Monday, June 17, 2019

Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150—215) is a significant philosopher of the early church. In about 190 he began teaching his own school of thought, which centred on the reasonableness of the Christian faith. He wrote three books: Exhortation to the Greeks, Instructor, and Miscellanies. Clement’s “new philosophy” was actually Biblical Christianity aimed at correcting gnostic heresies.

Clement was one of the first leaders to speak up in favour of Christians using visual art in their worship. He suggested, "Let our emblem be a dove, or a fish, or a ship running before the wind, or a musician's lyre, or a ship's anchor. And if there be a fisherman, he will remind us of an apostle, and little children being drawn up out of the water."

The following is considered by some to be the oldest Christian hymn, other than texts from scripture; it was translated into English by F. Bland Tucker.

Jesus, Our Mighty Lord

Jesus, our mighty Lord,
our strength in sadness,
the Father's conquering Word,
true source of gladness;
your name we glorify,
O Jesus, throned on high;
you gave yourself to die
for our salvation.

Good shepherd of your sheep,
your own defending,
in love your children keep
to life unending.
You are yourself the Way:
lead us then day by day
in your own steps, we pray,
O Lord most holy.

Glorious their life who sing,
with glad thanksgiving,
true hymns to Christ the King
in all their living:
all who confess his Name,
come then with hearts aflame;
the God of peace acclaim
as Lord and Savior.

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 10, 2019

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (1914—1953) is the best known of all Welsh poets. He grew up in a Wales that had undergone an evangelical revival in 1904—1905 that had transformed the entire culture. His father was an atheist who nevertheless constantly ranted against God, while his mother was a devoted nonconformist chapel-goer.

I have long wondered about including a post about Dylan Thomas here, although I doubt he was truly a Christian. Even so, he was so God-haunted, so influenced by the Bible and hymns, and he wrote so many poems which clearly express a Christian faith, that I decided — at the very least — he speaks profoundly of faith in God.

In his book Dylan Thomas; Dog Among the Fairies, Henry Treece concludes that in Thomas's poem "Vision and Prayer" — "The poet has openly accepted God's love and has rejoiced in his acceptance. . . . This poem ends in a burst of confessional self-abnegation very reminiscent of Francis Thompson's ‘Hound of Heaven’." Treece also says, "his successive poems have testified . . . to his acceptance of religion and his need for prayer."

Many would disagree, even though, one of his closest friends, the poet Vernon Watkins, was clearly a Christian — and Dylan Thomas’s favourite poem, was John Milton’s “On The Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Perhaps what this most proves is how difficult it is for us to truly understand another human being.

Dylan Thomas’s drunkenness and immoral behaviour was enough to keep him from receiving a plaque in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. This absence was amended in 1982 when US President Jimmy Carter remarked to the Dean, “You put him in here. And I will pray for him.”

The following poem was one that Vernon Watkins convince Thomas to include in his collection Twenty Five Poems.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashore;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

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 3, 2019

Janet McCann

Janet McCann has taught creative writing in the English Department of Texas A&M University for more than 45 years. The most recent of her numerous poetry collections is The Crone at the Casino (Lamar University Press, 2014).

I met her this February at the Windhover Writers Festival at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I was able to express to her how influential the anthology Odd Angles of Heaven (1994, Harold Shaw Publishers) — which she’d edited together with David Craig — had been for me as I was developing as a poet, and how it is a significant forerunner to my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry.

She and David Craig also went on to publish two further poetry anthologies — Place of Passage (2000) and Francis and Clare in Poetry (2004).

The following Janet McCann poem is from Rattle (#25 Summer 2005).

Life List

My friend the scholar-birdwatcher
is dying, after a quiet regular life
of Milton and birds, and if I could

imagine him a farewell, it would be this:
to look out into the small yard
he tended for forty years, to where

he placed the bird houses, the martin
house and the hummingbird feeder,
just in time to see a sweep of air

curve in and take form, the great arctic gyrfalcon
not on his life list, there on the sill,
beak, feathers and pinions

and final knowledge, Adam’s homecoming
after the story’s end, better than Eden.
May he leave in his hand a feather, that his wife

might know where he has gone.

Posted with permission of the poet.

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, May 27, 2019

Ann Griffiths

Ann Griffiths (1776—1805) is a Welsh hymnwriter who, as a young woman, was deeply influenced by the Methodist Revival. There are no pictures of her, but this effigy (from the Ann Griffiths Memorial Chapel at Dolanog) is based on descriptions of her. According to E. Wyn James of Cardiff University, “Ann’s hymns have long been regarded as one of the highlights of Welsh literature, and since the mid-nineteenth century she herself has become a prominent icon in Welsh-speaking Wales.”

This is particularly remarkable considering that Griffiths received little education and lived in the same remote farmhouse “Dolwar Fach” her entire life. Only 70 stanzas of her verse survive, mostly due to the efforts of her spiritual mentor John Hughes, and his wife Ruth who had been a maidservant at Dolwar Fach and a close friend of Ann’s.

Known as Ann Thomas for most of her life, she had only been married ten months — following the birth and death of her only child, a daughter — when Ann passed away.

The following translation by Rowan Williams, though beautiful in its own right, does not seek to maintain the complex musicality of the original Welch. It takes an image from Song of Songs (attributed to Solomon) and turns it around — seeing Jesus as the Rose of Sharon from the perspective of the bride.

I Saw Him Standing

Under the dark trees, there he stands,
there he stands; shall he not draw my eyes?
I thought I knew a little
how he compels, beyond all things, but now
he stands there in the shadows. It will be
Oh, such a daybreak, such bright morning,
when I shall wake to see him
as he is.

He is called Rose of Sharon, for his skin
is clear, his skin is flushed with blood,
his body lovely and exact; how he compels
beyond ten thousand rivals. There he stands,
my friend, the friend of guilt and helplessness,
to steer my hollow body
over the sea.

The earth is full of masks and fetishes,
what is there here for me? are these like him?
Keep company with him and you will know:
no kin, no likeness to those empty eyes.
He is a stranger to them all, great Jesus.
What is there here for me? I know
what I have longed for. Him to hold
me always.

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, May 20, 2019

Juana Inés de la Cruz

Juana Inés de la Cruz — in English, Joan Agnes of the Cross — (1648—1695) is a Mexican Heironymite nun. She was largely self-taught in childhood — secretly reading volumes from her grandfather’s library, which was forbidden for girls to do. She became accomplished in such areas as science, philosophy, languages, music and poetry.

Her most-significant pieces are The Divine Narcissus and First Dream. She was influenced by the poet Luis de Góngora.

After joining the nunnery in 1667, she began writing poetry and prose pieces concerning love, faith and feminism. She was often criticized by Catholic leaders who thought a woman should be devoting herself to prayer rather than writing. She argued that it would be better to have women teaching women (as encouraged in 1 Timothy 5). In 1693 she seems to have stopped writing, which was probably due to pressure from church authorities.

While caring for those who were ill with the plague, she herself grew ill and died.

The following is from The Divine Narcissus. Here it is Narcissus (that is Christ), appearing as the Good Shepherd, who is speaking.

The Divine Narcissus — Third Tableau, Scene VIII

-----Poor little lost sheep,
forgetful of you Master,
where can you be straying?
When you depart from me,
it’s life you leave behind, will you not see?
-----Drinking stagnant waters
out of ancient cisterns,
you slake your foolish thirst,
while, deaf to you mistake,
the spring of living waters, you forsake.
-----Call to mind my favors:
you’ll see how lovingly
I watch over you
to free you of offense,
laying down my life in your defense.
-----Covered with frost and snow,
I leave the flock behind,
to follow your foolish steps;
still you spurn this love of mine,
though for you I’ve left the other ninety-nine.
-----Consider that my beauty,
beloved of every creature,
desired by them all—
by every single one—
has set its heart on winning you alone.
-----Down paths through briary wastes,
I follow where you’ve trod,
I brave these rugged woods
until my feet are torn,
are stabbed and pierced by every passing thorn.
-----Still, I shall seek you out
and, even if in the search
I risk my very life,
yours I shall not disown:
to find you I would sooner lose my own.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

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, May 13, 2019

Robert Herrick*

Robert Herrick (1591—1674) is the most significant of the poets from a group of dramatists and poets known as “Sons of Ben” — a tribute to the English poet Ben Jonson. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1623 after having graduated with his Masters degree from Cambridge University.

In 1592 his father fell from an upper storey window of their London home, which is suspected to have been a suicide. The desire for a father figure, partially fulfilled by Ben Jonson, shows itself throughout his verse.

Herrick’s only published book of poems is Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine (1648) — a collection of 1400 poems (many of which are just epigraphs). It includes a section entitled “His Noble Numbers,” which are his collected religious poems, and may have originally been intended to appear as a separate book.

In 1994 a memorial to Robert Herrick was unveiled in the new Poets' Corner window in Westminster Abbey.

Litany to the Holy Spirit

In the hour of my distress,
When temptations me oppress,
And when I my sins confess,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When I lie within my bed,
Sick in heart and sick in head,
And with doubts discomforted,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the house doth sigh and weep,
And the world is drowned in sleep,
Yet mine eyes the watch do keep,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the passing bell doth toll,
And the Furies in a shoal
Come to fright a parting soul,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the tapers now burn blue,
And the comforters are few,
And that number more than true,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the priest his last hath prayed,
And I nod to what is said,
'Cause my speech is now decayed,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When, God knows, I'm tossed about
Either with despair or doubt;
Yet before the glass be out,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the tempter me pursueth
With the sins of all my youth,
And half damns me with untruth,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the flames and hellish cries
Fright mine ears and fright mine eyes,
And all terrors me surprise,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

When the Judgment is revealed,
And that opened which was sealed,
When to Thee I have appealed,
-----Sweet Spirit, comfort me!

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Robert Herrick: 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, May 6, 2019

Les Murray*

Les Murray (1938—2019) is considered the leading Australian poet of his generation. His most-recent poetry collection, Waiting for the Past, won the Judith Wright Calanthe Award at the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards. This is just one more in a series of honours Les Murray has received, such as having Queen Elizabeth II present him with the Gold Medal for Poetry at Buckingham Palace in 1999. He died last Monday — April 29th — at age 80.

The late Derek Walcott once wrote of Murray’s poetry, “There is no poetry in the English language now so rooted in its sacredness, so broad-leafed in its pleasures, and yet so intimate and conversational.”

Murray is one of the poets featured in my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry(available here) and through Amazon. He was very generous in helping me to obtain the various rights to use his poetry within various jurisdictions around the globe.

The following poem is from Waiting for the Past and first appeared in First Things.

Jesus Was A Healer

Jesus was a healer
never turned a patient down

never charged coin or conversion
started off with dust and spittle

then re-tuned lives to pattern
simply by his attention

often surprised himself a little
by his unbounded ability

Jesus was a healer
reattached his captor’s ear

opened senses, unjammed cripples
sent pigs to drown delirium

cured a shy tug at his hem
learned to transmit resurrection

could have stood more Thank You
for God’s sake, which was his own

Jesus was a healer
keep this quiet, he would mutter

to his learners. Copy me
and they did to a degree

still depicted on church walls
cure without treatment or rehearsals.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Les Murray: 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.