Monday, September 26, 2011

Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell (1621—1678) was an English metaphysical poet, who was influenced by John Donne and Ben Jonson. His father was the Reverend Andrew Marvell who lectured at Holy Trinity Church in Hull, Yorkshire.

In 1653, Marvell became friends with John Milton. By 1657, Milton was able to have Marvell replace him as Latin secretary to Cromwell’s Council of State — as Milton was now blind. In 1660 — the year of the Restoration — Marvell was elected to Parliament and used his influence to free Milton from prison, perhaps even saving his life.

During his life, Marvell was better known for his political pamphlets. He was critical of the government of Charles II, particularly in its lack of religious toleration of the Puritans. Many of his politically-charged, satyrical pieces were not published under his own name — and very few of his poems were published within his lifetime.

The Coronet

When for the thorns with which I long, too long,
With many a piercing wound,
My Saviour's head have crowned,
I seek with garlands to redress that wrong,—
Through every garden, every mead,
I gather flowers (my fruits are only flowers),
Dismantling all the fragrant towers
That once adorned my shepherdess's head :
And now, when I have summed up all my store,
Thinking (so I my self deceive)
So rich a chaplet thence to weave
As never yet the King of Glory wore,
Alas! I find the Serpent old,
That, twining in his speckled breast,
About the flowers disguised, does fold
With wreaths of fame and interest.
Ah, foolish man, that wouldst debase with them,
And mortal glory, Heaven's diadem!
But thou who only couldst the Serpent tame,
Either his slippery knots at once untie,
And disentangle all his winding snare,
Or shatter too with him my curious frame,
And let these wither—so that he may die—
Though set with skill, and chosen out with care ;
That they, while thou on both their spoils dost tread,
May crown Thy feet, that could not crown Thy head

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 19, 2011

Mary Karr

Mary Karr disrupted the poetry scene, with her 1991 essay “Against Decoration”, by insisting that content is more important than poetic style. She is known for her essays and memoirs — particularly the best-selling The Liar’s Club — but still sees herself primarily as a poet. After years as an agnostic alcoholic, she came to embrace Catholic Christianity; although she admits to having a cafeteria approach, she seeks to follow the spiritual exercises of Ignatius.

Her 2010 address at the Festival of Faith & Writing (Grand Rapids, Michigan) was entitled, “Spiritual Revelations from a Black-Belt Sinner”; there she encouraged her audience in the discipline of prayer, and seeking God’s presence through gratitude. Two years earlier, at the same conference, she shared a stage with her friend Franz Wright. The two poets have followed a similar path, turning from alcoholism and depression, to faith in Christ. They each read a favourite poem from each other’s work.

The following poem is from her 2006 collection Sinners Welcome.

For a Dying Tomcat Who's Relinquished
His Former Hissing and Predatory Nature


I remember the long orange carp you once scooped
from the neighbor’s pond, bounding beyond
her swung broom, across summer lawns

to lay the fish on my stoop. Thanks
for that. I’m not one to whom offerings
often get made. You let me feel

how Christ might when I kneel,
weeping in the dark
over the usual maladies: love and its lack.

Only in tears do I speak
directly to him and with such
conviction. And only once you grew frail

did you finally slacken into me,
dozing against my ribs like a child.
You gave up the predatory flinch

that snapped the necks of so many
birds and slow-moving rodents.
Now your once powerful jaw

is malformed by black malignancies.
It hurts to eat. So you surrender in the way
I pray for: Lord, before my own death,

let me learn from this animal’s deep release
into my arms. Let me cease to fear
the embrace that seeks to still me.

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 12, 2011

John Milton*

One of the things I set for myself to accomplish this summer was to read Paradise Lost. I am very pleased that I did. Although there are a few plodding moments — exacerbated by my limited experience of classic literature — overall I found it a very satisfying experience. Milton took the form of epic poetry, as employed by Homer, and refined by Virgil, and presented a story of greatest importance and of immense scope.

Milton’s insights into his characters — as he expands them from what scripture tells us — are masterful. His realistic suggestions as to why Eve may have been tempted to eat the fruit, and why Adam followed, give us a lot to meditate on. In a poem so encompassing, it is amazing how rarely I want to debate his theology.

I often find delight in his descriptive passages. In the following, Uriel, one of Milton's archangels, tells what he witnessed of creation. Since Paradise Lost is written in blank verse, this passage could stand alone as a kind of rhymeless sonnet. The book was published in 1667.

from Paradise Lost (III, 708-721)

I saw when at his word the formless mass,
This world’s material mould, came to a heap:
Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung:
Swift to their several quarters hasted then
The cumbrous elements, earth, flood, air, fire,
And this ethereal quintessence of heav'n
Flew upward, spirited with various forms,
That rolled orbicular, and turned to stars
Numberless, as thou seest, and how they move;
Each had his place appointed, each his course,
The rest in circuit walls this universe.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Milton: first post and third 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, September 5, 2011

Les Murray

Les Murray is Australia’s best known contemporary poet. He has published dozens of books, and won the T.S. Eliot Award (1996), the Queens Gold Medal For Poetry (1999), and other honours. He consistently dedicates the poems in his books to the glory of God. He has worked as an editor with Poetry Australia and Quadrant and edited The Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry. His most recent collection is Taller When Prone (2010).

Murray is critical of his Calvinist upbringing — particularly how the doctrine of predestination, as it was used, caused many to look down upon poor families, such as his own, as being disfavoured by God. He explained when interviewed for Image, he converted to Catholicism as a teen in 1962, “fascinated by the sacramental bridge between earth and heaven that Catholicism offered”.

Of other Australian Christian poets he has noted James McAuley and Andrew Lansdown as among the best.

The following poem may have been inspired by Thomas Gray’s 1751 poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in that the poet wonders about how history may have unfolded differently given different circumstances. The AIF, mentioned below is the Australian Imperial Force — numbered to correspond to the two world wars.

The Chimes of Neverwhere

How many times did the Church prevent war?
Who knows? Those wars did not occur.
How many numbers don’t count before ten?
Treasures of the Devil in Neverwhere.


The neither state of Neverwhere
is hard to place as near or far
since all things that didn’t take place are there
and things that have lost the place they took:

Herr Hitler’s buildings, King James’ cigar
the happiness of Armenia
the Abelard children, the Manchu’s return
are there with the Pictish Grammar Book.

The girl who returned your dazzled look
and the mornings you might have woke to her
are your waterbed in Neverwhere.
There shine the dukes of Australia

and all the great poems that never were
quite written, and every balked invention.
There too are the Third AIF and its war
in which I and boys my age were killed

more pointlessly with each passing year.
There too half the works of sainthood are
enslavements, tortures, rapes despair
deflected by them from the actual

to beat on the human-sacrifice drum
that billions need not die to hear
since Christ's love of them struck it dumb
and his agony keeps it in Neverwhere.

How many times did the Church bring peace?
More times than it happened. Leave it back there:
the children we didn't let out of there need it,
for the Devil's at home in Neverwhere.


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