Monday, April 24, 2017

Wendell Berry*

Wendell Berry was born in Kentucky in 1934. Other than for occasional stints — such as when a 1961 Guggenheim Fellowship took him to Italy and France, or when he taught at New York University — he has lived there all his life. He and his wife Tanya — whom he married 60 years ago — bought a farm in 1965 in Henry County, Kentucky where they continue to farm. He has written more than 40 books, including poetry, fiction and essays.

Many of his recent poems are an extension of his tradition of what he calls Sabbath poems. The flyleaf of Berry's 2005 collection Given says, "Over the past twenty-five years Mr. Berry has been at work on a long sequence of poems that has resulted from his Sunday morning walks of meditation and observation..." One of his newest poetry collections is A Small Porch, which is primarily made up of his Sabbath poems from 2014 and 2015.

He is one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November — (available here) and through Amazon.

Berry is known for his opposition to corporate agriculture, and as an outspoken advocate of Christian pacifism, environmental stewardship and of living an agrarian lifestyle. A year ago a documentary film, The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, appeared. The following is from The Country of Marriage (1973).

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Wendell Berry: 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, April 17, 2017

Robert Lowry

Robert Lowry (1826—1899) is particularly remembered as a hymn writer. He was appreciated for his preaching too, and would have preferred this to have been his lasting legacy, as he was the pastor of Baptist churches in New York City, Brooklyn, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He served as a professor of literature at the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) and later as its chancellor.

He co-wrote hymns with both Annie Hawks, and Fanny J. Crosby, and was also a music editor for the Biglow & Main Publishing Company. In this role he brought to light hundreds of other gospel songs. One of the books he edited, Pure Gold, sold more than a million copies. Some of his best known hymns include: "Shall We Gather at the River?" and "What Shall Wash Away My Sin?" The popularity of gospel hymns drew many Christian poets of the nineteenth century into this genre.

The following hymn I always associate with Easter, particularly from singing it as a child on Easter Sunday mornings at my grandparents' church in London, Ontario.

Christ Arose

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

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, April 10, 2017

G.A. Studdert Kennedy

G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883—1929) is an Anglican priest and poet who was born and raised in Leeds. He served as an army chaplain on the Western Front during WWI. He had a reputation for going out during battles, into no-man's-land under the fire of the enemy, to comfort wounded soldiers. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross.

After the war he was drawn towards pacifism and socialism. His books include Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918), and The Unutterable Beauty: the Collected Poetry by G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1927). His proposed burial at Westminster Abbey was refused due to his socialist beliefs.

Indifference

When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns;
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham,
They simply passed Him by;
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain;
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them,
For they know not what they do.”
And still it rained the winter rain
That drenched Him through and through.
The crowds went home and left the streets
Without a soul to see;
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.

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, April 3, 2017

Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak (1890—1960) is a Russian poet and novelist. He is famous in the rest of the world for his novel Doctor Zhivago for which he was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize. It had been rejected for publication in the USSR, but had been smuggled out and published in Milan. The Communist Party pressured Pasternak to refuse the Nobel Prize, which his son later accepted on his behalf in 1989.

In Russia he is better known for his poetry and his translations of Shakespeare, where he is considered by some to be the best Russian poet of the 20th Century. He was born to Jewish Ukrainian parents who had converted to Orthodox Christianity before he was born. His father Leonid Pasternak, a post-impressionistic painter, was friends with Leo Tolstoy, and illustrated his novels War and Peace and Resurrection.

In Chapter 12 of Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak encourages all Jews to "Come to your senses," and to become Christians.

Bad Days

When Passion week started and Jesus
Came down to the city, that day
Hosannahs burst out at his entry
And palm leaves were strewn in his way.

But days grow more stern and more stormy.
No love can men's hardness unbend;
Their brows are contemptuously frowning,
And now comes the postscript, the end.

Grey, leaden and heavy, the heavens
Were pressing on treetops and roofs.
The Pharisees, fawning like foxes,
Were secretly searching for proofs.

The lords of the Temple let scoundrels
Pass judgement, and those who at first
Had fervently followed and hailed him,
Now all just as zealously cursed.

The crowd on the neighbouring sector
Was looking inside through the gate.
They jostled, intent on the outcome,
Bewildered and willing to wait.

And whispers and rumours were creeping,
Repeating the dominant theme.
The flight into Egypt, his childhood
Already seemed faint as a dream.

And Jesus remembered the desert,
The days in the wilderness spent,
The tempting with power by Satan,
That lofty, majestic descent.

He thought of the wedding at Cana,
The feast and the miracles; and
How once he had walked on the waters
Through mist to a boat, as on land;

The beggarly crowd in a hovel,
The cellar to which he was led;
How, started, the candle-flame guttered,
When Lazarus rose from the dead…

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.