Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.
By Walter Savage Landor, who died this day, 1864, in Florence.
Landor maintains his refusal to be cowed by the prospect of death. This stone is carved as a Celtic cross with the Jesus (IHS) monogram in the centre and the passion flower climbing to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and of humanity.
We are unlikely to be asked to die for the sake of our earth, more to live so as to let her flourish; there are many little steps we can take, in our diet, our use of electricity, our purchasing of more stuff than we need or can use. Many little steps do make a difference. If we choose to live with more respect and love for Mother Earth, we will discern what to do next.
Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway,
The tender blossom flutter down,
Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
This maple burn itself away;
Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair,
Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
And many a rose-carnation feed
With summer spice the humming air;
Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
The brook shall babble down the plain,
At noon or when the lesser wain
Is twisting round the polar star;
Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
Or into silver arrows break
The sailing moon in creek and cove;
Till from the garden and the wild
A fresh association blow,
And year by year the landscape grow
Familiar to the stranger's child;
As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
And year by year our memory fades
From all the circle of the hills."
(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete.Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.
The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.
During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *
The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
* Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.
September! We are moving into Autumn, fruit, grain harvest, swelling pumpkins … return to school, reluctant scholars yet glad to see their friends. remembering Oscar Wilde yesterday, here is the XVII Century English-speaking Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan, looking for the luxuries of out-of-season flowers and fruit. He’d find them today of course, rushed to us from around the world. But note his conclusion!
The tender vine in our garden suffered from the North’s cold wind last winter, but we have a few bunches of grapes swelling; are they to be food for humans or starlings?
Who the violet doth love,
Must seek her in the flow'ry grove,
But never when the North's cold wind
The russet fields with frost doth bind.
If in the spring-time—to no end—
The tender vine for grapes we bend,
We shall find none, for only—still—
Autumn doth the wine-press fill.
Thus for all things—in the world's prime—
The wise God seal'd their proper time.
To sing break-heartedly of light
Like dying sunflowers
Gathering to themselves their life,
Defying that which is their source.
Small suns, we grasp your wantonness
And would reverse your death.
Our poorness seize your gold.
But go you must,
Dear small reflections
Of so great a God,
We would you stay.
Sheila Billingsley, August 2019.
The sunflowers are indeed ‘gathering to themselves their life’ as Summer strolls into Autumn. The seed heads will turn to black, attracting the birds when they are hung up in the garden in weeks to come; we cannot seize their gold, but we can remember them, and save a few seeds to reflect God next year.
Our final selection from EBB’s verses on The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus. I disagree with the poet’s suggestion that Jesus never smiled, nor had the heart to play: that’s not a real human child, unless one that has learned not to through cruelty. Perhaps the poet is suggesting that Jesus in his earthly, human life had access to divine knowledge of his death by cruelty. That is to deny his humanity altogether. But we can no longer interview Barrett Browning, and we know that Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart, and she would have pondered these things in her heart.
It is enough to bear
This image still and fair,
This holier in sleep
Than a saint at prayer,
This aspect of a child
Who never sinned or smiled;
This Presence in an infant's face;
This sadness most like love,
This love than love more deep,
This weakness like omnipotence
It is so strong to move.
Awful is this watching place,
Awful what I see from hence—
A king, without regalia,
A God, without the thunder,
A child, without the heart for play;
Ay, a Creator, rent asunder
From His first glory and cast away
On His own world, for me alone
To hold in hands created, crying—Son!
That tear fell not on Thee,
Beloved, yet thou stirrest in thy slumber!
Thou, stirring not for glad sounds out of number
Which through the vibratory palm-trees run
From summer-wind and bird,
So quickly hast thou heard
A tear fall silently?
Wak'st thou, O loving One?—
More from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's reflections on Mary.
Perchance this sleep that shutteth out the dreary
Earth-sounds and motions, opens on Thy soul
High dreams on fire with God;
High songs that make the pathways where they roll
More bright than stars do theirs; and visions new
Of Thine eternal Nature's old abode.
Suffer this mother's kiss,
Best thing that earthly is,
To glide the music and the glory through,
Nor narrow in Thy dream the broad upliftings
Of any seraph wing.Thus noiseless, thus.
Sleep, sleep my dreaming One!
The slumber of His lips meseems to run
Through my lips to mine heart, to all its shiftings
Of sensual life, bringing contrariousness
In a great calm. I feel I could lie down
As Moses did, and die,* —and then live most.
I am 'ware of you, heavenly Presences,
That stand with your peculiar light unlost,
Each forehead with a high thought for a crown,
Unsunned i' the sunshine! I am 'ware. Ye throw
No shade against the wall! How motionless
Ye round me with your living statuary,
While through your whiteness, in and outwardly,
Continual thoughts of God appear to go,
Like light's soul in itself. I bear, I bear
To look upon the dropt lids of your eyes,
Though their external shining testifies
To that beatitude within which were
Enough to blast an eagle at his sun:
I fall not on my sad clay face before ye,—I look on His. I know
My spirit which dilateth with the woe
Of His mortality,
May well contain your glory.
Yea, drop your lids more low.
Ye are but fellow-worshippers with me!
Sleep, sleep, my worshipped One!
Frank Solanki is a perennially productive poet with a great sense of humour that does not hide his serious side. I thought I’d share this poem with you. Just click on the link below, and let’s pray that the gift of gratitude be given to us all and received and shared by us all.
The tradition of using the funny side to approach a profound message goes back to the parables of Jesus, in fact to the crazy things the prophets did, like Elijah or Jeremiah.
I am privileged to live close enough to the sea to cycle there in under an hour (I’m getting slower in old age!) No further comment on Emily’s little poem below, except that someone should carve it in stone at some seaside place, and perhaps I should get it by heart. The blue-white building in the background is Margate’s Turner Centre. Maybe we could chisel it into the concrete there?
My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!
I'll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks, —
(from "Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete" via Kindle)
Sheila Billingsley has sent us a poem about the great golden cloud that descends on Southern England and elsewhere at this time of year – oilseed rape, a member of the cabbage family and the source of much of the vegetable oil on supermarket and kitchen shelves. It’s actually a staple of our diet, keeps us alive, so deserves a poem of its own.
Do you then reflect the sun ?
Out-- buttering the buttercups.
You gild our fields and hillsides
With your glory!
Your down-to-earth mothering
To feed yet glorify the earth.
There must be-----somewhere----
In God's eternal memory,
Another, golden name.
SB February 2021
Ines’s foreshortened view of Canterbury crosses a patch of bright yellow oilseed rape, or colza as the French call it. I don’t know that colza is quite the golden name that Sheila was looking for; it won’t catch on!
The photograph above is by Myrabella, and shows a crop of colza – or oilseed rape – in Burgundy, France.
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.