Monday, April 20, 2015

Anne Porter*

Anne Porter (1911—2011) has left us two collections of her poetry. When her first book, An Altogether Different Language, was honoured as a finalist for the National Book Award, she was 83 years old. Her second book, Living Things (2006), is her collected poems, so includes the first book in its entirety.

Although she wrote poetry all her life, she rarely found time — being married to accomplished painter Fairfield Porter, and raising their five children. She can often be seen as a model in her husband's paintings, although she saw herself more as an object in the scene than as the subject. Other than entertaining friends — such as painter Jackson Pollack, and poet Frank O'Hara — her social life centred on the local Methodist church. After her husband died in 1975 she moved on from what she had taken as her vocation to another — beginning to write poetry more seriously.

David Shapiro, in his introduction to An Altogether Different Language, describes her as: "...an ecstatic exception, an American religious poet of stature who reminds us that the idea of the holy is still possible for us." He writes, "For Anne Porter, the holy is found in a commitment to Christ the Mediator and his triumph in suffering for a suffering world."

She died in 2011, just a month shy of her 100th birthday.

Listening To The Crows

Infant in a pinewood
Lying in a basket
Not owning anything
Not knowing
A single word

I listened to the shiny
Crows outside my window
As they spoke with one another
In a strange tribal language

And even now
When I wake up early
And overhear the crows
Calling to one another
In the cool floods of the air

The deeps of infancy
Open within me
Their wonder washes me
And instantly

My heart grows light
As light as if the world
Had never fallen.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Anne Porter: first 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, April 13, 2015

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892) is a Quaker poet who advocated for the abolition of slavery. He was particularly influenced by the poetry of Robert Burns. Whittier's first poem was published in 1826 when his sister sent it to The Newburyport Free Press without his permission.

He became a newspaper editor and rose quickly to the influential New England Weekly Review where he became an outspoken critic of President Andrew Jackson. He had been interested in a career in politics, but his outspoken 1833 abolitionist pamphlet Justice and Expediency marginalized him from the mainstream. In 1857 he was one of the founding contributors to The Atlantic Monthly.

Up until the end of the Civil War, Whittier's writing focussed on bringing an end to slavery. Once that was accomplished he turned his attention to poems expressing faith, love of nature, and the experience of rural life. The publication of his long poem Snow-Bound in 1866 made him a household name and brought him a comfortable income.

Forgiveness

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

By Their Works

Call him not heretic whose works attest
His faith in goodness by no creed confessed.
Whatever in love's name is truly done
To free the bound and lift the fallen one
Is done to Christ. Whoso in deed and word
Is not against Him labours for our Lord.
When he, who, sad and weary, longing sore
For love's sweet service sought the sisters' door
One saw the heavenly, one the human guest
But who shall say which loved the master best?

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, April 6, 2015

John Updike

John Updike (1932—2009) is an American novelist, poet, critic and short story writer. He was best known for his "Rabbit" novels, for which he twice won the Pulitzer Prize — for Rabbit Is Rich in 1982, and for Rabbit at Rest in 1991. Although Christian theology is a frequent focus in his novels, they are also preoccupied with expressing sex in explicit detail. The New York Times pointed out in an extended obituary that:

---------"Mr. Updike never abandoned short stories, of which
---------he turned out several hundred, most of them first
---------appearing in The New Yorker. It was here that
---------he exercised his exquisitely sharp eye for the minutiae
---------of domestic routine and the conflicts that animated it
---------for him — between present satisfaction and future
---------possibility, between sex and spirituality, and between
---------the beauty of creation and the looming threat of death..."

He published a total of eight poetry collections in his lifetime.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

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 30, 2015

David Gascoyne

David Gascoyne (1916—2001) is an English poet often associated with the surrealist movement. His first poetry collection appeared when he was just sixteen. He became a friend and collaborator with Salvador Dali, and wrote the influential 1935 book, A Short Survey of Surrealism.

Gascoyne's life has been described as a long search for meaning. At nineteen he became a member of the Communist Party, but became disillusioned when he saw how communists behaved; he also later found surrealism dissatisfying. He suffered from mental illness and was addicted to amphetamines for years, but he managed to break the habit. His 1956 book Night Thoughts evidences his turn from surrealism, toward metaphysical and religious poetry.

When he was a patient in Whitecroft Hospital on the Isle of Wight, he met his wife Judy who was a volunteer. She said:
---------"One of my favourite poems was called 'September
---------"Sun'. I read it one afternoon and one of the
---------patients came up to me afterwards and said 'I
---------wrote that', I put my hand on his shoulder and
---------said 'Of course you did, dear'. Then of course
---------when I got to know him I realised he had."

David Gascoyne once said, "The poet's job is to go on holding on to something like faith, through the darkness of total lack of faith...the eclipse of God."

Ecce Homo

Whose is this horrifying face,
This putrid flesh, discoloured, flayed,
Fed on by flies, scorched by the sun?
Whose are these hollow red-filmed eyes
And thorn-spiked head and spear-stuck side?
Behold the Man: He is Man’s Son.

Forget the legend, tear the decent veil
That cowardice or interest devised
To make their mortal enemy a friend,
To hide the bitter truth all His wounds tell,
Lest the great scandal be no more disguised:
He is in agony till the world’s end,

And we must never sleep during that time!
He is suspended on the cross-tree now
And we are onlookers at the crime,
Callous contemporaries of the slow
Torture of God. Here is the hill
Made ghastly by His spattered blood

Whereon He hangs and suffers still:
See, the centurions wear riding-boots,
Black shirts and badges and peaked caps,
Greet one another with raised-arm salutes;
They have cold eyes, unsmiling lips;
Yet these His brothers know not what they do.

And on his either side hang dead
A labourer and a factory hand,
Or one is maybe a lynched Jew
And one a Negro or a Red,
Coolie or Ethiopian, Irishman,
Spaniard or German democrat.

Behind his lolling head the sky
Glares like a fiery cataract
Red with the murders of two thousand years
Committed in His name and by
Crusaders, Christian warriors
Defending faith and property.

Amid the plain beneath His transfixed hands,
Exuding darkness as indelible
As guilty stains, fanned by funereal
And lurid airs, besieged by drifting sands
And clefted landslides our about-to-be
Bombed and abandoned cities stand.

He who wept for Jersualem
Now sees His prophecy extend
Across the greatest cities of the world,
A guilty panic reason cannot stem
Rising to raze them all as He foretold;
And He must watch this drama to the end.

Though often named, He is unknown
To the dark kingdoms at His feet
Where everything disparages His words,
And each man bears the common guilt alone
And goes blindfolded to his fate,
And fear and greed are sovereign lords.

The turning point of history
Must come. Yet the complacent and the proud
And who exploit and kill, may be denied—
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry—
The resurrection and the life
Wrought by your spirit’s blood.

Involved in their own sophistry
The black priest and the upright man
Faced by subversive truth shall be struck dumb,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
While the rejected and condemned become
Agents of the divine.

Not from a monstrance silver-wrought
But from the tree of human pain
Redeem our sterile misery,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
That man’s long journey
May not have been in vain.

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 23, 2015

Henry Vaughan*

Henry Vaughan (1622?—1655) was born in Wales. He and his twin brother, Thomas, entered Jesus College at Oxford in 1638. Thomas became a noted philosopher after graduation, however Henry left to pursue a law career in London before attaining his degree. At the outbreak of the English Civil War, Henry returned to Wales and dedicated himself to military service in the Royalist cause.

Vaughan's early verse is typical of the "Sons of Ben" who were followers of Ben Jonson. After a spiritual awakening in 1648, Henry Vaughan's poetry demonstrates the influence of metaphysical poets such as John Donne, and especially of George Herbert. He acknowledges the spiritual influence of Herbert: "whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, of whom I am the least."

Palm Sunday

Hark! how the children shrill and high
Hosanna cry,
Their joys provoke the distant sky,
Where thrones and seraphims reply,
And their own angels shine and sing
In a bright ring:
Such young, sweet mirth
Makes heaven and earth
Join in a joyful symphony.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Henry Vaughan: first 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 16, 2015

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (1816—1855) is the eldest of the three famous Brontë sisters. She had had two older sisters who both died in childhood. Her mother also died when Charlotte was 5-years-old. Her father was an evangelical Anglican priest who was appointed Rector of Haworth in Yorkshire in 1820.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne, became their own literary community — assisting each other with their poetry and fiction. Charlotte is best remembered as the author of the novel Jane Eyre (1847). She received two offers of marriage in 1839, another in 1851, and finally in 1854 she married Arthur Bell Nicholls — her father's Curate.

Her remaining siblings all died prematurely: her brother Branwell and sister Emily in 1848, and lastly Anne in 1849. Charlotte, herself died in 1855 due to overwhelming sickness during her pregnancy.

On The Death Of Anne Brontë

There's little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I 've lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.

Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
O'er those belovèd features cast.

The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank Him well and fervently;

Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.

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 9, 2015

Ralph Knevet

Ralph Knevet (1601—1671) is an English poet and clergyman who saw himself as a disciple of George Herbert. His play Rhodon and Iris was first performed in 1631. His MS. Supplement of the Faery Queene in Three Books first appeared in 1633, showing his appreciation of Edmund Spenser. In the 1640s Knevet composed his Gallery to the Temple; in the preface he said of Herbert, "it was Hee who rightly knew to touch Davids harpe". 

In 1652 he became the Rector of Lyng, Norfolk, where he lived for the rest of his life. 

The Harp

---Some may occasion chance to carp
Saying that I have sung to Nero's harp,
And therefore am for David's most unfit,
Which piety requires, as well as wit;
---But thus, I my defence prepare,
---Showing how I have travelled far,
And by the streams of Babylon have sate,
Where I deplored my sad and wretched state;
---Upon a willow there I hung
---That harp to which I whilome sung:
This tree, which neither blossoms yields, nor fruit;
Did with this instrument unhappy suit:
---There let it hang, consume, and rot
---Since I a better harp have got,
Which doth in worth as far surpass the other,
As Abel in devotion, did his brother.

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.