Monday, May 30, 2011

Isaiah

Isaiah wrote the prophetic book that bears his name from about 739 B.C. to 681 B.C. Little is known about him, although he is often mentioned in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In Isaiah chapter 6, we learn of the prophet's call, which he dates from the year King Uzziah died.

As we are commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible (1611) I have decided to share some of the beautiful poetry of that translation, which has perhaps had more influence on English poetry than any other publication. The following passage is well known, because it significantly prophesied Christ’s crucifixion. In Handel’s great oratorio, Messiah, portions of this and other texts from the King James Version were incorporated.

From The Servant Songs (Isaiah 52:13 — 53:12)

Behold, my servant shall deal prudently,
-----he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
As many were astonied at thee;
-----his visage was so marred more than any man,
-----and his form more than the sons of men:
So shall he sprinkle many nations;
-----the kings shall shut their mouths at him:
for that which had not been told them shall they see;
-----and that which they had not heard shall they consider.

Who hath believed our report?
-----and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,
-----and as a root out of a dry ground:
he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him,
-----there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men;
-----a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our faces from him;
-----he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs,
-----and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken,
-----smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
-----he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
-----and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
-----we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on him
-----the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
-----yet he opened not his mouth:
he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,
-----and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
so he openeth not his mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment:
-----and who shall declare his generation?
for he was cut off out of the land of the living:
-----for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
And he made his grave with the wicked,
-----and with the rich in his death;
because he had done no violence,
-----neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief:
-----when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin,
he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days,
-----and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
He shall see of the travail of his soul,
-----and shall be satisfied:
by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;
-----for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,
-----and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he hath poured out his soul unto death:
-----and he was numbered with the transgressors;
and he bare the sin of many,
-----and made intercession for the transgressors.

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, May 23, 2011

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov (1923–1997) was born in England. After the war she married an American, moved to New York and became an American citizen. In the US, she came under the influence of William Carlos Williams and other American poets. She, in turn, was significant in the advancement of Margaret Avison’s career — even though Avison had recently embraced Christian faith, and Levertov remained unconvinced.

Levertov’s conversion came in 1984. In 1997 she put together her selection of poems on religious themes — drawn from seven earlier collections — The Stream & the Sapphire. In the foreword she says the book traces her “own slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith”. She put the book together “as a convenience to those readers who are themselves concerned with doubt and faith”.

Flickering Mind

Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away—and back,
circling.
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
darts
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
anywhere,
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?

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, May 16, 2011

George Whipple

George Whipple was born in New Brunswick in 1927, grew up in Toronto, and presently lives in British Columbia. He is the author of eleven poetry collections, and has attracted the praise of such literary figures as: Northrop Frye, Louis Dudek, John B. Lee, and Margaret Avison.

He has translated poetry from French, and is a visual artist — often adding line drawings to his poetry collections. His inspiration sometimes comes from painters, particularly those associated with Canada’s “Group of Seven”. The cover illustrations for the two volumes of his collected poetry (the third, not yet released by Penumbra Press), feature paintings by Tom Thomson.

His inspiration often comes from his faith and from the natural world around him.

When asked “How does a longstanding spiritual discipline connect to the practice of writing poetry?” he said — “My spiritual life and my poetry are one. The secret, sacred revelations given to me since as far back as I can remember, intuitions of eternity unfolding in time, were poetry to me before I had any presumptions of preparing myself to be a writer...” (Poetry And Spiritual Practice).

Praise
-------------for M. Travis Lane

I praise
----heron, hare,
--------hawk and grouse,
doodlebug and slug,
----kinkajou and kittiwake,
--------barracuda, kangaroo,
and shining in the ear
----lobe of the sky
--------the diamond earring
------------of a 747.

I praise
----rutabaga, goober,
--------sassafras and cannabis,
kinnikinic and kale,
----and each morning Him
--------who gives the present
------------of the present
--------every day — the past
------------already opened,
the future in the mail.

This is the first of two Kingdom Poets posts about George Whipple: 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, May 9, 2011

Søren Kierkegaard

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813—1855) could also be described as a theologian and poet. He lived all his life in Copenhagen, with the exception of two years in Germany.

Called the father of existentialism, Kierkegaard focussed on the subjective and personal. He considered a leap of faith essential to a passionate Christian life, and distrusted attempts to prove Christian claims objectively. He believed people choose to live within the aesthetic sphere (which is unfulfilling), the ethical sphere (which leads to compromise), or the faith sphere (which may lead to a purposeful life).

Without God at the centre, existentialism often leads to despair. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of Russia’s greatest writers, demonstrates Christian existentialist thought in many of his novels.

Kierkegaard’s emphasis was often on the individual; theologically this includes our need as individuals to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than merely being connected to him through an institutional church. He was very critical of the Danish National Church, and in much conflict with it.

Many of Kierkegaard’s poetic prayers have been translated into English.

Calm My Heart

O Lord, calm the waves of this heart; calm its tempests.
Calm yourself, O my soul, so that the divine can act in you.
Calm yourself, O my soul, so that God is able to repose in you,
so that his peace may cover you.

Yes, Father in heaven,
often have we found that the world cannot give us peace,
O but make us feel that you are able to give peace;
let us know the truth of your promise:
that the whole world may not be able to take away your peace.

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, May 2, 2011

Andrew Lansdown

Andrew Lansdown is a Baptist writer living in Perth, Australia, who has authored ten collections of poetry. He writes both adult and children’s poetry, has more than fifty published short stories and a trilogy of popular fantasy novels. Les Murray has called him Australia’s greatest Christian poet. The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English, suggests that because of the Christian stance in Andrew Lansdown’s poetry, perhaps “his work has been neglected and undervalued.” Even so, he is the recipient of many awards, fellowships, and honours.

He is an imagist poet — preferring to share the brief glimpses of his perceptive eye, rather than longer, rambling verse. It has been suggested that the effect of his poetry is cumulative, and can be best appreciated when reading many poems, one after another. His most recent collection of adult poetry is Far From Home (2010).

Rose

The day after I cut it
I notice the white rose
in the pottery vase
on my desk start to wilt.

All day it has been
drooping lower and lower,
until now its small head
is hanging upside down,

lolling loose-haired
against the shoulder
of the vase, as if given
entirely to sorrow.

Parable

for Leroy Randall

Plant a seed, reap a song:
such are the ways of God.

Jesus said his kingdom
is like a mustard seed

which when buried rises
to a tree, and the birds

alight in its branches.
So, from a grain, a surge

of sap and shade, a haunt
of gladness and surprise.

Oh, beyond all desire,
the tree of God abounds

with nests—and a choir!

The Raven

The raven is a black and craven bird,
a bird by the Law unclean.
Its carrion cry on the wind is heard -
the raven, that black and craven bird.
Yet it is the one the Lord by His word
has sent for my keep and keen.
Oh, the raven’s a black and craven bird,
a bird by the Law unclean!

Posted with permission of the poet

I first encountered Andrew Lansdown through “An anthology of Australian Christian Poets” in the journal Stonework. Issue 3, available 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