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Maundy Thursday and The April Fool

This year Maundy Thursday falls on April Fool’s Day, a coincidence that seems strangely resonant.

‘What Folly!’, Judas must have thought, as he watched the events of Holy Week unfold; it was foolish enough to have wasted the money wrapped up in that alabaster Jar that Mary broke, folly for Jesus to have provoked a scene at the temple and then withdrawn, failing to follow it through with a proper,  thoroughly planned rebellion, and now on this Thursday, the greatest folly of  all, to waste the chance of bloody insurrection with all this defeatist talk of his own body being broken, his own blood shed. Judas could see that this little movement he had joined with such hope was going nowhere. Its numbers already dwindling and its strangely passive leader was clearly headed for the gallows. What to do? What would be the wise course of action? Best to jump ship first before they all went down, best indeed to put some clear blue waters between himself and this crowd lest he be dragged down with them, best indeed to bring the whole foolish charade to an end as soon as possible. The authorities were bound to pick up this great fool anyway, bound to have informers, ‘If I don’t do it somebody else will”, thought Judas, and slipped out into the night.

So on that Maundy Thursday Judas left the April Fool to his folly, and seemed wise enough looking on from the distance on Friday, but hidden in the folly of the cross was a wisdom Judas had never guessed. ‘unless a greain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it bears no fruit, but if it dies it bears a rich harvest’ Jesus had said, and in utter trust He had made himself the seed of all humanity and cast himself and all of us once and for all into the rich ground of God’s eternal love.

Looking past Good Friday to that first Easter another wise thinker, anotherone who might have been a Judas but became instead a new creation, suddenly saw it all, and said to himself and to us:

“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die”. He suddenly saw that what was sown in corruption is raised in glory, what was sown in weakness was raised in power. And so he wrote the words that should be read on this and every April feast of fools: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

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los tres amigos; a tale of three villanelles

Los Tres Amigos, or A Tale of Three Villanelles

I was recently asked by two friends to judge a friendly villanelle competition.

Davey Talbot (yes, he of http://www.PoemaDay.org) had written a splendid meditative piece touching on Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It, whilst Michael Ward (yes, he of http://www.planetnarnia.com/) had put together a wonderfully ebullient series of scriptural allusions (somewhat in the manner of Herbert’s ‘Paradise’) and puns on fish!

The poems were written as an ordination gift to their mutual friend, Andrew Cuneo, who has just become a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I received and admired them both, but what was I to do? The river poem and the fish poem succeeded in such different ways I hardly had common criteria for comparison.

Here are their poems and my response. Perhaps our readers can make their own judgment, or better still make their own poetic response:

I Fish The Big River
after Norman Maclean

by Davey Talbot

I fish this big river,
Always flowing westward.
More men will come after.

I’ve walked every acre,
Memorized its nature.
I fish this big river.

It’s bluest come winter
After it has rested.
More men will come after.

Its life is in color.
The brown trout run is good.
I fish the big river.

Beer waits in the water
At a shallow bank-head.
More men will come after.

Its current is grammar;
Under the rocks are words.
I fish the big river.
More men will come after.

Ichthus

or

Whale Catch Sole Catch Pike Catch Plaice

by Michael Ward

‘There’s a catch? To convince you that I am divine
I must prove it?’ He said, {Matt 12:39
‘Except for a wail I will give you no sign.’

We are dab-hands at fishing: why should we incline
To net people instead? {Matt 4:18ff
‘There’s a catch to convince you that I am divine.’

We’re five thousand famished; you tell us to dine
On two herrings? They’re red! {Mark 6:30ff
‘Except for a soul I will give you no sign.’

How long must we flounder around in the brine
If you know where to head? {John 21:1ff
‘There’s a catch to convince you that I am divine.’

You eat broiled fish? This is way out of line:
On a pikestaff you bled! {Luke 24:42
‘Except for a pike I will give you no sign.’

You’re pulling me right off this nice perch of mine:
Cut the twitch on your thread!
‘You carp and have scales on your eyes, I divine. {Acts 9:18
‘Except for a place I will give you no sign.’ {John 14:3

Well, Gentlemen, I have thought long and hard. These are two very fine poems, very different and yet in many ways complementary.

The current of Davey’s poem carries his vivid images which are left haiku-like to do their own work and grow to symbols in the reader’s mind, and I especially like the clarity and simplicity of its movement between colours, between blue and brown; it goes and flows as it should, like the river.

Michael’s poem by contrast is the fish; lithe, compact, muscular, – constantly flashing and jumping in the play between its own possibilities, a net of Herbertian wit that brings in a fine catch of whale, dab, herring, sole, flounder, pike, perch, carp, and plaice. (Pike was a nice glance at Herbert’s cask “which on the cross a pike did set again abroach”.) Anyone who loves the Logos – two natured, one personned, – will love the pun, the power of words to be two at once.

This two-at-oneness brings me to the nub. How am I to choose? Each of these poems is successful but in completely different ways. Davey’s is organic, flowing from within; Michael’s is fine wit struck from without. Davey’s is the river and Michael’s the fish. Can we have one without the other?

Unable in my own powers to choose, I decided to consult my Muse. Having invoked Her, I put to Her this formal question: “Which should come first, the fish or the river?”

Gentleman, here is her reply, and I hope you will both be pleased with it:

Which Comes First, the Fish or the River?

by Malcolm Guite

Since every gift comes down from the All-Giver,
How can I choose between the Giver’s gifts
Or say which should come first, the fish or river?

He scatters first, and then calls us to gather,
To lavish on his work our smaller crafts
And sail our praise upstream, back to the Giver.

He gives His gifts when we are met together,
Not in our splits, our schisms, and our rifts:
We cannot prize the Fish and not the River,

Divide the two and say ‘which would you rather?’
We float through time on fragile little rafts,
But time and life alike flow from the Giver.

Away upstream, it all flows from the Father:
The stream is His own Spirit, giving gifts;
His Son, our brother, joins us in the River.

He is our ‘both-and’ God, not ‘or’, or ‘either’;
He gives full measure: steady, heady draughts!
The Giver must come first, always the Giver,
We prize alike His gifts: both Fish and River.

So, as I interpret Her gnomic utterance, I think that’s first prize to the Maker, who gave each of you such conspicuous poetic talent, and a joint second prize, to each of you, sub-creators, through whom the logos-fish and spirit-river are at work in complementary ways.

Malcolm

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