradise
She pledged and kept her troth-
And trimmed her lamp and trained her verse –
And- slant-wise- told her truth.

 

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Silence: Remembering the Somme

As we all remember and reflect on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which is now published in my book Sounding the Seasons.

On Remembrance Day in 2011 I was at home listening to the radio and when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily wrote this sonnet.

The striking image above is ‘Poppy Day’ by Daliscar and the one below is ‘Silent Cross’ by Margot Krebs Neale

Silence

November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

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A Sonnet for Petertide, and the Silver Jubilee of my priesting

 

The 29th of June  this year is a Silver Jubilee for me: the 25th Anniversary of my ordination as a priest i the church of England. The 29th is of course also St. Peter’s day, when we remember the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus ‘the rock’, who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love. It is fitting therefore that it is at Petertide that new priests and deacons are ordained, on the day they remember a man whose recovery from mistakes and openness to love can give them courage. So I post this poem not only for St. Peter but for all those being ordained this weekend and in memory of my own ordination on this day 25 years ago.

This poem comes from my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press. You can also buy it on Amazon Uk or US or order it in any bookshop. My Canadian readers can get it from Steve Bell.

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

St. Peter

Impulsive master of misunderstanding

You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,

Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove

That each denial is undone by love.

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