Monday, February 22, 2010

George Mackay Brown

Scottish poet George Mackay Brown (1921–1996) is best known for the way he captured the landscape and culture of his home in the Orkney Islands off the extreme north coast of Great Britain. He said, “The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.” He did not seek fame, avoided travelling, and saw the poet’s task as “interrogation of silence”.

He was brought up a Presbyterian although, perhaps because of his fascination with history and place, became a Roman Catholic in 1961. An obituary in The Independent said, “Brown practised his faith quietly, but set out his convictions with increasing authority and certainty as he moved into his old age. In Beside the Ocean of Time (1994), his last novel, he achieved such a magisterial summing-up of the purpose and meaning of man’s life that it is difficult to imagine how he could have followed it.”

The following poem demonstrates the subtlety and strength of his poetic voice.

A Poem For Shelter

Who was so rich
He owned diamonds and snowflakes and fire,
The leaf and the forest,
Herring and whale and horizon —
Who had the key to the chamber beyond the stars
And the key of the grave —
Who was sower and seed and bread
Came on a black night
To a poor hovel with a star peeking through rafters
And slept among beasts
And put a sweet cold look on kings and shepherds.

But the children of time, their rooftrees should be strong.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, February 15, 2010

George Herbert

Born in 1593, George Herbert is a younger contemporary of Shakespeare (by about 29 years) and John Donne (by 21 years). He was a member of British parliament before being ordained as an Anglican priest. In the year of his death, when he was already quite ill, he sent a manuscript of his poetry to his friend Nicholas Ferrar instructing him to have them published if he thought they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul”, but if not to burn them. Fortunately Ferrar did see their value and Herbert’s poetry collection The Temple was published shortly after his death in 1633. His poetry has been influential on such writers as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and C.S. Lewis.

I have recently spent some time meditating on the following Herbert poem:

The Elixer

--------Teach me, my God and King,
--------In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything,
--------To do it as for thee:

--------Not rudely, as a beast,
--------To run into an action;
But still to make thee prepossessed,
--------And give it his perfection.

--------A man that looks on glass,
--------On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
--------And then the heav’n espy.

--------All may of thee partake:
--------Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
--------Will not grow bright and clean.

--------A servant with this clause
--------Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
--------Makes that and th’ action fine.

--------This is the famous stone
--------That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
--------Cannot for less be told.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about George Herbert: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca