Yesterday we considered a poem by John Donne, today we pair and compare it with a poem of the same title by Scott Cairns. I draw out some of the parallels and differences in the brief essay on this poem in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting on the Word. The image above was created by Linda Richardson in her book of visual responses to Waiting on the Word. Linda writes:
This poem spoke particularly to my Celtic ancestry and my earthy upbringing in a farming community. As children we spent good days outside throwing dried cow pats and crab apples at each other and stacking bales of hay. I confess that without Malcolm’s commentary I would have wallowed in the lovely words of this poem without necessarily returning to Genesis at all!
The work I made is on brown wrapping paper and is full of rich earth colours. I tore a hole in the paper, leaving the virgin white paper showing through and surrounding the hole with large stitches in thick embroidery cotton. It is meant to suggest a radiating of light, or perhaps a womb, or the homeliness of stitching.
You can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle and you can hear me reading the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
The poem I have chosen for December 3rd in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting on the Word, is The Annunciation by John Donne, and once again it is accompanied by a beautiful illustration from the book of responses to these poems by Linda Richardson. She writes:
The imagery of The Annunciation is richly grounded in our Western consciousness. It is always a challenge for an artist to invent something new but I kept within the tradition, painting the girl and the angel. Mary is sitting on the floor clutching her shawl around her in an entirely human reaction to an incomprehensible encounter. The angel’s hand reaches from its heavenly page on the right into Mary’s world, the page on the left. I made the journal in a book about interior design and there was a small reptile printed on the page. I kept this in the painting and you will see it just below Mary. I included it as a nod to the traditional imagery of Mary with her foot on the serpent’s head alluding to the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, the ‘seed of the woman’, who will crush the ancient serpent. (Genesis 3)The quality of the paper is very poor and later I painted the image again, this time on canvas. In this painting neither the angel or the girl are seen. I wonder if this image speaks more powerfully to the spirit as it hints at emptiness, emptiness of the womb and the emptiness of our spirits as we wait to receive the gift of God.
Lao Tze says that it is a pot’s emptiness that makes the vessel useful, a room’s emptiness that allows us to inhabit it. And I wonder if it reminds you of Jesus Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit...’ It is not our fullness, our cleverness or our horde of knowledge that gain us the kingdom, but our poverty.
Linda’s second painting
You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button and find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle
Tomorrow will be the first Sunday of Advent, so I thought I would repost this link to my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word. This Anthology which 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 shall also be recording 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. 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.
Last year we enjoyed the poetry accompanied by Lancia Smith’s interpretive photographs, this year, continuing that tradition of art to accompany poetry, I am happy to say that we will have an original painting to accompany each poem from the talented Linda Richardson, who created a book of images to reflect on each poem whilst she was using the book devotionally last year, and has kindly agreed to share those pictures with us this year. Do join us on the journey via the pages of the book and the pages of this blog.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King, and one of the readings set this year is Colossians 1:11-20 a passage containing the beautiful Hymn to Christ, the core verses of which are these: 15-17:
He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers — all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together.
From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,
To secret seeds that open every spring,
From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,
Everything holds together and coheres,
Unfolding from the center whence it came.
And now that hidden heart of things appears,
The first-born of creation takes a name.
And shall I see the one through whom I am?
Shall I behold the one for whom I’m made,
The light in light, the flame within the flame,
Eikon tou theou, image of my God?
He comes, a little child, to bless my sight,
That I might come to him for life and light.
As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or play button, but better still you can hear it with Alana’s music, hear the other three poems that are woven in with it and see the beautiful paintings by Julie Ann Stevens that go with the Album. You can check out Alana’s website here.
The dark is bright with quiet lives and steady lights undimmed
All Saints Day falls on November 1st, so here is my sonnet for All Saints Day, a little in advance, for anyone who might want to read or make use of it in a service. On the feast of All Saints we celebrate the light of Christ reflected in the saints, living and departed who surround and inspire us even in our present darkness. The image I have chosen to accompany this poem is of candles lit to celebrate All Saints day in Poland. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the title. This sonnet comes from my sequence Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press. All of my books are available from this page on Amazon USA and this page on Amazon UK.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. Feel free to make use of this poem in all Saints or All Souls services, just include an acknowledgement of the book it’s taken from -thanks
On 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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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: