Monday, August 3, 2020

Maura Eichner*

Maura Eichner (1915—2009) is a Catholic nun, and the author of ten poetry collections including Hope Is A Blind Bard (1989) and After Silence: Selected Poems of Sister Maura Eichner S.S.N.D. (2011). She was Chair of the English Department at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University), teaching English there for 49 years. Through the years she maintained a correspondence with several significant writers, including, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and Richard Wilbur. 
 
One tribute to her life concluded, “As a teacher and as a poet, Sister Maura was a believer. She believed in beauty ― in art, in nature, in music, in painting, in language. Sister Maura believed in life, and she believed in people. Above all, she believed simply and deeply in a God who believed in beauty, and in life, and in people. In one of her later notebooks, Sister Maura wrote 'One writes poetry in order to find God.' One may well read Sister Maura's poetry for the same reason."
 
Mother Theresa: Her Blessing 

May the God of peace be with you – 
calms the heart that hammers fear 
Her prayers for us. The hope she knew. 

She is our prophet of fidelity, true 
to the triune single voice: now, here. 
May the peace of God be with you. 

 She spoke rarely of the Thabor-glory view. 
Her creed was everyday: The Lord near. 
Vision for us. A love she knew. 
 
She lives in her letters: light breaks through 
the script: be one in heart. My dear ones, hear: 
May the God of peace be with you. 
 
Breaking bread to share, she, too, 
learned the miracle of loaves, her clear, 
testament to us. The faith she knew. 

Mother Theresa, serenely magnetized to 
the will of God, still speak your dear 
words: The God of peace be with you. 
Your prayer for us. The love you knew. 

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Maura Eichner: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 27, 2020

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564―1616) is perhaps the greatest dramatist of all time. He was a member of the popular theatrical company The King’s Men who performed in the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. What is known about him is primarily drawn from his poems and plays, with only scant details coming from official records ― such as his baptism as an infant at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564.

It is hard to know much about Shakespeare’s own religious views, since much of what he wrote is voiced by diverse characters. Some have claimed that he was secretly a Catholic, others that he was Protestant ― "He was an orthodox, confirming member of the Church into which he had been baptised, was brought up and married, in which his children were reared and in whose arms he at length was buried." (A.L. Rowse) ― and still others hold that his primary concerns were artistic, and that faith issues for him were secondary.

Regardless, William Shakespeare wrote many passages which express faith values. The following speech, written in blank verse, is from The Merchant of Venice (Act 4, Scene 1) and is spoken by Portia.

The Quality of Mercy

-----The quality of mercy is not strained;
-----It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
-----Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest,—
-----It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
-----‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
-----The thronèd monarch better than his crown:
-----His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
-----The attribute to awe and majesty,
-----Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
-----But mercy is above this sceptred sway,—
-----It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
-----It is an attribute to God himself;
-----And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
-----When mercy seasons justice.

In the lines that follow , Portia goes on to say,
-----That in the course of justice none of us
-----Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,
-----And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
-----The deeds of mercy.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather (1663―1728) is a Boston Puritan minister, and prolific writer, who seems like he was caught between the conflicting perspectives of the times in which he lived. His influence was felt on scientific thought, and within American religious circles.

In his book Bonifacius, or Essays to Do Good (1710) he expressed progressive ideas such as having teachers reward, rather than punish, students to motivate them, and for physicians to consider a patient’s mental state as a possible cause of illness. There was violent opposition to his encouragement of the smallpox vaccine, particularly when he inoculated his own son.

On the other hand he was supportive of the old order rule of the clergy, in a day when pioneer hardships were diminishing. He is also mainly remembered for his views on witchcraft, which were influential during the Salem Witch Trials. Many American authors, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe, acknowledged their debt to him.

Go Then My Dove

Go then, my Dove, but now no longer mine;
Leave Earth, and now in heavenly Glory shine.
Bright for thy Wisdome, Goodness, Beauty here;
Now brighter in a more angelick Sphere.
Jesus, with whom thy Soul did long to be,
Into His Ark, and Arms, has taken thee.
Dear Friends, with whom thou didst so dearly live,
Feel thy one Death to them a thousand give.
Thy Prayers are done; thy Alms are spent; thy Pains
Are ended now, in endless Joyes and Gains.
I faint, till thy last Words to Mind I call;
Rich Words! Heavn', Heav'n will make amends for all.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Tomas Transtrὄmer*

Tomas Transtrὄmer (1931―2015) is a Swedish poet whose work plays on the edge of comprehension for his readers using elements of modernism, expressionism, and surrealism. His poems convey a sense of wonder and mystery at the movement of history and the beauty of the Scandinavian landscape ― through portrayals of musicians and artists, and images from nature.

His poetry has been translated into more than sixty languages. Some of those who have translated his work into English include, Robin Fulton, May Swenson, John F. Deane, and Robert Bly. In 2007 the Griffin Trust gave him their Lifetime Recognition Award, and in 2011 he received the Nobel Prize. He wrote 15 poetry collections over his career.

The following was translated by Robert Bly.

from Schubertiana (IV)

How much we have to take on trust every minute we live in
-----order not to drop through the earth!
Take on trust the snow masses clinging to rocksides over the
-----town.
Take on trust the unspoken promises, and the smile of
-----agreement, trust that the telegram does not concern us, and
that the sudden ax blow from inside is not coming.
Trust the axles we ride on down the thruway among the swarm
-----of steel bees magnified three hundred times.
But none of that stuff is really worth the trust we have.
The five string instruments say that we can take something else
-----on trust, and they walk with us a bit on the road.
As when the lightbulb goes out on the stair, and the hand
-----follows ― trusting it ― the blind banister rail that finds its
-----way in the dark.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Tomas Transtrὄmer: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Edwin Muir*

Edwin Muir (1887―1959) is one of Scotland’s premier twentieth century poets. Although he was born in Deerness, Orkney his father lost his farm in 1901. This forced the move to Glasgow, where Muir’s parents and brothers all died within a short period of time ― and the teenaged Edwin was forced into demeaning work in what he saw as an industrial hell. He always saw his childhood as being Eden-like, and the family’s move to Glasgow as a parallel to the Fall.

Muir became disillusioned, abandoning the Christianity of his childhood. At age 21 he embraced socialism as his new religion. His future-wife Willa was also agnostic, although she came from a far more privileged background. They were married in St Pancras’ Register Office in London. From there they moved to Europe, living in Prague, Germany, Italy, Salzburg, and Vienna. Edwin taught himself German, and he and Willa worked together translating literature into English.

During his time abroad, he encountered the brutality of Hitler’s Germany, and Mussolini’s Italy, which contrasted with the deep, soulful Christian roots behind European culture. It was in St Andrews in 1939 that Muir had an experience of faith in Christ that transformed his life.

The following poem “One Foot in Eden” is the title poem from Muir’s 1956 collection. The poem was also set to music by Nicholas Maw in 1990, which was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the college.

One Foot in Eden

One foot in Eden still, I stand
And look across the other land.
The world's great day is growing late,
Yet strange these fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time's handiworks by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown.
The armorial weed in stillness bound
About the stalk; these are our own.
Evil and good stand thick around
In the fields of charity and sin
Where we shall lead our harvest in.

Yet still from Eden springs the root
As clean as on the starting day.
Time takes the foliage and the fruit
And burns the archetypal leaf
To shapes of terror and of grief
Scattered along the winter way.
But famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Edwin Muir: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Theophan the Recluse

Theophan the Recluse (1815―1894) is an Orthodox Bishop of Tambov and Shatsk ― which are cities in modern day Ukraine and Russia. He is known for his books about the spiritual life, and for contributing to the translation into Russian of the Philokalia, which is a collection of writings from early church fathers.

He had been appointed rector of Kiev’s church schools, and then of the seminary in Novgorod. Later he served as chief priest of the embassy church in Constantinople. Eventually Theophan was recalled to Russia to become rector of the Petersburg Academy.

In 1866 he chose to live a life of reclusion to concentrate on undisturbed communion with God. Through his many books, he continued to teach. He encouraged the use of established prayers, to help believers know how to pray.

Descend from your head into your heart

You must descend from
your head into your heart.
At present your thoughts of God
are in your head. And God Himself is,
as it were, outside you, and
so your prayer and other spiritual
exercises
remain exterior. Whilst you are still
in your head,
thoughts will not easily be subdued but
will always be whirling about, like snow
in winter or
clouds of mosquitoes in summer.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Patrick's Rune

Patrick’s Rune was written by an unidentified author, in the ancient Bearla Feine Irish dialect, as part of a longer piece called “St. Patrick’s Hymn Before Tarah” in the Liber Hymnorum ― a manuscript from the 11th Century (or earlier) ― which is preserved in the Trinity College Library in Dublin. It was also known as "The Faedh Fiada" or "The Cry of the Deer."

When Madeleine L’Engle was beginning to work on A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) ― her third novel in the series that began with A Wrinkle In Time (1962) ― a friend who was visiting Iona in Scotland sent her a card which included Patrick’s Rune. L’Engle soon realized that she could organize all the plot details, she had already sketched out, around this poem. It became central to the novel’s organizational structure.

Perhaps because of how skilfully she wove the poem into the text of her story, many who post this fragment on the internet attribute the poem to her. It was, however, translated by J.C. Mangan.

Some early sources even attribute the poem to Patrick of Ireland, himself ― saying he composed it “on Easter Saturday, A.D. 433, on his way from Slane to the royal palace of Leogaire, at Tara, with seven clerical companions and the youthful St. Benignus, to shield himself and them against the wiles and plots of the druids and assassins appointed to compass his destruction.” More likely, it was written to commemorate this event, and may have been skilfully woven into a larger text.

Patrick’s Rune

At Tara today in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And fire with all the strength it hath,
And lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.