Monday, November 30, 2015

Elizabeth Jennings*

Elizabeth Jennings (1926—2001) is the author of more than two dozen volumes of poetry, mostly published by Macmillan and Carcanet. Her family moved to Oxford, when she was six years old, and she lived there for the rest of her life. She was a traditionalist, rather than an innovator — demonstrating a fine lyrical style and mastery of poetic forms. In 1992 she became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

She once wrote, "Only one thing must be cast out, and that is the vague. Only true clarity reaches to the heights and the depths of human, and more than human, understanding." She was discussing the work of other significant authors, but she clearly applied this principle to her own writing.

She is one of the poets to be featured in an upcoming anthology of Christian poetry I am editing for the Poiema Poetry Series.

The Visitation

She had not held her secret long enough
To covet it but wished it shared as though
Telling it would tame the terrifying moment
When she, most calm in her own afternoon,
-----Felt the intrepid angel, heard
His beating wings, his voice across her prayer.

This was the thing she needed to impart
The uncalm moment, the strange interruption,
The angel bringing pain disguised as joy,
But mixed with this was something she could share
-----And not abandon, simply how
A child sprang in her like the first of seeds.

And in the stillness of that other day
The afternoon exposed its emptiness,
Shadows adrift from light, the long road turning
In a dry sequence of the sun. And she
-----No apprehensive figure seemed,
Only a moving silence through the land.

And all her journeying was a caressing
Within her mind of secrets to be spoken.
The simple fact of birth soon overshadowed
The shadow of the angel. When she came
-----Close to her cousin’s house she kept
Only the message of her happiness.

And those two women in their quick embrace
Gazed at each other with looks undisturbed
By men or miracles. It was the child
Who laid his shadow on their afternoon
-----By stirring suddenly, by bringing
Back the broad echoes of those beating wings.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Elizabeth Jennings: first post, third 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.