Tag Archives: imagination

The Divine Image by William Blake

Image created by Linda Richardson after Matisse

Image created by Linda Richardson after Matisse

For January 6th (the feast of epiphany) in my  Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting on the Word, I have chosen to read, as the final poem in the collection The Divine Image by William Blake. The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the visit of the magi to the Christ-child, and so the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Gospel story: and not simply the Gentiles in some generic way, but all the distinct races, cultures and religions of ‘the nations’, which is why the tradition of depicting the three kings as representing three different races is so helpful. On this Feast Day, it might seem obvious to choose one of the well-known poems that recall or describe that familiar scene: Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’, or Yeats’ poem ‘The Magi’. But I wanted in this final poem to move from the outward and visible picture which already adorns so many of the Christmas cards we will be taking down today, and as those outward images fade away, to come through poetry to the inward and spiritual truth which they proclaim. And that spiritual truth is that in the Incarnation Christ, in taking on human nature, takes on, becomes involved in, visits, redeems the whole of humanity, not just the chosen people to whose race and culture he belonged. And what is more, when the fullness of God comes to dwell in the fullness of Christ’s humanity, then that mysterious ‘image of God’ in which all humanity was made (Genesis 1:27) is at last restored. And we can see that the Light who so uniquely and particularly became the Christ-child at Bethlehem is also, as John’s Gospel clearly proclaims, ‘The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world’ (John 1:9). It seems to me that it is William Blake’s poem ‘The Divine Image’, rather than any specifically Christmas or Epiphany verse, that goes to the heart of these things.

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 the unique book of responses to Waiting on the Word last year, and again this is one of my favourites. As we finish this series of posts I would like to thank Linda for allowing me to share these beautiful images with you and for making such a rich and creative response to my book in the first instance. She will soon be establishing a website for more of her art and when she does so I will write about it on this blog. about this final image Linda writes:

Once again I return to Matisse and his dancers. The little figures are naked and in a trance of wild woodland worship. They are unselfconscious and free, not arguing a doctrinal point but holding tight to each others hands as they whirl around a Divine tree. Our minds and thinking can ensnare us like a flies on a spider’s web, but our bodies do not lie. If we are stressed, we can talk ourselves into believing we are relaxed, but our jaw may be tight and our brow heavy. In the same way we sometimes mistake ‘correct doctrine’ for love, and wonder why we feel so angry when our doctrines are attacked. In the image, the little figures are ‘every man’ and ‘every woman’. They are lost in the present moment, and the only government is the beauty of the silent tree around which, with all their hearts, they dance.

There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence. Meister Eckhart

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

The Divine ImageWilliam Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

All pray in their distress;

And to these virtues of delight

Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is God, our father dear,

And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity a human face,

And Love, the human form divine,

And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,

That prays in his distress,

Prays to the human form divine,

Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,

In heathen, Turk, or Jew;

Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell

There God is dwelling too.

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Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany by Luci Shaw

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

For January 5th in my  Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting on the Word, I have chosen to read Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany by Luci Shaw. this poem makes an interesting contrast and parallel with Coleridge’s psalm-like outpouring of yesterday. Both poems are a response to the beauty of nature, and specifically to the sight of snowy mountains, and the whole play of light on snow and ice. In both poems we have a sense of glory and of the sublime rising ‘reaches of peak above peak beyond peak’.

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above was created by Linda Richardson. She Writes:

Luci Shaw takes a subtly different approach to Coleridge as she describes, ‘in a net of words’, her transcendent experience. She uses herself as a mirror to describe the effect the experience has on her. ‘I imbed it in my brain so that it will flash and flash again…an alternate reality…my open window mind is too little,…I long for each sweep….’

 In the image I made, the words open and condense in the lines, sometimes clear, sometimes hidden in the ink, indicating the fleeting glimpses we see as we hurtle along in a train. Life reflects the train journey. The Divine is always around us, sometimes clearly visible in love given and received, sometimes only glimpsed as we speed by. And often, if our focus is too close, all we see is our own reflection in the window.

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

Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany   Luci Shaw

The steel rails parallel the river as we penetrate

ranges of pleated slopes and crests—all too complicated

for capture in a net of words. In this showing, the train window

is a lens for an alternate reality—the sky lifts and the light forms

shadows of unstudied intricacy. The multiple colors of snow

in the dimpled fresh fall. Boulders like white breasts. Edges

blunted with snow. My open-window mind is too little for

this landscape. I long for each sweep of view to toss off

a sliver, imbed it in my brain so that it will flash

and flash again its unrepeatable views. Inches. Angles.

Niches. Two eagles. A black crow. Skeletal twigs’ notched

chalices for snow. Reaches of peak above peak beyond peak

Next to the track the low sun burns the silver birches into

brass candles. And always the flow of the companion river’s

cord of silk links the valleys together with the probability

of continuing revelation. I mind-freeze for the future

this day’s worth of disclosure. Through the glass

the epiphanies reel me in, absorbed, enlightened.

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The Bird in the Tree Ruth Pitter

 

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

For January 2nd in my  Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting on the Word, I have chosen to read The Bird in the Tree by Ruth Pitter. On New Year’s Eve we considered Hardy’s almost reluctant glimpse of transfiguration ‘when Frost was spectre-grey, and ‘shrunken hard and dry’, and Hardy’s heart, bleak as the world through which he moves, nevertheless hears for a moment the ‘ecstatic sound’ of his darkling thrush. And even though he wanted to end his poem with the word ‘unaware’, something of the transcended has ‘trembled through’ his poem. Today’s poem, also about hearing a bird in a tree, also addresses the question of how the transcendent might for ‘a moment of time’ ‘tremble through’ into the immanent.

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above was created by Linda Richardson and is one of my favourites from the beautiful book of responses she made to Waiting on the Word, it is so full of life, movement and energy. Linda Writes:

A few years ago I was walking up the hill behind our house. I had an extraordinary experience of feeling myself dissolve into the land around me, of being one with the trees, the insects below the earth and the sky above me. When I got home I attempted to paint the experience and reading Ruth Pitter’s poem brought it back to my mind.

Throughout this Advent, Malcolm has offered us poems that invite us to ‘see’. We believe we know what a bird is like, what a tree is like, we have heard the Christmas stories so often that we think we know them, but if we give ourselves time to ‘see’ anew, we will be able to glimpse eternity shining all around us and within us. We can find God manifest in the finite and the infinite, in time and eternity. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, ‘split the wood, and I am there. Turn over the stone and there you will find me.

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

The Bird in the Tree   Ruth Pitter

 

The tree, and its haunting bird,

Are the loves of my heart;

But where is the word, the word,

Oh where is the art,

 

To say, or even to see,

For a moment of time,

What the Tree and the Bird must be

In the true sublime?

 

They shine, listening to the soul,

And the soul replies;

But the inner love is not whole,

and the moment dies.

 

Oh give me before I die

The grace to see

With eternal, ultimate eye,

The Bird and the Tree.

 

The song in the living Green,

The Tree and the Bird –

Oh have they ever been seen,

Ever been heard?

 

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Nativity by Scott Cairns

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

We return to Scott Cairns in my series of readings of the poems in my  Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word.The poem I have chosen for December 27th, is  Nativity, a beautiful reflection on an icon of the Nativity and how it draws us in. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created by Linda Richardson. Linda writes:

As I read this poem I discerned a kind of radiance and inwardness that fascinated me. Again there are glimpses of the Divine that may be missed if we are not attentive or prayerful. We lean in and see a “tiny God.. slip briefly out of time.. miss the point or meet there”.

In the image, I created a fissure in the virgin blue, and beyond that there is a brightness that cannot be touched. It is a secret brightness, obscure and transcendent and cannot be possessed by us. All of life is potentially prayer that deepens us and makes our ‘ordinary’ time more loving and creative. But prayer is not an intellectual activity but an activity of love where we learn to be near God and learn too, never to leave the holiness of his nearness as we go about our daily duties.

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

Nativity

As you lean in, you’ll surely apprehend

the tiny God is wrapped

in something more than swaddle. The God

 

is tightly bound within

His blesséd mother’s gaze—her face declares

that she is rapt by what

 

she holds, beholds, reclines beholden to.

She cups His perfect head

and kisses Him, that even here the radiant

 

compass of affection

is announced, that even here our several

histories converge and slip,

 

just briefly, out of time. Which is much of what

an icon works as well,

and this one offers up a broad array

 

of separate narratives

whose temporal relations quite miss the point,

or meet there. Regardless,

 

one blithe shepherd offers music to the flock,

and—just behind him—there

he is again, and sore afraid, attended

 

by a trembling companion

and addressed by Gabriel. Across the ridge,

three wise men spur three horses

 

towards a star, and bowing at the icon’s

nearest edge, these same three

yet adore the seated One whose mother serves

 

as throne. Meantime, stumped,

the kindly Abba Joseph ruminates,

receiving consolation

from an attentive dog whose master may

yet prove to be a holy

messenger disguised as fool. Overhead,

 

the famous star is all

but out of sight by now; yet, even so,

it aims a single ray

 

directing our slow pilgrims to the core

where all the journeys meet,

appalling crux and hallowed cave and womb,

 

where crouched among these other

lowing cattle at their trough, our travelers

receive that creatured air, and pray.

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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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Love, Remember: A New Book

This is just an advance notice to readers of my blog,to say that I have finished work on a third poetry anthology for Canterbury Press which will be called Love Remember and will be published at the end of October. My first two Anthologies, Waiting on the Word and Word in the Wilderness, accompanied Advent, and Lent, two seasons of the liturgical year, though they are also seasons of the spirit. My new anthology is offered to accompany and express nt a season of the year, but a season of the heart. It is an anthology of poetry that takes us on a journey through bereavement, grief, lamentation, remembrance and hope. As I say in the introduction:

This book is written to give voice both to love and to lamentation, to find expression for grief without losing hope, to help us honour the dead with tears, yet still to glimpse through those tears the light of resurrection. It is written in the conviction that the grief which we so often hide in embarrassment, the tears of which some people would want to make us ashamed, are the very things that make us most truly human. Grief and lament spring from the deepest parts of our soul because, however bitter the herbs and fruits they seem to bear, their real root is Love and I believe that it is Love who made the world and made us who we are.

There are poems from the great tradition, by Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning, Tennyson, and also by contemporary poets like Luci Shaw and Carol Ann Duffy, as well as some of my own. As in my previous anthologies, each poem is followed by a brief essay which opens it out and reflects on its depths, which is something I know readers of my previous anthologies have found helpful. Here’s what I say in the introduction about how the book might be used:

This is an anthology into which one might simply dip, searching through the parts for a particular poem or finding the words that express or match a mood as it is needed. It might be used a resource to find language for oneself, for a friend, or even for a service or memorial; words that will give expression that needs to be said on that specific occasion. But it is also possible to use this book as a companion for the journey of grief itself, or as a means to accompany a friend who is making that journey. Most religions in their earlier traditions have set aside a special period somewhere between 30 and 40 days for a first intense and companioned encounter with mourning. In Judaism this was called Shiat. First the seven days of private grief, and then a further 30 accompanied lamentation. In the Catholic Church there was a tradition of 40 days of mourning, matching and balancing the 40 days of Lent. This book is also organised so that anyone who wishes can also make this journey with the poets over 40 days. For each day there will be the offered nourishment of a poem and my prose reflection on it. However you use this book I hope that it will give expression to Loving Remembrance and that you will find, as Tennyson did, that ‘it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’.

Anyway the book is now available for advance order from Amazon and from Canterbury Press, I hope some of my readers here will find it helpful.

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Coleridge: A sonnet and more

 

Coleridge's self-composed epitaph

Coleridge’s self-composed epitaph

I glanced up at the charcoal rubbing taken from Coleridge’s gravestone of his beautiful epitaph,which hangs on my study wall and realised that today, July 25th, is the anniversary of his death, no better day to give thanks for all he means to me, to pray for him as his epitaph asks, and to invoke his blessing on my own efforts to receive his insights and interpret them for a new generation.!

This year I published Mariner: A Voyage With Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Publication was timed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Coleridge’s seminal book Biographia Literaria, and also the first full collection of his poems Sybilline Leaves. My book tells Coleridge’s story through the lens of his own great poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem which was uncannily prophetic not only of Coleridge’s own life, but of our own history and culture. The book traces the vital thread of Christian thought and witness that runs through Coleridge’s life and writing and also the startling relevance of that life and writing to the challenges of the 21st century. Happily it has been well and widely reviewed and I am glad to say that there will be an American Edition in January and an English Paperback edition in February.

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved. His contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what they saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide. In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my most recent book The Singing Bowl,  published by the Canterbury Press.

As Always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or clicking the ‘play’ button.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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