Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, the glorious finale of the Easter Season. I’m posting it a day in advance, in case anyone would like to use it in a service, either on the day itself or else this Sunday.
In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours. The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.
Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.
As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.
I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:
We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .
If you are enjoying these posts, you might like, on occasion,(though not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish.
Dear Friends and Subscribers, this is to thank you for all the lovely cups of coffee, and to explain the mystery to anyone who might be wondering!
As the lockdown wears on, it has dawned on me that my days of freely travelling as an itinerant poet, speaker, and general bard-at-large may be over for the foreseeable future, perhaps for a very long time. That is a sorrow in itself, but it also has some practical consequences. About half my income is derived from gigs, readings and lectures, and that has enabled me not only to write, but also to maintain this blog and other web activities in which I could offer my work freely to all comers, something I have done for over a decade, and very much hope to keep doing. I have been keen to keep this blog not only free to everyone, but also free of advertisements and so I pay a fee to wordpress to keep these pages ad-free. I realise now that I am going to have to find ways of earning part of my keep with online lectures and readings, and I am working with various universities, and other bodies who have hired me in the past to do just that. But even though I will have to find some, and soon most of my living online, I don’t want to go down the route of ‘monetising’ my blog by selling space to advertisers, it’s just not in keeping with this site. But my friend Steve Bell, showed me this lovely little thing called ‘buy me a coffee’, which is a button I can add to a blog page that allows any of my readers, should they so wish, to click through and ‘buy’ one or more virtual cups of cofffee by way of a small donation. I added it to my last post tentatively and experimentally and have been really moved by your generous response! The set amount, which I cant seem to alter, actually comes to a coffee and a nice piece of cake, and it’s just as well for me that the virtual cake is not fattening!
So this is to say that you’ll find the little button on my posts, and, if you enjoy these posts, you might like occasionally to ‘buy me a coffee’ in earnest of the day when we can actually sit down and have a proper coffee together. So here is the button, and also, a poem I wrote about the day I warmed my hands around a good warm mug of coffee in Dublin, and set off on the adventures that made me a poet. Cheers!
Now here’s the poem! As always you can hear me read it by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title
I look up, hands around my coffee cup,
On Grafton street in Bewley’s coffee shop, Blue Mountain, Java and Colombian
The labels are a journey on their own
Then the aroma as they’re ground by hand,
Beans broken open. Out of every land,
Separate savours float across this room
Of dark mahogany, to a softer bloom
Of stained glass windows, where I sit apart
Warming my hands, and waiting on my heart
To call me to adventure. I have found my voice,
Yeats in my pocket, backpack full of Joyce ,
I’m nineteen, it is nineteen seventy-seven
And Dublin is the very gate of heaven.
Icon of Julian with her cat by Br Robert Lentz OFM
The 8th of May is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, sometimes known as Mother Julian or Lady Julian. She was an English Mystic of the late fourteenth Century, living as an anchoress in Norwich. Her life as an anchoress, finding Christ in isolation, and then finding that Christ transfigured that isolation into a communion of love, has been an inspiration for many in the current lockdown. Her ‘Shewings’, or Revelations of Divine Love, a series of mystical visions of and conversations with Jesus, remain a source of profound wisdom and a gift to the church, present and future. For a good introduction to her work I recommend Julia Bolton Holloway’s website, she is herself an anchoress in Florence, and Robert Llewlyn’s classic work ‘With Pity, not With Blame, now reprinted by the Canterbury Press.
This poem is from my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop. Please feel free to use this poem in services, and print it in service bulletins, just include a brief acknowledgement that it comes from ‘The Singing Bowl’, Canterbury Press, 2013. Thanks
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.
The 25th of April is the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, so I am posting again my sonnet on St. Mark’s Gospel, one of a set of four sonnets on each of the four evangelists. As I re-read it during this lockdown, as we too make the shift ‘from grand to intimate’, I am struck afresh by the transition in Mark from Christ’s action to his passion, from doing to suffering, from being in control to experiencing with us and for us what it is to depend, patiently, on the actions of others.
For each of these sonnets I have meditated on the traditional association of each of the evangelists with one of the ‘four living creatures’ round the throne, and how that helps us to focus on the particular gifts and emphasis of that Gospel writer. For a good account of this tradition click here. Mark is the lion. There is a power, a dynamic a swiftness of pace in Mark’s Gospel, his favourite word is ‘immediately’! and that suits the lion. His Gospel starts in the wilderness and that suits it too.
But the great paradox in Mark is that the Gospel writer who shows us Christ at his most decisive, powerful, startling and leonine is also the one who shows us how our conquering lion, our true Aslan, deliberately entered into suffering and passion, the great ‘doer’ letting things be done unto him. In this sonnet, I am especially indebted to WH Vanstone’s brilliant reading of this aspect of Mark in his wonderful book The Stature of Waiting.
For all four ‘Gospel’ sonnets I have also drawn on the visual imagery of the Lindesfarne Gospels, as in the one illustrated above.
This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.
As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.
How might the little rooms of our lockdown become the ‘mighty rooms’ of the imagination? Well, if anyone can help us with that, it’s Emily Dickinson! So I thought I’d repost this tribute to the great poet and her little room, and share again the poem I wrote about her desk.
Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table. I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.
Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)
On our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we have begun a beautiful ascent back into joy, a joy which is all the more secure and real because it has passed through and transmuted sorrow. Herbert signals this in a single line:
Softness and peace and joy and love and bliss
Today we come to the third step of this ascent which is Joy, perhaps the hardest of these gifts of prayer to convey as it is so fleeting, so beautiful, so much beyond words. Wordsworth spoke of being ‘Surprised by Joy, impatient as the wind‘, and for me too there is something in the swift and invisible wind that speaks of joy, especially the wind filling the sails of my little boat. I love sailing and it always brings me peace and joy, and I realised I had never actually written a poem about it, so when I came to write this sonnet on Joy I realised that this was the write time to enshrine my love of sailing in verse. I learnt t sail with my father who was a classicist, and when we were out sailing he loved to quote poetry, especially Homer, with his gripping accounts of the fleet that sailed ‘across the wine-dark sea’.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.
Resuming the thread of my weekly Word in the Wilderness posts, after the daily Herbert ones, Here is another week’s worth of recordings in which I read the poems I selected in my anthology for Lent The Word in the Wilderness. I hope you enjoy these recordings, just click on the title of the poem or the ‘play’ button if it appears. Once again I am grateful to Lancia Smith for providing the two lovely images to go with this week’s readings.