Monday, December 29, 2014

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts (1674—1748) is an English hymnist who was influential in developing the tradition of writing new lyrics to be sung in worship services, rather than remaining limited to versifications of the Psalms. He and his family were Dissenters or Non-Conformists, and so he was not eligible to attend Oxford or Cambridge. It is said that when he complained about the poor writing in the metrical Psalter, his father challenged him to do better. Although he wrote about 600 hymns, he is best known for those he wrote over a two year period, beginning when he was just 20.

Some of his best known hymns include, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross", "Jesus Shall Reign Where're the Sun", "O God Our Help in Ages Past", and the Christmas carol "Joy To The World". Since these hymns are so well known, I have opted to share a lesser-known carol.

Shepherds Rejoice

'Shepherds, rejoice! lift up your eyes
And send your fears away;
News from the region of the skies:
Salvation's born today!
Jesus, the God whom angels fear,
Comes down to dwell with you;
Today he makes his entrance here,
But not as monarchs do.

'No gold, nor purple swaddling bands,
Nor royal shining things;
A manger for his cradle stands,
And holds the King of kings.
Go, shepherds, where the Infant lies,
And see his humble throne;
With tears of joy in all your eyes,
Go, shepherds, kiss the Son.'

Thus Gabriel sang, and straight around
The heavenly armies throng;
They tune their harps to lofty sound
And thus conclude the song:
'Glory to God that reigns above,
Let peace surround the earth;
Mortals shall know their Maker's love
At their Redeemer's birth.'

Lord! and shall angels have their songs
And men no tunes to raise?
O may we lose these useless tongues
When they forget to praise!
'Glory to God that reigns above,
That pitied us forlorn!'
We join to sing our Maker's love,
For there's a Saviour born.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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, December 22, 2014

Rowland Watkyns

Rowland Watkyns (c.1614—1665) is a Welsh poet who, in 1635, was instituted as vicar of Llanfrynach, Breconshire. However, he was one of five clergyman in the area who were ejected, around 1649, from their parishes by their puritan overseers. Around the time of the restoration (1660) it is believed he was reinstated. Some of the poems in his collection, Flumma Sine Fumo (which means Flummox Without Smoke) (1662) "appear to express his gratitude to local benefactors".

One of the three sections in Flumma Sine Fumo is made up of 73 proverbs, written in the form of rhyming couplets. The following mourns the death of Charles I in 1649, who was king of England, Scotland and Ireland:

----By his beheading it may well be said,
----Three kingdoms by injustice lost their head.

Although Watkyns was a contemporary, and close neighbour of Henry Vaughan, and their political and religious views were compatible, neither is found to have mentioned the other by name. Both wrote about Christ's Nativity, which was disapproved of as a feast day by the puritans. This has led to speculation that they may have disliked the other's approach to poetry; what may be more likely, is that they practiced medicine, from opposing schools of practice.

Upon Christ's Nativity

From three dark places Christ came forth this day;
From first His Father's bosom, where He lay,
Concealed till now; then from the typic law,
Where we His manhood but by figures saw;
And lastly from His mother's womb He came
To us, a perfect God and perfect Man.
---- Now in a manger lies the eternal Word:
The Word He is, yet can no speech afford;
He is the Bread of Life, yet hungry lies;
The Living Fountain, yet for drink He cries;
He cannot help or clothe Himself at need
Who did the lilies clothe and ravens feed;
He is the Light of Lights, yet now doth shroud
His glory with our nature as a cloud.
He came to us a Little One, that we
Like little children might in malice be;
Little He is, and wrapped in clouts, lest He
Might strike us dead if clothed with majesty.
----Christ had four beds and those not soft nor brave:
The Virgin's womb, the manger, cross, and grave.
The angels sing this day, and so will I
That have more reason to be glad than they.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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, December 15, 2014

Barbara Crooker*

Barbara Crooker's latest poetry collection Gold (2013) is part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. Many journals, such as The Cresset and Green Mountains Review, and many anthologies including Good Poems for Hard Times (Viking Penguin), have published her work. She has been honoured with several awards, including the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and she has been nominated thirty-two times for the Pushcart Prize.

Every year, I send out a selected poem for Advent to friends. These are among a series that Barbara Crooker sent to me, in return, last December.

Solstice

These are dark times. Rumors of war
rise like smoke in the east. Drought
widens its misery. In the west, glittering towers
collapse in a pillar of ash and dust. Peace,
a small white bird, flies off in the clouds.

And this is the shortest day of the year.
Still, in almost every window,
a single candle burns,
there are tiny white lights
on evergreens and pines,
and the darkness is not complete.

Nativity

In the dark divide of mid-December
when the skies are heavy, when the wind comes down
from the north, feathers of snow on its white breath,
when the days are short and the nights are cold,
we reach the solstice, nothing outside moving.
It’s hard to believe in the resurrection
of the sun, its lemony light, hard to remember
humidity, wet armpits, frizzy hair.
Though the wick burns black and the candle flickers,
love is born in the world again, in the damp
straw, in some old barn.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Barbara Crooker: first post

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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, December 8, 2014

John Betjeman*

Sir John Betjeman (1906—1984) was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death. He was also known as a broadcaster, and for his other writings, such as guidebooks to the English counties. His first poetry collection Mount Zion was privately published with the assistance of a friend in 1931. His Collected Poems (John Murray, 1958) has sold more than two million copies to date. His wide popularity. may be attributed to his nostalgia for the recent past—amid the ever-changing post-war years—and his accessible, conservative style. In 2005 the anthology Faith and Doubt of John Betjeman gathered more than seventy of his religious poems into one volume.

Betjeman appreciated Victorian architecture and was active in seeking to preserve several of London's historic railway stations. A statue of Sir John Betjeman stands in the international terminus for Eurostar at St. Pancras Station, which was reopened in 2007.

Christmas

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare —
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Betjeman: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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, December 1, 2014

Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist is the author of two poetry collections, Granted (2003) and Incarnadine (2013), which won the National Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares and The Kenyon Review.

Her recent book gives many and varying images of the angel Gabriel addressing the virgin Mary.The poet has said: "The scene to which Incarnadine continually returns—the Annunciation—has long been a site of ‘fine invention,’ especially in the hands of artists like Simone Martini and Sandro Botticelli; it portrays a human encountering something not human...That is part of what I find most moving about the scene: how it plays out the faith, the belief that that can happen—and can change us."

Although she says the idea for Incarnadine came while spending time in the art galleries of Italy, she has also said, "I grew up attending Annunciation Church. It is an especially pretty church, as it was built in the mid-19th century in central Pennsylvania when the lumber industry was booming. I spent many hours looking up at the Annunciation scene. I may not have had regular access to great museums growing up, but each week I did sit and look up at real Tiffany windows of religious icons that changed, continually, with the light..."

Mary Szybist now teaches at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Insertion of Meadow with Flowers

In 1371, beneath the angel’s feet,

Veneziano added a meadow—
a green expanse with white
and yellow broom flowers, the kind
that—until the sun warms them—
have no scent—

God could have chosen other means than flesh.

Imagine he did
and the girl on her knees in this meadow,
open, expectant, dreamily rocking,
and the girl’s mouth open, quiet,—

is only important because we recognize

the wish. For look, the flowers
do not spin, not even

the threads of their shadows—
and they are infused
with what they did not
reach for.

Out of nothing does not mean

into nothing.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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.