Monday, August 25, 2014

Aemilia Lanyer

Aemilia Lanyer (1569—1645) is the first woman writing in English to have sought patronage to publish a substantial volume of poetry. Her father was a court musician who died when she was just seven. She was eighteen when her mother died, and she attracted the attention of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was Queen Elizabeth's lord chamberlain. She became his mistress, for several years, but when she became pregnant by him, she was forced to marry one of the court musicians. This doesn't seem to be a promising start for a woman who eventually wrote important Christian verse. Another puzzling chapter in her life sees her visiting an astrologer, Simon Forman, several times in 1597.

Her book, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), begins with several dedicatory poems; all are written to women, one of which is Mary Sidney Herbert—famous for her verse translations of the Psalms. She gives credit for her conversion to the countess dowager of Cumberland, to whom the book is primarily dedicated. The section known as "Eve's Apology", which is written from the perspective of Pilate's wife, is seeking to divert blame from Eve for the fall of mankind, in part by pointing out Adam's responsibility:
-----But surely Adam cannot be excused,
-----Her fault though great, yet he was most too blame;
-----What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused,
-----Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
-----Although the Serpent's craft had her abused,
-----God's holy word ought all his actions frame,
-----For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
-----Before poor Eve had either life or breath.

The central focus of the title poem, "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" ("Hail God King of the Jews"), is Christ's passion. The entire poem is 1,840 lines. The poem is particularly interesting because of it's particularly female perspective—showing her to be an early voice of Christian feminism.

from Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

Therefore I humbly for his Grace will pray,
That he will give me Power and Strength to Write,
That what I have begun, so end I may,
As his great Glory may appear more bright;
Yea in these Lines I may no further stray,
Than his most holy Spirit shall give me Light:
That blindest Weakness be not over-bold,
The manner of his Passion to unfold.
In other Phrases than may well agree
With his pure Doctrine, and most holy Writ,
That Heaven's clear eye, and all the World may see,
I seek his Glory, rather than to get
The Vulgars breath, the seed of Vanity,
Nor Fames loud Trumpet care I to admit;
But rather strive in plainest Words to show,
The Matter which I seek to undergo.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gordon Johnston

Gordon Johnston taught poetry at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario, for over 40 years, where he organized the university's Writers Reading Series. His books include the poetic fiction of Inscription Rock (1981), his first poetry book, Small Wonder (2006) and his new poetry collection But For Now (2013) which is published by McGill-Queen's University Press. In retirement, he volunteers in Pastoral Care at a local hospital.

In March, 2014, I shared the stage with Gordon Johnston at The Art Bar in Toronto. The following poem is from his new collection.

A New Psalm, Of The Oboist

God's orchestra is encouraging,
---the music blooms and mounts,
------we are lifted up with it, we are improved.

The orchestra of God is capacious,
---the harmonies are rich, complex,
------the melodies soar, we're a little overwhelmed.

I am an oboist in the orchestra of God;
---I colour the sound around me,
------or disappear into the noise.

Occasionally I have a solo to play,
---a minor cry from the heart before the strings
------sweep in again and carry us away.

I do what I can, I play the notes
---with all the feeling my skill allows.
------We hope for the best; we try to watch your baton.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Evangeline Paterson

Evangeline Paterson (1928—2000) is the founding editor of the journal Other Voices. She grew up in Dublin, married an Englishman, and lived for many years in St. Andrews, Scotland, then in Leicester, England.

She is the author of several poetry collections including, A Game of Soldiers, Lucifer at the Fair and What To Do With Your Poems. Her New and Selected poems, entitled Lucifer, with Angels (Dedalus) appeared in 1994. I first encountered her work in The Lion Book of Christian Poetry (1981) which was reproduced by Eerdmans in the United States.

Death on a Crossing


What he never thought to consider was whether
the thing was true. What bewildered him, mostly,
was the way that the rumours had of reaching him
from such improbable sources — illiterate pamphlets
pressed in his hand, the brash or the floundering stranger
who came to his door, the proclamations, among
so many others, on hoardings

--------------------------------------though sometimes waking
a brief dismay, that never quite prodded him
to the analyst’s couch.

-----------------------------But annunciations, he thought,
should come to a rational man in a rational way.
He walked between a skyful of midnight angels
and a patch on somebody’s jeans, both saying
the same things to his stopped ears

----------------------------------------------till the day
when he stepped on a crossing with not enough conviction
to get him safe to the other side, and he lay
among strangers’ feet, and the angels lowered their trumpets
and no sweet chariot swung, to carry him home.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Beowulf Poet

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem which was written between the eighth and eleventh century. In the 3182-line poem, the Scandinavian hero, Beowulf, defeats the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother and later a dragon.

J.R.R. Tolkien, whose translation of the poem was only published this year, believed it contained too-genuine a memory of paganism to have been written more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianization of England (around 700 AD). The earliest-surviving complete manuscript dates from the late 10th or early 11th century.

The following is from Seamus Heaney's excellent 2000 translation, which I highly recommend.

from Beowulf (lines 170-188)

These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, The Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire's embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father's embrace.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.