Tag Archives: poetry

1 May: Christ at Emmaus.

Goldwyn Smith, a 19th Century Professor of History at Oxford, commented: The lines on the two disciples going to Emmaus convey pleasantly the Evangelical idea of the Divine Friend. Cowper says in one of his letters that a man who had confessed to him that though he could not subscribe to the truth of Christianity, he could never read this passage of St. Luke without being deeply affected by it, and feeling that if the stamp of divinity was impressed upon anything in the Scriptures, it was upon that passage.

It is a favourite passage for many, one we have reflected upon in Agnellus Mirror – do a search for Emmaus – and one to return to gladly. William Cowper’s work is more than pleasant, it is respectful toward the two disciples, bringing out their humanity and friendship, and shows the courtesy of the stranger who gathered up the broken thread, and opened their eyes and ears.

   It happen'd on a solemn eventide,
  Soon after He that was our surety died,
  Two bosom friends, each pensively inclined,
  The scene of all those sorrows left behind,
  Sought their own village, busied as they went
  In musings worthy of the great event:
  They spake of him they loved, of him whose life,
  Though blameless, had incurr'd perpetual strife,
  Whose deeds had left, in spite of hostile arts,
  A deep memorial graven on their hearts.
  The recollection, like a vein of ore,
  The farther traced enrich'd them still the more;
 They thought him, and they justly thought him, one
  Sent to do more than he appear'd to have done,
  To exalt a people, and to place them high
  Above all else, and wonder'd he should die.
  Ere yet they brought their journey to an ends,
  A stranger join'd them, courteous as a friend,
  And ask'd them with a kind engaging air
  What their affliction was, and begg'd a share.
  Inform'd, he gathered up the broken thread,
  And truth and wisdom gracing all he said,
  Explain'd, illustrated, and search'd so well
  The tender theme on which they chose to dwell,
  That reaching home, the night, they said is near,
  We must not now be parted, sojourn here.—
  The new acquaintance soon became a guest,
  And made so welcome at their simple feast,
  He bless'd the bread, but vanish'd at the word,
  And left them both exclaiming, 'Twas the Lord!
  Did not our hearts feel all he deign'd to say,
  Did they not burn within us by the way?" 
 William Cowper (1731–1800) 

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29 April: The deaths of Gerontius and others

Passion flowers speak of the resurrection

A little while ago on BBC Radio the composer, Sir James MacMillan, was discussing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, based on Saint John Henry Newman’s poem. In his exploration of the oratorio he recalled his experiences as a young altar server, experiences I could share. Gerontius, he said, lays out the Catholic attitude to death and the world to come in ‘most beautiful music’.

He and I, in Scotland and England, served at funerals where there were many mourners, and in a few cases where there were one or two, even none; so many of our fellow Catholics then had left home and family to come to the United Kingdom. (Thank God for today’s regular parish midday Mass in Canterbury, where there is always a good-sized congregation to support the bereaved!)

Most of the people Sir James and I helped to bury would have been hurt by the Second World War, and knew suffering and death intimately. Loss of faith and friends, great sorrow, compounded in this new bereavement. The First World War had undermined Elgar’s faith, said MacMillan, yet he still composed this searingly beautiful music, giving form to the feelings of mourners.

Children had been more aware of death, even in the 1950s and 1960s. I can see myself, holding the processional cross beside an open grave, as a red-headed Irishman, tears streaming down his face, laid to rest the tiny coffin of his twin babies.

It’s no use saying I should have been protected, prevented from witnessing that. I disagree: I am sure Fr MacDermott was wise to ask me to serve, to represent the Church, the body of the second Adam, the Crucified whose image I was carrying. Far rather having to cope with that intimate vision than the callous slaughter of the innocent of Ukraine.

The hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is taken from the Dream of Gerontius; the oratorio can be found on Youtube.

1 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

2 O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

3 O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

4 And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

5 O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

6 And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

7 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

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28 April: THE SHOWER

Waters above! eternal springs! 
The dew that silvers the Dove's wings! 
O welcome, welcome to the sad! 
Give dry dust drink; drink that makes glad! 
Many fair ev'nings, many flow'rs 
Sweeten'd with rich and gentle showers, 
Have I enjoy'd, and down have run 
Many a fine and shining sun; 
But never, till this happy hour, 
Was blest with such an evening-shower! 

                                                  From "Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II.

This was not an April shower, but a March one; a morning but not an evening shower yet I'm sure Henry Vaughan would have appreciated it, as I did, seeing the raindrops on the willows shining on the osiers. Laudato Si'!

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27 April: Tea’s company


Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
  Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
  And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
  Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
  That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
  So let us welcome peaceful evening in.

These lines by William Cowper are taken from his long poem ‘The Task’, written in response to a challenge from his friend Lady Ann Austen. Many readers will recognise ‘the cups that cheer but not inebriate’ but perhaps, like me, did not know the source.

I’d like to put alongside Cowper’s image the photo on this book cover.

Jésus, l'homme de la rencontre

Bishop Claude Rault was a teacher of mine before he became Bishop of the Sahara, at least the part of it in the great empty quarter of Algeria. His book has been my Lenten reading this year, but what I want to share today is from the introduction by Fr Christophe Roucou, himself a missionary in North Africa.

Roucou explains why Bishop Rault chose this picture for his cover. It shows

“a teapot in the embers of a living fire, ready to make tea that will be drunk and shared in this corner of the desert between friends, or offered to the passer-by in token of welcome and hospitality.

“The tea of meeting!”

The word ‘meeting’ is hardly adequate as a translation of rencontre; ‘encounter’ does not, for me at least, convey the warmth and welcome implied in ‘rencontre’. Claude’s book is a commentary on the meetings Jesus had with people, as described in Saint John’s Gospel; and we know how deeply he welcomed all manner of people. A review will follow.

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22 April: A Promise

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

Part of me wants Genesis 9:8-15, God’s Covenant with Noah, to be an Easter Vigil reading, when in fact it comes at the beginning of Lent in Year B. Nevertheless, it does speak of salvation, and water bringing Noah’s family to new life; it’s a little taste of Easter as Lent starts. The rainbow still tastes of Easter if we celebrate it in Easter week, with the curate of Selborne, Gilbert White. Our picture is of the rainbow seen over our friend Mrs O’s house on the day of her funeral. White was a pioneer of natural history, and here the scientist and theologian are one with the poet: ‘Lovely refraction!’ ‘Maker Omnipotent.’ Happy Easter!

ON THE RAINBOW by Gilbert White of Selborne.

” Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very beautiful is it in the brightness thereof.” Ecclesiastes, 18:11.

On morning or on evening cloud impress'd, 
Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines 
Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed: 
Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede 
In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain, 
With vacant eye, gazes on the divine 
Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields, 
Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds. 
Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe, 
He hails the federal arch ; and looking up, 
Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow 
Magnificent, compassing heaven about
With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud, 
Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow
And by that covenant graciously hast sworn 
Never to drown the world again: henceforth, 
Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round, 
Season shall follow season: day to night,
Summer to winter, harvest to seed time,
Heat shall to cold in regular array
Succeed. — Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard." 

(from “The Natural History of Selborne” by Gilbert White)

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21 April: Safe.

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

We don’t tend to recycle old posts but this one, from January six years ago, follows well yesterday’s reflection by Emily Dickinson on the forgotten grave. Mary Webb looked forward to her own grave as a haven from the sufferings of this life, especially from the unkindness of other people. Her face was disfigured by Graves’ Disease which can now be successfully treated and she was sensitive about this.

We began the post with another woman’s death and burial.

We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.

But here is Mary Webb, feeling downhearted as she writes. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!

‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.

Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.

That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.

https://wordpress.com/post/willturnstone.wordpress.com/832

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 20 April: The Forgotten Grave.

This very chapel and its graveyard are all but forgotten as the village it served has moved three kilometres away.
After a hundred years 
Nobody knows the place, — 
Agony, that enacted there, 
Motionless as peace. 

Weeds triumphant ranged, 
Strangers strolled and spelled 
At the lone orthography 
Of the elder dead. 

Winds of summer fields 
Recollect the way, — 
Instinct picking up the key 
Dropped by memory.
 
From Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via Kindle.

Two thousand years on, and people know the place of Christ’s agony in the garden, his further agony and death on Calvary; the place of his tomb; they visit them in their thousands every year.

But did Mary Magdalene return to the tomb – or Peter or John – after Easter? Mary took the Lord’s message to the Apostles: they were to take themselves to Galilee, they knew the way. Before long Peter was leading them out to the boats for a fishing expedition. But the winds of summer seas would take most of them far away, to where people were waiting to hear the Good News from the fishers of men and women. No need for the disciples to revisit the empty tomb, but James and his church in Jerusalem surely remembered and marked the spot.

We cannot all hope to visit the Holy Land, but we can go to Mass this Easter time, or slip into the back of any church, acknowledge the ever-present risen Lord, and then … go back home, back to our daily lives, to glorify the Lord by our life. To share the Good News, mostly without words, but living as other Christs in today’s world, letting the Spirit speak through our instinct.

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19 April: No man is base

The Welsh Poet, Henry Vaughan, (d.1695) called himself a Silurist, claiming descent from a pre-Roman tribe that ruled his part of Wales. Yet he maintains that 'A noble offspring surely then without distinction are all men.' We are all of us Easter Children, children of God, each one of us nobly born. No room for racism, as Archbishop Wilson was saying yesterday; we must be children of hope, of one beginning, one birth, one resurrection.

All sorts of men, that live on Earth, 
Have one beginning and one birth. 
For all things there is one Father, 
Who lays out all, and all doth gather. 
He the warm sun with rays adorns, 
And fills with brightness the moon's horns. 
The azur'd heav'ns with stars He burnish'd, 
And the round world with creatures furnish'd. 
But men—made to inherit all— 
His own sons He was pleas'd to call, 
And that they might be so indeed, 
He gave them souls of divine seed. 
A noble offspring surely then 
Without distinction are all men. 
O, why so vainly do some boast 
Their birth and blood and a great host 
Of ancestors, whose coats and crests 
Are some rav'nous birds or beasts! 
If extraction they look for, 
And God, the great Progenitor, 
No man, though of the meanest state, 
Is base, or can degenerate, 
Unless, to vice and lewdness bent, 
He leaves and taints his true descent.

from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist: Boethius, De Consolatione, Englished.

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16 April: Void


 VOID


 Great streets of silence led away
To neighbourhoods of pause;
Here was no notice, no dissent,
No universe, no laws.
 

By clocks ‘t was morning, and for night
The bells at distance called;
But epoch had no basis here,
For period exhaled.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete”)

Emily captures some of the bleakness experienced by the disciples after Good Friday. No universe, no laws, no certainty, after Jesus exhaled his spirit with his last breath.

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April: 13 A Lenten Litany.

For you were slain and by your blood you ransomed men for God …….

For you were rejected, and through that rejection
You ransomed men for God,
           Lord have mercy.

For you were betrayed, and by that betrayal
You ransomed men for God,
          Christ have Mercy.

For you were mocked, and by that mockery
You ransomed men for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were scourged, and by that brutality
You ransomed me for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were clothed in purple and insulted
And by those insults you ransomed men for God,
          Christ have mercy.

For you were crowned, not with gold, but thorns.
And with that crown you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were stripped and spat upon,
And by your humiliation you redeemed me for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You stood alone and heard the cry of 'Crucify',
And by that cry you have redeemed men for God,
          Lord have mercy.

For you were abandoned and in your abandonment
You redeemed me for God.
          Lord have mercy.

You embraced the wood of your cross,
Embracing the death that you would die
          To ransom men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

In blood and dirt from the road and pain
You met your Mother.
In that shared pain you ransomed men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You had compassion on the thief who sought your peace,
Your compassion is the ransom of all men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

I drank water to refresh my mouth.
They gave you vinegar to drink.
You drank the searing bitterness of sin
          And by your thirst you ransomed men for God.

You died . . . as all men die . . . alone.
And by your loneliness you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

How long those hours, so dark, until your 'hour' was done.
But through the darkness you redeemed us all.#

Christ obedient,
Christ victorious,
Christ wounded,
Christ our brother,
Offered to our Father.

Sheila Billingsley, March 2022

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