Tag Archives: poetry

14 December: On fire with all love’s longing.

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For the Feast of Saint John of the Cross, here is one of his spiritual songs. This is taken from ‘San Juan de la Cruz Seven Spiritual Poems’, translated by A.S. Kline, available through Project Gutenberg. 

Song of the Soul that Delights in Reaching the Supreme State of perfection, that is, the union with God, by the path of spiritual negation.

Upon a darkened night
on fire with all love’s longing
– O joyful flight! –
I left, none noticing,
my house, in silence, resting.

Secure, devoid of light,
by secret stairway, stealing
– O joyful flight! –
in darkness self-concealing,
my house, in silence, resting.

In the joy of night,
in secret so none saw me,
no object in my sight
no other light to guide me,
but what burned here inside me.

Which solely was my guide,
more surely than noon-glow,
to where he does abide,
one whom I deeply know,
a place where none did show.

O night, my guide!
O night, far kinder than the dawn!
O night that tied
the lover to the loved,
the loved in the lover there transformed!

On my flowering breast,
that breast I kept for him alone,
there he took his rest
while I regaled my own,
in lulling breezes from the cedars blown.

The breeze, from off the tower,
as I sieved through its windings,
with calm hands, that hour,
my neck, in wounding,
left all my senses hanging.

Self abandoned, self forgot,
my face inclined to the beloved one:
all ceased, and I was not,
my cares now left behind, and gone:
there among the lilies all forgotten.

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December 8: A poet’s reflection on Mary.

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

We mark the Feast of Our Lady with this extract from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ. Read it slowly, then find the rest of the poem on line. 

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe

Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

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16 November: Spring and Fall.

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We can never have too much poetry, nor too much Hopkins. Here he is writing to a young child, but also to himself, and to those who have ears to hear. Earlier this year young Abel, then aged 2½, was inconsolably grieving for the snow. Echoes of Bottom’s speech in Twelfth Night?

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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14 November – A Peace Dividend

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I recently visited Northern Ireland for the first time in many years. Belfast looked cleaner and more prosperous, although the murals and the flags on lampposts spoke of tensions that have not disappeared.

The day after my meeting I took a bus to Dublin. A bus from the Republic, running a cross-border service. No halt as we passed from one jurisdiction to the other; if I’d been looking the other way I’d have missed the border altogether.

Most passengers got down at Dublin airport, as it serves more destinations than Belfast; when we reached central Dublin the bus parked at the Busaras (bus station) like those from Sligo or Cork or Galway. And we arrived on time.

That was an example of a poetic timetable!

But we need planners as well as poets, hard heads as well as soft hearts. Such people go unsung, even unfairly criticised for lack of vision, but they have contributed to the changes in Ireland, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa …

God send us more of them!

MMB

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

southsea

During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

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We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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16 October: Perspective

Woman, forest, beautiful woman, woman sitting beneath a tree

I sit beneath the Oak

on a breezy summer day –

cloud-puffed sky,

sun through the leaves,

lichen growing on the rain dark tree –

all beautiful to me.

If I’m sitting in a wheelchair,

is the beauty of the moment less?

…Or is it more?

© 2018 Christina Chase


Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash 

Thank you Christina for this challenging poem. Pull no punches! 

Christina has shared the beauty of her moment of personal revelation. The moment of Revelation at Pentecost was shared with the whole Church. ‘

Here is a sentence from good Pope John yesterday, which explains why I’ve put Christina’s post here. ‘May the spirit of Pentecost prevail over your families and may it unite them in that fusion of souls which was seen in the upper room where, together with the Mother of God and the Apostles, several pious women were to be found’ (Acts 1:14).

I count Christina as a modern apostle. her blog is called Divine Incarnate and can be found here. 

 

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23 September: Jesus in the Attic II, Persecution leads to Amsterdam.

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I recently came across a long poem called ‘Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby’ and then found out about its writer. My research led me to Our Dear Lord in the Attic, an attic in Amsterdam, where we visited him. Here is one verse from the poem: Mary is speaking.

The earth is now a heaven become,
And this base power of mine
A princely palace unto me,
My Son doth make to shine.
   This sight I see, this Child I have,
   This Infant I embrace,
   O endless Comfort of the earth
   And heaven’s eternal Grace.

Richard Rowlands alias Verstegen wrote this hymn around 1600. He was an English Catholic who fled to Amsterdam after escaping from imprisonment for his faith at home. He made a new and prosperous life in Amsterdam, a Protestant city.

All the Catholic churches there were closed down, including the big church at the Beguinage Convent, now a Scottish Presbyterian church. The good beguine ladies there simply carried on after moving their place of worship to ground floor rooms in their main building. I do not know where Rowlands worshipped, but a little after his time people met for Mass at another city centre site, now known as Our Dear Lord in the Attic. its presence was an open secret; the people of Amsterdam were not given to executions for those who worshipped differently to the official norm.

The Attic Church remained open till the mid nineteenth Century when a new Catholic church was erected nearby. It is now a museum, with the Church area all ready for the occasional worship that takes place there.

This statue of the Madonna and Child belongs here.

We will return to Our Dear Lord in the Attic.

There are many links to the poem on the web, some set to music.

MMB.

 

 

 

 

 

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15 September: Holy Cross, All Coming together.

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It was Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper was over, and we awaited our turn to proceed to the Altar of Repose. The man who had caught my eye and smiled at the Sign of Peace came across and shook my hand.

‘Hello Simeon, I was Caiaphas.’

A few years before we had taken those parts in a mystery play in Canterbury Cathedral, put on by the Franciscan Study Centre under Walter Lippi from Florence.

To come together that night! The play had mostly been about the trial and judicial assassination of Jesus, and its effects on Mary.

Caiaphas: It is better for one man to die for the nation.

Simeon: My eyes have seen thy Salvation which you have prepared before all peoples. A sword will pierce your heart.

Which of them had more evidence about Jesus? Simeon saw the Messiah in a little child; Caiaphas could weigh up the political situation caused by Jesus’ ministry, but had no vision, Eyes that did not see.

When I survey the wondrous Cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 

Simeon, foreground, with Friar Stefan to our left and Caiaphas to our right.

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Cross, today of Mary as Queen of Sorrows. Father Anthony Charlton at St Thomas’s Church, Canterbury, has invited us to pray especially at this time for all those affected by abuse of children and vulnerable people in the Church. May we have the vision to survey the Cross on which the Prince of Glory’s brothers and sisters are tortured in our day, and the wisdom to take the first steps to helping them.

 

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26 August: Behind these doors …

 

On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.

Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.

Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.

In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.

The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!

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