Monday, February 19, 2024

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is a 14th century poet best known as the author of Canterbury Tales ― a collection of twenty-four stories, voiced by characters on pilgrimage from London to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. They were written mostly in verse, in a London dialect of late Middle English.

Some of Chaucer’s pilgrims (such as the Second Nun) are devout, some (the Pardoner) use religion for personal gain, and some (the Prioress) simply lack spiritual depth. He uses humour and irony, as his characters quote scripture in ways that often demonstrate their own failings. The author sometimes lets his readers decide, through subtle details like showy jewellery, about each pilgrim’s sincerity. The intent, I believe, is to encourage people to be authentic in their faith, and to caution them against the flaws in religious practice in Chaucer’s England.

Chaucer’s Retraction, here in translation, shows how he would like Canterbury Tales to be seen:
--------Now I pray to all who hear or read this little treatise,
--------that if there is anything in it that they like, they thank
--------our Lord Jesus Christ for it, from whom proceeds all wisdom
--------and goodness. And if there is anything that displeases them,
--------I pray also that they ascribe it to the fault of my ignorance
--------and not to my will, which would readily have spoken better
--------if I had the knowledge. For our book says, "All that is
--------written is written for our doctrine," and that is my intention.
--------Therefore I beseech you, for the mercy of God, that you pray
--------for me that Christ have mercy on me and forgive my sins,
--------especially my translations and compositions of worldly
--------vanities, which I revoke in my retractions…

The following translation by A.S. Kline is from The Knight’s Tale (Section 2/Lines 807-816) ― the first of the stories told ― and though the story itself comes from a pre-Christian world view, it is written so that it speaks of the sovereignty of God.

from The Knight’s Tale

Destiny, that Minister-General,
Who executes on earth, over all,
The Providence that God saw long before,
Has such power that though all men swore
The contrary of a thing by yea or nay,
Yet there will come to pass upon a day
What will not happen in a thousand years.
For certainly our appetites down here,
Be they for war, or peace, hate or love,
All are ruled by the vision that’s above.

Here is another section, from The Second Nun's Tale, (scroll down to the open tab) that I posted at Poems For Ephesians.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Kristina Erny

Kristina Erny is an American poet and visual artist who was raised as a third-culture teacher’s kid in Seoul, South Korea. She has lived in various parts of the United States ― including in Arizona, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing, and in Kentucky, where she was the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Asbury University ― but has spent much of her teaching career abroad. She and her husband are raising their three children in Shanghai, where she is currently teaching literature and creative writing to international secondary students.

Among the honours her poems have received are the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Award, and the Tupelo Quarterly Inaugural Poetry Award, as chosen by Ilya Kaminsky. Her debut poetry collection, Elijah Fed by Ravens, was published this past December by Solum Literary Press. The following poem first appeared in Blackbird and is from her new book.

Elijah and the Widow

Even ravens need crust,------something.
Left behind, everyone left.
It begs the question:
jar bottom,
a flag of surrender?
Hostile, hand-held, the haze.

Always the tone;
never the ringing.
Driven you

to the pot where the flour is
hoped for, hidden—& then, his face in the doorway—have,
eat—Yes, we are eaten
—still a future, grim, O,

won’t you come in.

I would have baked the cake &
died. Instead, you perform, participate in
onerous miracle, & tomorrow
wake up, blinking, hoary film under your nails.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop (1911―1979) is an American modernist poet characterized by agnosticism, yet often wrestling with Christian faith. She was raised first by her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia and later by her paternal grandparents in Massachusetts.

She published only 101 poems in total, and yet was honoured with the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956, and the National Book Award in 1970.

Critic Tom Travisano says: “Although Bishop was no churchgoer, Christian motifs appear throughout her poetry. She had a religious nature and education, and the foundations of her work are recognizably Christian.” In 1955 she wrote to Robert Lowell, “I believe now that complete agnosticism and straddling the fence on everything is my natural posture —although I wish I weren’t.”

Similarly, Cheryl Walker, of Scripps College in California, notes that two of Bishop’s favourite poets were Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Herbert. Bishop wrote about, “how really concerned Herbert was with all these insoluble problems of man’s relationship to God... It is real. —It was real and it has kept on being and it always will be, and Herbert just happened to be a person who managed to put a great deal of it into magnificent poetry”

You can hear her reading the following poem which is from The Complete Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1983) at The Poetry Foundation.

At the Fishhouses

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.

Down at the water’s edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Petrarch*

Petrarch (Fransesco Petrarca) (1304―1374) is an important Italian poet whose influence ― particularly as the originator and populariser of the sonnet ― is still felt today. Although best known for his poetry, he was also a significant scholar. His influence can be seen in the spread of humanism, which Petrarch saw as being no contradiction with his stand as a dedicated Christian.

Sometime between 1342 and 1353 Petrarch wrote Secretum ― a personal reflection on his life and the significance of his faith to him, in the form of an imaginary dialogue with Augustine. It begins with Augustine criticizing Petrarch for not having dedicated himself completely to God, through his love for the things of this world and his desire for literary fame. Secretum ― though not published within his lifetime, and possibly written only for his private reflection and self-criticism ― also became an important work.

One of the things of this world he was obsessed with was a beautiful, unobtainable woman named Laura, who was married to someone else. The Canzoniere is his book of sonnets and other poems concerning his love for her, and his sorrow at her premature death. The following poem is from The Canzoniere, and was translated by A.M. Juster. This translation appeared in The Christian Century in 2022.

363

Death dimmed the sun that dazzled brilliantly;
my eyes, intact and healthy, are in shade.
She is now dust who made me flame and fade;
like elms or oaks my laurels wilt for me,
so that I see my goal, though agony
remains. No one else made my thoughts afraid
and bold, nor chilled and scorched them, nor conveyed
full hope, nor flooded them with misery.
Released by one who jabs and mollifies,
who tortured me for many years before,
my freedom’s bittersweet, I realize,
and to the Lord I thank and I adore,
whose eyes sustain and oversee the skies,
I turn—world-weary, not desiring more.

Posted with permission of the translator.

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

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Laura Reece Hogan*

Laura Reece Hogan is the author of two full-length poetry collections. Her new book, Butterfly Nebula, is the 2022 winner of the Backwaters Prize in Poetry and is published by the University of Nebraska Press. In this collection, Hogan focuses both on the micro and the macro, the deep and the distant, as she ponders the galaxies, life on the ocean floor, flowers, and insects ― from immense nebulae, right down to disembodied human tear glands growing in a petri dish.

Marjorie Maddox has said of Butterfly Nebula, “Astronomical, biological, ecological, theological, metaphorical…How dazzling the shine of these poems, how far-reaching their light."

Besides writing poetry, Hogan is the author of the theology book I Live, No Longer I (2017, Wipf & Stock) which was a winner at the American Bookfest Awards, The Illumination Book Awards, and the Catholic Press Association Book Awards.

The following poem, from the new collection, first appeared in The Inflectionist Review.

Prayer For Traversing the Eye

If I molt
peel and cast
the assemblage,
push aside / bend
behind can I sliver
shiver atoms spectral
can you splinter me
cut down the camel
of me shatter me
until I shed me
can you shove
me through
this frail
slit?

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Laura Reece Hogan: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg*

Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633—1694) is an Austrian whose sonnets have much in common with the seventeenth century English Metaphysical poets.

When I first posted about her back in 2017, I mentioned that three Canadian poets whom I know and respect — Sarah Klassen, Sally Ito, and Joanne Epp — had been working together on translating some of Greiffenberg’s work. Little did I know that this project would grab hold of them to the extent that they would produce a book-length manuscript.

That book is Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg, and consists of their new translations of 65 poems — many of which have not previously been translated into English. The title is well-suited as it reflects the compound nouns of the original German, and the sense of awe that runs through these poems.

The poet-translators had to make significant decisions in bringing Greiffenberg’s sonnets into English. Because conveying her meaning and the beauty of her images was most important, they chose the poetic dance of alliteration and assonance, rather than trying to match the rhyme-scheme of the original German sonnets. One of the sonnets begins, “Oh you whose wisdom dews the stars, the source / of destiny—and yet without their work / your art alone brings everything to pass…”

The English translation of the following poem first appeared in The Polyglot; it is included in Burl Horniachek’s fine anthology To Heaven’s Rim: The Kingdom Poets Book of World Christian Poetry (Poiema/Cascade, 2023) and is, of course, from Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2024).

On the Holy Spirit’s Wondrous Consolation

Refreshment from on high, heart-quickening breath!
----You heavenly balm! In suffering, Joy-Spirit
----that comforts while defying death and trouble,
----and calls forth in us joy more plenteous than sorrow.
O let my life behold your heart-illumination!
----Let misery be mocked while you are ever praised,
----and I by you sustained with health and strength.
----Waft over troubled waters, as when the world began.
You good God-Spirit, pain-conqueror, overthrow
----the soul-deceiver; let not his heart-tormenting fire
----consume faith's oil in my lamp;
let not his torturous grappling-hooks ensnare me.
----Bedew my rose, O sweet soul’s dew, so she
----may rise up, by your cooling strength, through fire.

Posted with permission of the translators

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg: first post.

A launch event will take place — with Joanne Epp, Sally Ito, & Sarah Klassen — in the Atrium of McNally Robinson Booksellers, Grant Park, Winnipeg, at 7:00 pm on Friday, January 19th. Watch the Live Stream on YouTube , or view it after the fact.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Rubén Darío

Rubén Darío (1867―1916) is a Nicaraguan-born poet known as the father of the Spanish-language literary movement, Modernismo. He began as a child prodigy, who moved to El Salvador and later to Chile, where he published his first book in 1888. In1893, he was appointed Colombia’s Consul to Buenos Aires, and five years after that he became a correspondent in Europe for the Argentinian newspaper La Nación.

Darío was influential on succeeding poets including Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, and Federico Garcia Lorca. According to The Poetry Foundation, “Darío revolutionized poetic structure, stretching lines past conventional stopping places and utilizing wordplay, epithet, and alliteration in innovative ways.”

Although philosophically a Pythagorean dualist, Darío struggled to achieve the balance this implied in light of the Christian faith to which he had been raised. In his poem “Song of Hope” he considers the events of his day in light of scripture:
--------“…Has Antichrist arisen whom John at Patmos saw?
--------Portents are seen and marvels that fill the world with awe,
--------And Christ's return seems pressing, come to fulfill the Law.”
Rubén Darío then submissively says to Christ, expressing his own role in light of this vision:
--------“…My heart shall be an ember and in thy censer lie.”

The following poem is from Songs of Life and Hope, a translation of Cantos de Vida y Esperanza by Will Derusha and Alberto Acereda.

Hope

Jesus, incomparable forgiver of trespasses,
hear me; Sower of wheat, give me the tender
Bread of your hosts; give me, in the face of furious hell,
a lustral grace from rages and lusts.

Tell me this appalling horror of agony
obsessing me, comes only from my heinous guilt,
that upon dying I will find the light of a new day
and then will hear my "Rise up and walk!"

This post was suggested by Matthew White, an Australian Kingdom Poets reader.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.