Category Archives: Poetry

Christian Poems XIV: Kenyon, Spires, and Donne

Sunset with road.
Sunset, toward west, but road may traveled east or west. Which way to go? Source: http://newartcolorz.com/images/2014/3/country-sunset-wallpaper-5351-5667-hd-wallpapers.jpg

Let Evening Come

by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn.  Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass.  Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sand den.
Let the wind die down.  Let the shed
go black inside.  Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come as it will, and don’t
be afraid.  God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

In The Best American Poetry 1991.  Mark Strand, editor; David Lehman, series editor (Collier Books 1991, p 119).  From Kenyon’s 1990 book of the same title (Graywolf Press 1990).

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Continue reading Christian Poems XIV: Kenyon, Spires, and Donne

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Christian Poems XIII: Keller and Eliot

Matilija Poppy (by Vicki Priest)
Matilija Poppy (by Vicki Priest)

In the Garden of the Lord

by Helen Keller

The word of God came unto me,
Sitting alone among the multitudes;
And my blind eyes were touched with light.
And there was laid upon my lips a flame of fire.

I laugh and shout for life is good,
Though my feet are set in silent ways.
In merry mood I leave the crowd
To walk in my garden. Ever as I walk
I gather fruits and flowers in my hands.
And with joyful heart I bless the sun
That kindles all the place with radiant life.
I run with playful winds that blow the scent
Of rose and jasmine in eddying whirls.

At last I come where tall lilies grow,
Lifting their faces like white saints to God.
While the lilies pray, I kneel upon the ground;
I have strayed into the holy temple of the Lord.

In A Sacrifice of Praise, James H. Trott, editor (Cumberland House 2006; stanzas slightly modified)

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The Rock (excerpt from Section X of Choruses)

by TS Eliot

О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;

The eastern light our spires touch at morning,

The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.

The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,

Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,

Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.

О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!

 

We thank Thee for the lights that we have kindled,

The light of altar and of sanctuary;

Small lights of those who meditate at midnight

And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows

And light reflected from the polished stone,

The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.

Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward

And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.

We see the light but see not whence it comes.

О Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!

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In T.S Eliot: Collected Poems 1909-1962 (HBJ 1963)

Christian Poems XI: Eliot, and a prayer from Kierkegaard

ASH WEDNESDAY (FROM CANTO I)

By T.S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive toward such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

In A Sacrifice of Praise (2nd ed), James H. Trott, editor (Cumberland House 2006), 714-715.

heart2-1

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AT THE LORD’S TABLE

(One of seven entries in the source cited)

By Soren Kierkegaard

O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst first love us, who until the end didst love them whom Thou didst love from the beginning, who unto the end of days dost continue to love him who would belong to Thee; Thy faithfulness cannot deny itself–oh, only when a man denies Thee can he compel Thee as it were to deny him also, Thou loving One.  So be this our comfort when we must accuse ourselves of the offences we have committed and of the things we have left undone, of our weakness in temptation, unfaithfulness to Thee, to whom once in early youth and ofttimes again we promised faithfulness–this be our comfort, that even if we are unfaithful, Thou dost remain faithful, Thou canst not deny Thyself.

In The Prayers of Kierkegaard, P.D. LeFevre, editor and author (Univ of Chicago Press 1956), 120.

Christian (Christmas) Poems X: Shaw, Auden, Eliot

657685 sotck.xchng juliafMARY’S SONG

By LUCI SHAW

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms.  (Rest . . .
you who have had so far
to come.)  Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly.  Quiet he lies
whose vigour hurled
a universe.  He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new.  Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez ed. (Hendrickson Pub.s 2001), 113.

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AT THE MANGER MARY SINGS

By W.H. AUDEN

O shut your bright eyes that mine must endanger
With their watchfulness; protected by its shade
Escape from my care: what can you discover
From my tender look but how to be afraid?
Love can but confirm the more it would deny.
Close your bright eye.

Sleep. What have you learned from the womb that bore you
But an anxiety your Father cannot feel?
Sleep. What will the flesh that I gave do for you,
Or my mother love, but tempt you from his will?
Why was I chosen to teach his Son to weep?
Little One, sleep.

Dream. In human dreams earth ascends to Heaven
Where no one need pray nor ever feel alone.
In your first few hours of life here, O have you
Chosen already what death must be your own?
How soon will you start on the Sorrowful Way?
Dream while you may.

In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez ed. (Hendrickson Pub.s 2001), 112.

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JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

By T.S. ELIOT

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

In The One Year Book of Poetry, P Comfort and D Partner, compilers (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), December 28 & 29.

Christian Poems IX: Hopkins, Herbert, Milton

Dry roots (photo by costi, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/957763).

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavor end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me?  Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare house more thrive than I that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause.  See, banks and brakes
Now, leaved how thick! laced they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes

Them; birds build–but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, sen my roots rain.

In The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, WH Gardner and NH MacKenzie, ed.s (Oxford Univ Press 1967), 106-107.

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Denial

By George Herbert

[Note:  The original poem has various justifications that could not be reproduced here, which does take away from the poem a bit, in my view, so the reader may want to find a printed version of this.]

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears,
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasure go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go anywhere, they say
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung;
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung
Discontented.

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favours granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

In A Book of Religious Verse, H Gardner, ed. (Oxford Univ Press 1972), 124-125.

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When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

By John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith My Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I [foolishly] ask; but Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  His state

Is kingly.  Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

In The One Year Book of Poetry, P Comfort and D Partner, ed.s (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), May 16 page.

Christian Poems VIII: Nicholson, Aquinas, Priest

Graveyard crosses (by saavem, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1397939).

The Burning Bush

by Norman Nicholson

When Moses, musing in the desert, found
The thorn bush spiking up from the hot ground,
And saw the branches on a sudden bear
The crackling yellow barberries of fire,

He searched his learning and imagination
For any logical, neat explanation,
And turned to go, but turned again and stayed
And faced the fire and knew it for his God.

I too have seen the briar alight like coal,
The love that burns, the flesh that’s ever whole,
And many times have turned and left it there,
Saying:  “It’s prophecy–but metaphor.”

But stinging tongues like John the Baptist shout:
“That this is metaphor is no way out.
It’s dogma too, or you make God a liar;
The bush is still a bush, and fire is a fire.”

In The Earth is the Lord’s: Poems of the Spirit, H. PLotz, ed. (Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1965), 57.

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“Adoro te supplex, lateens deitas”
(beginning stanzas)

by Thomas Aquinas

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for true I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men;
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

In The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.H. Gardner and N.H. MacKenzie, ed.s (Oxford Univ. Press 1967); Hopkins had translated this Aquinas poem.

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You Wait

by Victoria Priest

God abounds, is all around;
      His love for me endures.
But I, up in the air then on the ground;
      Smitten now, but later all demurs;
      Oh love!  How foul am I!
Your love abounds, is all around;
      You yet wait for my return.

Christian Poems VII: Donne, Herbert

Heart aflame (Vicki Priest).

HOLY SONNETS (vi)

By John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy to me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am beroth’d unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

In The Oxford Book of Christian Verse.  D. Cecil, ed. (Clarendon Press 1940), p 87.

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LOVE II

By George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

Immortal Heat, O let they greater flame
Attract the lesser to it:  Let those fires,
Which shall consume the world, first make it tame,
And kindle in our hearts such true desires,

As may consume our lusts, and make thee way.
Then shall our hearts pant [for] thee; then shall our brain
All her inventions on thine Altar lay,
And there in hymns send back thy fire again.

Our eyes shall see thee, which before saw dust;
Dust blown by wit, till that they both were blind:
Thou shalt recover all they goods in kind,
Who wert disseized by usurping lust:

All knees shall bow to thee, all wits shall rise,
And praise him who did make and mend our eyes.

In The One Year Book of Poetry.  P. Comfort and D Partner, ed.s (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), Feb. 14.

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“BUT ART THOU COME, DEAR SAVIOR?”

By Anonymous

But art Thou come, dear Saviour? hath Thy love
Thus made Thee stoop, and leave Thy throne above

Thy lofty heavens, and thus Thyself to dress
In dust to visit mortals?  Could no less

A condescension serve? and after all
The mean reception of a cratch and stall?

Dear Lord, I’ll fetch Thee thence!  I have a room
(‘Tis poor, but ’tis my best) if Thou wilt come

Within so small a cell, where I would fain
Mine and the world’s Redeemer entertain,

I mean, my heart:  ’tis sluttish, I confess,
And will not mend Thy lodging, Lord, unless

Thou send before Thy harbinger, I mean
Thy pure and purging Grace, to make it clean

And sweep its nasty corners; then I’ll try
to wash it also with a weeping eye.

And when ’tis swept and wash’d, I then will go
And, with Thy leave, I’ll fetch some flowers that grow

In Thine own garden, Faith and Love, to Thee;
With these I’ll dress it up, and these shall be

My rosemary and bays.  Yet when my best
Is done, the room’s not fit for such a guest.

But here’s the cure; Thy presence, Lord, alone
Will make a stall a court, a cratch a throne.

In The Oxford Book of Christian Verse.  D. Cecil, ed. (Clarendon Press 1940), pp 260-261.

“The Way My Ideas Think Me:” An Explanation

The Way My Ideas Think Me (Jose Garcia Villa) is a playful and familiar (as opposed to formal in a religious sense) poem that may mask the seriousness of the subject matter.  The first stanza presents a difficulty, a problem, the tension.  The second stanza is fun, as if the author is in a playland; the third stanza flows from it – though something is getting serious enough for the author to become angry.  The fourth stanza presents action to relieve the earlier presented—and the building—tension.   Some specifics are below each stanza (these are my current and concise thoughts on the poem, without influence from other literary critics).

The way my ideas think me

Is the way I unthink God.

As in the name of heaven I make hell

That is the way the Lord says me.

This stanza, and poem, would be easier if the author seemed to be saying that he makes his own life hell, but he says he makes hell “in the name of heaven.”  How would you be making your own life hell “in the name of heaven”?  When we do something in someone else’s name, it’s outward – in witness, in action with someone or something else.  The author, then, seems to be saying that his ideas are contrary to God – he “unthinks” God with his incorrect notions of God and His will – and he witnesses or puts into action those incorrect notions.  These actions can push people toward hell more than toward God; they can make life worse for everyone involved instead of better.  The author hears from God, however, letting him know of his false and detrimental ways.

And all is adventure and danger

And I roll Him off cliffs and mountains

But fast as I am to push Him off

Fast am I to reach Him below.

But now we have this fun stuff.  Well, is making hell in the name of heaven serious, or not?  The life of the Christian can certainly seem like a dangerous adventure, and I think the author is simply stating this in attractive terms so that we’ll pay attention.  He isn’t talking missions trips, however.  Maybe the author thinks it’s challenging and maybe a bit fun to see how far he can go with God – how much “on the edge” activities he can do (sinning or border-line behavior)—without losing Him.  After all, he pushes God away.  The author is “on top” or up high, and he pushes God down.  However, he doesn’t actually want to get rid of God, but quickly reaches back to Him.

And it may be then His turn to push me off,

I wait breathless for that terrible second:

And if He push me not, I turn around in anger:

“O art thou the God I would have!”

The author recognizes his behavior and wants acknowledgment from God – that He’s around and that He’s going to give guidance – also that He has the righteous authority to do so.  If He isn’t such a God, what’s the point?  What is the point of life without a God who is good, moral, has authority in these matters, and has the ultimate capacity to teach, guide and judge?  If you keep on going down the wrong road, would you rather God left you alone, or that He intervened – as a loving parent would?  The author recognizes that there should be consequences to our actions – he waits for God to push him off the mountain.

Then he pushes me and I plunge down, down!

And when He comes to help me up

I put my arms around Him, saying, “Brother,

Brother.” . . . This is the way we are.

God is there for the author–he’s not alone.  God pushes him off the high place (perhaps that he made for himself), but afterwards God also extends His hand and gets the author back up on his feet.  He is so glad to have such a friend, such a God.  With all his foibles and human delusions (like thinking we can do stuff on our own and be our own king of the mountain) he can still depend on his Lord, and even delight in him as “brother.”  And who is our “brother” but the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us to be adopted into God’s family?  We can sin and make mistakes, but Jesus will never leave us if we continue to seek Him.

Christian Poems VI: Carson, Schnackenberg

Jupiter image (jelega at stock.xchng, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1155282)

[I WONDER]

By D.A. Carson

I understand that matter can be changed
To energy; that maths can integrate
The complex quantum jumps that must relate
The fusion of the stars to history’s page.
I understand that God in every age
Is Lord of all; that matter can’t dictate;
That stars and quarks and all things intricate
Perform his word—including fool and sage.

But knowing God is not to know like God;
And science is a quest in infancy.
Still more:  transcendence took on flesh and blood—
I do not understand how this can be.

The more my mind assesses what it can,
The more it learns the finitude of man.

In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez, ed. (Scribner Poetry 1997), 180.

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SUPERNATURAL LOVE

By Gjertrud Schnackenberg

My father at the dictionary-stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word “Carnation.”  Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
“The obligation due to every thing
That’s smaller than the universe.”  I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle’s eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study’s gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb

To read what’s buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom.  I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch “Beloved” X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle’s point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read.  My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as “Christ’s flowers,” knowing I

Can give no explanation but “Because.”
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, “A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh.”
As if the bud’s essential oils brush
Christ’s fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it’s me,

He turns the page to “Clove” and reads aloud:
“The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud.”
Then twice, as if he hasn’t understood,

He reads, “From French, for clou, meaning a nail.”
He gazes, motionless.  “Meaning a nail.”
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,

I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth “Beloved,” but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I’ve sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,

I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, “Daddy daddy”—
My father’s hand touches the injury

As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ’s when I was four.

In The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, JD McClatchy ed. (Vintage Books 1990), 535-537.