Now as I watch my life unroll, I read the poems on the scroll
And I do my best to savour every line
And every year that takes its toll, is laid down deep within my soul
But I can draw it up again like vintage wine,
These are lyrics from a song I wrote about 15 years ago as one of my birthdays rolled round. And as its my birthday today, the last year in which I can be ‘fifty something’, I thought for fun I would post it again. If the button doesnt appear below you can try clicking on the song title where I give the lyrics below. This is a take with just me playing both guitar parts and no other accompaniment. I have never recorded this properly but maybe one day I will.
I am posting here a recording of the first of five lectures in a series I am giving called Christ and the Cambridge Poets. They are all delivered in St. Edward’s Church in Cambridge and you will occasionally pick up little references to the churh itself, and to its history and association with these poets and especially to Latimer’s Pulpit All five of our poets (Spenser, Herbert, Smart, Tennyson, Lewis) will have seen it. this is the pulpit
Latimers Pulpit all five of our poets would have seen it
from which I preach every week.
My first poet is Spenser, the audio for this talk lasts about 70 minutes (I over-ran!) feel free to dip in and out as you like. As usual you can hear the audio by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or by clicking on the title
I post below the some extracts from the poems that I read and referred to in the lecture:
Spenser and the insights of Love extracts:
From the hymn to love:
The earth, the ayre, the water, and the fyre,
Then gan to raunge them selues in huge array,
And with contrary forces to conspyre
Each against other, by all meanes they may,
Threatning their owne confusion and decay:
Ayre hated earth, and water hated fyre,
Till Loue relented their rebellious yre.
He then them tooke, and tempering goodly well
Their contrary dislikes with loued meanes,
Did place them all in order, and compell
To keepe them selues within their sundrie raines,
Together linkt with Adamantine chaines;
Yet so, as that in euery liuing wight
They mixe themselues, & shew their kindly might.
So euer since they firmely haue remained,
And duly well obserued his beheast;
Through which now all these things that are contained
Within this goodly cope, both most and least
Their being haue, and dayly are increast,
Through secret sparks of his infused fyre,
Which in the barraine cold he doth inspyre.
Thereby they all do liue, and moued are
To multiply the likenesse of their kynd,
Whilest they seeke onely, without further care,
To quench the flame, which they in burning fynd:
But man, that breathes a more immortall mynd,
Not for lusts sake, but for eternitie,
Seekes to enlarge his lasting progenie.
From the hymn to heavenly love:
Till that great Lord of Loue, which him at first
Made of meere loue, and after liked well
Seeing him lie like creature long accurst,
In that deepe horror of desperyred hell,
Him wretch in doole would let no lenger dwell,
But cast out of that bondage to redeeme,
And pay the price, all were his debt extreeme.
Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,
In which he reigned with his glorious fyre,
He downe descended, like a most demisse
And abject thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That he for him might pay sinnes deadly hyre,
And him restore vnto that happie state,
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde:
Nor spirit, nor Angell, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for mans misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who self did slyde.
So taking flesh of sacred virgins wombe,
For mans deare sake he did a man become.
From the Amoretti
HAPPY ye leaues when as those lilly hands,
which hold my life in their dead doing might
shall handle you and hold in loues soft bands,
lyke captiues trembling at the victors sight.
And happy lines, on which with starry light,
those lamping eyes will deigne sometimes to look
and reade the sorrowes of my dying spright,
written with teares in harts close bleeding book.
And happy rymes bath’d in the sacred brooke,
of Helicon whence she deriued is,
when ye behold that Angels blessed looke,
my soules long lacked foode, my heauens blis.
Leaues, lines, and rymes, seeke her to please alone,
whom if ye please, I care for other none.
LEAUE lady in your glasse of christall clene,
Your goodly selfe for euermore to vew:
and in my selfe, my inward selfe I meane,
most liuely lyke behold your semblant trew.
Within my hart, though hardly it can shew,
thing so diuine to vew of earthly eye:
the fayre Idea of your celestiall hew,
and euery part remaines immortally:
And were it not that, through your cruelty,
with sorrow dimmed and deformd it were:
the goodly ymage of your visnomy,
clearer then christall would therein appere.
But if your selfe in me ye playne will see,
remoue the cause by which your fayre beames darkned be.
MOST glorious Lord of lyfe that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph ouer death and sin:
and hauing harrowd hell didst bring away,
captiuity thence captiue vs to win.
This ioyous day, deare Lord, with ioy begin,
and grant that we for whom thou didest dye
being with thy deare blood clene washt from sin,
may liue foreuer in felicity.
And that thy loue we weighing worthily,
may likewise loue thee for the same againe:
and for thy sake that all lyke deare didst buy,
with loue may one another entertayne.
So let vs loue, deare loue, lyke as we ought,
loue is the lesson which the Lord vs taught.
FAYRE bosome fraught with vertues richest tresure,
The neast of loue, the lodging of delight:
the bowre of blisse, the paradice of pleasure,
the sacred harbour of that heuenly spright.
How was I rauisht with your louely sight,
and my frayle thoughts too rashly led astray?
whiles diuing deepe through amorous insight,
on the sweet spoyle of beautie they did pray.
And twixt her paps like early fruit in May,
whose haruest seemd to hasten now apace:
they loosely did theyr wanton winges display,
and there to rest themselues did boldly place.
Sweet thoughts I enuy your so happy rest,
which oft I wisht, yet neuer was so blest.
BRING with you all the Nymphes that you can heare
both of the riuers and the forrests greene:
And of the sea that neighbours to her neare,
Al with gay girlands goodly wel beseene.
And let them also with them bring in hand,
Another gay girland
my fayre loue of lillyes and of roses,
Bound trueloue wize with a blew silke riband.
And let them make great store of bridale poses,
And let them eeke bring store of other flowers
To deck the bridale bowers.
And let the ground whereas her foot shall tread,
For feare the stones her tender foot should wrong,
Be strewed with fragrant flowers all along,
LOE where she comes along with portly pace,
Lyke Phoebe from her chamber of the East,
Arysing forth to run her mighty race,
Clad all in white, that seemes a virgin best.
So well it her beseemes that ye would weene
Some angell she had beene.
Her long loose yellow locks lyke golden wyre,
Sprinckled with perle, and perling flowres a tweene,
Doe lyke a golden mantle her attyre,
And being crowned with a girland greene,
Seeme lyke some mayden Queene,
Her modest eyes abashed to behold
So many gazers, as on her do stare,
Vpon the lowly ground affixed are.
Ne dare lift vp her countenance too bold,
But blush to heare her prayses sung so loud,
So farre from being proud.
Nathlesse doe ye still loud her prayses sing,
That all the woods may answer and your eccho ring
Now al is done; bring home the bride againe,
bring home the triumph of our victory,
Bring home with you the glory of her gaine,
With ioyance bring her and with iollity.
Neuer had man more ioyfull day then this,
Whom heauen would heape with blis.
Make feast therefore now all this liue long day,
This day for euer to me holy is,
Poure out the wine without restraint or stay,
Poure not by cups, but by the belly full,
Poure out to all that wull,
And sprinkle all the postes and wals with wine,
That they may sweat, and drunken be withall.
Crowne ye God Bacchus with a coronall,
And Hymen also crowne with wreathes of vine,
And let the Graces daunce vnto the rest;
For they can doo it best:
The whiles the maydens doe theyr carroll sing,
To which the woods shal answer & theyr eccho ring
AND thou great Iuno, which with awful might
the lawes of wedlock still dost patronize,
And the religion of the faith first plight
With sacred rites hast taught to solemnize:
And eeke for comfort often called art
Of women in their smart,
Eternally bind thou this louely band,
And all thy blessings vnto vs impart.
Thou glad Genius, in whose gentle hand,
The bridale bowre and geniall bed remaine,
Without blemish or staine,
And the sweet pleasures of theyr loues delight
With secret ayde doest succour and supply,
Till they bring forth the fruitfull progeny,
Send vs the timely fruit of this same night.
And thou fayre Hebe, and thou Hymen free,
Grant that it may so be.
Til which we cease your further prayse to sing,
Ne any woods shal answer, nor your Eccho ring.
And ye high heauens, the temple of the gods,
In which a thousand torches flaming bright
Do burne, that to vs wretched earthly clods:
In dreadful darknesse lend desired light;
And all ye powers which in the same remayne,
More then we men can fayne,
Poure out your blessing on vs plentiously,
And happy influence vpon vs raine,
That we may raise a large posterity,
Which from the earth, which they may long possesse
With lasting happinesse,
Vp to your haughty pallaces may mount,
And for the guerdon of theyr glorious merit
May heauenly tabernacles there inherit,
Of blessed Saints for to increase the count.
So let vs rest, sweet loue, in hope of this,
And cease till then our tymely ioyes to sing,
The woods no more vs answer, nor our eccho ring.
We’re at the mixing stage with my new CD Dancing Through the Fire and I thought I’d experiment with sharing some early mixes here Here is a link (or player I hope) for a track I may include called Old and Worn. If the button doesnt appear below you can try clicking on the song title where I give the lyrics below. This is an early take with just me playing both guitar parts and no other accompaniment.
I had a great time at the Cambridge Folk Festival, but a real highlight was a Sunday Morning songwriting workshop with Gretchen Peters. She was wonderfully down to earth and unnassuming and full of really helpful nd thought-provoking comments, many of which she illustrated by singing her own songs. One of her key ideas was to tell stories through small vivid details and minute particulars rather than grand sweeps and she illustrated this with a fine song called Five Minutes, about five minutes in the life of a waitress on her cigarette break during which we get glimpses that add up to a whole life. Reflecting on that tight focus and the deliberate restriction of the window through which you see things, I suddenly saw a way of telling a story I’ve been meaning to tell for a while, so I went down to my woodshed and wrote this song today:
It took two loving bodies,
And their comfort through the night,
And two hearts beating faster
To bring Billy to the light,
About a thousand kisses
Saw that baby on his way,
But it only took one finger
To blow it all away
It took one mothers labour pains
And a skilful midwife too,
Two grandmas knitting double-time
Those clothes of baby blue,
It took years of love to raise him
With room to grow and play
But it only took a second
To blow it all away
We cannot count the multitude
Who made us what we are
The many friends who formed us
And carried us this far;
A hundred acts of kindness
That no one can repay
One finger, and one trigger
Can blow it all away
It took that teenage boy awhile
To find his own two feet
And he took his best friend with him
On that sixteenth birthday treat
The two boys took a shortcut
Down a darkened alleyway
And walked into the crossfire
That took Billy’s life away
Cho: I don’t know how the gunman
Tells the story of that day
He was ‘taking care of business’
When some kid got in the way
We make it hard to grow up right
And hard to make things pay
But we sure make it easy
To blow everything away
It took forty-seven minutes
For the funeral to pass
Though it felt like we were crawling
Over miles of broken glass
I saw it all in front of me
When I closed my eyes to pray:
The finger, and the trigger
And the life they took away
These first days of the great festival of Easter seem a good time to air a set of eight quatrains I wrote as a suite of meditations on Creation and Redemption, running from the Day of Creation to the Day of Ascension. So I am going to post one each day for the next eight days. I hope you enjoy them.
The Hope Players, the company with whom I did the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, are beginning a new play called Redemption Song, written by Daniel Carlson and telling the story of the book of Ruth, from Naomi’s perspective. Daniel asked me to write a song for the play which could be woven in and out of the performance or sung by the characters. The Song is now on my new cd Dancing Trough the Fire, under the title A Song for Ruth. You can hear it and/or download it by clicking on the cd icon on the right hand side of this blog.Here’s what I’ve written:
Redemption Song (the Story of Naomi)
Sing a song of sowing
Of carrying the seed
A song of hopeful planting
To meet a future need
Sing a song of letting go
Of falling to the ground
Of burying that feels like loss
Still waiting to be found
There are no songs of famine
For hunger has no voice
The poor must scavenge what they can
The rich are spoiled for choice
The stones of fear and anger
Will strike you from behind
For hunger hates the stranger
And cleaves to his own kind
Sing a song of exile
Of loneliness and loss
A song of broken bridges
That nobody can cross
A song of desperation
For words you understand
A song of fearful labour
On someone else’s land
Sing a song of marriage
The grace of bride and groom
The fruitful vine around the door
And joy within the room
A song of love and longing
For the children yet to be
A quiver-full of future hopes
Aimed at eternity
Sing a song of mourning
The shadows and the tombs
The bitterness of broken hearts
And disappointed wombs
Sing a song of empty words
And unexpressed despair
Of reaching out at midnight
For the one who isn’t there
Sing a song of waiting
Of weeping on the earth
A song of expectation
And longing for new birth
Sing a song of patience
Of watching through the night
Sing the hours before the dawn
And sing the coming light
Sing a song of harvest
Of one who bind the sheaves
And one who gleans along the edge
The good another leaves
Sing a song of winnowing
And taking into store
Of Barley heaped like glowing gold
Upon the threshing floor
Sing out before the Lord of Life
Your songs of joy and pain
Sing of the years the locusts ate
That cannot come again
Sing to Him your hopes and fears
Your tales of right and wrong
And He will make your voice a part
Of His Redemption Song
There has been great excitement of late at the Discovery of the Girton Black Squirrel, many sightings, a facebook group, and even a motion from the parish council to adopt the black squirrel as a logo! If Girton had existed in Lord Byron’s day I’m sure he would have been a frequent visitor, and perhaps instead of the bear he kept at Trinity he might have adopted the Girton black Squirrel instead. So, borrowing the Ottava Rima stanza form that Byron used for Don Juan, and indeed the first four words of his epic, I have penned a little ode to the Girton Pioneer (with apologies to Lord B!)
The Girton Pioneer
I want a hero! Byron had Don Juan
As vehicle for all his fantasies
Each pleasure led him on to find a new-one
Inventive always in his ecstasies.
Byron’s the hero here, at least the true one,
Pleasing his friends, teasing his enemies!
But now we’re all post-modern and ironic
And no-one ever dares to be Byronic.
Where shall I find a hero for our age,
A figure to inspire my eight-fold rhyme?
Where is the debater? Where the sage?
Oh who will mend this deep-disjointed time?
Our putrid politicians strut the stage,
Admiring one another, mired in slime,
They only mend their pre-election fences
And charge the said repairs to their expenses.
And what about the heroes of my youth,
The rockers who once moved me heart and soul?
Dylan delivered darts of daring truth,
The Rolling Stones were total Rock’n’roll!
They all wear slippers now, long in the tooth,
(Those years of sex and drugs have taken toll),
Now ageing rockers huddle round an Aga
And leave us in the grip of Lady Gaga.
I find no human hero for my themes
They all fall short, they shrivel, faint and fail.
But lo! A mystic voice spoke in my dreams:
“In Girton’s grounds you’ll find your holy grail
There dwells a creature all the world esteems,
A tribal totem, with a bushy tail!
Bright and dark, and wild and free and feral
An epic hero: Girton’s Brave black Squirrel!
Here is the hero for our modern times
Here is the one to set the world to rights
Here is a subject worthy of your rhymes
No silly superheroes in their tights
Could rid the world so well of all its crimes!
Put Girty, Girton’s squirrel up in lights.
I see the headline now, you’ll see it then:
“The First Black Squirrel enters Number Ten!”
I have returned to my love of terza rima and further meditations on Dante with the following poem, which forms a kind of conversation with the opening of the Divine Comedy. I hope to take the advice my muse so freely gives in this poem and make it the first in a series, so I need prayer for the discipline it takes to give my muse the time she needs. Anyway here’s the poem:
In Medias Res
And so I start again, here in the middle,
The middle of a life I scarcely know,
How many guesses left to get the riddle?
The woods are dark and darker shadows flow,
I followed someone here, but lost her leading,
With nothing but my lostness left to show.
The voice that drew me on is faint and fading
And something else is following behind.
Over whose heart, I wonder, are we treading?
My shadow-beasts can scent, though they are blind;
All three are here; leopard, lion, wolf,
My kith and kin, the emblems of my kind.
They’ve come to draw me back across the gulf,
Back from the path I wanted to have chosen:
Fall back, they call, you can’t run from yourself,