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

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, November 23, 2015

Edmund Waller

Edmund Waller (1606—1687) is an English poet who was elected to parliament when he was sixteen-years-old. He was educated at Eton College, and King's College, Cambridge. He tried to play both sides in the stormy political 1640s. After he had been caught by parliamentarians in his plot to secure London for the King, he was exiled from 1643 to 1652. In 1655 Waller's "Panegyrick to my Lord Protector" appeared, which seems to have been an attempt to gain Cromwell's favour. By 1660 he (perhaps more sincerely) celebrated “To the King, upon his Majesties happy return.”

Both John Dryden and Alexander Pope were admirers of Waller's poetry, in particular his "heroic couplets", which they both imitated. Edmund Waller's Divine Poems appeared in 1685.

Of the Last Verses in the Book

When we for age could neither read nor write,
The subject made us able to indite.
The soul, with nobler resolutions decked,
The body stooping, does herself erect:
No mortal parts are requisite to raise
Her, that unbodied can her Maker praise.

The seas are quiet, when the winds give o’er,
So calm are we, when passions are no more:
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness, which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, battered and decayed,
Lets in new light through chinks that time has made;
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home:
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new.

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, November 16, 2015

Brett Foster*

Brett Foster (1973—2015) is the author of the poetry collection The Garbage Eater (2011), and the chapbook Fall Run Road (2012). It was discovered last year that he had colon cancer. He passed away last Monday at his home in Wheaton, Illinois where he lived with his wife and two children. He served as Associate Professor of English at Wheaton College.

On a personal note, Brett assisted me with the editing of my most recent poetry book. He also introduced me to N.T. Wright's excellent book on the Psalms, when we were hanging out together at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Michigan last year.

The best way to honour him, is to share some of his fine poetry. Of the following poems, the first recently appeared in Books & Culture, and the second in the most-recent issue of Image.

Poem with a Phrase from George Herbert

Even if the body's garment has been rent,
it can still become an establishment
for rebuilding spirit, new, tender, and quick.
If there is no market for one's sickness,
there is at very least an etiquette
for feeling better—felt pain and everything met
in extremity, that is. There exists
the tumor, cyst, or grisly polyp, and Christ
resides, persists amid these hundred hells,
his garment hemmed with pomegranates, golden bells.

Tongue Is The Pen

Isaiah 43

I am making all things new! Or am trying to,
being so surprised to be one of those guys
who may be dying early. This is yet one more
earthen declaration, uttered through a better
prophet’s more durable mouth, with heart
astir. It’s not oath-taking that I’m concerned
with here, for what that’s worth— instead just a cry
from the very blood, a good, sound imprecation
to give the sickness and the shivering meaning.
Former things have not been forgotten,
but they have forgotten me. The dear, the sweet,
the blessed past
, writes Bassani. Tongue is the pen.
Donning some blanket of decorousness
is not the prophet’s profession, not ever.
Not that I’ve tasted the prophet’s honey or fire:
I’m just a shocked, confounded fellow
who’s standing here, pumping the bellows
of his mellifluous sorrow. Yet sorrow’s the thing
for all prophets. Make a way in the wilderness,
streaming your home-studio-made recordings
from a personal wasteland. These are my thoughts.
I can’t manage the serious beard. My sackcloth
is the flannel shirt I’m wearing. But the short-circuited
months have whitened my hair, and it’s not
for nothing that Jeffrey calls me, with affectionate
mockery, the silver fox. It’s a prerequisite, finally—
being a marginal prophet, but a severe attention
to envisioned tomorrows must be present, too,
must be perceived as possible, audible, or followable.
There’s a hypothetically bright future for everything,
each wounded creature that is bitten, or bites.
And speaking of things overheard, you heard right:
if I have to go out, I am going to go out singing.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Brett Foster: 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, November 9, 2015

Bernard of Clairvaux*

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090—1153) was born in what is now France. He is known as an abbot, a theologian, and a poet. He was canonized in 1174, and given the title "Doctor of the Church" in 1830. Martin Luther highly admired Bernard of Clairvaux, and wrote, "he was the best monk that ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together."

The following hymn is attributed to Bernard. It is believed that he wrote the 192 line Latin poem "Dulcis Jesu Memorial", and that writer Edward Caswall translated portions of it during the nineteenth century into English to form this hymn. Some, however, believe that the Latin poem originated in England before it ever appeared in France.

The tune was written by John B. Dykes. Most hymnals only use about four verses.

Jesus, The Very Thought Of Thee

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Saviour of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name,
Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless,
Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs
Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries;
To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light
Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night;
And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee,
The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be,
While endless ages run.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Bernard of Clairvaux: 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, November 2, 2015

Pamela Cranston

Pamela Cranston is a novelist and is the author of the poetry collection, Coming To Treeline: Adirondack Poems.

She is an Episcopal priest who was born in New York City, and raised in Massachusetts. She was the first American to join the Anglican Franciscan Order, serving in the 1970s as a nun in Somerset, England and San Francisco. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, and is the vicar at St. Cuthbert's Episcopal Church.

Poem For Christ The King

See how this homeless babe lifted
himself down into his humble Crèche
and laid his tender glove
of skin against that splintered wood —
found refuge in that rack
of raspy straw — home
on that chilly dawn, in sweetest
silage, those shriven stalks.
See how this outcast King lifted
himself high upon his savage Cross,
extended the regal banner
of his bones, draping himself
upon his throne — his battered feet,
his wounded hands not fastened
there by nails but sewn
by the strictest thorn of Love.

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.