Monday, February 20, 2017

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811—1896) is famous for her anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Her father was a Congregationalist minister in Litchfield, Connecticut. The family moved to Cincinnati in 1832, when her father was appointed president of Lane Theological Seminary. Across the Ohio River in Kentucky, she could witness the horrors of slavery in action. In 1836 she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor of Biblical literature at Lane. After their son died in 1849, her views on Christian faith shifted from the Calvinism she had been raised in.

Stowe wrote her novel in an attempt to encourage abolition through a literary representation of slavery based in part on the life of Josiah Henson. After the Civil War began, she travelled to Washington to visit with President Abraham Lincoln.

The following poem first appeared in The Independent in 1858.

The Mystery of Life

Life's mystery — deep, restless as the ocean —
Hath surged and wailed for ages to and fro;
Earth's generations watch its ceaseless motion,
As in and out its hollow moanings flow.
Shivering and yearning by that unknown sea,
Let my soul calm itself, O Christ, in thee!

Life's sorrows, with inexorable power,
Sweep desolation o'er this mortal plain;
And human loves and hopes fly as the chaff
Borne by the whirlwind from the ripened grain.
Ah! when before that blast my hopes all flee,
Let my soul calm itself, O Christ, in thee!

Between the mysteries of death and life
Thou standest, loving, guiding, not explaining;
We ask, and thou art silent; yet we gaze,
And our charmed hearts forget their drear complaining.
No crushing fate, no stony destiny,
O Lamb that hast been slain, we find in thee!

The many waves of thought, the mighty tides,
The ground-swell that rolls up from other lands,
From far-off worlds, from dim, eternal shores,
Whose echo dashes on life's wave-worn strands,
This vague, dark tumult of the inner sea
Grows calm, grows bright, O risen Lord, in thee!

Thy piercèd hand guides the mysterious wheels;
Thy thorn-crowned brow now wears the crown of power;
And when the dread enigma presseth sore,
Thy patient voice saith, "Watch with me one hour."
As sinks the moaning river in the sea
In silver peace, so sinks my soul in thee!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, February 13, 2017

John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman (1801—1890) is an English churchman and scholar who began his career in the Anglican Church, but then converted to Catholicism in 1845. Prior to this he was a significant figure in the Oxford Movement. He founded The Catholic University of Ireland, which has since become University College Dublin. In 1879 he became a cardinal.

Newman wrote poetry, fiction, history, hymns, sermons and works of philosophy and theology. Gerard Manley Hopkins held Newman's prose writing in high esteem.

He was beautified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. The version of Newman that is portrayed by the Pope, however, seems quite different from the one that history has recorded. Newman had lost his position with the Catholic magazine, The Rambler, for writing articles critical of the papacy; now he is being held up as one opposed to dissent.

Lead, Kindly Light (The Pillar of Cloud)

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Richard Jones

Richard Jones is a professor of English at Chicago's DePaul University, where he directs the Creative Writing Program. His poetry books include The Blessing: New & Selected Poems (2000) which won the Society of Midland Authors Award for Poetry, and Apropos of Nothing (2006) both published by Copper Canyon Press. For more than 30 years, he has served as editor for the literary journal Poetry East. His poetry has appeared in anthologies edited by Billy Collins (Poetry 180) and Garrison Keillor (Good Poems).

When asked about his teaching, Richard Jones says,
------“Writing poetry can be a hard and humbling discipline—an art
------that demands great erudition and mastery, and which tests the
------will and the imagination. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke framed
------the challenge of poetry: 'You must change your life.' And so
------poetry assaults complacency, insensitivity, and arrogance.
------Ordinary wisdom tells us to hurry blindly through our day;
------poetry asks that we slow down, listen, and regard all that
------which is marvelous, both the insignificant as well as the divine.”

The following poem first appeared in Image and is from his book The Correct Spelling & The Exact Meaning (Copper Canyon, 2010)

Normal

------Tent Revival, 1957

When things get back to normal
God will put on black robes
and ascend to the mercy seat
to judge the world, the ruined
cities, the devastated hills,
the living and the risen dead.
When things get back to normal,
He’ll open the Book of Life
and read what each man has done,
said, and written, reciting our words
and deeds to the angels to see
if there is any forgiveness
like honey on our tongues.
When things get back to normal
all will stand before God
and be burned like dead branches
or blessed with the incomprehensible fire
of mercy. When things get back to normal,
we will be standing on the threshold of heaven,
a kingdom of singing where at last we will learn
the meaning and purpose
of poetry.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Novica Tadić

Novica Tadić (1949—2011) is a Serbian poet who was born in Montenegro, and spent most of his life in Belgrade. Charles Simic translated his poetry for the book Night Mail: Selected Poems (1992). Throughout his career, Tadić has steadily won every major award that Yugoslavia, and later Serbia, had to offer — although he is still relatively unknown in the West.

His poems often are horror-filled, in reaction to the inhuman treatment he and others received at the hands of Yugoslavia’s communists — such as in “Biography,” where the speaker has been randomly beaten by authorities, which actually reflects his own experience. In his early poetry he used symbolism from Bogomilism (a heretical medieval cult that existed in the area). In his more recent work, Tadić becomes increasingly orthodox in the expression of his own Christian faith.

The following poem is from Assembly; translated by Steven and Maja Teref

Candle

Black thought
(illthought)
coils around
my ankles,
lunges
at my throat,
descends
into my heart.
My guardian
angel grabs
the candle,
lights it
so gently
with holy
fire. My candle
burns upright
in my gloom.
I, the stumbling
man, now upright.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Paul Willis*

Paul Willis has just had his fourth poetry collection — Getting To Gardisky Lake — published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. He is a professor of English at Westmount College, where he has taught for 25 years, and is the former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His previous collection — Say This Prayer Into The Past — is part of the Poiema Poetry Series.

One of the poems in his new book first appeared on my blog The 55 Project. He is also one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November — (available here) and through Amazon. He also has poetry forthcoming in my anthology Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

In his recent interview in the Santa Barbara Independent, Willis responded to the question of where poetry and faith meet for him by saying, "I don’t know that I ever set out to write nature poetry...[or] spiritual poetry, either...But you are right; I’m not much of a proselytizer. Evangelicals like to talk about having Jesus in their hearts. If Jesus really is in my heart, he might peek out in some poems, but I don’t feel the need to preach."

The following poem is from Getting To Gardisky Lake and demonstrates the poet's ecological concerns.

Q & A

"Look there," he said, and pointed
out the window of the climbing plane.

"More swimming pools in Johannesburg
than you have got in Los Angeles."

And there were many. Little strings of aqua
jewels that necklaced every neighborhood.

The man was on his way to finance
gold mines on the shores of Lake Victoria.

They would leach the gold from piles
of ore with cyanide, a cunning way.

"Do you worry about the water?"
I asked. "The groundwater?"

He closed his eyes. "Just look," he said.
"Look at all the swimming pools."

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Paul Willis: first post second post

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Giuseppe Ungaretti

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888—1970) is an Italian poet, born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. In 1912 he moved to France to attend the University of Paris. There he became friends with poets including Paul Valéry, and painters such as Pablo Picasso, and became greatly influenced by the French symbolist poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. Ungaretti enlisted in the Italian army when WWI broke out. It was on the battlefield where he wrote his first poetry collection.

After a religious upbringing, he abandoned his faith, but returned to Catholicism in 1928. He was and is controversial in Italy for his support of the Italian fascists, though by the '40s he was denouncing them for joining up with the Nazis and instituting race laws. He appears to have genuinely regretted his early support for them.

From 1936 to 1942 he taught Italian literature at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. When his nine-year-old son died, he expressed his agony — as well as his sorrow over what was happening in Europe — in his poetry. He taught at the University of Rome from 1942 to 1957.

The following poem is from Ungaretti's collection Grief, and from the section "Rome Occupied: 1943—1944." This translation is by Diego Bastianutti.

You Too Are My River

1.

Fateful Tiber, you too are my river,
Now that night already troubled flows;
Now that, persistent,
Like grief gushing from stone,
A groan of lambs radiates
Lost through the stunned streets.
That the dread of unremitting evil
The worst of evils,
That the dread of an unforeseeable evil
Encumbers the soul and footsteps;
That unending sobs, gasping at length
Freeze the homes and dangerous dens;
Now that night already torn apart flows,
That every moment suddenly disappears,
Or fear the offense of many signals
Joined to shine almost divinely
Through the ascent of human millennia.

Now that night already devastated flows,
And I learn how much a man suffers;
Now now, while the enslaved world
Suffers from the abysmal pain;
Now that the unendurable torment
Is let loose between brothers in mortal rage;
Now that my blasphemous lips
Dare say:
“Christ, thoughtful and moving,
Why is Your goodness
So far from us?”

2.

Now that bewildered sheep scatter
With the lambs through streets
That were once urban, desolate.
Now that after the strain of emigration,
After the wicked injustice
Of deportations,
A people suffers;
Now that in the graves
Man tears himself apart
With twisted fantasies
And shameless hands
And pity contracts into a scream from stone;
Now that innocence
Groaning, demands at least an echo
Even from the hardened heart;
Now I see clearly in the dark night.

Now I see clearly in the dark night, I learn,
I know that Hell has come to Earth
To such a degree that
Man, lunatic, dodges
The purity of Your passion.

3.

The burden of pain,
That man spreads across the earth,
Plagues Your heart;
Your heart is the zealous seat
Of a love not vain.

Christ, thoughtful and moving
An incarnate star among the darkness of humanity,
Brother who ceaselessly
Sacrifices graciously
To rebuild man.

Saint, Saint, how you suffer
Teacher and brother and God, how you know us, the weak
Saint, Saint, how you suffer
To free the dead from death
And support those of us who live in misery.
I cry no more from tears that are only mine,
Here, I call You, Saint,
Saint, Saint, how you suffer.

Thanks to Burl Horniachek for suggesting this, and many other poets.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. He divides his time between Krakow and Chicago, where he teaches at the University of Chicago. His awards include the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award.

His poem "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" appeared on the back cover of The New Yorker shortly after the September 11th attacks, and received a lot of attention. His books include Without End: New and Selected Poems (FSG, 2003) and most-recently, Unseen Hand (FSG, 2011).

In acknowledgement of Czeslaw Milosz's question of the Pope, "[H]ow in the 20th century can one write religious poetry differently?” Zagajewski has said, “I think poets have to be able to find fresh metaphors for old metaphysical objects and longings. I’m a Christian, a sometimes doubting one (but this is almost a definition of a Christian: to doubt also). In my writing I have to be radically different from a priest. My language must have the sheen of a certain discovery.”

The following poem is from Without End.

Presence

I was born in a city of wild cherries
and hard-seeded sunflowers (common wisdom
had it halfway from the West
to the East). Globes stained by verdigris
kept careless vigil.

Might only the absence of presence be perfect?
Presence, after all, infected with the original
sin of existence, is excessive, savage,
Oriental, superb, while beauty, like a fruit knife,
snips its bit of plenitude off.
Life accumulates through generations
as in a pond; it does not vanish
with its moment but turns
airy and dry. I think
of a half-conscious prayer, the chapped lips
of a boy at his first confession,
the wooden step creaking
under his knees.
At night, autumn arrives
for the harvest, yellow, ripe for flame.
There are, I know, not one
but at least four realities,
intersecting
like the Gospels.
I know I'm alone, but linked
firmly to you, painfully, gladly.
I know only the mysteries are immortal.

Thanks to Burl Horniachek for suggesting this, and many other poets.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.