Category Archives: Poems

O Sapientia an Advent Antiphon

Image by Linda richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 17th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is my own sonnet O Sapientia, the first in a sequence of seven sonnets on the seven ‘great O’ antiphons which I shall be reading to you each day between now and the 23rd of December. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson for her book of responses to Waiting on the Word.

Linda writes:

If you have never heard Malcolm talking about the O antiphons you are missing a treat. You can hear a recording of him speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w8ey2q28ZY&t=74s.

My response to the sonnet, ‘O Sapientia’, is a great ‘O’ of my own. The back ground of the painting is a photo transfer of a sheet of plainsong that the monks will sing every year at this time in Advent. I gave that a wash of gesso, and using a Chinese brush made a very energetic sweep in black ink and added some red too. Around the outside and inside I wrote out the words in Latin and in English, which are quite beautiful.

O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things. Come and teach us the way of Prudence (Wisdom). The words of this antiphon have a powerfully uplifting effect on me.

 

You can find you can find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us! This is the first of them

Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.



O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

 

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Advent Good Wishes by David Grieve

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 16th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Advent Good wishes by the contemporary priest poet David Grieve. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The dramatic image above, which brings so much of both war and the hope of peace into play, was created by Linda Richardson in response to this poem. she writes:

In this painting there is a figure, maybe an angel or a tree spirit holding a candle, but the light from the candle has a radiance that is other worldly. It gently lights up the sleeping wolf and lambs that rest at the foot of the painting. At first the painting seems very peaceful but it is disturbingly fiery and high above the tree are two military helicopters hovering, it seems, like vultures. I wanted to paint both peace and war, as they are the reality of the times we live in, however the centre of the painting is very still, the figure has its eyes closed and is perhaps praying.

In turbulent times we may wonder how to keep despair at bay, but the radiant, gleaming colours of the painting tell us that God’s love surrounds us on every side and encompasses us. If we trust God, then the gleaming beauty with which God surrounds us can become our vision and fear is kept at bay.

 

You can find you can find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Advent Good Wishes

Give you joy, wolf,

when Messiah makes you meek

and turns your roar into a cry that

justice has been done for the poor.

 

Give you joy, lamb,

when Messiah saves you from jeopardy

and all fear is overwhelmed

by his converting grace.

 

Give you joy, wolf and lamb together,

as Messiah brings worldwide peace and,

side by side, you shelter

under Jesse’s spreading shoot.

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Christmas and the Common Birth by Anne Ridler

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 15th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Christmas and the Common Birth by Anne Ridler. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, is once more from the beautiful book of art which Linda Richardson made in response to Waiting on the Word.

She Writes:

The image for today looks, from a distance, like a peaceful, sleeping face. On closer inspection you will see it is made up of hundreds of intense scribbled lines. We can, from a distance appear calm to those around us, but perhaps our inner lives are in turmoil, those inner voices utterly draining and our value comes from what we ‘do’, not what we ‘are’. In the poem we hear that, “Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year that might wish to sleep ever…birth is effort and pain.” Our busy-ness is often a way to stay asleep, to avoid the call that Jesus and all the mystics make on our lives to wake up to a greater vision of life where we are children of God, the beloved of the Father.

Our prayer today may be of a harried or sick person. This is the person God wants to be with and we come to God in the reality of what we are and with all the scribbles and scrawls that seem to make up our life. We bring all our addictions and anxieties with us and turn away from them to God, because the space inside us is the same space that contains the cosmos. One moment of true silence will find us in loving heart of the Great Silence out of which everything is and has its being.

You can find you can find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Christmas and the Common Birth

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:

And therefore a European might wish

To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,

When physical life is strong,

When the consent to live is forced even on the young,

Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,

Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.

Also before a birth, nourishing the child

We turn again to the earth

With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,

Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened

In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;

Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones

(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,

Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring

With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

 

Yet if you think again

It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year

That might wish to sleep ever.

For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;

And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings

(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)

That sleep must be broken.

To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:

The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way

It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.

For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;

Like all holy things

It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;

Freedom it brings: We should welcome release

From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

 

So Christ comes

At the iron senseless time, comes

To force the glory into frozen veins:

His warmth wakes

Green life glazed in the pool, wakes

All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.

 

And each year

In seasonal growth is good– year

That lacking love is a stale story at best

By God’s birth

Our common birth is holy; birth

Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

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Despised and Rejected Christina Rosetti

Despised and Rejected Image by Linda Richardson

Despised and Rejected Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 11th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Despised and Rejected, a dramatic and challenging reflection on encounter with Christ by Christina Rosetti. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, takes up the poems opening proclamation, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

There are some dramas you watch with dread. The Director lets you in on a secret that is unknown to the protagonist and you watch the drama unfold, knowing that along the way, you and the protagonist will meet at this awful moment. It was with this feeling that I began work.

When Malcolm invited me to show the images I made last year in response to Waiting on the Word, I decided to do a new art work for this poem as the one I made didn’t turn out well. But now as I come to write about it I hope you will forgive me for including it. The poem’s title is Despised and Rejected, so as a small gesture of redemption, it seems appropriate to include this work that I would otherwise have rejected.

The image is indelibly cut in two by a separating path of black ink from the top left to the bottom right. Throughout the image, Rossetti’s impassioned words weave about through the paths of ink and paint, but there, in the bronze paint at the top right of the image, like a smear of dried blood, is a cord. The cord is bundled and scrunched into the paint and travels in the opposite direction, to the bottom left of the image. The two paths meet at a cross. Art is like life, and the marks we make sometimes come from our deep subconscious, so as I return to this work I recognise the cord as something that leads out of a labyrinth. ‘Footsteps echoing like a sigh passed me by’, Rossetti says towards the end of the poem. And I am left with the question, ‘What opportunities of love do I miss when I am lost in the labyrinth of my mind’?

You can find  a short reflective essay on this poem, which draws out its many references to Scripture, in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Despised and Rejected

My sun has set, I dwell

In darkness as a dead man out of sight;

And none remains, not one, that I should tell

To him mine evil plight

This bitter night.

I will make fast my door

That hollow friends may trouble me no more.

 

‘Friend, open to Me.’—Who is this that calls?

Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:

Cease crying, for I will not hear

Thy cry of hope or fear.

Others were dear,

Others forsook me: what art thou indeed

That I should heed

Thy lamentable need?

Hungry should feed,

Or stranger lodge thee here?

 

‘Friend, My Feet bleed.

Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.’

I will not open, trouble me no more.

Go on thy way footsore,

I will not rise and open unto thee.

 

‘Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see

Who stands to plead with thee.

Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou

One day entreat My Face

And howl for grace,

And I be deaf as thou art now.

Open to Me.’

 

Then I cried out upon him: Cease,

Leave me in peace:

Fear not that I should crave

Aught thou mayst have.

Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,

Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.

What, shall I not be let

Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?

 

But all night long that voice spake urgently:

‘Open to Me.’

Still harping in mine ears:

‘Rise, let Me in.’

Pleading with tears:

Open to Me that I may come to thee.’

While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:

‘My Feet bleed, see My Face,

See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,

My Heart doth bleed for thee,

Open to Me.’

 

So till the break of day:

Then died away

That voice, in silence as of sorrow;

Then footsteps echoing like a sigh

Passed me by,

Lingering footsteps slow to pass.

On the morrow

I saw upon the grass

Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door

The mark of blood for evermore.

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In Drear-Nighted December by John Keats

Drear-nighted December image by Linda Richardson

Drear-nighted December image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 10th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is In Drear-nighted December by John Keats. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, is by Linda Richardson, who writes:

Had I known that these images would, the following year, accompany the poetry in Waiting on the Word, I would have made more of each of them. Some days I had only a short time to respond, but my daily discipline helped me to meditate on each of the poems, and it was a deeply enriching experience. Perhaps you could find your own way of responding, by walking or learning a part of the poem by heart, or sewing. Perhaps you could print out and stick into the book, an image that you feel captures a part of the poem that speaks most deeply to you.

In this image I used only black Indian ink, masking fluid and water. I wanted to give the impression of bleak leafless trees disappearing into a freezing mist. This stripping back of denuding winter time reveals a beauty and form that has always been there but has gone unnoticed. Think of a cobweb that is invisible until the scintillating frost of winter steals through the landscape as we sleep and turns the morning into a Narnian dream of white.

This denuding also happen to us when, forced by circumstances, we too are stripped back, perhaps by grief as John Keats was, or by struggling with an addiction, humiliation, or anger and depression. What seems like death in the landscape of our lives can, if we wait patiently, teach us to integrate our shadow side and help us to know ourselves. If we can come to prayer like this, letting what we truly are be exposed, because to Him all hearts are exposed, then maturity begins, as we say to Him, ‘Lord take me as I am. I can come to you no other way.’

You can find 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

In Drear-nighted December

In drear nighted December,

Too happy, happy tree,

Thy branches ne’er remember

Their green felicity—

The north cannot undo them

With a sleety whistle through them

Nor frozen thawings glue them

From budding at the prime.

 

In drear nighted December,

Too happy, happy brook,

Thy bubblings ne’er remember

Apollo’s summer look;

But with a sweet forgetting,

They stay their crystal fretting,

Never, never petting

About the frozen time.

 

Ah! would ‘twere so with many

A gentle girl and boy—

But were there ever any

Writh’d not at passed joy?

The feel of not to feel it,

When there is none to heal it

Nor numbed sense to steel it,

Was never said in rhyme.

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Old Age by Edmund Waller

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December the 9th of December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Old Age by the Seventeenth Century poet Edmund Waller. This gentle meditation on old age, on the light that shines ‘through chinks that time hath made’, may be one source for Leonard cohen’s famous lines about ‘how the light gets in’. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

Some years ago my husband began collecting World War Two letters from soldiers who were writing home. I did a photo transfer of one of these letters onto a canvas board and it has been in my studio for several years waiting for the moment when I would find a purpose for it.

With this as the ground, I painted the board and rubbed it down many times giving the effect of layers and layers, much like paint work in an old house. The top half of the painting is pink and infantile, the bottom half is black. The halves are separated and distanced by a rich gold band that connects the two but the image only works because light is there with the dark. The painting is uncluttered as that of a life paired down and the words are barely visible beneath the layers of paint, hinting at life nearly snuffed out, of a past and a memory fading away. The gold line foams and swells into the upper and lower halves of the painting suggesting the boundless nature of our inner spirit or the Divine Life that resides within us all. How much is visible of the gold within, is up to us and the grace of God. ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ (Isaiah 9:2)

 

You can find 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

Old Age

THE seas are quiet when the winds give o’er;

So calm are we when passions are no more.

For then we know how vain it was to boast

Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.

Clouds of affection from our younger eyes

Conceal that emptiness which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,

Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:

Stronger by weakness, wiser men become

As they draw near to their eternal home.

Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view

That stand upon the threshold of the new.

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Kenosis by Luci Shaw

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next poem in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is Kenosis by Luci Shaw. 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.

Linda shares the following reflection on today’s art work:

The temptation as an artist is to illustrate a theme, but here is the problem: figurative painting grounds us in the human experience but the poem we read today, whilst rooted in the imagery of human experience, is transcendent because it points us to the divine nature of the new born child.

There are monks who celebrate the Christmas child as The Little Word, a title made even more tender, coming as it does from men who live such unsentimental and austere life. Malcolm tells us that the word infans means, literally, ‘without speech’, and so my approach to this work had to go beyond pictorial sentimentality. I wanted it to transcend speech and form as far as I could because receiving God in the form of a helpless baby is untranslatable in terms of human experience.

I painted the surface with thin washes of paint, rubbing it down between each coat, like sanding or planing wood. I wanted the surface to have quietness and transparency. On the top of this surface, in the finest pen, I drew delicate white tracery lines suggesting the softest threads of wool (from a sheepfold) that might swaddle an infant. In the top left corner I painted a lighter area, again rubbing it down to help us see through it. It hints at a doorway, alluding perhaps to Christ who is the door, who knocks at our door and who himself, ‘hung..a door’.

As we come to this most beautiful of poems, all we can do is receive the vision and be stilled by its inner peace. ‘Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.’ (Psalm 131.)


Kenosis

In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.

He is so new, his silk skin has not yet

been roughed by plane and wooden beam

nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.

 

He is in a dream of nipple found,

of blue-white milk, of curving skin

and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb

of a warm heart’s repeated sound.

 

His only memories float from fluid space.

So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door

broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,

wept for the sad heart of the human race.

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