Tag Archives: language

A Spell for National Poetry Day

Here is a poem called Spell, which I re-post for today’s National Poetry Day, as it celebrates the magic powers of language itself. I have written in a previous post about the ‘daily miracle’ of our language and literacy, the magical way that words can summon up images, images that bring with them whole worlds, all the hidden correspondences between Word and World, a magic witnessed by the way a word like spell means both to spell a word and to make magic, the way chant is embedded in enchantment, the way even the dry word Grammar turns out to be cognate with Glamour in its oldest magical sense. But if all language is a kind of spell, it is a Good Spell (or Gospel as we later shortened that term). For Christian Faith points to a single source, in the Word, the Logos of God, for both the mystery of language and the mystery of being. Christ is the Word within all words, the Word behind all worlds.

Certainly many Christian writers have reflected on the paralells between the Genesis narrative in which God says “Let there be..” and each thing he summons springs into being, and the way, the uttering of words, the combination and recombination of a finite set of letters, can call into being the imaginary worlds, the sub-creations, as Tolkien calls them, that God in his Love has empowered us to create. It seems that being made as ‘Makers’ (the old word for poets) is one of the ways in which we are all made in God’s image.

Of course, because we are fallen we can abuse this gift of sub-creation, we can abuse language itself, making the very medium of creation a means of destruction. I have explored that shadow side of language in my poem “What IF…” But now I want to celebrate the God-given power and mystery of language, the magic of naming, the summoning powers entrusted to us in the twenty-six letters of our alphabet., in a sonnet I have simply called “Spell”. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.

This poem is from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

Spell

Summon the summoners, the twenty-six

enchanters. Spelling silence into sound,

they bind and loose, they find and are not found.

Re-call the river-tongues from Alph to Styx,

summon the summoners, the shaping shapes

the grounds of sound, the generative gramma

signs of the Mystery, inscribed arcana

runes from the root-tree written in the deeps,

leaves from the tale-tree lifted, swift and free,

shining, re-combining in their dance

the genesis of every utterance,

pattering the pattern of the Tree.

Summon the summoners, and let them sing.

The summoners will summon Everything.

6 Comments

Filed under imagination, literature, Poems, Theology and Arts

Dante and the companioned journey: De Magistro

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence. You can read the first poem in my dante sequence (which is not in Word in the Wilderness, by clicking on this title: In Medias Res, If you would like to read through and listen to all nine poems in my Dante Sequence, which is published in the Singing Bowl, you can do so by starting HERE and then following links to subsequent posts.

Today I am posting the Fourth, De Magistro.’ This poem is set for Thursday in The Word in the wilderness and the introduction is taken from that book.

Many of us can probably point to a figure like Virgil in our lives, not only an author, but a living friend and teacher, who meets us at the right moment, sets us on a good path and guides on our journey. In this poem, I celebrate someone who did that for me, the teacher, in fact, with whom I first read Dante. My poem takes its point of departure from the moment of transition we considered in Wednesday’s end of the Inferno when the poets emerge at last from the dark and see again the sky and stars, and their preparation to begin the painful and yet joyful ascent of Mount Purgatory.

Again and again I find Dante’s poem gives me glimpses of places I have been, and places I may well yet find myself, and in doing so it gives me a map, and with the map, a way forward. When I wrote this poem I was emerging from period of depression. I was grateful to be past the worst but I realized that I had work to do, things to redeem, an ascent to make. To do so I had to call to mind all the resources available to me, and I found myself summoning the powers of the poetry I had read, the insights and example of the teachers who had guided me, and above all concentrating, as they had done, on the joyful task of teaching itself. The title of this poem, ‘De Magistro’, means ‘Of the Teacher’ and it is also the title of a little book by St Augustine, co-written as a dialogue with his beloved son Adeodatus, in which father and son explore together what it means to learn and to teach and come to the conclusion that at any moment when we suddenly ‘recognize’ a truth, and make a glad, inner assent to it, it is not the outward and visible teacher, the person in the room, who is the ultimate source of that truth and that assent, but rather an ‘inner’ teacher, deep within us, a source of light and truth to whom we have brought each proposition for confirmation, and that teacher, said Augustine is Christ, himself, the Logos, the Word in each of us, who guides us through the wilderness. At such moments of joyful recognition both teacher and pupil discern the Word in and through one another, and in and through the words they share.

Dante’s poem begins ‘in a dark wood’ in ‘midmost of the path of this life’. Sometimes words themselves can seem like a tangled wood, but a good teacher can show us the path, and guide us gradually to find the true source of all language and meaning in Christ the logos, and I have tried to evoke that experience in this poem, in the lines:

 

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path

That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.

You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

 

You showed me how my halting words might reach

To the mind’s maker, to the source of Love,

And so you taught me what it means to teach.

 

Perhaps, in the midst of this Lenten journey this is a good time to remember, give thanks and pray for those teachers, official and unofficial, through whom Christ has ‘brought us safe thus far’.

 

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

 

 

As always you can hear my poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’. I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the contemporary image that follows the poem.

4 De Magistro

I thank my God I have emerged at last,

blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars

bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

 

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours

pacing your study, chanting poetry.

The Word in you revealed His quickening powers,

 

removed the daily veil, and let me see,

as sunlight played along your book-lined walls,

that words are windows onto mystery.

 

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls

in music, from the tower of ivory,

and from the hidden heart, He calls

 

in the language of Adam, creating memory

of unfallen speech. He sets creation

free from the carapace of history.

 

His image in us is Imagination,

His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath

upon the letters of His revelation.

 

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path

that leads back to the springs of truth in speech.

You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

 

you showed me how my halting words might reach

to the mind’s Maker, to the source of Love,

and so you taught me what it means to teach.

 

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove

climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.

Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

 

as fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

photo by Oliver Neale

photo by Oliver Neale

2 Comments

Filed under literature, Poems

Before Abraham Was, I AM

The-God-who-Called-us-is-the-Great-I-AM-and-He-is-the-God-of-our-FathersI have begun a series of sermons at Girton College Chapel on the mysterious ‘I AM’ sayings in John’s gospel.  I started the series with the strange saying that perhaps provides the key to all the others, in John 8:58: ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’. Scholars agree that this is no mere confusion of tenses but rather a proclamation by  Jesus that he is indeed the great I AM, the one who disclosed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as the God of Abraham and who named himself  ‘I AM’. We know that this is how his first hearers interpreted this saying, for they heard it as blasphemous and tried to stone Jesus for having said it (John 8:59).But for those of us who accept that Jesus is the great I AM, that revelation is the very root of our faith. The first and primal reality, the foundation of the Cosmos, is ‘I AM’, not ‘it is’. The deepest reality is not a collection of meaningless objects, but a personal God who speaks in the first person and shares the gift of personhood with us. When we turn to Christ we turn towards the great I AM, the source and origin of our own little ‘I-Amness’. Turning and returning to that source is always a great refreshment. No longer do we toil to ‘make ourselves’, no longer are we anxious about who we are, we simply receive our being as what it has always been: a gift. For this reason link this saying in my mind with Jeus beautiful call ‘come unto me all ye who labour and I will give you rest’. You can hear the sermon Here. I have brought both sayings together in this sonnet which will be part of my forthcoming Parable and Paradox collection with Canterbury Press.

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

 

Before Abraham Was I AM

 

Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58

 

Oh pure I AM, the source of everything,

The wellspring of my inner consciousness,

The song within the songs I find to sing,

The bliss of being and the crown of bliss.

You iterate and indwell all the instants

Wherein I wake and wonder that I am,

As every moment of my own existence

Runs over from the fountain of your name.

 

I turn with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham,

With everyone whom you have called to be,

I turn with all the fallen race of Adam

To hear you calling, calling ‘Come to me’.

With them I come, all weary and oppressed,

And lay my labours at your feet, and rest.

 

8 Comments

Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems

Dante and the companioned journey 4: De Magistro

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

Dante with mount Purgatory in the background

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence. Yesterday I gave the third of them Vexilla Regis, today I am posting the Fourth, De Magistro.’ This poem is set for Thursday ion The Word in the wilderness and the introduction is taken from that book.

Many of us can probably point to a figure like Virgil in our lives, not only an author, but a living friend and teacher, who meets us at the right moment, sets us on a good path and guides on our journey. In this poem, I celebrate someone who did that for me, the teacher, in fact, with whom I first read Dante. My poem takes its point of departure from the moment of transition we considered in Wednesday’s end of the Inferno when the poets emerge at last from the dark and see again the sky and stars, and their preparation to begin the painful and yet joyful ascent of Mount Purgatory.

Again and again I find Dante’s poem gives me glimpses of places I have been, and places I may well yet find myself, and in doing so it gives me a map, and with the map, a way forward. When I wrote this poem I was emerging from period of depression. I was grateful to be past the worst but I realized that I had work to do, things to redeem, an ascent to make. To do so I had to call to mind all the resources available to me, and I found myself summoning the powers of the poetry I had read, the insights and example of the teachers who had guided me, and above all concentrating, as they had done, on the joyful task of teaching itself. The title of this poem, ‘De Magistro’, means ‘Of the Teacher’ and it is also the title of a little book by St Augustine, co-written as a dialogue with his beloved son Adeodatus, in which father and son explore together what it means to learn and to teach and come to the conclusion that at any moment when we suddenly ‘recognize’ a truth, and make a glad, inner assent to it, it is not the outward and visible teacher, the person in the room, who is the ultimate source of that truth and that assent, but rather an ‘inner’ teacher, deep within us, a source of light and truth to whom we have brought each proposition for confirmation, and that teacher, said Augustine is Christ, himself, the Logos, the Word in each of us, who guides us through the wilderness. At such moments of joyful recognition both teacher and pupil discern the Word in and through one another, and in and through the words they share.

Dante’s poem begins ‘in a dark wood’ in ‘midmost of the path of this life’. Sometimes words themselves can seem like a tangled wood, but a good teacher can show us the path, and guide us gradually to find the true source of all language and meaning in Christ the logos, and I have tried to evoke that experience in this poem, in the lines:

 

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path

That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.

You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

 

You showed me how my halting words might reach

To the mind’s maker, to the source of Love,

And so you taught me what it means to teach.

 

Perhaps, in the midst of this Lenten journey this is a good time to remember, give thanks and pray for those teachers, official and unofficial, through whom Christ has ‘brought us safe thus far’.

 

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

 

 

As always you can hear my poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’. I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the contemporary image that follows the poem.

4 De Magistro

I thank my God I have emerged at last,

blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars

bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

 

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours

pacing your study, chanting poetry.

The Word in you revealed His quickening powers,

 

removed the daily veil, and let me see,

as sunlight played along your book-lined walls,

that words are windows onto mystery.

 

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls

in music, from the tower of ivory,

and from the hidden heart, He calls

 

in the language of Adam, creating memory

of unfallen speech. He sets creation

free from the carapace of history.

 

His image in us is Imagination,

His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath

upon the letters of His revelation.

 

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path

that leads back to the springs of truth in speech.

You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

 

you showed me how my halting words might reach

to the mind’s Maker, to the source of Love,

and so you taught me what it means to teach.

 

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove

climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.

Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

 

as fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

photo by Oliver Neale

photo by Oliver Neale

7 Comments

Filed under literature, Poems

A Spell for World Book Day

Here is a poem called Spell, which I re-post for World Book Day, as it celebrates the magic powers of language itself. I have written in a previous post about the ‘daily miracle’ of our language and literacy, the magical way that words can summon up images, images that bring with them whole worlds, all the hidden correspondences between Word and World, a magic witnessed by the way a word like spell means both to spell a word and to make magic, the way chant is embedded in enchantment, the way even the dry word Grammar turns out to be cognate with Glamour in its oldest magical sense. But if all language is a kind of spell, it is a Good Spell (or Gospel as we later shortened that term). For Christian Faith points to a single source, in the Word, the Logos of God, for both the mystery of language and the mystery of being. Christ is the Word within all words, the Word behind all worlds.

Certainly many Christian writers have reflected on the paralells between the Genesis narrative in which God says “Let there be..” and each thing he summons springs into being, and the way, the uttering of words, the combination and recombination of a finite set of letters, can call into being the imaginary worlds, the sub-creations, as Tolkien calls them, that God in his Love has empowered us to create. It seems that being made as ‘Makers’ (the old word for poets) is one of the ways in which we are all made in God’s image.

Of course, because we are fallen we can abuse this gift of sub-creation, we can abuse language itself, making the very medium of creation a means of destruction. I have explored that shadow side of language in my poem “What IF…” But now I want to celebrate the God-given power and mystery of language, the magic of naming, the summoning powers entrusted to us in the twenty-six letters of our alphabet., in a sonnet I have simply called “Spell”. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.

This poem is from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

Spell

Summon the summoners, the twenty-six

enchanters. Spelling silence into sound,

they bind and loose, they find and are not found.

Re-call the river-tongues from Alph to Styx,

summon the summoners, the shaping shapes

the grounds of sound, the generative gramma

signs of the Mystery, inscribed arcana

runes from the root-tree written in the deeps,

leaves from the tale-tree lifted, swift and free,

shining, re-combining in their dance

the genesis of every utterance,

pattering the pattern of the Tree.

Summon the summoners, and let them sing.

The summoners will summon Everything.

2 Comments

Filed under imagination, literature, Poems, Theology and Arts

A Lament For Lost Words

words omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

words omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

I was very distressed to read that The Oxford Junior Dictionary had been ‘culling’ words concerning nature’, words like catkin, acorn, cowslip, otter meadow, in order to make room for words like broadband, chatroom, and celebrity. Reading the list of deletions in alphabetical order, as they are presented in the image above, which I first saw taken from Simon Kings wildlife page, I felt there was a poem waiting to be uttered just in the sheer listing, and lost sounds, in these lovely names, so I set them, as they were, and in their order, in this lament.

I have since discovered the source of the list in the image above in an excellent article by Robert McFarlane, who is doing so much to restore the richness and texture of our language and to celebrate our wild places.

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

To graceful names and lovely woods farewell
To acorn, adder, ash, to beech and bluebell,
Farewell old friends I name you in my sonnet
Buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet
Farewell, your fields are brick, our books are barren
No dandelion or fern, hazel or heron
We’ll go no more alone, no more together
The mountain thyme is gone and gone the heather
The clinging ivy‘s gone and soon to go
The kingfisher‘s blue bolt, the mistletoe
Nectar, newt, and otter, pasture, willow
To their last rites my muse comes footing slow
We’ll hear no more the heaven-scaling lark
We’ll all go down together in the dark.

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Filed under Current affairs, imagination, Poems

Renewing Vows for Valentine’s Day

As we approach St. Valentine’s day I thought I might re-post a sonnet on renewing Marriage vows which I wrote for my wife Maggie. It so happened that I began my ministry as a vicar in All Saints Hartford on Valentines day. I was priest in a beautiful mediaeval church where we had many weddings. Maggie and I decided that we would invite all the couples whose weddings we took there, year by year, to come back to the church each year on Valentine’s day and renew their vows with us as we renewed ours, (I’m delighted to see that my sucesor there is still keeping up the tradition!) and it was out of those yearly renewals that this poem arose. I hope it might be helpful for any couples out there who might want to renew their own vows this coming valentines day, if so please feel free to use or reprint this poem in anyway you like. The words in italics come from the Anglican Marriage service. In some ways this sonnet also continues the reflection on the gift of language and its mysterious powers, which have been the subject of my last few posts. Maggie and I will be reciting this sonnet together at her church of St. Marks in Newnham this Valentine’s day as part of their ‘St. Valentine’s Cabaret’! so wish us luck. The poem has been published in my most recent Collection The Singing Bowl which you can order in the UK through the Sarum College Bookshop or in North America from Signpost Music

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


A Renewal of Vows

So, open up the treasure-casket, love,

the treasure is still there, the hidden things

that love contains. Old words, like wedding rings,

surround their mysteries, they live and move

as breath renews them, burnished as the gold

around our fingers, glowing as we make

the vows that make us new again: I take,

protect, and comfort, cherish, have and hold.

The same old words, that cannot stay the same,

for they have grown, as we have, more than old.

They change and deepen like all things that live,

they compass more and still have more to give:

All that I have is yours, all that I am

I give again, with all I will become.

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Filed under christianity, Poems