Tag Archives: poetry

July 30. 100 years ago today: Prayer of a Soldier in France.

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Joyce (Alfred Joyce) Kilmer was an American Catholic Poet who died at the front this day 100 years ago. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne cemetery shown above. In this poem he comes to terms with the everyday suffering of the soldier by laying it alongside the passion of Jesus. Our second post today is a response to KIlmer’s verses from a living American poet, our friend Christina Chase.

I have found it difficult to reconcile the link people have made between Christ’s sacrifice and the soldier at war, prepared to be killed but also prepared to kill, for his country. What right does the country have to demand either sacrifice?

But here is one man. One man’s pain and suffering, offered, not to his country, but to the one true Man who was the one true God. A lesson in that for each of us.

Prayer of a Soldier in France

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

I march with feet that burn and smart 

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart). 

Men shout at me who may not speak 

(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek). 

I may not lift a hand to clear 

My eyes of salty drops that sear. 

(Then shall my fickle soul forget 

Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?) 

My rifle hand is stiff and numb 

(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come). 

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me 

Than all the hosts of land and sea. 

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

Joycekilmersignature

Oise-Aisne Cemetery,  official site.
Signature: Open Access, via Wikipedia  
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28 July: The Beating Heart of Strasbourg

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The Cathedral is a heart

The Cathedral is a heart.

The tower is a bud.

Have you counted the steps

that lead to the platform?

Every night they become more and more numerous.

They grow.

The tower turns turns

and turns about itself.

It turns, it grows,

it dances with its saints

and the saints dance with their hearts.
Will it fly away with the angels,

the tower of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

The swallows

believe in the angels amid the clouds.

The swallows don’t believe in ladders

to climb in the air.

They let themselves fall into the air

into the air interwoven

with the blue of infinity.

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

She lets herself fall into the winged sky

into the air of the angels.

 

I don’t claim to know what the sculptor Jean Arp meant by this poem; it is a poem that he let fly away once written. I did see an interview where he spoke about the saints on Strasbourg Cathedral. ‘We cannot surpass the work of the old masters’, he said of the cathedral dominating his home town. I read it as a love song.

Mediæval Cathedrals are well-loved. One expression of this is the continuing schedules of works to preserve these treasures, Canterbury always has scaffolding somewhere about its sides. We were not tempted to launch into the air from the roof platform at Strasbourg, but to have built the place so high was an act of faith by the architects, a duc in alto, putting out into the depths of space.

We should imitate Our Lord at his temptations in not taking irresponsible risks to impress the devil in us or in other people, but we should also trust him to hold us safe as we fly, ever in danger of falling, ever seeking the infinite blue of heaven.

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20 May: A Pentecost.

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A Pentecost
After Emily Dickinson

Your Deeds, dear Sir, no one can map
With Arithmetic rule –
Yet Dogmatists may call me Quack
For claiming – like a Fool –

To have beheld the Infinite
Whose Longitudes sublime
Marked out one day the Laundromat
That rid my clothes of grime –

Yet – truly – all who washed that day
Were Radiant – were One –
The sweetest of all Songs we sang –
Even as dryers spun –

And Glory fringed each sock and blouse –
I folded, Glory-dazed –
I walked my Glory home – I was
Half stupefied – joy-crazed –

For though the Distance was not great –
Only a mile I trod –
For – Fools – it circumnavigates
The Latitudes of God.

SJC

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15 May: Telling the Truth V: Blame it on the Vicar.

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We met the poet John Betjeman again last month. He was a devout Anglican, if one beset by awareness of his own sinfulness as well as intellectual doubts. In his autobiographical poem Summoned by Bells he wrote:

What seemed to me a greater question then

Tugged and still tugs: Is Christ the Son of God?

Betjeman was also aware of the natural aversion of people to self examination and repentance. We can see it in all sorts of situations of course; he exposes this hypocrisy in a Church community. Let’s take note, not just how we treat our clergy, but also in all our dealings. I’d recommend seeking out the poem as well. I feel I am at times guilty of trying to ‘keep us bright and undismayed’, mea culpa!

Blame the Vicar

When things go wrong it’s rather tame
To find we are ourselves to blame,
It gets the trouble over quicker
To go and blame things on the Vicar.

The Vicar, after all, is paid
To keep us bright and undismayed.

Thomas Becket did not keep King Henry bright and undismayed.

WT.

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23 April: The Holy of Holies.

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The Holy of Holies refers of course to the innermost chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem – and before that in the tent that went through the desert with the Israelites. Blake reminded us that God is present in a grain of sand; here is Chesterton meeting him on a Spring morning. This follows on from yesterday’s posting because these cowslips are growing in pastureland, where sheep will safely graze later in the year. We were told that the farmer seeded the field with wild flowers. Thank you to him! And Chesterton was rather fond of Saint George, whose feast falls today.

‘Elder father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary,

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

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20 April: Telling the Truth IV: Poetry.

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A few more thoughts on telling the truth. It is not just setting the facts down – that is always going to be a selective exercise, and an interpretive one, as I am discovering writing my biography of Arthur Hughes. Poetry is truth telling in yet another mode. Here is John Betjeman, sometime Poet Laureate:

What poetry is, I do not quite know. Maybe it is the right words in the right order. For me it requires rhythm and, as an extra flourish, rhyme. It is the shortest and the most memorable way of saying what you want said.

In Lovely bits of Old England. Gavin Fuller, Ed. London, Aurum, 2012.  P96.

Betjeman was building on a previous poet’s definition:

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Note the link between Fran Horner’s quest for succinctness (see yesterday’s post) and Betjeman’s  ‘shortest and most memorable’ way of saying something!

With that, I’ll hush up!

MMB

Charlottenberg Park, Berlin.

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19 April: Telling the Truth III: Reliability

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I recently read an article by a researcher at the John Rylands  Library, Manchester.   Fran Horner  tells about her work. Do follow the link, especially if you enjoy being surprised poetically, and to follow up the short extract here.

Ms Horner has this to say about a particular mode of telling the truth:

It has been interesting learning about what categories of information are essential for the catalogue, for example: publisher, year published, volume and editor are all extremely important; whether I liked or disliked the poems… not so important. I have also discovered things about the appropriate type of language and structure I must use within the catalogue: the language must be succinct and consistent to ensure its reliability and usefulness as a finding aid. In the future, researchers may be using my catalogue!

Note the duty not to misinform her readers; readers she will almost surely never meet!

Let us never be slapdash with regard to truth: we may feel we are telling the truth, but are our words -and actions – as Ms Horner says, reliable witnesses in other people’s ears and eyes?

MMB

The Reader, Zakopane, Poland.

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18 April : A comforting doctrine: telling the truth in art. (Telling truth II)

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Edward Ardizzone was employed as an official War Artist during World War II, serving in North Africa, including El Alamein, then the invasion of Italy and the Normandy Landings. How does an artist convey the horrors and humanity of War? Ardizzone’s soldiers and civilians are human, drawn with a loving understanding of our fallen but persistently rising nature. This picture shows a scene on the beaches during the Normandy Landings and is from the Imperial War Museum, released on the public domain.

A couple of months before he had confided in his diary:

[I] have a feeling that painters should not be interested in metaphysics – should be simple people entirely absorbed in what they do. If they are big themselves, what they do is big – if little, little; but only a matter of degree like major and minor poets and not to be bothered about. A comforting doctrine for me who am feeling incredibly small at the moment.

Let us pray that sometime today we may experience the grace of being entirely absorbed in what we do: loving what we do, as Ardizzone loved his work and the humans he was painting.

MMB.

Diary of a War Artist, Edward Ardizzone, Bodley Head, 1974. Worth seeking out.

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12 April: A response to Christina Chase’s An Eve in Winter.

 

Dear Christina,

It’s an editor’s privilege to respond or comment on contributions sometimes: bear with me!

Your poem connects. It reminds me of  John Betjeman, writing in prose:

“Many people, when they enter a quiet room, automatically – even before shutting the door – rush to turn on the wireless as though quiet were as unhealthy as a cold draught.”

And there is Dylan Thomas’s ‘Bible-black night’ in Under Milk Wood, which is a time of creation, as is the dark you reference in Genesis. ‘Let there be light’ indeed, ‘Kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, Lead thou me on.’ (Newman, of course.)

Your light that is poor for hearing secrets is from the same well as Shakespeare’s,

The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was.

(Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV:2).

These lines are not slap-stick comic, however slap-stick Bottom is elsewhere. When we are challenged, do we admit it and explore it, or turn on the bright lights or loud music?

A lighthouse cannot lead if the captain is dazzled by floodlights.

I mentioned R.S. Thomas in my introduction. We read how he prayed at his holy well on 17 October 2016:

 Ignoring my image I peer down

to the quiet roots of it, where

the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there.

 

Connections! Thank you again, for an offering by no means tarnished!

Will.

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11 April: An Eve in Winter

 

 

bluemoon

Firstly, a poem from Christina. Although she has given it the Title ‘An Eve in Winter’, its theme of light, of gentle light not consumed by the darkness, resonates with our heroes RS Thomas and Dylan Thomas, poets from opposite ends of Wales. A response tomorrow.

 

 

When you enter a darkened room

and see a pool of moonlight on the floor,

do you wait to turn the lights on

so you can step into the glow?

 

I do.

 

For brightness can scare away the paler shades.

Though it is good for seeing definitions clearly and

avoiding stray furniture, it is poor for

hearing and keeping the secret

that’s whispered through tender starlight

 to waiting earth of snow.

 

When I say, “let there be light,”

smugly snapping on devices,

I cannot see beyond my own reflection

blinded to that of the Divine.

 

© 2018 Christina Chase

 

Christina can be found at: https://divineincarnate.com

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