Category Archives: politics

Silence: a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

As we approach Remembrance Day, tomorrow, and Remembrance Sunday on the 13th, I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which was first published in my book Sounding the Seasons.  I’m posting it a day early so that any one who wishes to can use it in services or events either on remembrance Sunday or on Remembrance day itself. As you will see from the little introduction below, I wrote it in response to the silence on Radio 4, and two years ago it was featured on Radio 4’s Remembrance Sunday Worship.

So here is how it came to be written. On Remembrance Day 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. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded it on November 11th three years ago, minutes after having composed it, by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title.

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.

Silent Cross by Margot Krebs Neale

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Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

Jesus weeps

 

Jesus comes near and he beholds the city

And looks on us with tears in his eyes,

And wells of mercy, streams of love and pity

Flow from the fountain whence all things arise.

He loved us into life and longs to gather

And meet with his beloved face to face

How often has he called, a careful mother,

And wept for our refusals of his grace,

Wept for a world that, weary with its weeping,

Benumbed and stumbling, turns the other way,

Fatigued compassion is already sleeping

Whilst her worst nightmares stalk the light of day.

But we might waken yet, and face those fears,

If we could see ourselves through Jesus’ tears.

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Fire: A Sestina For Survivors

He waits in silence for his heart to break

He waits in silence for his heart to break

I know that this is the day that America votes for its new president and that much of the world holds its breath as they await the result. I know too that for many of my American friends this particular campaign, and the choice which has been set before them has occasioned very deep distress, and I pray for them and their fellow Americans. But in the longer and deeper rhythm of things these first days of November are also, on both sides of the Atlantic, a season of Remembrance, and so as we approach Remembrance day and Remembrance Sunday I thought I would repost this sestina called ‘Fire’ which is about the trauma, the post traumatic stress, which so many soldiers have brought back with them from the theatre of war and have to deal with in civilian life.

There was a former soldier, now a homeless man, who used to come sometimes into the back of our church in Cambridge. Dressed in camouflage and carrying an imaginary rifle he would squat behind the pews, take aim at the pulpit, or edge his way round the side of the church, clearly frightened and looking for cover. We knew he was reliving things we could scarcely imagine and we did our best to calm him and make him feel welcome (as well as dealing with the alarm he sometimes caused to members of the congregation.) It was meeting with him, and other former soldiers like him, that led me to write this Sestina, which is part of a sequence called ‘Six Glimpses’ in my book The Singing Bowl.

As a form, the Sestina insists that the poet return again and again, but in a different order, to the same six words with which the first six lines of the poem end. Of its very nature this form explores, repetition, return, trappedness, circularity, the very things with which so many soldiers with PTSD and their families are having to deal, so it seemed the right form to try and express a little of what I could see. I post this now so that we might remember, pray for and find ways of helping those who have been through the trauma of battle and cannot find their way back into ‘normality’ yet. I hope and pray that as awareness grows there might be more in the way of help and counselling provided both by the Military and the NHS, and perhaps more understanding from the general public.

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

Fire

 

He cannot stop these memories of fire

Crackling and flashing in his head.

Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break

Into the light of day. He burns with shame,

But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,

Are burning too and screaming out his name.

 

They told him his condition had a name,

But words can’t quench the memory of fire,

Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.

They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,

That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.

The army gave him time for a short break.

 

But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break

And break forever; lose his life and name,

Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,

He who had been ‘courageous under fire’

Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.

And now all night he wishes he were dead

 

And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead

In all their last contortions. Bodies break

Under his wheels, a child’s severed head

Amidst the rubble seems to call his name

Over the clattering of rifle fire,

Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.

 

He’s left his family. ‘Oh its a shame’,

The neighbours said, ‘That marriage was long dead-

-You cant live with a man whose shouting ‘Fire!’

All night like that.- His kids needed a break

And in the end she had to change her Name.’

‘They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his Head.’

 

‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,

The army makes them better men, a shame

He couldn’t cope.’ Now he has lost his name

And his address. He only knows the dead.

He sleeps on benches but they come and break

His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.

 

And come November, when they name the dead,

He waits in silence for his heart to break

And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.

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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.

4 Comments

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A Referendum Addendum!

Thought I’d offer this little reflection on the day we vote. We will need to do lots of bridge-building and reconciling the day after – whatever the result.

You can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. feel free to share

A Referendum Addendum:

After this long referendum
Might I add a brief addendum?
(had these thoughts and thought I’d send’em)
Have you ears to hear? then lend’em:
Are there broken friendships? mend’em!
In/out spats? it’s time to end’em!
Our rights to disagree; defend’em!
All your party garments: rend’em!
Any vows you take, intend’em
to Christ, who gave his gains to spend’em
for our sins, that he might end’em
and elect us to his kingdom
his Mysterium Tremendum

all by grace, not referendum!

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Mothering Sunday: a sonnet

…for those who loved and laboured…

Continuing in my series of sonnets for the Church Year I have written this one for Mothering Sunday. It’s a thanksgiving for all parents, especialy for those who bore the fruitful pain of labour, and more particularly in this poem I have singled out for praise those heroic single parents who, for whatever reason, have found themselves bearing alone the burdens, and sharing with no-one the joys of their parenthood.

I am grateful to Oliver  Neale for his thought-provoking work as a photographer, and, as always, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title

Mothering Sunday

 

At last, in spite of all, a recognition,

For those who loved and laboured for so long,

Who brought us, through that labour, to fruition

To flourish in the place where we belong.

A thanks to those who stayed and did the raising,

Who buckled down and did the work of two,

Whom governments have mocked instead of praising,

Who hid their heart-break and still struggled through,

The single mothers forced onto the edge

Whose work the world has overlooked, neglected,

Invisible to wealth and privilege,

But in whose lives the kingdom is reflected.

Now into Christ our mother church we bring them,

Who shares with them the birth-pangs of His Kingdom.

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27th February: A Sonnet for George Herbert

 

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials

Here is an extract from my book The Word in the Wilderness, marking George Herbert’s Day, February 27th:

Today the Church keeps the memory of George Herbert, who has been so strong a companion with us on our Lenten Journey. Shortly before he died he sent the precious manuscript of his poems to his friend Nicholas Ferrar at ‘Little Gidding’, asking him to publish them only if he thought that they might ‘turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul’, but otherwise to burn them. Fortunately for us Ferrar realized what a treasure he had been given and took them to Cambridge to be published as The Temple. They have been in print ever since, and have turned to the spiritual advantage of countless souls.

This sonnet reflects on a number of Herbert’s poems, but particularly on his master-piece ‘The Flower’. In that poem he imagines himself as a flower, sometimes blossoming sometimes shriveled back to its mother root, but somehow still capable of recovery:

 

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart

Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone

Quite under ground; as flowers depart

To see their mother-root, when they have blown;

Where they together

All the hard weather,

Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

 

But, as he goes through these traumas of loss and recovery, an inevitable part of our being in time, he longs, in a beautiful metaphor, to be transplanted at last into the true paradise of heaven:

 

O that I once past changing were;

Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!

 

So my sonnet celebrates the fact that he is now where he longed to be, in the place he had glimpsed ‘through the glass, in The Elixir. The Flower also contains the beautiful and mysterious lines:

 

We say amisse,

This or that is:

Thy word is all, if we could spell.

 

Just as Easter had suggested that there is really only one true day, shining through the ‘three hundred’ so here, in a moment of mystical intuition, Herbert senses that the one Word shines through and undergirds the myriad things we encounter, and I have alluded to that at the conclusion of my sonnet.

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 Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

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

George Herbert

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials,

With all that passed between you and your Lord,

That intimate exchange of frowns and smiles

Which chronicled your love-match with the Word.

Your manuscript, entrusted to a friend,

Has been entrusted now to every soul,

We make a new beginning in your end

And find your broken heart has made us whole.

Time has transplanted you, and you take root,

Past changing in the paradise of Love,

Help me to trace your temple, tune your lute,

And listen for an echo from above,

Open the window, let me hear you sing,

And see the Word with you in everything.

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