Monday, September 27, 2010

Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) is best known for her novels for teens — particularly for A Wrinkle in Time and it’s sequels. Although these books may most logically be classified as science-fiction, they really have more in common with fantasy novels; they seem less concerned with the technical side (although they certainly cover that) than with the human and spiritual story. In 1963 A Wrinkle in Time won the prestigious Newbery Award. Her novel A Ring of Endless Light (the title comes from a Henry Vaughan poem) was selected as a Newbery Honor Book for 1980. My favourite L’Engle fiction is the Wrinkle sequel Many Waters (1986), which takes twentieth century twins back to the time of the flood. The depth of these books is not limited by the youth of her protagonists.

In Walking on Water, her book of reflections on faith and art, she put the role of all writers and artists in perspective when she writes: “the artist is truly the servant of the work”.

In her poetry Madeleine L’Engle primarily uses traditional rhyming and rhythmic structures. She often writes on spiritual themes — sometimes taking on the persona of a biblical character — and about her relationship with her husband, Hugh Franklin who died in 1986.

She co-authored three books with her good friend, the poet Luci Shaw; their Advent and Christmas poetry and reflections were gathered in the 1996 book Wintersong, which I return to every year. Her new and collected poems — The Ordering of Love — was published in 2005. The following poem reflects her interest in both science and faith.

Sonnet, Trinity 18

Peace is the center of the Atom, the core
Of quiet within the storm. It is not
A cessation, a nothingness; more
The lightning in reverse is what
Reveals the light. It is the law that binds
The atom’s structure, ordering the dance
Of proton and electron, and that finds
Within the midst of flame and wind, the glance
In the still eye of the vast hurricane.
Peace is not placidity; peace is
The power to endure the megatron of pain
With joy, the silent thunder of release,
The ordering of Love. Peace is the atom’s start,
The primal image: God within the heart.

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, September 20, 2010

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) was the son of an Anglican vicar, although in his rebellious youth he served as a Unitarian preacher. In 1798 the book Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and William Wordsworth established the careers of both poets, and the entire Romantic movement. He is best known for such fanciful poems as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan”.

Coleridge’s marriage was not a happy one; this and his lengthy addiction to laudanum undermined his creative productivity for years. During this time he flitted from one philosophy to another. In 1814 he returned to the Church of England, and declared himself to be orthodox. Although he still permitted himself broad speculations, the doctrine of the Trinity became central to his thought. In 1817 he published Biographia Literaria, his most important work of literary criticism.

In his essay “Symbol And Allegory” Coleridge said, “It is among the miseries of the present age that it recognizes no medium between literal and metaphorical.” His “Mariner” carries significant symbolism of sin and redemption, and, as it nears its end, expresses:
-----"He prayeth best who loveth best
-----"All things both great and small;
-----"For the dear God who loveth us,
-----"He made and loveth all."
Coleridge said, “an allegory is but a translation of abstract notions into picture language.” Such picture language was his greatest poetic gift.

Epitaph (1833)

Stop, Christian passer-by!–Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seem'd he.–
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise–to be forgiven for fame
He ask'd, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

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, September 13, 2010

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer — a man of deep insight, renowned for his essays on agricultural issues, and ecology. He is the author of more than forty books, known as a religious thinker, and for his resistance to computer technology (He would not be interested in websites or blogs — even this blog — no matter how fascinating the topic). His poetry and fiction reflect his love of creation, of God and of rural life. Although he has taught at New York University, among others, and lived abroad in Italy and France, when we read Wendell Berry we are immersed in his connection to rural Kentucky; such connection to place is important in his work.

He’s been writing his rural novels of the fictitious town of Port William, Kentucky for half a century; the earliest, Nathan Coulter, was published in 1960, and one recent installment, Andy Catlett: Early Travels, appeared in 2007.

My connection to Wendell Berry is through his poems. They are simple, honest and profound — permitting us to reflect along with him, on the things that matter to him. He often speaks of faith, as in the following brief poem:
(IX from “Sabbaths 1999”)
--------The incarnate Word is with us,
--------is still speaking, is present
--------always, yet leaves no sign
--------but everything that is.

In his poetry, Berry reminds us of the issues that concern him — issues that concern us all. The following poem is from his collection Entries:

Air

This man, proud and young,
turns homeward in the dark
heaven, free of his burden
of death by fire, of life in fear
of death by fire, in the city
now burning far below.

This is a young man, proud;
he sways upon the tall stalk
of pride, alone, in control of the
explosion by which he lives, one
of the children we have taught
to be amused by horror.

This is a proud man, young
in the work of death. Ahead of him
wait those made rich by fire.
Behind him, another child
is burning; a divine man
is hanging from a tree.

In Rock & Sling (Volume 3 Issue 1 Spring 2006), you can read my review of Wendell Berry’s poetry collection Given.

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, September 6, 2010

John Berryman

John Berryman (1914–1972) was raised in the Catholic church, but had abandoned it. Throughout his life he suffered from alcoholism and depression; the suicide of his father, when Berryman was eleven years old, also haunted him throughout his life.

His early poems show the influences of Auden, Yeats and Hopkins. In 1964 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his innovative collection 77 Dream Songs — which demonstrated his originality and established his reputation.

During 1969 and 1970 he checked himself in for rehab several times, and soon had also embraced Christianity. Even in his faith statement Eleven Addresses to the Lord — which concludes his book Love & Fame (1970) — he questions more than he acknowledges.

On New Years’ Eve 1971 he celebrated eleven months alcohol free, but his emotional instability caught up with him a week later; he jumped to his death from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

from Eleven Addresses to the Lord

10


Fearful I peer upon the mountain path
where once Your shadow passed, Limner of the clouds
up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid,
I never until now confessed.

I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons:
You were good to me, & a delicious author,
rational & passionate. Come on me again,
as twice you came to Azarias & Misael.

President of the brethren, our mild assemblies
inspire, & bother the priest not to be dull;
keep us week-long in order; love my children,
my mother far & ill, far brother, my spouse.

Oil all my turbulence as at Thy dictation
I sweat out my wayward works.
Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ.
Let me lie down exhausted, content with that.

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