Category Archives: poetry

5 March. Chesterton: A Second Childhood

Abel.bluebells

Today’s poem also comes from The Ballad of Saint Barbara. A Second Childhood  by GK Chesterton  urges us not to ‘grow too old to see / Unearthly daylight shine’. May we, despite our sins, grow ever new as we grow old; and may we never grow too old! And may we stop and stare, and Laudato Si!

When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.

Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are and cannot be.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.

Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.

Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me through
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.

Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed:
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And find I am not dead.

A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.

Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky:
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.

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4 March. Chesterton: The Sword of Surprise

entering woods

I found my first edition of The Ballad of St. Barbara by G.K. Chesterton the other day. A treasure that cost 50p in a charity shop. I’ve chosen a couple of poems to lead us into Lent, both looking at conscience. Before we read The Sword of Surprise we should remind ourselves of the verse that it meditates upon, Hebrews 4:12.

For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

As we have said before, an examination of conscience should encompass more than our ‘daily falls’. If we count our blessings we can put our sins into perspective, so let us pray for the grace to see also the daily wonders, and to feel life’s brave beat.

Sunder me from my bones, O sword of God,
Till they stand stark and strange as do the trees;
That I whose heart goes up with the soaring woods
May marvel as much at these.

Sunder me from my blood that in the dark
I hear that red ancestral river run,
Like branching buried floods that find the sea
But never see the sun.

Give me miraculous eyes to see my eyes,
Those rolling mirrors made alive in me,
Terrible crystals more incredible
Than all the things they see.

Sunder me from my soul, that I may see
The sins like streaming wounds, the life’s brave beat;
Till I shall save myself, as I would save
A stranger in the street.

river.monnow.

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28 February: Brownings VI: Hair 2, two sonnets by EBB. Relics XV.

 

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

 

Elizabeth did not show these poems to Robert until much later than they were written. They show how intensely she felt about the exchange of hair locks.

I find this story helps me reflect on the personal nature of Christ’s mission and the Eucharist that continues that calling today. We are called to give more than a lock of hair!

Funeral shears: Victorians sometimes preserved a deceased loved one’s hair in mourning rings, that looked rather like signet rings.

Sonnet XVIII
I never gave a lock of hair away
To a man, Dearest, except this to thee,
Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully,
I ring out to the full brown length and say
‘Take it.’ My day of youth went yesterday;
My hair no longer bounds to my foot’s glee,
Nor plant I it from rose or myrtle-tree,
As girls do, any more: it only may
Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,
Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside
Through sorrow’s trick. I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but Love is justified,—
Take it thou,—finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

Sonnet XIX

The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandise;
I barter curl for curl upon that mart,
And from my poet’s forehead to my heart
Receive this lock which outweighs argosies,—
As purply black, as erst to Pindar’s eyes
The dim purpureal tresses gloomed athwart
The nine white Muse-brows. For this counterpart, . . .
The bay-crown’s shade, Beloved, I surmise,
Still lingers on thy curl, it is so black!
Thus, with a fillet of smooth-kissing breath,
I tie the shadows safe from gliding back,
And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;
Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack
No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.

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February 25: Wonderfully unguessed at! Brownings V.

piano2 (800x600) (2)

I would hope Elizabeth Barrett’s piano was more tuneful than this Victorian specimen, on long-term loan at the Turnstone’s till its owner can give it houseroom. Elizabeth is writing to Robert of the consequences of her confinement to her room after her injury and illness. This seemed worth putting alongside Traherne’s scientific and theological reflections yesterday. And again, reflect: only this afternoon I was able to listen on the BBC to Brahms’s German Requiem; Elizabeth had not heard any vast choral work, except perhaps in a church service, despite living in London. We have much to be grateful for. And how ignorant are we?

If ever I am in the Sistine Chapel, what teaching I shall want, I who have seen so few pictures, and love them only as children do, with an unlearned love, just for the sake of the thoughts they bring. Wonderfully ignorant I am, to have had eyes and ears so long!

There is music, now, which lifts the hair on my head, I feel it so much, … yet all I know of it as art, all I have heard of the works of the masters in it, has been the mere sign and suggestion, such as the private piano may give. I never heard an oratorio, for instance, in my life—judge by that! It is a guess, I make, at all the greatness and divinity … feeling in it, though, distinctly and certainly, that a composer like Beethoven must stand above the divinest painter in soul-godhead, and nearest to the true poet, of all artists. And this I felt in my guess, long before I knew you.

But observe how, if I had died in this illness, I should have left a sealed world behind me! you, unknown too—unguessed at, you, … in many respects, wonderfully unguessed at! Lately I have learnt to despise my own instincts. And apart from those—and you, … it was right for me to be melancholy, in the consciousness of passing blindfolded under all the world-stars, and of going out into another side of the creation, with a blank for the experience of this … the last revelation, unread! How the thought of it used to depress me sometimes!

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The Great British Bird Watch 2019

sparrows.jn.2019moorhen.jan.2019woodpigeon.jan_.2019

We  had been looking forward to the Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.

The moorhen walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!

watch the dunnock

Watching the Dunnocks

There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for two of us was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They could manage the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year.

What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird flapping his wings and frightening the others away.

Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!

. . .

On my next visit, the first bird I saw was a goldfinch, too late for the survey and too late for the other observers!

Our little contribution to the national survey was science in action. There was also wonder in action: you should have heard people marvelling at the subtle plumage of the dunnocks! And such wonder is prayer in action: Laudato Si! It helps to make it explicit sometimes, as at the end of the day. And to begin with a morning offering:

Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.

                                                                          W.H. Davies.

Photos: top MMB, below Przemek Florek

 

 

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16 January 2019: ‘January’.

snowgapcropped

Sure as new snow,
below,
believe green leaves hide.

Sure as grey skies
we rise
when first they are spied.

Sharp tips awake:
hearts break –
a pain strange and wide,

as hard earth’s pierced
by fierce
green growth from inside.

As sure as ice
new life’s
leaf shoves death aside.

Sure as chill fear
God’s near:
deep down death’s defied.

SJC

‘Deep down death’s defied.’ Thank you Sister Johanna!

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

dawn

Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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4 January: God’s Grandeur

k.cdn.frog.jpg
Another light on that New Year’s resolution we proposed yesterday.
‘All is seared with trade’: Hopkins did not have to stray far from any Victorian Jesuit house to find trade and industry searing, smearing, smudging the soil. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to kindle in us a love of Creation that helps us to see what to do – and to do it – to care for all he has made. Laudato Si!
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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December 25: Psalm 94 (95) At 3.00 a.m.

Reciting the Invitatory Psalm at 3.00 a.m.

While walking downstairs,

One step at a time,

Slowly …

Oh. so slowly,

. . at three o’clock in the morning,

Come lift up your voice to the Lord!’

Mine in a whisper!

My mind saw the Baby,

Tiny,

Fragile,

Hail the God who made us,

Come before him giving thanks … . ‘

This newborn scrap of weak humanity,

. ‘A mighty God is the Lord,’

So Small!

A great King above all gods,’

So helpless!

In his hands’, …. so small!

Are the depth of the earth,

The heights of the mountains are his,

To him belongs the sea …..’

Come in!’

An invitation.

Let us bow and bend low,’

See, he stirs,

He sucks, He sleeps.

Let us kneel before the God who made us.

He is our God.’

.. how wondrous is the newborn,

Almost transparent in his fragility ….

And we the people that belong to him.’

Oh that we would listen to his voice,

His infant cry ….

Nearly down now,

One more step ….

SPB

Written when recovering from an accident.

Welcome back to Sheila Billingsley! Two more of her poems follow on 27 and 28 of this month, remembering the feasts. But ‘Oh that we would listen to his voice!’ A peaceful Christmas to you all!

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December 23: O Emmanuel Come, so that we may be saved.

dec 23 pic birds in flight

One of the delights of this time of year is to see the starlings gathering. They used to roost in the tall yews in one of the gardens I worked in, up on Barton Hill. If I wasn’t there I would often still see them as they flew over the Canterbury city centre gardens I cared for, or we might meet them as I walked the children home from school.

Thank you for this image, Sister, and for all the good things you have shared with us this week.

Dec 23 – O Emmanuel

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