Monday, August 27, 2012

Jacobus Revius

Jacobus Revius (1586—1685) was a Dutch poet, Calvinist theologian and church historian. He was extremely opposed to Cartesian philosophy, and wrote against it. He attended several French universities where he became interested in Renaissance poetry. The English metaphysical poets, such as John Donne, were also influences.

During his lifetime his poetry was not popular; he was better known for his more controversial writing, and the history of his hometown of Deventer. Today, however, he is one of the few seventeenth century Dutch poets who are still being read; seven of his hymns are in the most popular hymn book in the Netherlands. Also many Dutch towns have streets named after him.

He Bore Our Griefs

No, it was not the Jews who crucified,
Nor who betrayed you in the judgment place,
Nor who, Lord Jesus, spat into your face,
Nor who with buffets struck you as you died.
No, it was not the soldiers fisted bold
Who lifted up the hammer and the nail,
Or raised the cursed cross on Calvary’s hill,
Or, gambling, tossed the dice to win your robe.
I am the one, O Lord, who brought you there,
I am the heavy cross you had to bear,
I am the rope that bound you to the tree,
The whip, the nail, the hammer, and the spear,
The blood-stained crown of thorns you had to wear:
It was my sin, alas, it was for me.

Translated by Henrietta ten Harmsel

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, August 20, 2012

Adélia Prado

Adélia Prado is one of Brazil's foremost poets, even though her work only began to be published when she was in her early 40s. She is a devoted Catholic who often combines earthy images of this world with transcendent images of faith. She has published six collections of poetry.

In 1985 American writer Ellen Watson, arrived at Prado's door with a handful of English translations she had made of Prado's poems. Eventually that manuscript became The Alphabet in the Park (1990). It still remains the best-known source for Adélia Prado's poetry in English. The two women have remained friends throughout the years; Watson is scheduled to release a second volume of Prado's poetry in 2013. The following translation, however, is from Marcia Kirinus.

Grace

The world is a garden. A light bathes the world.
The cleanness of the air, the greens after rain,
the open country dresses in grass like the sheep in its wool.
A pain without bitterness: a live butterfly on the spit.
Wake up the tender memories:
robust with youth,
insidious joy with no reason.
I don't insist on the old addictions to protect me from sudden joy.
And the woman ugly? And the man crass?
Meaningless. They are all in a fog like me.
The empty can, the manure, the leper on his horse.
They are all resplendent. On the cloud a king, a kingdom,
a jester with his fandangles, a prince. I pass them by,
they are solid. What I don't see exists more than the flesh.
God gave me this unforgettable afternoon, I rubbed my eyes and saw:
like the sky, the real world is pastoral.

To learn more about Adélia Prado, visit Richard Osler's Recovering Words blog.

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, August 13, 2012

Edward Taylor

Edward Taylor (1642—1729) was unknown as a poet, until his leather-bound poems were discovered in the library of Yale University in 1937. A selection were published in the New England Quarterly at that time, and soon his reputation became established as America’s finest colonial poet.

He was born in Leicestershire, England. During the Restoration, after 1662, he was prevented from continuing to teach school because of his stand as a nonconformist. In 1668 he emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he would be free to practice his Puritan faith. For the next three years he completed his education at Harvard — after which he followed a call to become the minister in the frontier community of Westfield, Massachusetts; he stayed there for the remaining fifty-eight years of his life.

Some of Taylor’s best poems are from a series called Preparatory Meditations — poems he wrote to help him focus his thoughts as he wrote his sermons for the monthly communion services.

In the following poem, the poet uses the image of a spinning wheel as an illustration of his spiritual life. Such conceits show the influence of the English metaphysical poets, including John Donne and George Herbert. The footnotes, in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, say that “Taylor refers to the working parts of a spinning wheel: the ‘distaff’ holds the raw wool or flax; the ‘flyers’ regulate the spinning; the ‘spool’ twists the yarn; and the ‘reel’ takes up the finished thread.” The “fulling mills” of line ten are where the “cloth is beaten and cleansed”. The final lines of the poem allude to the parable of the wedding banquet — particularly to Matt. 22:12.

Huswifery

Make me, O Lord, Thy spinning wheel complete.
------Thy Holy Word my distaff make for me.
Make mine affections Thy swift flyers neat
------And make my soul Thy holy spool to be.
------My conversation make to be Thy reel
------And reel the yarn thereon spun of Thy wheel.

Make me Thy loom then, knit therein this twine:
------And make Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, wind quills:
Then weave the web Thyself. The yarn is fine.
------Thine ordinances make my fulling mills.
------Then dye the same in heavenly colours choice,
------All pinked with varnished flowers of paradise.

Then clothe therewith mine understanding, will,
------Affections, judgement, conscience, memory,
My words and actions, that their shine may fill
------My ways with glory and Thee glorify.
------Then mine apparel shall display before Ye
------That I am clothed in holy robes for glory.

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, August 6, 2012

Robert Lax

Robert Lax (1915—2000) is an American poet who is perhaps best known for his connections with his friend Thomas Merton. He was skilled as a juggler, and toured western Canada with a circus — an important experience reflected in his verse. In 1943 he converted from Judaism to Catholicism. In the 1940s he was on staff at The New Yorker, and served as poetry editor for Time. Jack Kerouac called him, “one of the great original voices of our times”. He lived the last 35 years of his life in the Greek islands, particularly on Patmos, writing in a minimalist style and doing little to promote his work.

In his collection The Circus of the Sun (1959) Robert Lax portrays the circus as representative of the larger society. The circus performers and animals celebrate God and his creation, even down to the most mundane tasks of their lives. The word “firmament”, in the following poem, is clearly reminiscent of the Genesis account of creation from the King James Version, and William Blake's “The Tyger” is also clearly echoed.

The Morning Stars

Have you seen my circus?
Have you known such a thing?
Did you get up in the early morning and see the wagons pull into town?
Did you see them occupy the field?
Were you there when it was set up?
Did you see the cookhouse set up in dark by lantern light?
Did you see them build the fire and sit around it smoking and talking quietly?
As the first rays of dawn came, did you see them roll in blankets and go to sleep?
A little sleep until time came to
unroll the canvas, raise the tent,
draw and carry water for the men and animals;
were you there when the animals came forth,
the great lumbering elephants to drag the poles and unroll the canvas?
Were you there when the morning moved over the grasses?
Were you there when the sun looked through dark bars of clouds
at the men who slept by the cookhouse fire?
Did you see the cold morning wind nip at their blankets?
Did you see the morning star twinkle in the firmament?
Have you heard their laughter around the cookhouse fire?
When the morning stars threw down their spears and watered heaven?
Have you looked at spheres of dew on spears of grass?
Have you watched the light of a star through a world of dew?
Have you seen the morning move over the grasses?
And to each leaf the morning is present.
Were you there when we stretched out the line,
when we rolled out the sky,
when we set up the firmament?
Were you there when the morning stars
sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

In later years Lax developed an extremely minimalist style. The following poem, running down the left margin of the page, is typical of his collection A Thing That Is (1997).

be
gin
by
be
ing

pa
tient

with
your
self

la
ter
you
can
be
pa
tient

with
oth
ers

(name
of
the
game

is
pa
tience.)

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