Tag Archives: Poetry

Two New Poems In My Corona On The Psalms: ‘The Fool’ and ‘The Holy Hill’

In my new sequence of poems written in response to The Psalms we have come to psalm 14, with its portrait of human folly and insolence and it famous opening line: THE fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. We can certainly recognise the characteristics of those who, whatever religiosity they profess with their mouths, have nothing of God on their hearts, and the psalmist’s portrait has been as telling in every previous generation as it is in ours:

Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived: the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known ; there is no fear of God before their eyes.

The danger however, with psalms like this is that we use them to point the finger at others rather than to hold up as a mirror to ourselves. Sometimes it’s the contrasts in the sequencing of the psalms that brings us up short. Psalm 15 provides a contrasting portrait to the fool of psalm 14. It starts with the searching question: LORD, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle: or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? and then goes on to paint the portait of a righteous man, which is in direct, almost point by point contrast with the portrait of the fool:

He that leadeth an uncorrupt life: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. He that hath used no deceit in his tongue, nor done evil to his neighbour: and hath not slandered his neighbour. He that setteth not by himself, but is lowly in his own eyes: and maketh much of them that fear the Lord.

Of course if I try to hold this psalm up as a mirror, I see not my own face, but the face of my saviour. Only he can ascend that ‘holy hill’ and I will have to ascend with him or not at all. But, thanks be to God, he has come to have mercy on the fool as well as the wise man.

Because of all the ways these two psalms are contrasted and linked I am posting my two poems in response together so that they can be read in sequence. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poems.

XIV Dixit insipiens

When heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart

And our captivity is ended, we’ll rejoice,

But now the fool’s in charge, and in his heart

 

He only echoes his own emptiness:

No god, no vestiges of reverence

Disturb his vanity. Just weariness

 

And mockery, just cruel insolence,

And greed that still consumes the poor like bread,

These only seem to move him. Violence

 

Is like a drug to him. He cocks his head

And speaks his poison words with hissing tongue

And yet we still believe him.  Let him dread

 

The day that’s coming, it will not be long.

The poor have cried, and now they have been heard

The fool will fall before their joyful song.

 

XV Domine, quis habitabit?

The fool will fall before their joyful song

But maybe I will fall with him as well.

You know me Lord, you know how much I long

 

To rise with you, how much I long to dwell

Within your tabernacle, to ascend

The path that glimmers on your holy hill,

 

But you know too how much I just pretend

To virtues not my own, I am not fit

For that ascent. I fail unless you lend

 

Your strength and take my life and make of it

A new life altogether. Oh descend

Into my darkness, lift me from the pit

 

And set me on the way that you intend

How ever slow and spiralling the path

Then help me, step by step, my guide and friend.

 

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Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation

The feast of the Visitation usually falls on the 31st of May, but this year it was displaced from that date by the great feast of Pentecost, and so we keep it on the 1st of June instead. It is in fact very fitting to remember the visitation on the day after Pentecost, for it is a perfect example of the vivifying and prophetic work of God the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and I have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

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 . It is now also out on Kindle. 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..

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

 

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Our Mother-tongue Is Love; A Sonnet for Pentecost

A Pentecost Banner at St. Michael ‘s Bartley Green

Here, once more is my sonnet for Pentecost.

Drawn from ‘Sounding the Seasons’, my cycle of sonnets for the Church Year, this is a sonnet reflecting on and celebrating the themes and readings of Pentecost. Throughout the cycle, and more widely, I have been reflecting on the traditional ‘four elements’ of earth, air, water and fire. I have been considering how each of them expresses and embodies different aspects of the Gospel and of God’s goodness, as though the four elements were, in their own way, another four evangelists. In that context I was very struck by the way Scripture expresses the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three most dynamic of the four elements, the air, ( a mighty rushing wind, but also the breath of the spirit) water, (the waters of baptism, the river of life, the fountain springing up to eternal life promised by Jesus) and of course fire, the tongues of flame at Pentecost. Three out of four ain’t bad, but I was wondering, where is the fourth? Where is earth? And then I realised that we ourselves are earth, the ‘Adam’ made of the red clay, and we become living beings, fully alive, when the Holy Spirit, clothed in the three other elements comes upon us and becomes a part of who we are. So something of that reflection is embodied in the sonnet.

 

As usual you can hear me reading the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem itself. Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image which follows the poem.

Sounding the Seasons, is published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . It is now also out on Kindle. 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..


Pentecost

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

Whose Mother-tongue is Love in every nation

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The 13th poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Song of Sudden Hope

who drank the bitter cup and in so doing made it flow with wine

Psalm 13 is one of the shortest in the whole psalter, and although it starts in distress there is a sudden welling of hope and renewal in the last two verses, as grief turns to grace and the heart is once more joyful, a pattern I have reflected in my poem. As with the other poems in this Corona sequence, I seek once more to draw out how the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is hidden in the pattern of the psalms.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.

XIII Usque quo, Domine?

Come down to free us, come as our true friend,

How long, how long? Oh do not hide your face

Or let me sleep in death, but light my end,

 

Till it becomes a bright beginning. Place

Your wounded hands in mine and raise me up

That even grief itself may turn to grace.

 

Then I will sing a song of sudden hope,

Then I will praise my saviour, the divine

Companion who drank the bitter cup

 

And in so doing made it flow with wine,

That his strong love might overrun my heart

And all his joy in heaven might be mine.

 

Then I will sing his song, and take my part

In Love’s true music, as his kingdom comes

And heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart.

 

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The 12th Poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Plea for Liberation

whose icons all prove idols in the end

We come now to the 12th poem in my interwoven series of responses the the Book of Psalms. We have been praying these ancient texts together as a church for two thousand years, but each generation in their turn must make these prayers their own and bring them to bear on the way we live now, and this is what I am seeking to do in these poems. When I came to read the opening verses of this psalm:

  1. HELP me, Lord, for there is not one godly man left: for the faithful are minished from among the children of men,
  2. They talk of vanity every one with his neighbour: they do but flatter with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.

And also the 4th verse in which the oppressors say: ‘with our tongue we will prevail’, I began to think about all the technology of communication, and the lives we live online. Like many people I have been alarmed not only by the anger and absence of charity in so much internet discourse but also about the insidious ways in which some social media platforms have turned their users into saleable ‘product’, harvesting and marketing our personal data. Now we have brought this on ourselves and I am very conscious of the irony of even discussing it on the very media I am criticising, though I have to say the appearance of my poetry on social media is only a stopgap, its true habitat os the good old fashioned book, or the in-person recitation, and of course I hope the readers of this page will eventually prefer to have a real book in their hands when these poems are eventually published.

Happily Psalm 12 doesn’t leave us in despair about the human abuse and cheapening of language, but brings us back to the redemptive words of God himself:

The words of the Lord are pure words: even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire.

And so in the end my poem too returns us to hope in the words of Christ himself. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.

XII Salvum me fac

To topple tyrants and exalt the low,

Up lord and help us! Hear our hapless sighs,

We have been cowed by ‘people in the know’,

 

The worldly wind us in a web of lies,

We have been flattered into servitude,

Snared with devices that the rich devise.

 

They purchase us with their fake plenitude,

They keep us clicking on false images.

The one percent control the multitude

 

With virtual distractions, online purchases,

Whose icons all prove idols in the end.

They market us as passive packages.

 

Send us instead your pure words, Jesus, send

Us hope, still silver-bright, tried in the fire,

Come down to free us, come as our true friend.

 

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Behind Each Number, One Belovèd Face

I am thinking of my American friends today as the tragic death-toll from the virus there passes 100,000. These are mind numbing numbers and only the exercise of compassionate imagination can give us even a glimpse of the harrowing personal stories behind each one. When I began to hear our statistics mount on our own evening radio news, I found myself again and again in prayer, knowing that even though I only heard the numbers, God knew and loved and died for the people behind those numbers.

All this found its way into the concluding section of my Quarantine Quatrains which I am posting here as a poem on its own

VII

35

At close of day I hear the gentle rain

Whilst experts on the radio explain

Mind-numbing numbers, rising by the day,

Cyphers of unimaginable pain

36

Each evening they announce the deadly toll

And patient voices calmly call the roll

I hear the numbers, cannot know the names

Behind each number, mind and heart and soul

37

Behind each number one belovèd face

A light in life whom no-one can replace,

Leaves on this world a signature, a trace,

A gleaning and a memory of grace

38

All loved and loving, carried to the grave

The ones whom every effort could not save

Amongst them all those carers whose strong love

Bought life for others with the lives they gave.

39

The sun sets and I find myself in prayer

Lifting aloft the sorrow that we share

Feeling for words of hope amidst despair

I voice my vespers through the quiet air:

40

O Christ who suffers with us, hold us close,

Deep in the secret garden of the rose,

Raise over us the banner of your love

And raise us up beyond our last repose.

 

 

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The 11th Poem In My Corona On The Psalms: In Domino Confido

‘I envy birds their wings’ image by Peter Swain

Continuing my series of poems in response to The Psalms we come to Psalm 11 I mentioned in my last post that this is part of a  sequence of four psalms from 9 through to 12, which strongly emphasise God’s promise to defend the poor and needy. Psalm 11 highlights our sense of unfairness when some of the best people, ‘the true of heart’ are specifically targeted by the worst people, and how even if we had wings to fly, someone would want to shoot us down

IN THE Lord put I my trust: how say ye then to my soul, that she should flee as a bird unto the hill? For lo, the ungodly bend their bow, and make ready their arrows within the quiver: that they may privily shoot at them which are true of heart.

But the Psalmist opens and closes the psalm with confidence in God and the final establishment of his justice. It is both challenging and comforting for us to read this: challenging because we may be complicit in the oppression f the poor it describes, but comforting because in trusting God alone we may be liberated to change the way we live. In my poem I confess the constraint and complicity but also try to deepen the trust and the comfort. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button. If you put the word ‘psalms’ in the search bar you will find the other poems in this series.

XI In Domino confido

 

Arise my God, and give the poor their day!

For now I see the powers taking aim

And targeting the weakest. See, they slay

 

The true of heart and still they claim

To be our shepherds!  Where then can I fly?

I envy birds their wings, but sorrows maim,

 

And my complicities constrain me. I

Long with all my soul to seek the hill

Where God has set his citadel on high,

 

Yet through these sad constraints I trust him stlll,

I know that he can see the way things go

I know that these dark ways are not his will

 

For he loves justice, and the poor will know

That he is their defender when he comes

To topple tyrants and exalt the low.

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