Monday, November 28, 2011

David Jones

David Jones (1895—1974) is a modernist poet, of Welsh heritage, who lived in London. His work was highly praised by influential contemporaries such as T.S. Eliot. More recently, Edward Lucie-Smith mentioned, “The extreme complexity of David Jones’s work...” in his introduction to Jones in British Poetry Since 1945 — calling him a “twentieth century equivalent of William Blake.”

Jones served as an infantryman in World War I and was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. He fictionalized his experience in his first extensive poem, In Parenthesis, in which he seeks to encapsulate military experience from the beginning of time.

His second major work, The Anathemata, reflects his faith, and his understanding of art. Jones believed that art should be a form of worship, and that worship is a form of art. W.H. Auden called The Anathemata, “one of the most important poems of our times.”

A, a, a, Domine Deus

I said, Ah! what shall I write?
I inquired up and down
------------(He's tricked me before
with his manifold lurking-places.)
I looked for His symbol at the door.
I have looked for a long while
------------at the textures and contours.
I have run a hand over the trivial intersections.
I have journeyed among the dead forms
------------causation projects from pillar to pylon.
I have tired the eyes of the mind
------------regarding the colours and lights.
I have felt for His wounds
------------in nozzles and containers.
I have wondered for the automatic devices.
I have tested the inane patterns
------------without prejudice.
I have been on my guard
------------not to condemn the unfamiliar.
For it is easy to miss Him
------------at the turn of a civilisation.
I have watched the wheels go round in case I might see the living creatures like the appearance of lamps, in case I might see the Living God projected from the machine. I have said to the perfected steel, be my sister and for the glassy towers I thought I felt some beginnings of His creature, but A,a,a, Domine Deus, my hands found the glazed work unrefined and the terrible crystal a stage-paste . . . Eia, Domine Deus.

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, November 21, 2011

Anna Kamieńska

Anna Kamieńska (1920–1986), like Czeslaw Milosz, lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland, and the difficult years under communism. Her poetry doesn’t describe the inhumanity of those times, but concentrates on essential, lasting things. Her husband — the poet Jan Śpiewak — died prematurely of cancer in 1967, and left Kamieńska in search of answers. In 1970 she wrote in her notebook, “I was looking for the dead, and I found God.”

During the 1970s the Polish government tried to silence her, and suppress her work, because they saw her as part of the democratic movement. Even so, she has written twenty books of poetry, and many biblical commentaries. In 2007 Paraclete Press released a collection of her poems, translated into English by Grażyna Drabik and David Curson, called Astonishments. This book demonstrates her hard-earned faith, nurtured through honest questioning and doubt, as exemplified in the following poems.

A Prayer

Out of a spark and out of dust make me again
again plant trees in my paradise
once more give me the sky over my head

So I could deny You with my reason
call you forth with all my tears
find You like love with my lips

Lack Of Faith

Yes
even when I don’t believe
there is a place in me
inaccessible to unbelief
a patch of wild grace
a stubborn preserve
impenetrable
pain untouched sleeping in the body
music that builds its nest in silence

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, November 14, 2011

Charles Kingsley

Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) was an English priest known for such novels as Westward Ho!, for his political essays, for his poetry, and for his collections of sermons. Kingsley was involved in the Christian Socialist movement, and often wrote his novels to expose injustice.

Kingsley is best known for his children’s novel, The Water-Babies (1863), which he wrote to teach Christian values. The main character is a ten-year-old chimneysweep named Tom. Due to mistreatment, Tom is chased out of town where he drowns in a river. Fairies turn him into a creature called a water-baby, and assign him a task. This book helped lead to an act of Parliament which prevented children being forced to climb chimneys.

He was appointed the Queen’s chaplain in 1859, and became a professor at Cambridge University in 1860. Kingsley was also friends with the Scottish novelist George MacDonald.

A Lament

The merry merry lark was up and singing,
And the hare was out and feeding on the lea;
And the merry merry bells below were ringing,
When my child's laugh rang through me.

Now the hare is snared and dead beside the snow-yard,
And the lark beside the dreary winter sea;
And the baby in his cradle in the churchyard
Sleeps sound till the bell brings me.

The Dead Church

Wild wild wind, wilt thou never cease thy sighing?
Dark dark night, wilt thou never wear away?
Cold cold church, in thy death sleep lying,
The Lent is past, thy Passion here, but not thine Easter-day.

Peace, faint heart, though the night be dark and sighing;
Rest, fair corpse, where thy Lord himself hath lain.
Weep, dear Lord, above thy bride low lying;
Thy tears shall wake her frozen limbs to life and health again.

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, November 7, 2011

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893—1918) is considered the leading poet of the First World War. When he was a student, serving as an assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden, he became disillusioned with the Chruch of England because of the lack of care for the poor. Although he entered the war optimistically, his experiences — including shell shock — soon changed him.

He was critical of the European tradition of propagandist poetry that glorified war, and its naive acceptance by his own generation. He upheld a poetry of truth, criticizing the artists and intellectuals who chose to serve partisanship. He was also critical of national churches for betraying the Christian message, and twisting the teachings of Christ to justify politics. He interpreted one of Christ’s instructions as: “Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms...”.

His poetry is often characterized by irony and sarcasm: In “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” Owen has the angel tell “Abram” — “Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.” Owen then twists the Biblical story into a new parable, making the patriarch a parliamentarian:
-----But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
-----And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Similarly those who claim to represent God are portrayed in the following poem:

Soldier’s Dream

I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.

And there were no more bombs, of ours or Theirs,
Not even an old flint-lock, not even a pikel.
But God was vexed, and gave all power to Michael;
And when I woke he'd seen to our repairs.

In 1917 he wrote, “Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life — for a friend...” and that it wasn't only the allies who heard that voice.

Wilfred Owen was killed by an enemy bullet, on 4 November 1918, just one week before the end of the war. The following, one of his best known poems, may suggest that the church had no place at the front lines, because it had sent young men to their deaths.

Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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