Monday, June 28, 2010

Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan (1622?–1695) was a Welsh physician and poet. He is one of the 17th century metaphysical poets — a group which includes John Donne and George Herbert. There was no metaphysical school, but a similar approach beginning with Donne, growing in Herbert, and developing further in Vaughan. What their poems have in common is a colloquial manner and a characteristic reflectiveness about their personal relationships with God.

Prior to 1650 his poetry was primarily secular, however, after a serious illness, Henry Vaughan experienced a spiritual awakening. He attributed this awakening to Herbert’s poetry, and his style is significantly influenced by Herbert. His best-known book, Silex Scintillans (which means Sparkling Flint) was published in 1650, with an expanded edition in 1655. Vaughan tried to suppress his earlier poetry, and is today primarily known for his poems of faith.

Peace

My Soul, there is a country
------Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
------All skillful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger
------Sweet Peace sits, crown'd with smiles,
And One born in a manger
------Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious Friend,
------And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
------To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
------There grows the flow'r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
------Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
------For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
------Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

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, June 21, 2010

Jeanne Murray Walker

Jeanne Murray Walker is a powerful poet of varied voice. She is equal to both the task of portraying the darkness in our world, and that of expressing real hope. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, and is also well-known for her plays, which have been staged in such cities as Chicago, Boston, Vancouver and London. She lives in Philadelphia, and has been a professor at the University of Delaware for over thirty years.

The following poem is from her new collection, New Tracks, Night Falling (Eerdmans, 2009),

Thanks

After Gerard Manley Hopkins

for September sun like a sharp thread
----that strings and pulls me
down the footpath, nearly blind, toward
----the dark woods. For the hawk kiting

on high sheen above the field
----as I cross the footbridge.
For the water’s slather, for bittersweet,
----stone flowers, slagmire, silt, sediment

rushing into the slurp of gravity. Thanks even
----for seek and cover, for the seam that
opens in the hay, mouse tail splitting the gold,
----ears sleeked back, frozen against

the plummet, wings folding silent
----as umbrellas, bill hooked, steel
cables grabbing, hauling up. Thanks
----for fierce, fast, for finality,

for let-go, limp, at last. Thanks for not
----covering up what I can’t grasp,
and for sunlight, still as strong
----as harp strings, holding earth to heaven.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Books & Culture review of Jeanne Murray Walker’s poetry collection, A Deed To The Light (2004, University of Illinois Press) here

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, June 14, 2010

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) is perhaps the most influential poet of the 20th century. In 1922, Eliot’s landmark poem “The Waste Land” transformed poetry in ways that are still obvious today. Although he was born and raised American, in 1927 he became a British citizen. Although he had lost faith in western civilization, in 1927 he was also confirmed in the Church of England. He experienced a profound Christian faith, which is significantly expressed in much of his poetry. His finest poetic achievement, according to the poet himself, was Four Quartets (1935–1942). The following poem appeared in 1928.

A Song for Simeon

----Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

----Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come ?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

----Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

----According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about T.S. Eliot: 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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was born in Lithuania, he lived in occupied Warsaw during WWII, and witnessed the oppression imposed by both Nazis and Stalinists upon his people. For more than 35 years he taught at the University of California at Berkeley, and in 1980 he received the Nobel Prize for literature.

Czeslaw Milosz wrote in Polish — including his own translation of the Psalms. The poem below was translated into English by the author and Robert Hass. He was as ready to talk about his faith as his doubt, and he was dedicated to and critical of both Poland and traditional Catholic faith.

The following is a selection from a sequence entitled “Treatise On Theology”. In the prose-like section that precedes this one, Milosz says, “Whoever places his trust in Jesus Christ waits for His coming and the end of this world, when the first heaven and the first earth pass, and death is no more.”

Religion Comes

Religion comes from our pity for humans.

They are too weak to live without divine protection.

Too weak to listen to the screeching noise of the turning of infernal wheels.

Who among us would accept a universe in which there was not one voice

Of compassion, pity, understanding?

To be human is to be completely alien amidst the galaxies.

Which is sufficient reason for erecting, together with others, the temples of an unimaginable mercy.

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