King David is the archetypal sacred singer, the psalmist in whom and through whom every passion can be lifted into poetry, and lifted through that poetry to God. His psalms sound Praise and Lament together, the wounds and glories of Eros and the wounds and glories of Agape. It has often seemed to me that Leonard Cohen was a latter day David, as he too addressed the Lord and said
‘From this broken hill,
all your praises they shall ring
if it be your will
to let me sing.
Today I composed this poem about his passing in the mediaeval Rondeau form. The Rondeau is also the form used in the poem In Flanders Field and it seems a fitting form for this occasion. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button
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 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
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,
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;
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,
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;
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;
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;
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:
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,
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
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
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,
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
For the Mouse is a creature of great personal valour.
For the Mouse is of an hospitable disposition.
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.
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.
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.