Tag Archives: ecology

Hildegard of Bingen: A Sonnet

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

The 17th of September is the feast day of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable and prophetic woman, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, and whose many works in theology, music, visual art, poetry and drama are still inspiring people today. Indeed she is coming more and more into her own, as one of her key ideas ‘Viriditas’, or the greening and life-renewing work of the Holy Spirit, seems especially apposite for our time. See this page on her by a contemporary Benedictine.

The photo below is by Margot Krebs Neale

I wrote this sonnet at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire where I shall be giving an Advent retreat next year. It will be published in my next volume of poetry The Singing Bowl, Canterbury Press, which will be launched at St. Edward’s Church Cambridge at 7:30pm on November 6th

As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the play button or the title.

Hildegard of Bingen

A feather on the breath of God at play,

You saw the play of God in all creation.

You drew eternal light into each day,

And every living breath was inspiration.

You made a play with every virtue playing,

Made music for each sister-soul to sing,

Listened for what each herb and stone was saying,

And heard the Word of God in everything.

 

Mother from mother earth and Magistra, 

Your song revealed God’s hidden gift to us;

The verdant fire, his holy harbinger

The greening glory of viriditas.

‘Cherish this earth that keeps us all alive’

Either we hear you, or we don’t survive.

 

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

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A Spring in my step? looking forward!

I fell and broke my leg at the end of January and for the last two months I have been wearing a cast, either flat on my back with the leg up, or latterly, using crutches and a wheel chair. And the one thing I have missed more than anything else is walking! I used to walk every day with my dog, in the mornings by the ‘paradise’ woodlands, and in the afternoon by the river along the famous and beautiful Granchester meadows. It was always on walks that thoughts and poems and insights would come, and I would glimpse the patches of God-light on my path. Well today I finally got rid of my cast and began, slowly and painfully to flex my foot, and gingerly to trust it with a little weight. It’ll be a while yet before I can lose the crutches and really walk, but that day is in sight. So to keep me going and cheer my spirits I thought I’d post again this poem about a spring walk I took in this very season last year. It’s about walking on a wild wet windy early spring day, but as you will see, it’s also about the four elements within and around us and also, perhaps a little meditation on those hints in Paul that in Christ’s redemption and renewal of humanity will also be the redmption, in and through us, of all nature, that the creation waits with eager longing for glory, hidden in us, in us to be revealed. Anyway I hope you enjoy it.

Once again I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful images which accompany these poems. As usual you can hear it by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ sign

Out in the Elements

I crunch the gravel on my ravelled walks
And clabber with my boots in the wet clay
For I myself am clay that breathes and talks
Articulated earth, I move and pray
Alive at once to walk and be the way.
The root beneath, the branch above the tree
These hedges bright with blossom, white with May,
Everything concentrates, awaits in me
the coming of the One who sets creation free

Earth opens now to sudden drumming rains,
The raised and falling waters of the sea
Whose tidal pull and play is in my veins
Spilling and spreading, filling, flowing free
Whose ebb and flow is still at work in me
And in the wombing pulse of play and work
When heart beats pushed in waves of empathy
Till waters broke and bore me from the dark
And found this foundered shore and took me from the ark

As rain recedes I pause to fill my pipe
And kindle fire that flickers into light
And lights the leaf all curled and cured and ripe
Within a burr-starred bowl. How fierce and bright
It glows against the cold. And I delight
In taste and fragrance, watching whisps of grey
And graceful smoke in their brief flight,
As sun breaks from the clouds and lights my way
I feel the fire that makes the light that makes the day

Now air is all astir in breaks and blasts,
The last grey rags of cloud are blown aside
The hedgerows hush and rustle in the gusts
As clean winds whistle round me. Far and wide
Bent grasses and frail flowers lean aside
I breathe the world in with this brimming breeze
That tugs at me and eddies at my side
Quickens and flickers through the tangled trees
And breathes me back to life and brings me to my knees

Akin to every creature I will learn
From each and all the meaning of my birth
I love the dust to which I will return
The subtle substance of my mother earth,
From water born by fire fathered forth,
An index and epitome of nature,
I sum and summon all the world is worth,
And breathing now His elemental air
I find the One within, without, and everywhere.

I find the One within, without, and everywhere

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A Sonnet for Ash Wednesday

Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s Cross

I resume the thread of Sounding the Seasons, the sonnet sequence I have been posting here, and which s also available as a book from Canterbury Press, with this sonnet for Ash Wednesday. As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares. So some of those themes are visted in this sonnet. As we go through Lent I will post sonnets reflecting on each of the three temptations of Christ in  the wilderness, as well as for Mothering Sunday and the Feast of the  Annunciation which also falls in Lent. As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the remarkable commentary on these poems which she is making through her photographs. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the Play Button

Ash Wednesday

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Beginning with this sign upon your brow

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A Spring Interlude; ‘Out In The Elements’

In the little space between Mothering Sunday, which was also of course Refreshment Sunday!! (what a relief!) and Passion Sunday, I thought we might have some refreshment and change here as well before resuming the sonnets, so I am posting a new poem which is an experiment in using Spenserian Stanzas. It’s about a walk on a wild wet windy early spring day but as you will see its also about the four elements within and around us and also, perhaps a little meditation on those hints in Paul that in Christ’s redemption and renewal of humanity will also be the redmption, in and through us, of all nature, that ‘the creation waits with eager longing of a hidden glory in us to be revealed’. Anyway I hope you enjoy it.

Once again I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful images which accompany these poems. As usual you can hear it by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ sign

Out in the Elements

I crunch the gravel on my ravelled walks
And clabber with my boots in the wet clay
For I myself am clay that breathes and talks
Articulated earth, I move and pray
Alive at once to walk and be the way.
The root beneath, the branch above the tree
These hedges bright with blossom, white with May,
Everything concentrates, awaits in me
the coming of the One who sets creation free

Earth opens now to sudden drumming rains,
The raised and falling waters of the sea
Whose tidal pull and play is in my veins
Spilling and spreading, filling, flowing free
Whose ebb and flow is still at work in me
And in the wombing pulse of play and work
When heart beats pushed in waves of empathy
Till waters broke and bore me from the dark
And found this foundered shore and took me from the ark

As rain recedes I pause to fill my pipe
And kindle fire that flickers into light
And lights the leaf all curled and cured and ripe
Within a burr-starred bowl. How fierce and bright
It glows against the cold. And I delight
In taste and fragrance, watching  whisps of grey
And graceful smoke in their brief flight,
As sun breaks from the clouds and lights my way
I feel the fire  that makes the light that makes the day

Now air is all astir in breaks and blasts,
The last grey rags of cloud are blown aside
The hedgerows hush and rustle in the gusts
As clean winds whistle round me. Far and wide
Bent grasses and frail flowers lean aside
I breathe the world in with this brimming breeze
That tugs at me and eddies at my side
Quickens and flickers through the tangled trees
And breathes me back to life and brings me to my knees

Akin to every creature I  will learn
From each and all the meaning of my birth
I love the dust to which I will return
The subtle substance of my mother earth,
From water born by fire fathered forth,
An index and epitome of nature,
I sum and summon all the world is  worth,
And breathing now His elemental air
I find the One  within, without, and everywhere.

I find the One within, without, and everywhere

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Ash Wednesday

Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday's Cross

I resume the thread of Sounding the Seasons, the sonnet sequence I have been posting here, with this sonnet for Ash Wednesday, posted a day or two early, in case people would like to use it in their liturgy or private prayers on the day. As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares. So some of those themes are visted in this sonnet. As we go through Lent I will post sonnets reflecting on each of the three temptations of Christ in  the wilderness, as well as for Mothering Sunday and the Feast of the  Annunciation which also falls in Lent. As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the remarkable commentary on these poems which she is making through her photographs. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the Play Button

Ash Wednesday

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Beginning with this sign upon your brow

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Christ and the Cambridge Poets 3: Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart at Pembroke College

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

Today we come to Christopher Smart a poet whose best work was writen when he had been confined to a lunatic asylum, but whose life and witness challenged his own and our society’s definition of ‘madness’. It is possible to see in Smart’s writing now, not, as his contemporaries thought, incomprehensible delusion, but clear prophetic utterance and a challenging poetry of faith and ecology which has crucial truths to disclose to the twenty-first century. As usual you can hear the audio by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser, or by clicking on the words ‘christopher smart’.The talk lasts about 55 minutes. Below the audio I have pasted the text  of extracts from Smarts poetry from the handout I used in the lecture

christopher smart

From A Song to David:

He sang of God—the mighty source
Of all things—the stupendous force
On which all strength depends;
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
All period, power, and enterprise
Commences, reigns, and ends.

The world, the clustering spheres, He made;
The glorious light, the soothing shade,
Dale, champaign, grove, and hill;
The multitudinous abyss,
Where Secrecy remains in bliss,
And Wisdom hides her skill.

Trees, plants, and flowers—of virtuous root;  
Gem yielding blossom, yielding fruit,  
  Choice gums and precious balm;  
Bless ye the nosegay in the vale,

        130

And with the sweetness of the gale  
  Enrich the thankful psalm.  
   
Of fowl—even every beak and wing  
Which cheer the winter, hail the spring,  
  That live in peace or prey;

        135

They that make music, or that mock,  
The quail, the brave domestic cock.  
  The raven, swan, and jay.  
   
Of fishes—every size and shape,  
Which nature frames of light escape,

        140

  Devouring man to shun:  
The shells are in the wealthy deep,  
The shoals upon the surface leap,  
  And love the glancing sun.  
   
Of beasts—the beaver plods his task;

        145

While the sleek tigers roll and bask,  
  Nor yet the shades arouse;  
Her cave the mining coney scoops;  
Where o’er the mead the mountain stoops,  
  The kids exult and browse.  

The pillars of the Lord are seven,
Which stand from earth to topmost heaven;
His Wisdom drew the plan;
His Word accomplish’d the design,
From brightest gem to deepest mine;
From Christ enthroned, to Man.

For Adoration all the ranks
Of Angels yield eternal thanks,
And David in the midst;
With God’s good poor, which, last and least
In man’s esteem, Thou to Thy feast,
O blessèd Bridegroom, bidd’st!

Glorious the sun in mid career;  
Glorious the assembled fires appear;

        500

  Glorious the comet’s train:  
Glorious the trumpet and alarm;  
Glorious the Almighty’s stretched-out arm;  
  Glorious the enraptured main:  
   
Glorious the northern lights a-stream;

        505

Glorious the song, when God’s the theme;  
  Glorious the thunder’s roar:  
Glorious Hosannah from the den;  
Glorious the catholic Amen;  
  Glorious the martyr’s gore:

        510

   
Glorious,—more glorious,—is the crown  
Of Him that brought salvation down,  
  By meekness called Thy Son;  
Thou that stupendous truth believed;—  
And now the matchless deed’s achieved,

        515

  Determined, Dared, and Done.  
   

From Jubilate Agno

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.

For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.

For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.

For fifthly he washes himself.

For sixthly he rolls upon wash.

For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

For I bless God in the rising generation, which is on my side.

For I have translated in the charity, which makes things better and I shall be translated myself at the last.

For the merciful man is merciful to his beast, and to the trees that give them shelter.

For he hath turned the shadow of death into the morning,the Lord is his name.

For I am come home again, but there is nobody to kill the calf or to pay the musick.

For I pray God to bless improvements in gardening till London be a city of palm-trees.

For I pray to give his grace to the poor of England, that Charity be not offended and that benevolence may increase.

For in my nature I quested for beauty, but God, God hath sent me to sea for pearls.

For I rejoice like a worm in the rain in him that cherishes and from him that tramples

For the names and number of animals are as the name and number of the stars. —

For I pray the Lord Jesus to translate my MAGNIFICAT into verse and represent it.

For I bless the Lord Jesus from the bottom of Royston Cave to the top of King’s

For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God.

For I pray God for the professors of the University of Cambridge to attend and to amend.

The Text from Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, drawn from Smart’s Jubilate Agno

CHORUS

1 Rejoice in God, O ye Tongues; give the glory to the Lord, and the

Lamb. Nations, and languages, and every Creature, in which is the

breath of Life. Let man and beast appear before him, and magnify his

name together.

2 Let Nimrod, the mighty hunter, bind a Leopard to the altar, and

consecrate his spear to the Lord.

Let Ishmail dedicate a Tyger, and give praise for the liberty in which

the Lord has let him at large.

Let Balaam appear with an Ass, and bless the Lord his people and his

creatures for a reward eternal.

Let Daniel come forth with a Lion, and praise God with all his might

through faith in Christ Jesus.

Let Ithamar minister with a Chamois, and bless the name of Him, that

cloatheth the naked.

Let Jakim with the Satyr bless God in the dance, dance, dance, dance.

Let David bless with the Bear—The beginning of victory to the

Lord—to the Lord the perfection of excellence

3  —Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah from the heart of God, and from

the hand of the artist inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly

harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,

Hallelujah.

TREBLE SOLO

4 For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his

way. For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with

elegant quickness. For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take

5 For the Mouse is a creature of great personal valour.

For—this a true case—Cat takes female mouse—male mouse will not

depart, but stands threat’ning and daring.

. . .  If you will let her go, I will engage you, as prodigious a creature as

you are.

For the Mouse is a creature of great personal valour.

For the Mouse is of an hospitable disposition.

TENOR SOLO

6 For the flowers are great blessings. For the flowers are great blessings.

For the flowers have their angels even the words of God’s Creation.

For the flower glorifies God and the root parries the adversary.

For there is a language of flowers.

For flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ.

CHORUS

7 For I am under the same accusation with my Saviour—

For they said, he is besides himself.

For the officers of the peace are at variance with me, and the watchmen

smites me with his staff.

For Silly fellow! Silly fellow! is against me and belongeth neither to me

nor to my family.

For I am in twelve HARDSHIPS, but he that was born of a virgin shall

deliver me out of all, shall deliver me out of all.

RECITATIVE (BASS SOLO) AND CHORUS

8 For H is a spirit and therefore he is God.

For K is king and therefore he is God.

For L is love and therefore he is God.

For M is musick and therefore he is God.

And therefore he is God.

9 For the instruments are by their rhimes.

For the shawm rhimes are lawn fawn and the like.

For the shawm rhimes are moon boon and the like

For the harp rhimes are sing ring and the like.

For the harp rhimes are ring string and the like.

For the cymbal rhimes are bell well and the like.

For the cymbal rhimes are toll soul and the like.

For the flute rhimes are tooth youth and the like.

For the flute rhimes are suit mute and the like.

For the Bassoon rhimes are pass class and the like.

For the dulcimer rhimes are grace place beat heat and the like.

For the Clarinet rhimes are clean seen and the like.

For the trumpet rhimes are sound bound soar more and the like.

For the TRUMPET of God is a blessed intelligence and so are all the

instruments in HEAVEN.

For GOD the father Almighty plays upon the HARP of stupendous

magnitude and melody.

For at that time malignity ceases and the devils themselves are at peace.

For this time is perceptible to man by a remarkable stillness and

serenity of soul.

CHORUS

10—Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah from the heart of God, and from

the hand of the artist inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly

harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

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Four Voices, a song for the Elements

i know its not a salamander but use your imagination!

I whisper just behind you

Our ever-entertaining Girton Poetry Group has set the theme this week of the elements, and the form of the sonnet. Here is a little jeu d’esprit I wrote for the group playing with the idea that each of the four elements has its own proper elemental creatures. I have added some favourite old Arthur Rackham Illustrations to suggest the elementals.

listen for my weeping

I am also playing in this poem with the idea that there is something within each of us correspondant to the life and liveliness of each element, something that we should treat with honour and respect in our selves and in one another, just as we should honour the mystery of the elements themselves in the world as God’s handiwork and our fellow-creation.

give me fire, air and rain

Anyway here it is for what its worth, though I have a feeeling it may work better as a song than a sonnet. now, wheres that guitar….

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

Four Voices

I am the salamander and I shimmer in the fire
I thrive within a living flame, desiring to desire,
I burn away the dross in you, and teach you to aspire
I am your salamander if you’ll kindle me a fire.

I am the sylph who loved you once, a creature of the air
I whisper just behind you but you never find me there
I am the one you stifle when you give in to despair
But I could breathe you back to life if you would give me air

I am the dying naiad in your long neglected well
I sing the very springs of love whose flow you fear and quell
The sacred river rises here, if you will say the spell,
And listen for my weeping as it echoes from your well.

I am the sleeping Adam whom you buried in the earth
But give me fire, air and rain, and I will give you birth.

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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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Imagine (a found sonnet taken from The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis)

Imagine a new natural philosophy;
I hardly know what I am asking for;
Far-off echoes, that primeval sense,
With blood and sap, Man’s pre-historic piety,
Continually conscious and continually…
Alive, alive and growing like a tree
And trees as dryads, or as beautiful,
The bleeding trees in Virgil and in Spenser
The tree of knowledge and the tree of life
Growing together, that great ritual
Pattern of nature, beauties branching out
The cosmic order, ceremonial,
Regenerate science, seeing from within…

To participate is to be truly human.

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