Tag Archives: Controversy

Hugh Latimer Martyred 16th October 1555

Latimer's Pulpit, you can touch the wood.

Today, on the exact anniversary of his Martyrdom by fire in 1555 I stood in the very Pulpit from which Latimer had preached, to preach a sermon celebrateing his memory and re-affirming the gospel for which he died. On this aniversary therefore I am posting again the Sonnet I wrote called Latimer’s pulpit. It is part of a sequence of St. Edward’s sonnets you can read here, but I republish it on its own, for Latimer’s day.

Here first is a preliminary note about the pulpit:

Ours is known as Latimers Pulpit,  for Hugh Latimer the great Saint and Martyr preached there often, and it was in this pulpit that he preached the famous sermon of the card, to which my sonnet alludes.

In that sermon he imagines that we are losing a card game with the devil. One after another he lays out the black suit of our sins, he holds all the cards and is ready to take the ‘trick’ of our souls, but Christ leans forward and lays on top of all those sins the trump card that wins us back; the king of hearts, for in a universe where God is love, then love is always trumps. At the end of the sermon he exhorts his hearers to do for others what Christ has done for them. When people deal you cards of malice, hate, or envy always and only reply by trumping hate with love. His great love, even of his enemies, shone through when he was burned at the stake for his faith in 1555. It is an extraordinary experience to touch the wood, and to stand in that pulpit and preach as I do each week.

And here is the poem, as always you can hear it by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears or by clicking on the title:

Latimer’s pulpit

Latimer’s pulpit, you can touch the wood,
Sound for yourself the syllables of grace
That sounded and resounded through this place;
A quickened word, a kindling for good
In evil times; when malice held the cards
And played them, in the play of politics,
When knaves with knives were taking all the tricks,
When Christendom was shivered into shards,
When King and Queen were pitched in different camps,
When burning books could stoke the fire for men,
When such were stacked against him –even then
Latimer knew that hearts alone are trumps.
He gave the King of Hearts his proper name,
He touched this wood, and kindled love to flame.

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The KJV; Nostalgia or New Life?

All year we have been Celebrating the KJV here in Cambridge and I have given a number of sermons and written a number of blog posts and articles on the specifics of the translation. However as the year has continued I have had a gradual sense of unease about the way it is being celebrated, at least here in England. It seems to be touted more and more as a cultural artefact, a piece of marketable heritage, a source book of common phrases, a decorative back ground to literature, but never as sacred, challenging, or life-changing. The whole year seems to have been about manner not matter, about style not substance, as though we could honour and praise a book without ever considering its actual content!  Finally I decided that I wanted to say something publicly about this misgiving, and to outline, by way of contrast, what the original translators were working to achieve, and I have done so in the sermon I post below. The core of what I have to say is an exposition of four beautiful images from Miles Smith’s prefaratory letter in which he set out very clearly what the translators of the KJV thought their translation was for. So I give that passage from the Preface here, followed by the audio of my sermon, you can either click on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser, or on the link in the title of the sermon. The audio lasts for 25 minutes.

“Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered [Gen 29:10]. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which is deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with; or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, “Read this, I pray thee,” he was fain to make his answer “I cannot for it is sealed”

malcolm on kjv

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Christ and the Cambridge Poets 4: Tennyson and the insights of Doubt

Tennyson in all his dishevelled glory

Over the centuries that St. Edwards has stood at the heart of Cambridge, the

city has been home to some great poets whose work can give us

new and imaginative insights into our faith. Over five weeks starting wednesday

may 11th I have been  exploring some of the insights that these poets

can offer to us now.

May 11th Edmund Spenser and the insights of Love

May 18th George Herbert and the insights of prayer,

May 25th Christopher smart and the insights of ‘madness’

June 1st Tennyson and the Insights of Doubt

June 8th Gwyneth Lewis and the Insights of Science

In the lecture whose audio I am linking here I offer a close reading of parts of Tennyson’s great poem In Memoriam and in particular I am concerned with the paradox wherby Faith is strengthened and deepened when it has the courage to pay serious attention to doubt, a process I try to trace through the course of this poem. Tennyson was Darwin’s exact contemporary and it is a great shame that when Darwin’s Centenary was so widely celebrated two years ago, Tennyson’s was, by contrast almost completely forgotten. Yet it was the intelligent and thoughtful response of poets like Tennyson to the challenge which Darwin’s thought appeared to offer to unexamined Faith which prevented our culture, and particularly our intellectual life ,from falling into the extremes of division and antipathy between “Science” and “Religion” which developed elsewhere and are still in need of healing. Tennyson’s famous lines

“There is more faith in honest doubt

Belive me than in half the creeds’

are often quoted as if he were approving doubt as an end in itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Immediately after these oft quoted lines comes a verse  that in some ways sum up Tennyson’s own own acheivement,:

He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,

He would not make his judgment blind,

He faced the spectres of the mind

And laid them: thus he came at length

.

To find a stronger faith his own;

And Power was with him in the night,

Which makes the darkness and the light,

And dwells not in the light alone,

.

But in the darkness and the cloud,

As over Siniai’s peaks of old,

While Israel made their gods of gold,

Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.

As always you can here the audio either by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title. The recorder failed for the second half of the talk ‘live’ so I have posted the rest of it, recorded at home, in two other links labelled tennyson 2 and 3 . In each case there should also be a ‘play button’ above the link. Below the audio I have posted the substantial extracts from in Memoriam I gave in the handout at the lecture.

In Memoriam consists of 133 cantos numbered in Roman Numerals, I give the Roman numeral references to each section I quote.

Tennyson and doubt

tennyson2

tennyson 3

The opening, sets the agenda: (from I)

I held it truth, with him who sings

To one clear harp in divers tones,

That men may rise on stepping-stones

Of their dead selves to higher things.

But who shall so forecast the years

And find in loss a gain to match?

Or reach a hand thro’ time to catch

The far-off interest of tears?

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d

“Rhyme has been said to contain in itself a constant appeal to Memory and Hope. This is true of all verse, of all harmonized sounds; but it is certainly made more palpable by the recurrence of termination.” AH Hallam (The influence of Italian upon English Literature)

A recognition that grief is a price more than worth paying for the reality of love: repeated verse (from XXVII)

 

….I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it, when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

Then this verse sets out the method: (from XLVIII)

Nor dare she trust a larger lay,

But rather loosens from the lip

Short swallow-flights of song, that dip

Their wings in tears, and skim away.

Evocation of atmosphere, perfect expression of emotion In the cadence of language, this passage especially praised by Eliot: (VII)

 

Dark house, by which once more I stand

Here in the long unlovely street,

Doors, where my heart was used to beat

So quickly, waiting for a hand,

A hand that can be clasp’d no more?

Behold me, for I cannot sleep,

And like a guilty thing I creep

At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away

The noise of life begins again,

And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain

On the bald street breaks the blank

A prayer of faith in the midst of doubt: (From L)

….Be near me when my light is low,

When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick

And tingle; and the heart is sick,

And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame

Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;

And Time, a maniac scattering dust,

And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,

And men the flies of latter spring,

That lay their eggs, and sting and sing

And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,

To point the term of human strife,

And on the low dark verge of life

The twilight of eternal day.

….

The substance of his doubts: (LVI)

 

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.

From scarped cliff and quarried stone

She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:

I care for nothing, all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:

I bring to life, I bring to death:

The spirit does but mean the breath:

I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,

Such splendid purpose in his eyes,

Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,

Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed

And love Creation’s final law?

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravine, shriek’d against his creed?

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,

Who battled for the True, the Just,

Be blown about the desert dust,

Or seal’d within the iron hills?

Assertion of hope even in the moment of admitting that it might be in vain (LXIV)

Oh yet we trust that somehow good

Will be the final goal of ill,

To pangs of nature, sins of will,

Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;

That not one life shall be destroy’d,

Or cast as rubbish to the void,

When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;

That not a moth with vain desire

Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,

Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;

I can but trust that good shall fall

At last–far off–at last, to all,

And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?

An infant crying in the night:

An infant crying for the light:

And with no language but a cry

The witness of the heart: (From CXXIV)

If e’er when faith had fall’n asleep,

I heard a voice ‘believe no more’

And heard an ever-breaking shore

That tumbled in the Godless deep;

A warmth within the breast would melt

The freezing reason’s colder part,

And like a man in wrath the heart

Stood up and answer’d ‘I have felt.’

No, like a child in doubt and fear:

But that blind clamour made me wise;

Then was I as a child that cries,

But, crying, knows his father near;

A magical episode of soul-communion: (XCV)

By night we linger’d on the lawn,

For underfoot the herb was dry;

And genial warmth; and o’er the sky

The silvery haze of summer drawn;

And calm that let the tapers burn

Unwavering: not a cricket chirr’d:

The brook alone far-off was heard,

And on the board the fluttering urn:

And bats went round in fragrant skies,

And wheel’d or lit the filmy shapes

That haunt the dusk, with ermine capes

And woolly breasts and beaded eyes;

While now we sang old songs that peal’d

From knoll to knoll, where, couch’d at ease,

The white kine glimmer’d, and the trees

Laid their dark arms about the field.

But when those others, one by one,

Withdrew themselves from me and night,

And in the house light after light

Went out, and I was all alone,

A hunger seized my heart; I read

Of that glad year which once had been,

In those fall’n leaves which kept their green,

The noble letters of the dead:

And strangely on the silence broke

The silent-speaking words, and strange

Was love’s dumb cry defying change

To test his worth; and strangely spoke

The faith, the vigour bold to dwell

On doubts that drive the coward back,

And keen thro’ wordy snares to track

Suggestion to her inmost cell.

So word by word, and line by line,

The dead man touch’d me from the past,

And all at once it seem’d at last

The living soul was flash’d on mine,

And mine in his was wound, and whirl’d

About empyreal heights of thought,

And came on that which is, and caught

The deep pulsations of the world,

Aeonian music measuring out

The steps of Time–the shocks of Chance–

The blows of Death. At length my trance

Was cancell’d, stricken thro’ with doubt.

Vague words! but ah, how hard to frame

In matter-moulded forms of speech,

Or ev’n for intellect to reach

Thro’ memory that which I became:

Till now the doubtful dusk reveal’d

The knolls once more where, couch’d at ease,

The white kine glimmer’d, and the trees

Laid their dark arms about the field;

And suck’d from out the distant gloom

A breeze began to tremble o’er

The large leaves of the sycamore,

And fluctuate all the still perfume,

And gathering freshlier overhead,

Rock’d the full-foliaged elms, and swung

The heavy-folded rose, and flung

The lilies to and fro, and said,

‘The dawn, the dawn,’ and died away;

And East and West, without a breath,

Mixt their dim lights, like life and death,

To broaden into boundless day.

His response to Emily’s fear, (he speaks of Arthur but actually describes what he himself is doing, and is achieving in this poem): (from XCVI)

You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.

I know not: one indeed I knew

In many a subtle question versed,

Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,

But ever strove to make it true:

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,

At last he beat his music out.

There lives more faith in honest doubt,

Believe me, than in half the creeds.

He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,

He would not make his judgment blind,

He faced the spectres of the mind

And laid them: thus he came at length

To find a stronger faith his own;

And Power was with him in the night,

Which makes the darkness and the light,

And dwells not in the light alone,

But in the darkness and the cloud,

As over Siniai’s peaks of old,

While Israel made their gods of gold,

Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.

He came at length to find ‘a stronger faith’, here is an example of that stronger combination of faith hope and love ringing clearly and wildly from his poem: (CVI)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

The preface printed at the beginning of the poem, was written at the end:

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,

Whom we, that have not seen thy face,

By faith, and faith alone, embrace,

Believing where we cannot prove;

….Our little systems have their day;

They have their day and cease to be:

They are but broken lights of thee,

And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

We have but faith: we cannot know;

For knowledge is of things we see;

And yet we trust it comes from thee,

A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,

But more of reverence in us dwell;

That mind and soul, according well,

May make one music as before,

Crossing the Bar

SUNSET and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness or farewell,

When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

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The Cutting Edge

a cutting edge

the cutting edge comes near

I once heard someone boasting that they were ‘right on the cutting edge’ and I winced and thought ‘sounds painful!’ then I thought some more and wrote this poem. As usual you can hear it by pressing the ‘play’ button, or if that fails to appear, clicking on the title. This poem, has also been translated into French and published in a magazine there, so in my next installment I’ll post the French version and reflect a little on the process of being translated. Meanwhile here’s the original version:

The Cutting Edge

At my back, like you, I always hear

The edge, the cutting edge is coming near.

Not the blind fury

With the abhorred shears

But this is what I fear;

The stealthy scissors of a blinded time

Cutting through accretions of the past

Dully and daily deleting, whatever is not next

Sneering, and sniping and snipping,

Excising every sign-post from the text

Paring all the parts that point away

To something other than our circled self.

I know the angels were the first to fall,

Cherub and Seraph spiralled down

In circling curlicues of sacred text,

Flaring in ink and paper to the floor,

The shredded evidence of our affair

Our old, embarassing affair with God.

And God himself will follow soon enough;

A little word so easy to excise

Another snippet for the cutting room

A sweeping on the heap of history.

But still at night, I tiptoe to the door

To rustle through these severed strips of love,

And strew my heart with scraps of poetry,

Forbidden hopes and shards of mystery.

They rustle through me in my waking dreams

And so I’ll have a heart-, a head-, a handful when

The scissors come for me.

For at my back, like you, I always here

The cutting edge, the edge is coming near.

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The Words for ‘What If…’

Since I mentioned my poem ‘What If’ in the previous post and linked to my audioboo reading of it, various people have asked me for a copy of the words, so here they are, including the quotation from Mathew’s Gospel which is the poem’s point of departure. when I first posted this poem on facebook I prefaced it with this remark:

For different reasons we have all on both sides of the Atlantic, been reflecting on the way our words can travel and unravel beyond us, on the need to care for the tenor of what we say, here’s a poem reflecting further on that:

What If…

But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Mathew 12:36-37

What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume gathers weigh,
Drums and dins us with dismay
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?

What if not a word is lost,
What if every word we cast
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste
Echoes to us from the past
Fares and finds us first and last
Haunts and hunts us down?

What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration
Every oath and imprecation,
Insidious insinuation,
Every blogger’s aberration,
Every facebook fabrication
Every twittered titivation,
Unexamined asservation
Idiotic iteration,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?

What if each polite evasion
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Querulous prevarication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation
False or flattering peruasion,
Blackmail and manipulation
Simulated desparation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?

Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
O Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do not bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.

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2011 and the Gift of Translation

This year brings us to a great anniversary, which will have special significance for St Edwards, the church I serve in Cambridge. 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible, and two members of the team who made this great translation were members of St Edwards. But our connection goes deeper, for it was at St Edwards, three generations earlier, that people like Bilney, Barnes and Latimer, our three Martyrs, had grasped that the gospel needed translating in the deepest sense, not simply translating out of one language into another, but translating out of paper, and out of ritual, out of the past, translating into people’s lives in the here and now.

Indeed I believe that the very process of Translation goes to the heart  of the Chrsitian Faith, because for Christians the Word of God has already made the greatest translation of all, the translation we have just celebrated at Christmas! The eternal Word, whom we could never have known or even apprehended, has translated Himself into our flesh and blood, translated eternity into time, and translated Love into action. For Christ’s followers the sayings of Jesus, the stories of His life enshrined in the scripture, only have their meaning when they are translated into the realities of everyday life, into ordinary conversation and action.

This perpetual and self-renewing translation has always been part of the life and work of St Edwards, and it has always been controversial! F D Maurice, for example, was pilloried for translating the gospel into social action, inclusion of women, education for the poor, and for moving away from the punitive and judgemental mindset that infected the church of his day, but in St Edwards he found a place where he could flourish and a community that would support his work. So, even as we celebrate a great treasure from the past and think of all the good that has come from 400 years of the KJV, we will be looking ahead to the future and seeing how to continue St Edwards historic mission to be a place where an ancient faith gives rise to new understandings and fresh expressions.

So during the course of this year I shall be posting to these pages some reflections on passages in the KJV whose language and phrasing I have found especially helpful but I will also be posting some more general reflections on translation itself, the translation and re-translation of secular as well as sacred texts. I will post some of my own translations of   other people’s poetry  and also some comments on the translations that have been made of my poems and other writings into different languages. To read what you have written when it is translated into a new language can sometimes be a very enlightening experience. Indeed the poet John Donne believed our own transition from earth to Heaven will be, thanks to Jesus Christ, a kind of translation. I’ll leave the last words of this post with him:

‘All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.’ (John Donne Meditation 17)

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A Wound in the Waters of the Gulf

“Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.”

So Milton describes the moment of the fall in Paradise Lost, the moment a single human action breaks and wounds both the relation between humanity and God, and the relation between ourselves and our world. Milton sees the deep link between our spiritual state and the state we keep and leave the world in. But these harrowing lines might well describe the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil welling up uncontrollably through a hole that we have made and cannot cap is a sign, to many o us, of our wounded planet, a sign of the damage we have done and are doing, and of our seeming inability to put it right. And it’s no good blaming BP. They are deep-water drilling to meet our demands, and the real cause of this tragedy is our collective addiction to oil itself. We have a lifestyle, an economy, even an agriculture, entirely based on burning oil; a way of life that is not only unsustainable but invisibly toxic. But this wound in the earth’s surface, this oil welling up through the waters, has also brought the toxins of our whole way of life to the surface and made them visible. For those recovering from addiction it has sometimes taken a crisis to make a change, it has needed a break-down for a break-through, and it maybe that this crisis in the gulf, an environmental disaster on an unparalleled scale, is th world’s wake-up call, our Kairos moment. If we can face it at its worst we can also have hope. Though Milton wrote ‘all was lost’, his poem is alive with the promise of ‘one greater man’ who would ‘restore us and regain the blissful seat.’ Christians, who know that the wounds in our world stem from those same wounds in us that Jesus came to heal, have a special calling to speak both judgement and hope into the present crisis. I leave you with the words of another poet, Wendell Berry, from an interview about the oil spill in the gulf, in which he names the values we need to espouse in order to have hope:

‘diversity, versatility, recognition, and acceptance of appropriate limits or getting the scale right, and local adaptation — those ideas, it seems to me, put us in reach of work that we can do. To assume that all experiences like that oil well can only be handled by experts at great expense is a mistake.’

heres a link to that interview

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The Green Man gigs for the Greens!April 21st Bathhouse Cambridge

Sometimes a song writes itself.  My song the Green Man was like that. It came very swiftly after a walk through Granchester Meadows with a friend, a walk during which we wondered what the Gospels might have been like if Christ had been tramping the edges of English Hedgerows as well as the Judean Wilderness, we also talked about how these very hedgerows and meadows were threatened by developers and pesticides and at the end of the walk I felt that wild foliate face carved in the old cathedral choirs had something to say to me, something to say through me, and I felt some of my Lord’s lost ‘I am ‘ sayings tripping from, my tongue.

Well the Green Man has taken me to some extraordinary places and of late I have felt strongly that if I am going to sing about the Green Man I’d better put some of his principles into action and I have found, on reading their manifesto that the Green Party have good plans to turn the heart of my song into practical action. so this Wednesday, 21st of April I will be playing a benefit gig for the Cambridge Greens in the Bath House in Bennet street and I am delighted that Tony Juniper the Greens excellent candidate for election in the Cambridge constituence will be there to introduce it. I’m also really pleased that so many of my fellow musicians are showing up to share their talent. Mystery Train will be there together with Mojo Triangle, George Breakfast, Lizi foan and Sophie Davies, it should be a wonderful night. You don’t need to be convinced of the ecological cause or even in the least bit political to come along, it’ll be a night of great music, with a chance, for those who want it, to meet and talk to Tony and to find out a little more about The Green Party  and its potential impact on our national life.

You can listen to the Green Man here

As a taster here are the lyrics of The Green Man

The Green Man

Em

My face in the foliage, you’ve seen that face before

It was carved in the Choir by your fathers back in days of yore

I’m the power in the pulse I’m the song underneath the soil

I’m the unseen King of the ditches, ragged and royal

I’m the Green Man, don’t take my name in vain

I’m the Green Man, and its time to break my chain

If you cut me down I’ll spring back green again

I’m the roots on the stock I’m the tender shoots on the vine

I’m the goodness in the bread I’m the wildness in the wine

There’s power in the place where my smallest tendrils are curled

And my softest touch is the strongest thing in the world

I’m the Green Man, don’t take my name in vain

I’m the Green Man, I’m bound to break my chain

If you cut me down I’ll spring back green again

I’m the grass at your feet and the leaves that shade your head

I’ll be your bower of love, I’l be your green grass bed

I’m in the finest flower, I’m the power in the wickedest weed

And I’ll plough your furrow with pleasure and plant my seed

I’m the Green Man, and I make love with the rain

I’m the Green Man, and I feel like breaking my chain

You might think I’m finished but I’ll spring back up again

You can cover me in concrete, staple me down with steel

Spread your houses and your car parks over my fields

But I’ll still be there keeping everything alive

And I’ll spring back green but you might not survive

I’m the Green Man, don’t take my name in vain

I’m the Green Man, Its time to break my chain

You can cut me down but I’ll spring back green again

©Malcolm Guite 2002

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Filed under Current affairs, Music, Songs

A villanelle for certain villains

I have something on Dante to post soon, but so much intervenes. Meanwhile, until I can post “Meeting Dante”, and since the great Florentine was not averse to some sharp political poetry himself I’ll post this little piece I wrote as I watched the Chilcot enquiry, but it will stand too for all those politicians who shrug off the ‘collateral damage’ done by their folly

Advice to a politician

Bury the truth and lie down with a lie,
Dismiss the losers with a winning smile,
The dead are dead and cannot testify.

Hire a good brief to help you ‘clarify’
You’ve no regrets; regrets are not your style.
Bury the truth and lie down with a lie.

A few more headline grabs will get you by,
Always appear to go the extra mile,
The dead are dead and cannot testify.

Concede the odd ‘mistake’, contrive a sigh,
But wrap yourself in virtue all the while.
Bury the truth and lie down with a lie.

Most witnesses are dead, some you can buy,
Some can be lost in a ‘deleted file,’
The dead are dead and cannot testify.

The dreams may come, the screams that terrify…
They can be blocked with Prozac for a while.
Bury the truth, and lie down with a lie,
Until the dead arise and testify.

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Filed under Current affairs, literature, Poems

Who Is The Honest Man? George Herbert on Tony Blair and Iraq

George Herbert should have been on the Chilcot Inquiry!  At least he would have known how to ask the right questions. His poem Constancie sets out in searching detail the real criteria by which we should judge honesty in our selves and others.

Who is the honest man ? he asks, and then goes on to set out a series of bench-marks all of which are astonishingly pertinent to our judgment of today’s proceedings at the Iraq inquiry. He asks us to look for a leader whose pursuit of  integrity neither force, nor fawning can unpin from giving all their due

Those two terms force and fawning go right to the heart of this inquiry.  What was the influence of force, fire-power and power-politics on behalf of both Iraq and America? How much fawning was there? Was Tony Blair  Bush’s wise restrainer or his poodle?  Was he ‘unpinned’ by either of these two f-words from giving all their due?  The families of Soldiers who died in Iraq are rightly present in the room at this inquiry, for they have a strong case for saying that they have not ‘been given all their due’, not yet in terms of honesty.

And Honesty is the next topic in Herbert’s masterful inquiry. He asks us to sift every claim and to look for someone Whose honesty is not So loose or easy, that a ruffling wind Can blow away, or glittering look it blind Was Tony Blair that man?  Or were there glittering looks that blinded him? That’s what this inquiry is meant to uncover.

Now Blair himself might seize on the next item on  Herbert’s agenda, as a summary of his own position. He clearly believes himself to be someone ‘Who, when great trials come, Nor seeks, nor shuns them; but does calmly stay, Till he the thing and the example weigh.. ‘I had the integrity’, he is claiming, ‘to weigh all things and come to a judgment, I asked you to trust my judgement then and I’m asking you to trust it now’. Certainly that’s what he believes of himself, that his integrity is unimpeached. But whereas the present members of the inquiry seem ready to take that assessment at face-value without further question, George Herbert asks us to probe a little more closely and suggests that if someone wants to claim that kind of integrity and ask us to trust their judgment then we should ask whether they are a man Whom none can work or woo To use in any thing a trick or sleight; For above all things he abhors deceit: His words and works and fashion too All of a piece, and all are clear and straight. We are entitled to ask, says Herbert, whether the ‘dodgy dossier’ and the ringing speeches that led parliament to vote for war were put together using ‘any trick or sleight’ or whether were ‘all of a piece’, ‘all clear and straight’

I give below the text of a poem which should have been given to every member of the inquiry and written in letters of gold over its door, but with the proviso that if the strong light of Herbert’s verse is to be trained on our politicians, we should, in justice, also turn it back and train it on ourselves.

Who is the honest man?

He that does still and strongly good pursue,

To God, his neighbor, and himself most true:

Whom neither force nor fawning can

Unpin, or wrench from giving all their due.

Whose honesty is not

So loose or easy, that a ruffling wind

Can blow away, or glittering look it blind:

Who rides his sure and even trot,

While the world now rides by, now lags behind.

Who, when great trials come,

Nor seeks, nor shuns them; but does calmly stay,

Till he the thing and the example weigh:

All being brought into a sum,

What place or person calls for, he does pay.

Whom none can work or woo

To use in any thing a trick or sleight;

For above all things he abhors deceit:

His words and works and fashion too

All of a piece, and all are clear and straight.

Who never melts or thaws

At close temptations: when the day is done,

His goodness sets not, but in dark can run:

The sun to others writes their laws,

And is their virtue; Virtue is his Sun…

…Whom nothing can procure,

When the wide world runs bias from his will,

To writhe his limbs, and share, not mend the ill,

This is the Mark-man, safe and sure,

Who still is right, and prays to be so still.

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Filed under Current affairs, Poems, Uncategorized