Monday, January 30, 2012

John Bunyan

John Bunyan (1628—1688) is best known as the author of the allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. (The first part was published in 1678, and the second in 1684.) It is probably the best known allegory ever written in any language. Bunyan was a tinker by trade — a mender of pots — which did not provide well for his family. During the English Civil War he served in the Parliamentary army.

He began writing The Pilgrim’s Progress when he was imprisoned for preaching without a licence. During the restoration of the monarchy nonconformist meetings had been prohibited, and people were required to attend their local Anglican congregation. He admitted at one trial, “If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow.”

Many idioms in English come from the book, such as “the Slough of Despond” and “Vanity Fair”. Rudyard Kipling called Bunyan “the father of the novel”, and C.S. Lewis followed in Bunyan’s footsteps by writing his own allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress.

The following is a poetic passage from the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Oh, World Of Wonders

Oh, world of wonders! (I can say no less)
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! Oh, blessed be
That hand that from it hath delivered me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin
Did compass me, while I this vale was in;
Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets did lie
My path about, that worthless, silly I
Might have been catched, entangled, and cast down;
But, since I live, let Jesus wear the crown.

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, January 23, 2012

Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea is the author of ten collections of poetry including Pursuit Of A Wound (2001) which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He has also published a novel, A Place In Mind (1989), and two collections of essays. Lea is the founding editor of New England Review, where he served from 1977 until 1989. He has taught at several colleges, in Europe and the United States, including Yale, Wesleyan, and Dartmouth. He is the new poet laureate of Vermont.

Jeanne Murray Walker wrote of his new collection, Six Sundays Toward a Seventh, “In this book Sydney Lea invites us to take a spiritual journey . . . By the end of Six Sundays, the narrator and the reader step together into radiant light. What is so moving about Six Sundays is not only its wrestling with spiritual questions, but also Lea's affirmation that life is a spiritual journey and that this journey is of paramount importance.”

I was given the privilege of assisting him as editor for his new poetry collection Six Sundays Toward a Seventh - which is the first book in Wipf & Stock's new Poiema Poetry Series - released the first of January 2012. It is available from Wipf & Stock. The following poem is included in this new book.

Barnet Hill Brook

Here's what to read in mud by the brook after last night's storm,
Which inscribed itself on sky as light, now here, now gone-

And matchless. I kneel in the mud, by scrimshaw of rodents, by
-----twinned
Neat stabs of weasel. I won't speak of those flashes. Here by my
-----hand,

The lissome trail of a worm that lies nearby under brush,
Carnal pink tail showing out. Gnats have thronged my face.

I choose not to fend them off. Except for my chest in its slight
Lifting and sinking, the place's stillness feels complete.

Its fullness too: in the pool above the dead grass dam,
The water striders are water striders up and down:

They stand on themselves, feet balanced on feet in mirroring water.
How many grains of sand in the world? So one of my daughters

Wanted to know in her little girlhood. “Trillions,” I said.
“I love you,” she answered back. “I love you more than that.”

Lord knows I'm not a man who deserves to be so blessed.
I choose to believe that there's grace, that the splendid universe

Lies not in my sight but subsumes my seeing, my small drab witness.
Tonight my eye may look on cavalcades of brightness,

Of star and planet. Or cloud again. And when I consider,
O, what is man, That thou art mindful of him, it's proper

For me to have knelt, if only by habit. Pine needles let go,
And drop, and sink to this rillet's bright white bottomstones.

To tally them up would take me a lifetime. And more would keep
-----coming.
A lifetime at least. And more would keep coming, please God, keep
-----coming.

Posted with permission of the poet.

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, January 16, 2012

T.S. Eliot*

T.S. Eliot is the only poet to be both featured in my copy of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, and its American counterpart. He was born in St. Louis in 1888, but moved to London — becoming a British citizen in 1927. He is such a significant figure that both nations claim him as their own.

Perhaps Eliot’s greatest accomplishment is Four Quartets — four related, but separate poems published over a six-year period. They deal with the connection of time and eternity — of Chronos (linear time) and Kairos (“the timeless moment”). Like in Eliot’s early works, the poem connects to numerous earlier writings — such as, in this case, to the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the scriptural account of Pentecost, a Hindu text, and the Christian mystics John of The Cross and Julian of Norwich. He also makes allusions to both Milton and Dante.

The fourth section of Four Quartets, “Little Gidding” was published in 1942.

from Four Quartets (Little Gidding IV)

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
---Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
---To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
---We only live, only suspire
---Consumed by either fire or fire.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about T.S. Eliot: first 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, January 9, 2012

Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer is a Swedish poet and recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. His poems have been translated into more than fifty languages.

Prior to his stroke in 1990, Tranströmer was also a talented pianist; since then – his friend Robert Bly tells us – Swedish composers have been sending him piano works, written to be played only using the left hand. This affinity with music manifests itself within his poetry.

Bill Coyle said in Contemporary Poetry Review, “Tranströmer is a Christian poet, though not a churchgoing one, and he answers that question [whether the world is intentional or not] in the affirmative. I suspect it’s one of the reasons – aside from temperament and sheer talent – for his facility with metaphor.”

Another important feature of his world-view is our imperfection, and the incompleteness of the created world. In “The Outpost” he says, “I am the place / where creation is working itself out”. This idea also comes through in the following poem; this is Robert Bly's translation, from the collection The Half-Finished Heaven.

Romanesque Arches

Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous
Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel whose face I couldn't see embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
"Don't be ashamed to be a human being; be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You'll never be complete, and that's as it should be."
Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora
Sabatini;
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.

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, January 2, 2012

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) is a Russian poet who early faced the displeasure of the Soviet government. He was discriminated against for his Jewish background, and when he was just 23 years old was arrested and tried for “parasitism”. This brought him to the attention of the West. Many campaigned for his release until he was eventually expelled from his home country. W.H. Auden was among those who helped him to settle in the United States, where he became poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan, in 1973.

While still in Russia, Brodsky had learned Polish and English so that he could translate such poets as Czeslaw Milosz, and John Donne. Even after having come to the U.S. he wrote his poetry in Russian, and then often translated it into English. In 1987 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in 1991 he became poet laureate of the United States.

From 1962 to 1993 Joseph Brodsky wrote a Christmas poem virtually every year. These poems have been collected in his book Nativity Poems. Brodsky called himself a “Christian by correspondence”, since he often felt insecure in his faith; even so, within his verse he acknowledges deep truths.

Christmas Star

In a cold time, in a place more accustomed
To scorching heat, to flat plains than to hills,
A child was born in a cave to save the world.
And it stormed, as only winter’s desert can.

Everything seemed huge to him: his mother’s breast
The yellow steam of the camels’ breath, the Magi,
Balthazar, Caspar, Melchior, their gifts, carried here.
He was all of him just a dot. And the dot was a star.

Attentively and fixedly, through the sparse white clouds
Upon the recumbent child, on the manger, from afar,
From the depths of the universe, from its very end,
A star watched over the cave. And that was the father’s gaze.

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