Category Archives: poetry

28 June: The last night that she lived

Tomorrow we remember Saints Peter and Paul, apostles. Peter famously tried to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and his cruel death; he eventually followed Jesus to his own violent death in Rome. Here Emily Dickinson remembers a natural death which yet ‘made nature different.’

May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.

The last night that she lived,
It was a common night,
Except the dying; this to us
Made nature different.

We noticed smallest things, —
Things overlooked before,
By this great light upon our minds
Italicized, as 't were.

That others could exist
While she must finish quite,
A jealousy for her arose
So nearly infinite.

We waited while she passed;
It was a narrow time,
Too jostled were our souls to speak,
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot;
Then lightly as a reed
Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
Consented, and was dead.

And we, we placed the hair,
And drew the head erect;
And then an awful leisure was,
Our faith to regulate.

from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete.

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26 June: Today this is my vocation, XI: the Lord’s Prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Audemus dicerePater Noster.”*—canon of the mass.

      There is a bolder way,
There is a wilder enterprise than this
All-human iteration day by day.
Courage, mankind!  Restore Him what is His.

      Out of His mouth were given
These phrases.  O replace them whence they came.
He, only, knows our inconceivable “Heaven,”
Our hidden “Father,” and the unspoken “Name”;

      Our “trespasses,” our “bread,”
The “will” inexorable yet implored;
The miracle-words that are and are not said,
Charged with the unknown purpose of their Lord.

      “Forgive,” “give,” “lead us not”—
Speak them by Him, O man the unaware,
Speak by that dear tongue, though thou know not what,
Shuddering through the paradox of prayer.


Alice Meynell, from A Father of Women and other poems, Burns & Oates, London, 1917

* We dare to say ‘Our Father’. The words would have been recited in Latin in 1917.

A warning against taking ourselves and our assumed virtues without a good pinch of salt. We only begin to see what the Lord’s Prayer means when we put the words back onto his tongue, avoiding our short-sighted, self-serving distortions.

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1 June: an unfortunate shell.

Poppy Bridge, Didsbury, Manchester

John McCrae was a Canadian military doctor during the Great War. He is best known for his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. This post describes an incident he witnessed 105 years ago, on 1 June. It is from the introductory material selected by his editor.

“Tuesday, June 1st, 1915.

1-1/2 miles northeast of Festubert, near La Bassee. Last night a 15 pr. and a 4-inch howitzer fired at intervals of five minutes from 8 till 4; most of them within 500 or 600 yards—a very tiresome procedure; much of it is on registered roads.

In the morning I walked out to Le Touret to the wagon lines, got Bonfire, and rode to the headquarters at Vendin-lez-Bethune, a little village a mile past Bethune. Left the horse at the lines and walked back again. An unfortunate shell in the 1st killed a sergeant and wounded two men; thanks to the strong emplacements the rest of the crew escaped.

In the evening went around the batteries and said good-bye. We stood by while they laid away the sergeant who was killed. Kind hands have made two pathetic little wreaths of roses; the grave under an apple-tree, and the moon rising over the horizon; a siege-lamp held for the book. Of the last 41 days the guns have been in action 33.

Captain Lockhart, late with Fort Garry Horse, arrived to relieve me. I handed over, came up to the horse lines, and slept in a covered wagon in a courtyard. We were all sorry to part—the four of us have been very intimate and had agreed perfectly—and friendships under these circumstances are apt to be the real thing.

From “In Flanders Fields and Other Poems” by John McCrae.

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29 May: A May morning

Red Sussex Cow
 
The sky is clear,
  The sun is bright;
The cows are red,
  The sheep are white;
Trees in the meadows
Make happy shadows.

 Birds in the hedge
  Are perched and sing;
Swallows and larks
  Are on the wing:
Two merry cuckoos
Are making echoes.

 Bird and the beast
  Have the dew yet;
My road shines dry,
  Theirs bright and wet:
Death gives no warning,
On this May morning.

 I see no Christ
  Nailed on a tree,
Dying for sin;
  No sin I see:
No thoughts for sadness,
All thoughts for gladness. 

(from Foliage: Various Poems by W. H. Davies.

Sometimes Davies says it all in sheer simplicity: Christ is risen, No sin I see!

Image by Charles Drake Public domain

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3 May: 500 Miles – in Hope! (Going Viral LXXVII)

Time to catch up with Eddie Gilmore and the Irish Chaplaincy team who have been walking around London in Hope.

After a year in which I’d gone to London just three times I had the prospect of four trips in one week, thanks to our Walk with Hope event.

The event was due to launch on the Monday with a shortish walk from the Irish Centre in Camden, where we have our offices, to St Bride’s church on Fleet Street, named after our patron saint at the Chaplaincy, St Brigid. I was so excited to be going out for the day that I left home earlier than I needed to. I caught the 7.48 High Speed train from Canterbury, my former daily train, whose twelve cars used to be packed with commuters. Now it has six cars and there was just a handful of people in my carriage when we pulled into St Pancras International. I had a chat with the train guard as we strolled down the platform and I realised that it’s those kinds of little encounters that I’ve missed.

I’d been interested to read an article in the Guardian the week before called ‘Has lockdown given you brain fog?’ It explained how the “brain is stimulated by the new, the different,” and that “We have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes and to pay particular attention when things do change.” Like many people over the last year, I’ve been working at home, and therefore spending a lot of days on my own sitting in the same position with the same zoom background behind me, and without many of the stimuli that would occur naturally in a day when I was out and about and seeing people. It seems that our brains have begun to switch off!

Don’t switch your brain off there, but follow the link to the rest of Eddie’s story.

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1 May: The fools that we were.

wild plum blossom

The First of May

by A. E. Housman

 The orchards half the way
From home to Ludlow fair
Flowered on the first of May
In Mays when I was there;
And seen from stile or turning
The plume of smoke would show
Where fires were burning
That went out long ago.

 The plum broke forth in green,
The pear stood high and snowed,
My friends and I between
Would take the Ludlow road;
Dressed to the nines and drinking
And light in heart and limb,
And each chap thinking
The fair was held for him.
 
Between the trees in flower
New friends at fairtime tread
The way where Ludlow tower
Stands planted on the dead.
Our thoughts, a long while after,
They think, our words they say;
Theirs now's the laughter,
The fair, the first of May.
 
Ay, yonder lads are yet
The fools that we were then;
For oh, the sons we get
Are still the sons of men.
The sumless tale of sorrow
Is all unrolled in vain:
May comes to-morrow
And Ludlow fair again.


From Last Poems by A. E. Housman.

It is as well to acknowledge the other side of the coin. Not everyone accepts the Christian or any other religious view of life. Housman was an atheist, and here seems close to despair: the sumless tale of sorrow is all unrolled in vain. Sorrow is beyond calculation: May fair at Ludlow repeats May fair at Ludlow, repeats May fair at Ludlow; and the sons of men learn sense only when it is too late. The poet was writing in the years after the Great War, and like many of his lyrics The First of May alludes to the futility of war and the price of war in human suffering.

No skating over these questions of human sinfulness and apparent divine indifference!

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20 April: Spring Quiet by Christina Rossetti

Different colours of bluebells, Blean, Canterbury.

This poem by Christina Rossetti ought to be set to music; perhaps it has been. These bluebells – they come in white as well – are full of fresh scent, worth getting on one’s knees for, and a word of thanks for the gift might not go amiss. I loved the sound of the sea in the treetops when I was little, but the woods were ‘lovely, dark and deep’ and closer by than the sea.

Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

Where in the white-thorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

 Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs,
Arching high over
A cool green house: 

Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
"We spread no snare;

 "Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.

 "Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be."

from Poems by Christina Rossetti

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12 April: The Fire Gone Out.


The Fire Gone Out


Our church is smallish, homely, as it should be,
A rectangular box
Light-filled by generous windows.
Spirit-filled by generations of plain-speaking villagers.
A second-hand, twice-loved,
No-nonsense northern chapel in the hills
Complete with gallery and organ of course!
No room for side chapels
No nooks and crannies in which to construct an Altar of Repose.
Needing to take over from Saint Joseph
His small shrine to the left of the Sanctuary.
We can move over,
Those who stay on
To keep company with the Lord
On the night road from the room to the garden,
From the garden to the High Priest
In the midst of rabble,
Torches, weapons, noise,
Police!
While our church, now stripped, 
Leaves us a few hours more
In his presence.

But tomorrow, when all we have remembered
In ritual, prayer and song,
When we have reverenced his image,
Received his Gift …
Then is it empty. 
And helpless, what can we do?
In this emptiness
That echoes with the sound of his leaving?

The door left open,
The table bare
The light extinguished,
The fire gone out.

Come and see,
	Just come and see!

Remember how it was
Before it became Good Friday.
The comfortable familiarity,
His everpresence … 
Withdrawn now into pain,
Rejection, abandonment.
For in the darkness we have abandoned him.

Oh how is our church empty!

Now … We gather in the darkness,
Knowing our loss
And drawn to the emptiness,
Relight the fire,
Set the table,
Restore the light.

Christ, our light!
Thanks be to God!

Hearts renewed in hope
Reach for the light.

Christ our light!
Risen.

Our light-filled
Spirit-filled box!
Our church in the hills!

Sheila writes that this piece is ‘Pre-Covid, by several years – Is this how we will date things in future?’ The previous two poems were new ones. Her little church in the hills is as she describes it, is it not? A light-filled, Spirit-filled box, where the Lord can camp for a while – who are we, even Yorkshire folk, to build Him a house? But he will fill the space when we set the table.

https://www.sacredheartparish.org.uk/

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11 April: All in an April Springtime, II.

All in an April Springtime, II.

I am the wood 
On which you chose to die. 

I am the beam you carried on your shoulder, 
Pulling at your torn and scourged flesh. 

I am the rest on which they laid your hands, 
You held me close,  
As close as nails could hold. 

You drew my pain 
To make it yours. 

And then they lifted you 
And you forgave me.

SPB

Saint Francis, we know, received the marks of Christ’s passion in his own flesh; here he contemplates the instruments of the Passion. Sheila has a Franciscan insight here; the Cross itself feels the pain of a broken world. Perhaps we, too, should be seeking forgiveness for the wrong we are unwillingly complicit in committing against God and his Creation.

Two poems from American poets that harmonise with this one were published here a couple of years ago. Start with Joyce Kilmer’s prayer of a soldier in France and follow the arrow to the next post by Christina Chase. Happy Easter!

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6 April: Gates IX, Let the King of Glory in.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gate-to-tennyson.jpg

Another gate: they are as important as meeting places after Easter as before! This one is in Canterbury, and leads from former Ministry of Defence (War Department – WD on the boundary stone) land towards a housing estate where hundreds of ordinary decent people live. Our friend Pamela lived nearby for much of her life. This was a planned station (stopping place) for the 2020 Walking Pilgrimage that never happened, but still, may the King of Glory enter into this corner of his Kingdom this Easter!

Lift up your heads, O gates! 
And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

Psalm 24 : 7-10

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