These are my treasures: just a word, a look,
A chiming sentence from his favourite book,
A large, blue, scented blossom that he found
And plucked for me in some enchanted ground,
A joy he planned for us, a verse he made
Upon a birthday, the increasing shade
Of trees he planted by the waterside,
The echo of a laugh, his tender pride
In those he loved, his hand upon my hair,
The dear voice lifted in his evening prayer.
How safe they must be kept! So dear, so few,
And all I have to last my whole life through.
A silver mesh of loving words entwining,
At every crossing thread a tear-drop shining,
Shall close them in. Yet since my tears may break
The slender thread of brittle words, I’ll make
A safer, humbler hiding-place apart,
And lock them in the fastness of my heart.
Mary Webb reflecting on her Father’s love and her bereavement. Hope to balance the feelings of despair she recorded in yesterday’s poem.
Picture from Brother Chris.
Love me–and I will give into your hands
The rare, enamelled jewels of my lands,
Flowers red and blue,
Tender with air and dew.
From far green armouries of pools and meres
I’ll reach for you my lucent sheaves of spears–
The singing falls,
Where the lone ousel calls.
When, like a passing light upon the sea,
Your wood-bird soul shall clap her wings and flee,
She shall but nest
More closely in my breast.
Jewells: ragged robin and speedwell.
Is it a pagan superstition to talk about the spirit of the earth, or to imagine that spirit speaking? We are made of atoms and hormones and genes and bones – remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.
So get to know and love ‘Mother’ Earth: not just the dust and flowers but the wisdom that has been there since the beginning, sustaining it. The Spirit of the Earth can be identified with Wisdom, sitting at the Creator’s side as he set about his work. Laudato Si!
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing, from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men.
Ever notice crows
walk like cow-boys,
toes in, wide stride,
tough guys of the garden?
from a distant tree – safe
they think. I watch
from the window over
the kitchen sink.
crows must hatch, wet, needy
and fragile, like other birds,
but now full grown, I half expect
my crow to chew tobacco and spit,
he seems so full of bravado,
compared to prissy little tits.
Does size mean power?
A swagger, a loud caw?
Animals seem to think so.
I stood on the cliff – gale and rain
roared and bellowed, strange duet.
Thwack and thunder, warrior waves,
dropped like bombs on rocks below,
then spewed sea shrapnel up
twenty feet and higher.
Today’s war-storm flooded our lust
for nature’s drama. Oh! Oh! Delight
at every wave-crack.
But this was not
Better to have moaned
in shame and covered my
face as I faced a faceless
rage that could, with only
minor adjustments in light
and temperature, destroy us:
I hope you enjoy the next few poems from Sister Johanna. This is one for the sea-side holiday, if the weather turns fierce and the children insist on enjoying the storm; parents and grandparents can reflect after all are safe indoors. Is our planet becoming more angry with our destruction of its blessings, and on course to destroy us?
Thank you once more, Sister Johanna.
Not for the dear things said do I weep now;
Not for your deeds of quiet love and duty
Does my heart freeze and starve since you endow
Cold death with beauty.
Just for the look of utter comprehension;
The dear gay laugh that only true hearts know;
For these I would from life’s severe detention
Arise and go.
According to Stanford University’s Mary Webb archive, this poem grew out of grief for her late father. Her own sorrows and trials were to follow.
Within my heart a little sorrow crept
And wept, and wept.
Below the lilt of happiest melodies
I heard his sighs,
And cried–‘You little alien in my heart,
Amid the loud, discordant sounds of fate,
I listening wait–
Not hoping that a song can reach my ear:
But just to hear
That little weeping grief I once bade cease
Would now be peace.
Mary Webb wrote bravely from the heart. Sorrow below the lilt of happiest melodies: she knows of what she writes.
Far beyond, far beyond,
Deeper than the glassy pond,
My shivering spirit sits and weeps
And never sleeps.
Like the autumn dove that grieves,
Darkly hid in dove-like leaves,
So I moan within a woe
None may know.
Not having children, carrying pain and disfigurement, exiled in London to further her literary career: we can begin to list the trials of Mary Webb, but like all of us, at times she bore a woe that none may know. May we trust that it will pass or that we will learn how to confine it or to tell someone about it.
And may we be ready to listen, trusting the Spirit to give us wisdom when we need it.
We see above a pillarbox at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, nicely bringing together two strands of today’s reflection from GK Chesterton’s Heretics. Of course, railway signalmen – and they were men in England a century ago – needed greater vigilance then and could not offload much responsibility onto technology. But both postmen and signalmen had to be men of integrity. Over to GKC:
The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called. The word “pillar-box” is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples.
Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words.
Not just an excuse to share two favourite photos! But this 19th Century box (at the top VR means Victoria Regina, or Queen Victoria) is at Sabden, Lancashire. Text from Project Gutenberg. It’s no good imagining the Brownings posting their letters into such a box: they were not introduced for some years, although the penny post was speeding letters around the country from 1840. More from the Brownings soon. ‘Heretics’ is available on Kindle or Project Gutenberg.
Chesterton had a good stab at understanding Robert Browning and his work, which at times can be as densely obscure as at others it rings out clear. But I am not sharing this as an exercise in literary criticism, rather as an insight into a creative view of the world. By that I mean one where we have an awareness of creation as still on-going, even if we just miss hearing the Word creating; and a world where we have an awareness of ourselves as responsible co-creators. Laudato Si!
“It is well sometimes to half understand a poem in the same manner that we half understand the world. One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
from “Robert Browning” by Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
Wild Rose in June, near Edinburgh MMB
Verses for Pilgrims – II
Here again is the verse that will be recited during our prayer services on our third day of pilgrimage. It still seems strange to me that this verse by Father Andrew SDC came together so opportunely with the window in Patrixbourne.
It is not strange that one blest night
Should shine a star exceedingly bright
To lead three Kings upon their way
To Bethlehem, where Jesu lay,
All lowly, cradled in the hay –
Their journey’s happy ending!
And while the sentiments of Christmas are heart-warming, Friday’s verse reminds us that we may be suffering a little with blisters and sore and swollen feet. We’ve read this verse from Joyce Kilmer before. He was another Great War Poet, but unlike Robert Graves, he did not survive. The full poem appeared on the centenary of his death.
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).
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.
May we be grateful for shoulders, knees and toes that ache and burn and smart. We are alive, we are together, we live in a relatively peaceful land.
And when we arrive at Saint Mildred’s, our closing prayer and closing feast!