Tag Archives: poetry

11 February: Today’s Lodging House Fires

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Eliot wrote in this seaside shelter in Margate, Kent.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Go, go, go!’ is one of two-year-old Abel’s slogans for living. He still needs his daytime sleep but is not inclined or programmed to torpor. He has been ‘always present’ until recently, but he can now talk about time past, telling his mother what he has seen, and can grasp that something is going to happen ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow, after your sleep.’

What sort of reality could he not bear? It’s certainly difficult when Things don’t work as he thinks they should, and he can perceive intervention as interference – helping him has to be done discreetly and sensitively. But Amor Vincit Omnia – love conquers all. He can forgive our heavyhandedness.

And the realities that the lodging house inmates could not bear? Or the men drinking at 8.30 in the morning? Or the self-harming teenager? People with no ‘go, go, go’? Or you or me? Is giving money to beggars helping or not?

Amor Vincit Omnia. But how?

As the blind John Milton reminds us, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ (And listen, like the librarians.) Letting  a smile loose might also help. But the reality of others’ suffering can seem more than we can bear. The one end which is always present: death, or Omega, Christ’s eternal life?

Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Revelation 22:13-14.

 

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4. There’s Helping and Helping: the Lodging House Fire I.

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Here is the poet W.H. Davies himself in a homeless hostel in  early 20th Century London, after the railroad accident that disabled him. Here is a stifling charity, literally; coke here is neither drug nor soft drink but a type of solid fuel, a hot-burning by-product of extracting chemicals from coal. Today Davies would quite likely spend his days in and out of the public library. I see homeless people treated with great courtesy by librarians, who are unsung, unofficial social workers.

The Lodging-House Fire

My birthday-yesterday,
Its hours were twenty-four;
Four hours I lived lukewarm,
And killed a score.

Eight bells and then I woke,
Came to our fire below,
Then sat four hours and watched
Its sullen glow.

Then out four hours I walked,
The lukewarm four I live,
And felt no other joy
Than air can give.

My mind durst know no thought,
It knew my life too well:
‘Twas hell before, behind,
And round me hell.

Back to that fire again,
Six hours I watch it now,
And take to bed dim eyes
And fever’s brow.

Ten hours I give to sleep,
More than my need, I know;
But I escape my mind
And that fire’s glow.

For listen: it is death
To watch that fire’s glow;
For, as it bums more red
Men paler grow.

O better in foul room
That’s warm, make life away,
Than homeless out of doors,
Cold night and day.

Pile on the coke, make fire,
Rouse its death-dealing glow;
Men are borne dead away
Ere they can know.

I lie; I cannot watch
Its glare from hour to hour;
It makes one sleep, to wake
Out of my power.

I close my eyes and swear
It shall not wield its power;
No use, I wake to find
A murdered hour.

Lying between us there!
That fire drowsed me deep,
And I wrought murder’s deed-
Did it in sleep.

I count us, thirty men,
Huddled from Winter’s blow,
Helpless to move away
From that fire’s glow.

So goes my life each day-
Its hours are twenty-four-
Four hours I live lukewarm,
And kill a score.

No man lives life so wise
But unto Time he throws
Morsels to hunger for
At his life’s close.

Were all such morsels heaped-
Time greedily devours,
When man sits still – he’d mourn
So few wise hours.

But all my day is waste,
I live a lukewarm four
And make a red coke fire
Poison the score.

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5 February, 2018. Helping and Helping II: Come, follow me, my friend!

After yesterday’s story of a blind man finding his way, here is a tale of …

The Fog by W. H. Davies

I saw the fog grow thick,
Which soon made blind my ken;
It made tall men of boys,
And giants of tall men.

It clutched my throat, I coughed;
Nothing was in my head
Except two heavy eyes
Like balls of burning lead.

And when it grew so black
That I could know no place,
I lost all judgement then,
Of distance and of space.

The street lamps, and the lights
Upon the halted cars,
Could either be on earth
Or be the heavenly stars.

A man passed by me close,
I asked my way, he said,
“Come, follow me, my friend”—
I followed where he led.

He rapped the stones in front,
“Trust me,” he said, “and come”;
I followed like a child—
A blind man led me home.

… a blind man leading the way. Jesus may have spoken of the blind leading the blind into the ditch, but that did not happen this time. The sighted man who could not see found his way thanks to a blind man with the simple technology of a white stick, tapping and trailing on the paving stones, coupled with a good memory.

Jesus was talking of spiritual blindness, warning us about following fashionable and presumptuous teachers, in his day the Pharisees: ‘Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.’ (Matthew 14:15).

(By the way, I saw the blind man of yesterday’s post a few weeks later, confidently making his way along Station Road, unaided.)

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February 2, Aberdaron XI: Air.

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Words on the air? Heard, half-heard?

The same words speaking a different truth on a different day.

The toddler’s joy in words.

The venom of trolls who would not dare speak their words on the air.

 

We will return to R. S. Thomas, and after tomorrow, we will no doubt return to Aberdaron. Meantime, let us speak words of peace.

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Please support Sister Rose for her sleep-out in Littlehampton on Saturday 24th February to raise funds for Worthing Churches Homeless Project. Sister now has a website for donations:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rosearden-close1

Thank you, Maurice.

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28 December: Father Andrew at Christmas V. Lux Vera

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Mary, Jesus’ Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

More Christmas poetry from the Anglican Franciscan, Fr Andrew SDC.

Lux Vera

‘Let there be light’ Thou didst say.
It was done –
In the shining of stars, in the gold of the sun.
They tell of Thy handiwork, give Thee their praise,
Yet dark is the brightest and best of earth’s days,
Without Thee, our Beloved.

‘Let there be love,’ didst Thou say?
It was done –
And Mary bent low, while the night, silver-hung,
Shone soft on Thy meek Baby face –
And bright is the darkest of nights by Thy grace,
And with Thee, best Beloved.

There was and is no electricity at Hales Place Chapel, but the gold on the garments and the insignia on the walls – there are many stars elsewhere in the design – would have reflected candle light on the darkest of nights, as it did on one of the brightest of earth’s days when this picture was taken. MMB.

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December 27: Father Andrew at Christmas, IV. Jesus Christ, The Same Yesterday, and Today, and For Ever

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We hope that  over the next days you enjoy our selection of Father Andrew’s Christmas verse to complement his thoughts before the feast. MMB.

Jesus Christ, The Same Yesterday, and Today, and For Ever

And just the same for you and me
He lives and loves as tenderly
Through years have passed away,
As when the simple shepherds saw
Their Saviour in the stable straw
On the first Christmas Day.

Fr Andrew S.D.C.

The reference is to Hebrews 13.8:
Jesus Christ, yesterday, and to day; and the same for ever.

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22 December, Christmas 1914. Father Andrew at Christmas, I. The ending of all wars …

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Here is a passage from Fr Andrew’s book, Carols and Christmas Rhymes, Mowbray, 1935.

We have been told that on Christmas Day in the Great War from rival trenches English, French, and German voices were united musically in Christmas hymns. That should have been the end of the war. It should be the ending of all wars, and all slum conditions, and all bad treatment of the childhood that the Christ-Child has blessed. With such practical intention these poor verses are laid in homage before the manger shrine of the Holy Child.

We will share more from the introduction as well as a few of Fr Andrew’s carols during the rest of Advent and Christmastide. Fr Andrew had a great devotion to the Eucharist, expressed in the title of this poem (O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee) as well as its theme.

Adoro Te Devote Latens Deitas

Who could refuse the appeal
Of Baby hands stretched out caressingly,
Or patter of Baby feet upon the stair?
It was like Love to deal
So with us in His sweet humility,
To be a little Child amongst us here;
And at the last, when those same hands had borne
The scars of labour and the pierce of sin,
Faithful at eventide as in the morn
Of His first Coming, still to seek to win,
With bleeding hands held wide in mute appeal,
The acceptance of His own unchanging love.

This slum courtyard in Birmingham has been cleaned and tidied almost out of recognition. Imagine no running water, no sewerage,  thin walls, coal fires amid the industrial fumes, rats, mud, disease…

 

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21 December: Zechariah.

 

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On glowing coals your incense plumed and rose,

and tendrils, wisps of smoke, entwining vines

of perfume circled round the holy throne,

round holy presence, round what faith enshrines.

O Zechariah, priest of God and seer,

in God’s eyes good, so good and true, yet you

were unprepared for Gabriel’s appearing:

you balked. But some, condemning, misconstrue.

Before the angel’s majesty and mien,

before unfathomed worlds spirits behold,

to me, your doubts, your dread – how right they seem:

before your silence gained what he foretold.

O Zechariah, made mute, but little flawed,

you shall live to see, to see your God.

(Luke 1:5-25)

SJC

Sister Johanna sent us this sonnet that distills the essence of her reflections on Zechariah. Thank you Johanna!

Will.

 

 

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November 28: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxviii – And So

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There is no end. Earthly existence comes and goes – yet everything lives on in a creative universe like ours. Everything works in a cooperative fashion as it is designed to do, within a great deal of freedom and choice. The point of relationships is to have no end. Creation resembles a musical instrument being tuned to ever higher vibrations until they weave together in the orchestra called creation. For this to happen we need to vacate our heads and move into our hearts and see with new eyes what really is waiting to be seen.

The fact that many relationships are not right is not Creation’s fault. It is the fruit of the way of redemptive violence we have universally installed. Mother Earth is weary of our adolescent aggression. We have a choice – between life and extinction. We need to awaken to a new dawn in the warmth of the rising sun which will lead us out of the darkness of exclusions and aggression.

Not many will forget Boxing Day 2004 – the Tsunami in South East Asia, claiming 250,000 lives. Devotees of all religions asking what the divine is up to; was this a punishment for evil, why did God not intervene? The day started like any other, holiday time, bright sunshine – some did notice that the water had receded from the shoreline – very few noticed the absence of bird-song and animal life. A tribe of gypsy people in Thailand did notice – and they discerned that the receding waters would return with a vengeance – they took to the hills and no one was lost. These people did not try to take control. They listened to the deeper wisdom from their lived history – as did the animal kingdom.

Earthquakes have been well described as Mother Earth in the birth pangs of new possibilities; without them all would be arid and lifeless – no animal or plant life, no human beings. Without the paradox of creation and destruction there is no freedom, wonder or mystery. Many of them are highly destructive of human life – the result of ignorance and injustice. Research has enabled us to build earthquake resistant towns and cities – with minimal loss of life. Why hasn’t this facility been universally shared, so that the poor can benefit also? If we refrained from polluting the atmosphere hurricanes and tsunamis would not be so ferocious.

Governments and religions call the gypsy folk of Thailand primitive – and ignore them, as we did with Jesus who reminded us: they did it to me and they will do it to you!

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated…

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,

The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning. Eliot

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27 October: Dylan’s Birthday.

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Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales; the sum has gone down, a half moon presides over the estuary outside our window. The birds are subdued but not far away. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’

And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan, that day when he whispered the truth of his joy. And may he be there, singing his joy eternally! First published on Will Turnstone.

Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.

I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:

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