Tag Archives: Christmas

Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton

image by Linda richardson

image by Linda richardson

Merry Christmas! In my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word,The poem I have chosen for Christmas Day is a substantial extract from ‘Ode on the Moring of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created byLinda Richardson.Linda writes:

It is Christmas day and the poem recalls to my mind, all the beautiful images we have of Christmas. One of my favourites is the Magi. Perhaps it is because, of all the Christmas characters, they are very aware of what they are doing. They have travelled a long way and a great distance to worship a King. These are the Christmas ‘professionals’, the seers and Wise Men who have come prepared with gifts and acts of worship. As they reach their goal their faces are lit up with the light of the Holy Family.

I wonder where you would place yourself among the Christmas characters? Are you a prepared, professional with a worshipping heart? Perhaps you are like the shepherds and Christmas rolls right over you leaving you rather baffled and scratching your head. Perhaps you are an angel…perhaps you are a sheep. Whatever you feel you are, there is a place for all of us at the manger.

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

Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

This is the month, and this the happy morn,

Wherein the Son of Heaven’s Eternal King,

Of wedded Maid and Virgin Mother born,

Our great redemption from above did bring;

For so the holy sages once did sing,

That he our deadly forfeit should release,

And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

 

That glorious form, that light unsufferable,

And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,

Wherewith he wont at Heaven’s high council-table

To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,

He laid aside; and, here with us to be,

Forsook the courts of everlasting day,

And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.

 

Say, heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein

Afford a present to the Infant God?

Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,

To welcome him to this his new abode,

Now while the heaven, by the sun’s team untrod,

Hath took no print of the approaching light,

And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?

 

See, how from far, upon the eastern road,

The star-led wisards haste with odours sweet:

O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,

And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;

Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,

And join thy voice unto the Angel quire,

From out his secret altar touch’d with hallow’d fire.

 

THE HYMN.

It was the winter wild,

While the heaven-born child

All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;

Nature, in awe to him,

Had doff’d her gaudy trim,

With her great Master so to sympathize:

It was no season then for her

To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.

 

Only with speeches fair

She wooes the gentle air

To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;

And on her naked shame,

Pollute with sinful blame,

The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;

Confounded, that her Maker’s eyes

Should look so near upon her foul deformities.

 

But he, her fears to cease,

Sent down the meek-ey’d Peace;

She, crown’d with olives green, came softly sliding

Down through the turning sphere,

His ready harbinger,

With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;

And, waving wide her myrtle wand,

She strikes an universal peace through sea and land.

 

Nor war, or battle’s sound,

Was heard the world around:

The idle spear and shield were high up hung;

The hooked chariot stood

Unstain’d with hostile blood;

The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;

And kings sat still with awful eye,

As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.

 

But peaceful was the night,

Wherein the Prince of light

His reign of Peace upon the earth began:

The winds, with wonder whist,

Smoothly the waters kiss,

Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,

Who now hath quite forgot to rave,

While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.

 

The stars, with deep amaze,

Stand fix’d in steadfast gaze,

Bending one way their precious influence;

And will not take their flight,

For all the morning light,

Or Lucifer, that often warn’d them thence;

But in their glimmering orbs did glow,

Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.

 

And, though the shady gloom

Had given day her room,

The sun himself withheld his wonted speed,

And hid his head for shame,

As his inferiour flame

The new-enlighten’d world no more should need;

He saw a greater sun appear

Than his bright throne, or burning axletree, could bear.

 

The shepherds on the lawn,

Or e’er the point of dawn,

Sat simply chatting in a rustick row;

Full little thought they then,

That the mighty Pan

Was kindly come to live with them below;

Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,

Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.

 

When such musick sweet

Their hearts and ears did greet,

As never was by mortal finger strook;

Divinely-warbled voice

Answering the stringed noise,

As all their souls in blissful rapture took:

The air, such pleasure loth to lose,

With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close.

 

Nature that heard such sound,

Beneath the hollow round

Of Cynthia’s seat, the aery region thrilling,

Now was almost won

To think her part was done,

And that her reign had here its last fulfilling;

She knew such harmony alone

Could hold all Heaven and Earth in happier union.

 

At last surrounds their sight

A globe of circular light,

That with long beams the shamefac’d night array’d;

The helmed Cherubim,

And sworded Seraphim,

Are seen in glittering ranks with wings display’d,

Harping in loud and solemn quire,

With unexpressive notes, to Heaven’s new-born Heir.

 

Such musick (as ‘tis said)

Before was never made,

But when of old the sons of morning sung,

While the Creator Great

His constellations set,

And the well-balanc’d world on hinges hung;

And cast the dark foundations deep,

And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.

 

Ring out, ye crystal spheres,

Once bless our human ears,

If ye have power to touch our senses so;

And let your silver chime Move in melodious time;

And let the base of Heaven’s deep organ blow;

And, with your ninefold harmony,

Make up full consort to the angelick symphony.

 

For, if such holy song

Enwrap our fancy long,

Time will run back, and fetch the age of gold;

And speckled Vanity

Will sicken soon and die,

And leprous Sin will melt from earthly mould;

And Hell itself will pass away,

And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.

 

Yea, Truth and Justice then

Will down return to men,

Orb’d in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,

Mercy will sit between,

Thron’d in celestial sheen,

With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;

And Heaven, as at some festival,

Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall …

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Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

In my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word,The poem I have chosen for Christmas Eve, is  Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti. 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:

Some years ago I had the wonderful privilege of seeing ‘Dance’ by Henri Matisse. It was the one kept at The Hermitage, St Petersburg, and it was brought to London for an exhibition. It is nearly four meters wide and unlike like one in New York, the figures are not pink but a glowing orange, like reflected fire light. I was utterly overwhelmed when I saw it, and I was moved to tears.

The words, ‘For Christmas bringeth Jesus”, echo through today’s poem and are for me, the centre of all this season’s activity and the reason for our joy and celebration. In the image I painted there is no speech except that of the wildly dancing figures. They are intent on celebrating the Word made flesh, through their own flesh, and all around them the trees join in the dance. Above them the birds wheel about with the clouds and stars and the whole of creation redounds in joy and praise.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55

 

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

I should add that unfortunately the little word ‘a’ was committed from the first line in the printing of the anthology, which slightly spoils the rhythm. You can hear me read the proper text on this recording and I also post that corrected text below:

Christmas Eve

 

CHRISTMAS hath a darkness

Brighter than the blazing noon,

Christmas hath a chillness

Warmer than the heat of June,

Christmas hath a beauty

Lovelier than the world can show:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.

 

Earth, strike up your music,

Birds that sing and bells that ring;

Heaven hath answering music

For all Angels soon to sing:

Earth, put on your whitest

Bridal robe of spotless snow:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.

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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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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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A Christmas Invitation: new Christmas Music and Poetry

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing 'A Christmas Invitation'

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing ‘A Christmas Invitation’

I am pleased to say that a three-movement suite of Christmas Music composed by Jac Redford, for which he commissioned me to write new poetry, is being broadcast this month on a series of television stations across the United States. Broadcasts start on the 8th December in Texas and continue across the United States up to and including Christmas day itself. The full list and timings of these broadcasts can be found On This Page. You can also download the full concert program Here. And there is a DVD of the performance available Here.

The whole piece is a return to, and commentary upon, Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, starting on fairly traditional ground with Fezziwig’s Ball, but then moving, with Christmas Present, and Future, into some contemporary concerns. The music is being performed by the choir and orchestra of the Pacific Lutheran University and here is how they introduce it in the programme:

A Christmas Invitation

Composed for Richard Nance and the Choirs & Orchestra of Pacific Lutheran University

MUSIC BY J.A.C. REDFORD/TEXT BY MALCOLM GUITE

A Christmas Invitation is a three-movement work for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra. I have chosen Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
as inspiration, although the texts are original poems by Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite. The setting is not intended as a literal tableaux. Rather, because of the metaphoric value of the story’s spirits, Christmas Past, Present, and Future, I hope a variety of responses from convivial joy to thoughtful re ection will be invoked.

The first movement (Fezziwig’s Ball) revels in the nostalgia and merriment of our Victorian Christmas traditions, with music full of rhythm and vitality. As the movement closes, both text and music cast a shadow of loneliness over this beautiful scene, leading into a sober second movement (Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make) which re ects on Dickens’ surprising revelation of Ignorance and Want under the robe of the spirit of Christmas Present. The third movement (Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!) proclaims hope for the future in the sort of redemption that was offered to Ebenezer Scrooge, while at the same time acknowledging that

there are significant choices still before us. I hope this new holiday composition will be memorable and enjoyable for all!

Here are the poems as they are sung in each of the three movements, I hope you enjoy them both as poems in themselves and in the musical setting for which they were written:

I – Fezziwig’s Ball

 

“Trim the lamps,” says Fezziwig,

“Tonight it’s Christmas Eve!”

And every lad is clearing space

And rolling up his sleeve,

 

And now we’ll have the shutters up,

And clear the desks aside

And make the warehouse snug and bright

To dance at Christmastide

 

Here’s porter for the fiddler,

And brandy for the guests,

And sweets and cakes and comfits

In richly laden chests.

 

And children rush around the feast

And gaze with shining eyes

On roast meat and cold meat

And minced meat and pies

 

(The holly berries glisten,

The ivy holds the light,

A blaze leaps up the chimney

To warm the winter’s night)

 

Here’s music for the couples

And dancing to the tune

As we all weave around and back

Beneath a Christmas moon

 

And here the young and and hearty

Cut capers at the ball

With their old host and hostess

As nimble as them all

 

But silent in the corner

Invisible to all,

An old man and a spirit

Who cannot join the ball.

 

His long life on the outside

Is looking in at last

And longing for the chance he missed

In every Christmas past.

 

The power to make men happy

Had once been in his hands

If he could just release it now

That he might make amends!

 

And will he bloom or wither,

That long-excluded shade,

Who leaves a ghostly Christmas Past

And hears the music fade?

 

 

II – Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!

 

We close the shutters up to make our feast

To share our plenty only with our own

But who is this? A stranger, not a guest,

Who calls us now to take the shutters down?

 

Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!

These are your children, Ignorance and Want!

Look at the ones who suffer for your sake;

Pinched in their poverty, withered and gaunt,

Sewing the clothes and shoes you throw away,

Assembling every shiny new device.

You wrap the goods they make for Christmas Day,

Your children get the gifts –these pay the price.

 

But you can change, for change is in the air,

Want is a child who might yet find relief.

Loosen your love, release your heart and share,

O dare to be a patron, not a thief!

Let all your love for family and friends

Be widened by His Love, and make amends.

 

Rise from your table, throw the window wide

Take down the shutters and unbar the door

Welcome the stranger, call him to your side,

That he might teach you what this feast is for!

 

 

III – Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice

 

Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover while you have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.

 

 

“On Christmas day I come to be with you,

Today I take your nature for my own,

Today I offer you a heart of flesh,

Or will you choose again a heart of stone?

 

 

This Christmas choose between true life and death,

This Christmas choose between the good and ill,

This day I breathe in you my living breath,

This day you may do any good you will!

 

 

Oh come with me and I will come with you

And show you how to love my world with me

To bring your best to Ignorance and Want,

To be and bear the gift that makes them free.”

 

 

Christmas is the Lord’s new day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover, you still have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.

 

 

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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

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.

Malcolm

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Everything Holds Together: The Feast of Christ the King

christ-the-king-constantinopleToday 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.

So here is a poem I wrote about those verses, it is taken from my book Parable and Paradox, but this poem also appears on a wonderful album by Alana Levandoski , Behold I Make All Things New,

Here is the poem. the Greek phrase in the poem ‘Eikon tou theou, means image of God and is taken directly from the Greek text of Paul’s letter

Everything Holds Together

 

Everything holds together, everything,

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.

 

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