Monday, March 29, 2010

Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) was a very influential abbot, theologian and writer. He established the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux, and from there saw to the establishment of 65 others; he was selected to settle a dispute within the Catholic Church, and was later canonized by Pope Alexander III. At the command of Pope Eugene III, Bernard vigorously promoted the second crusade, and was blamed by many when it resulted in disaster. What he is best known for today, however, are his writings — particularly his lyrics which have been sung as hymns for generations.

The following hymn, attributed to Bernard, first appeared in the 14th century. It has been translated from Latin by Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. The music for the German and English versions was originally a secular tune; it was extensively arranged by Johann Sebastian Bach for his St. Matthew’s Passion. Most hymnals would not include all eleven verses.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favour, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their colour once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendour that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigour, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigour, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Saviour, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Saviour, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

*This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Bernard of Clairvaux: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 22, 2010

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) is one of the most important Christian intellectuals of the early 20th century, although not primarily known as a poet. He was a journalist, a skilled debater, and the author of 100 books. His defence of the Christian faith, Orthodoxy, is well worth investigating.

He was a successful fiction writer, who was known for his Father Brown detective stories, but also for The Man Who Was Thursday — his brilliant and farcical spy novel. He is famous both for his sense of humour and his solid grasp of serious subjects including politics, economics, theology, and philosophy. His influence has been wide-spread in various disciplines. In 1922 he became a Roman Catholic.

If you are reading this during the week it was posted, may it help you prepare for Palm Sunday.

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
---And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
---Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
---And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
---On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
---Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
---I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
---One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
---And palms before my feet.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about G.K. Chesterton: second post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Luci Shaw

There was a time when Luci Shaw was the only living Christian poet I could name. To be a poet was not an accepted vocation, and Luci Shaw had to be a pioneer. Her first book , Listen to the Green (1971) was published by a company she and her husband ran. Today, she continues to be one of our finest poets, with ten volumes of poetry to her credit, and several non-fiction books — available from various publishers. Her newest collection, Harvesting Fog (2010), has just been released by Pinyon Publishing.

Luci Shaw looks at the world expectantly — looking to see what truths are awaiting her in her everyday observances. Because this is God’s world, she expects to see his truths. We read and see them too.

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Walking, this morning, I began to think
how everything wears its other down. How
this sidewalk smoothes my rubber soles.
How stomachs slick their food, waves
burnish shattered bottles to sea glass,
how prevailing wind shapes trees
and bends them to its gusting will.
How calm weather soothes an impatient sea.

A panther, crated for the zoo, will pace
her pattern in her cage. Today my open window
carves the sunlight to a square that warms
the rug. God tools me like a strip of buckskin.
My silence wears your chatter like a suit;
your charity unravels my reproach. You
shape me, and I shape you, and all our kindred
work to shape us into who they wish we were.


Like the winter morning ice
that, brittle, skins a puddle —

like the wafer the priest lifts and snaps
with the fingers of his two hands —

a pistol shot across the congregation —
so is the name of Jesus splintered

to fall in fragments from our tongues,
sharpening the oath-speech

of the careless, feeding others
with light from the broken crystal.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Luci Shaw: second post; third post; fourth post.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Books & Culture review of Luci Shaw's poetry collection
What The Light Was Like here

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gerard Manley Hopkins

English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844—1889) is one of the 19th century's most influential poets. Many of you will be familiar with his best-known work. Even so, I’d like to encourage you to invest a few minutes meditating on his verse.

Hopkins wrestled with reconciling the humility of Christian servanthood with the inherent pride in producing art. He dedicated whatever time he could — which was minimal due to the demands of the priesthood — to his unique poetic vision, and he submitted his talent to God as a gift. The Norton Anthology of English Literature touches on his story by saying, “During his lifetime, these remarkable poems, most of them celebrating the wonders of God’s creation, had been known only to a small circle of friends, including his literary executor, the poet Robert Bridges, who waited until 1918 before releasing them to a publisher.” It is my belief that Hopkins’ attitude of submission to God, and his dedication to his art, are the essential elements that pleased his Lord — so that God has chosen to elevate Hopkins’ poetry.

The words of the following poem often play in my mind, in the same way the psalms do, when I’m out in God’s creation, leading me to worship.

God’s Grandeur (1877)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
---It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
---It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
---And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
---And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
---There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
---Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
---World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

In contrast to “God’s Grandeur”, Gerard Manley Hopkins also wrestled in prayer concerning the difficulties in his life. The following poem (one of his “terrible sonnets”) included a quote in Latin from Jeremiah 12:1, which reads in the NIV, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” The final line of this poem has often found itself in my own prayers.

[Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord] (1889)

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? And why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
---Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

May we approach our lives and art as Hopkins did.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Gerard Manley Hopkins: second post third post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jane Kenyon

Jane Kenyon (1947–1995) is a poet of simplicity. She wrote rural poems about hayfields, and ponds and taking the dog for a walk. She married American poet Donald Hall in 1972, and moved with him from Michigan to New Hampshire. During her last few months she captured that time in fine poems, such as “Otherwise” and “The Sick Wife”, which speak of her months of illness prior to dying of leukemia.

Her poems never sermonize, but are reflections on nature, scripture and family life. Otherwise, her new and selected poems, is one of my favourite volumes of poetry. The following poem, title poem of her third book, demonstrates well her clear images and controlled voice.

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the crickets take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Jane Kenyon: second post,
third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: