Monday, March 27, 2017

Gerard Manley Hopkins*

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844—1889) was not a popular poet in his own lifetime, perhaps because his idiosyncratic style was not like that of his contemporaries. None of his now-famous poems were even published until well after his death. He was raised in a family that valued both faith and artistic expression. In 1867 when he became a Catholic priest, he burned all of the poetry he had written to date, saying he would not write unless it was by the wish of church authorities. It wasn't until 1875, with the encouragement of his superior, when the German ship "Deutschland" was wrecked in a storm, that he began writing again.

Hopkins' poems finally appeared in book form in 1918, but did not begin selling well until after the second edition appeared in 1930. He became a major influence on the development of poetry in the twentieth century, including upon such poets as T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas.

Spring

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring —
----When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
----Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
----The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
----The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
----A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
----Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
----Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Gerard Manley Hopkins: first post second post

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, March 20, 2017

Sweeney Astray

Buile Suibhne is an ancient Irish tale of a king, often referred to as Mad Sweeney, who is driven insane by the curse of St. Ronan. Suibhne's name appears as early as the ninth century, and the tale is believed to have taken on its current form by the twelfth. It represents the conflict between paganism and the rise of Christianity. Seamus Heaney entitled his English translation Sweeney Astray. Sweeney is also the central character in T.S. Eliot's incomplete verse drama Sweeney Agonistes.

In the legend, Suibhne, trying to prevent the building of a church in his territory, threw Ronan's Psalter into the lake, and tried to drag him away. At the Battle of Mag Rath (637 A.D.) Suibhne speared to death one of the saint's psalmists who was blessing the troops with holy water. Ronan cursed him, saying he would wander like a bird and die by a spear.

Heaney says in his introduction, "For example, insofar as Sweeney is also a figure of the artist, displaced, guilty, assuaging himself by his utterance, it is possible to read the work as an aspect of the quarrel between free creative imagination and the constraints of religious, political, and domestic obligation..."

At the end of Heaney's translation St. Moling speaks the following words:

from Sweeney Astray

I am standing beside Sweeney's grave
remembering him. Wherever he
loved and nested and removed to
will always be dear to me.

Because Sweeney loved Glen Bolcain,
I learned to love it, too. He'll miss
all the fresh streams tumbling down,
all the beds of watercress.

He would drink his sup of water from
the well beyond that we have called
The Madman's Well; and now his name
keeps brimming in its sandy cold.

I waited long but knew he'd come.
I welcomed, sped him as a guest.
With holy viaticum
I limed him for the Holy Ghost.

Because Mad Sweeney was a pilgrim
to the lip of every well
and every green-banked, cress-topped stream,
their water's his memorial.

Now, if it is the will of God,
rise, Sweeney, take this guiding hand
that has to lay you in the sod
and draw the dark blinds of the ground.

I ask a blessing, by Sweeney's grave.
His memory rises in my breast.
His soul roosts in the tree of love.
His body sinks in its clay nest.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

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, March 13, 2017

Marjorie Stelmach

Marjorie Stelmach is the winner of Beloit Poetry Journal's 24th annual Chad Walsh Prize, for a poem of hers which was selected as the best published in the journal in 2016. Her fifth poetry collection Falter, has just appeared as part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books.

I am honoured to have contributed as the editor for this collection, and to have Marjorie Stelmach as one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, and in my forthcoming second anthology Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

She was a high school English teacher for 30 years, and has served as visiting poet at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and as director of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program at Washington University.

The following poem is from Falter.

On Departure

------El Shaddai, Elohim, and Adonai . . .

A profligate bird I can’t yet name ripples at intervals
outside the window I’ve raised to the rain.

Soon the heater clicks itself on against April’s chill,
------a comforting drone and a warmth we’ll pay for

on departure, along with the firewood we’ll likely consume,
------the local phone, any damages done to the furnishings—

all such accounting deferred by Laura, who late last evening
------welcomed us to Santa Maria and now returns to explain

the rules: first, she asks us not to burn the furniture
------or the cats; second, to help ourselves to the garden.

And it seems that’s it. When we ask about last night’s
------late-night laughter, first night with all of us back together,

our voices rising toward a keening hilarity, her smile widens:
------“Make a joyful noise,” she says, “Rule Three,”

and flings out her arms with such abandon my own arms lift
------as if to follow, wanting more than I’d known for a joyful noise

to rise in me, unconsidered as the sheer of nesting swallows
------planing into the rain; nameless as that profligate bird,

its melody catching over and over in its own throat, an echo of
------the Passage Song we’d lifted through similar catches

beside my brother’s deathbed weeks ago, voicing all the names
------of God we knew, a litany gathered over ages: names

for the going, for what it is we go into; names we hoped
------might also serve for his welcoming song in ceremonies

we can’t attend, or envision, or begin to name. A joy
------in the syllables, even then, even in the rasp

of his laboring breaths, nested within our circled chants, even
------in the first hard silence after, a caesura that began our long

release into the world he’d left, an unaccountably joyful noise
------I’m only beginning to understand, but, at any price,

will gladly pay for on departure.

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, March 6, 2017

Charles Péguy

Charles Péguy (1873—1914) is a French poet and philosopher. He championed socialism and nationalism, and lived much of his life in an uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church. A priest at the end of Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock, speaking of a Frenchman who never took the sacraments but is considered by some to be a saint—is a reference to Péguy.

"Truth's pedagogue" is what Geoffrey Hill calls Péguy in his long poem "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy" (1983).

Péguy ran a bookstore, and in 1900 began publishing the influential journal Cahiers de la Quinzaine. He volunteered for military service in World War I, and was one of its earliest casualties, as the Battle of the Marne was about to commence. Interestingly, he had written:

------Blessèd are those whom a great battle leaves
------Stretched out on the ground in front of God's face,
------Blessèd the lives that just wars erase,
------Blessèd the ripe wheat, the wheat gathered in sheaves.

The following selection is from the collection God Speaks which was translated by Julian Green.

from Innocence And Experience

God Speaks:
It is innocence that is full and experience that is empty.
It is innocence that wins and experience that loses.
It is innocence that is young and experience that is old.
It is innocence that grows and experience that wanes.

It is innocence that is born and experience that dies.
It is innocence that knows and experience that does not know.
It is the child who is full and the man who is empty,
Empty as an empty gourd and as an empty barrel:

That is what I do with that experience of yours.

Now then, children, go to school.
And you men, go to the school of life.
Go and learn
How to unlearn.
................................................
Nothing is so beautiful as a child going to sleep
while he is saying his prayers, says God.
I tell you nothing is so beautiful in the world.—
And yet I have seen beautiful sights in the world.
And I know something about it. My creation is
overflowing with beauty.
My creation overflows with marvels.
There are so many that you don't know where to put them.
I have seen millions and millions of stars rolling
under my feet like the sands of the sea.
I have seen days as scorching as flames,
Summer days of June and July and August.
I have seen winter evenings spread out like a cloak....

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, February 27, 2017

Marilyn Nelson*

Marilyn Nelson is the author of more than twenty books, including such poetry collections as Magnificat (1994) and Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems (2012). Her newest poetry collection is The Meeting House (2016, Antrim House). It is the history of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut — but is more than that, for it does not shy away from concerns of slavery and racism within this historic Christian community.

She has written books for young adults, and for young children, and has translated poetry, including the nonsense rhymes of Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen. In 2012 she won the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal. She is the Poet-in-Residence of the Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and served as Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2001—2006.

She is 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.

The following poem is from Carver: A Life in Poems (2001)

Watkins Laundry and Apothecary

Mariah Watkins, Neosho, Missuri

Imagine a child at your door,
offering to do your wash,
clean your house, cook,
to weed your kitchen garden
or paint you a bunch of flowers
in exchange for a meal.
A spindly ten-year-old, alone
and a stranger in town, here to go
to our school for colored children.
His high peep brought tears:
sleeping in a barn and all that,
nary mama nor kin,
but only white folks
he left with their blessing,
his earthly belongings
in a handkerchief tied to a stick.

I've brought a houseful of children
into this world, concentrating on
that needle's eye into eternity.
But ain't none of them children mine.
Well, of course I moved him on in.
He helped me with my washings,
brought me roots from the woods
that bleached them white folks' sheets
brighter than sunshine. He could fill
a canning jar with leaves and petals
so when you lifted the lid
a fine perfume flooded your senses.
White bodices and pantalettes danced
around George on my line.

He was sweet with the neighbor children.
Taught the girls to crochet.
Showed the boys
a seed he said held a worm
cupped hands warmed so it wriggled and set
the seed to twitching.
Gave them skills and wonders.
Knelt with me at bedtime.

He was the child the good Lord gave
and took away before I got more
than the twinkle of a glimpse
at the man he was going to be.
It happened one Saturday afternoon.
George was holding a black-eyed Susan,
talking about how the seed
this flower grew from
carried a message from a flower
that bloomed a million years ago,
and how this flower
would send the message on
to a flower that was going to bloom
in a million more years.
Praise Jesus, I'll never forget it.

He left to find a teach that knew
more than he knew.
I give him my Bible.
I keep his letters
in the bureau, tied with a bow.
He always sends a dried flower.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Marilyn Nelson: first 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, 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.