Tag Archives: John Masefield

29 June 2017: Mercy needs humans to live it.

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Mercy, as we have remarked more than once before, needs humans to live it, to give it. Masefield has one merciful man, the Apostle Peter, today’s saint, introduce himself:

A fisherman, who will pull oars and sail,

Mend nets and watch the weather by the lake.

A rough man, with rude speech, who’ll follow you. Giving up all,

And after, will go telling of your glory

A many hundred miles, to Babylon;

And feel your glory grow in him, and spread

To many others in that city, far

From lake and home and the chatter, mending nets.

And after, I will see you come for me;

For all I’m rude and did deny, you’ll come;

And I shall drink your cup, Master, you helping;

And enter glory by you.

Peter had been with Jesus at the Transfiguration (see today’s Gospel, Matthew 17:1-9) and was there when his Master prayed in the Garden, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. Luke 22:43.

Peter’s Master and ours will give us mercy to drink his cup with us: the Eucharistic cup, which we remind ourselves at every Mass we can only drink worthily though his mercy; and the cup of daily life, which can be bitter or just too much for us at times.

WT

St Peter by Dirck van Baburen

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14 April,Good Friday: Pilate’s Politics.

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John Masefield wrote a play in verse about Good Friday. In an exchange after Jesus was condemned, we hear Pilate and and his wife Procula, who famously warned him ‘Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.‘ (Matthew 27:19)

Pilate:

Another charge was brought some hours ago,

That he was claiming to be that great King

foretold by prophets, who shall free the Jews.

This he persisted in. I could not choose

But end a zealot claiming such a thing.

Procula:

It is a desecration of our power.

A rude poor man who pitted his pure sense

Against what holds the world its little hour,

Blind force and fraud, priests’ mummery and pretence.

Could you not see that this is what he did?

Pilate:

Most clearly, wife. But Roman laws forbid

That I should weigh, like God, the worth of souls.

I act for Rome, and Rome is better rid

Of those rare spirits whom no law controls.

He broke a statute, knowing from the first

Whither his act would lead, he was not blind.

‘Good Friday’ in John Masefield, ‘Collected Poems’, London, Heinemann, 1925, pp449-507.

Procula’s speech is as good an examination of conscience as any for today, but if you can find the text, the whole play is worth reading and pondering.

Tissot: The Message of Pilate’s Wife, Brooklyn Museum

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29 January: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: I

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If you shed tears when you miss the sun,

you also miss the stars.

Stray Birds VI, Collected Poems and Plays p287.

Masefield asked for a star to steer by.

The Magi had a star to steer by.

But they could only see it in the darkness, when the sun was absent.

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10 December: By Mercy and by Martyrdom.

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We bid goodbye to John Masefield this Advent, remembering that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9.2). And that’s us! Every star is a great light, even if we see no more than a pinprick, since we are far off. And when we look closely at this world, how many stars shine in people’s smiles, in a robin’s eye, a drop of rain? Laudato si’.

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By mercy and by martyrdom,

And many ways, God leads us home;

            And many darknesses there are.

By darkness and by light he leads,

He gives according to our needs,

            And in his darkness is a star.                                       (pp46-47)

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Let us pray that we may be instruments of mercy; may be stars in other people’s dark times, and that God’s merciful grace will lead us all home. May we follow his star and seeing the star rejoice with exceeding great joy. (Matthew 2:10)

WT.

 

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9 December: Mercy, a Tentmaker of Tarsus.

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Let’s take another snapshot from Masefield’s Coming of Christ.

And also there was Paul, receiving mercy, proclaiming mercy:

A tentmaker of Tarsus,

Who will deny you and denounce your followers

To torment and to death; and then will see

Your truth by sudden lightning of the mind,

And then go through the world, telling your truth,

Through scourgings, stoning, bonds, beating with rods,

The wild beasts in the ring, worse beasts in men;

To the sharp sword outside the city gates,

Glad beyond words to drink of your sweet cup,

Lifted and lit by you, christened by you,

Made spirit by you, I who slew your saints.

(P14)

Jesus told James and John: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father. Matthew (20:23) We shall drink of his cup – whether sweet or bitter; we will be lifted and lit by him and strengthened to be tellers of his truth and sharers of his mercy.

WT.

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5 December: Mercy for those with neither hope nor peace.

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The Angel of Mercy joins the other angels to explain why mercy is needed:

We see the world of men seizing and slaying,

            Lusting for wealth, destroying and betraying,

With neither hope nor peace,

Save greed, between their darkness and decaying.

They come out of a darkness; they awaken

To the Blood’s storms, they tremble, they are shaken,

With neither hope nor peace,

They war in bloody blindness until taken. (pp 4-5)

Seizing and slaying – what changes? Greed is encouraged, consumption to keep the economy growing, so that we can earn more money and lust for more wealth. And whether it is people or the environment, we go on slaying or others do so in our name.

We need God’s mercy to live, and our sisters and brothers need us to live God’s mercy in hope and peace, whatever bloody blindness infects our society.

WT

Star from the walls of Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury. MMB.

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December 4: Mercy is a star to steer by.

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There is an angel  called ‘The Mercy’ in Masefield’s play, who says:

I bring the Mercy of God as peace, as balm,

            As loving–kindness between soul and soul.

In the world’s storm I am the central calm,

            In the world’s sky my brightness is the Pole. (p4)

 

God’s Mercy as the fixed, dependable Pole Star that helps us find the way; our loving-kindness to each other as the day-to-day expression of Mercy; here are two ideas worth holding onto. We need Mercy as a star to steer by: Mercy needs us to bring it to where it has to be.

As Masefield wrote elsewhere:

All I ask is a tall ship

And a Star to steer her by.

‘Sea Fever’.

WT

Polaris is the bright start to the left of this NASA image.

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29 September – William Blake’s ‘Angel Appearing to Zacharias’

William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias. c.1799-1800. Pen, ink, tempera and glue on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image released under the Metropolitan Museum’s Open Access for Scholarly Comment scheme.

 

The pictures posted today and tomorrow are from another series of pictures of biblical subjects painted by William Blake for the civil servant Thomas Butts. Before Blake made Butts the watercolours of which we saw one yesterday, he painted fifty small temperas of biblical subjects.

Within this group of paintings, Blake’s Nativity pictures seem to act as a distinctive sub-group with a strong sense of series – an unfolding narrative which reflects the artist’s conception of Christ’s identity as the source of Vision and prophecy. Christ’s advent in Jesus is part of an ongoing process of revelation.

The New Testament sequence in Blake’s biblical paintings opens with The Angel Gabriel appearing to Zacharias. This is an unusual subject: I have not come across other examples by Blake’s contemporaries, but it is possible that Blake had seen prints of Old Master versions such as Ghirlandaio’s fresco in the Tornabuoni chapel, Florence.

The angel is bringing news of the birth of John the Baptist, the prophet of Christ and a figure with whom Blake himself identified (because Blake saw himself as a prophet).

Blake strips away the temple architecture which tends to dominate images of this subject and contrasts the priestly trappings of Zacharias and the temple with the simple white garment of the angel – the herald of the prophet who points to the blast of light coming from above.

Zacharias doubts Gabriel’s prophecy and is struck dumb in punishment until the child is born (Luke 1:18-20), demonstrating that doubt hinders prophecy, although this blast of light outshines the menorah (the seven branched candle-stick) and the fire on the altar. Blake, who saw angels in a tree on Peckham Rye, and on the beach at Felpham uses this story to encourage his viewer to trust in the messages of angels.

NAIB

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27 September: What is it about Angels?

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Angel by CD

Recently Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University was speculating that there might be ‘multiverses’; universes where the laws of nature vary from what we experience. How would we ever know about such a cosmos? It’s hardly a case of Professor Cox imagines – or I imagine – therefore it is.

There’s a simple-minded side of me that says – angels! They obey different laws of nature, but some people, sometimes, are aware of them: Mary, Zechariah, William Blake.

John Masefield gives these lines to the Magi in The Coming of Christ:

The days are past when rocks and streams

And trees were gods directing man,

We are all lost among our dreams,

We are all waters without plan.

The world is ours with discontent,

We have all things save hope; we stare

Into earth’s secrets: we invent

New swiftnesses lest we despair.

Yet we have joy, because we may

Still light upon that simple thing

Under the eyes of every day

Which is the secret of the King.

O lighten us, bright star, and show

The angels walking at our side,

And where the glittering waters go,

The lasting waters that abide.

Fitting prayer for Angeltide, these days when we hold their feasts, and for Francistide, for he reminds us that rocks and streams are brothers and sisters to us, not gods, under the eye of the King. And there is no need to believe in multiverses, or even pure spirits, to see the angel beside us in our spouses, workmates, or those we greet in the street: any of these could be a messenger of the King today.

The  next three days’ posts are responses to William Blake’s visions of angels, by Dr Naomi Billingsley, a respected Blake Scholar and currently Bishop Otter Scholar at Chichester.

 

MMB

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