Monday, April 26, 2010

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830—1894) was a highly acclaimed poet in her day. She was born in London, the youngest daughter of Italian poet Gabriele Rossetti, who had come to England as a political refugee. Her mother was an evangelical Anglican, who educated her children at home; all of whom became well known. Christina’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is famous as a poet and artist. Christina modelled for many of his paintings. She was a devout Anglican who broke off an engagement because her fiancé had become a Catholic, and later rejected another man she loved because she did not believe he was a Christian.

Her poetry, like that of many Victorians, fell from fashion in the early twentieth century. Today, in some circles she may be best known for the Christmas carol “In The Bleak Mid-Winter”, with music composed by Gustavus Holst. Her thought-provoking poem “Who Has Seen The Wind” became an inspiration for W.O. Mitchell’s novel of the same name (1947). By the 1970s a resurgence of interest in her work — due to its depth and subtlety — has re-established her distinction as one of the most significant female poets of the 19th century.

A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
--------My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
--------Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
--------No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
--------O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
--------My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
--------And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
--------No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
--------O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
--------A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
--------Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
--------Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
--------O Jesus, drink of me.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Christina Rossetti: second post, third post, fourth 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, April 19, 2010

John Terpstra

John Terpstra is the son of Dutch immigrants to Canada — a poet and cabinet-maker living in Hamilton, Ontario. His poems often consist of reflective narratives, which usually stretch to two or three pages, and express his fascination with landscape, community, Scripture and story. His seventh volume of poetry, Disarmament (Gaspereau Press, 2003) was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award. In this collection there are six poems which begin, “In the church where we go to now...” although the idea of church isn’t always literal, nor is it concerned with making Christians look good.

Three of John Terpstra’s most-recent books are prose; this is a logical transition, considering his narrative style. Hopefully his nonfiction will not squeeze out his poetry writing. His most-recent book of poetry is his selected poems: Two or Three Guitars.


------Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate is a pool...
------------------------------------------------------— John 5

There is no water flatter, or more still,
than the water that is contained within the blue walls
of the randomly shaped swimming pool
at the resort hotel on a shore of the Caribbean Sea.

Lounging beside it, I recall the pool
around which the infirm would gather, waiting
for the one day of the year an angel came
to trouble its surface, and the first to enter was healed.

I have waited the better part of a long winter
to be here. Beyond the palms of this hotel
is the village of small concrete homes, flat roofs
and brightly-coloured doors that opened

to the tour bus negotiating its exceptionally
narrow streets, hauling us all from the airport.
The bus bleats, Let me through, Let me through.
You wouldn’t have thought we could make it.

Poolside, rich imported languages blossom
like tropicals. French, Italian, German, Dutch.
and the one I dip my tongue into,
are interspersed with the occasional bleat

of goat. The goats are tied to palm trees,
under which the tour buses idle. Porters
push carts of baggage between lounge chairs
while the angels who daily trouble our sheets

and towels to perfection, talk, and walk in twos
a straight line through to the rust buckets waiting
to return them home to the village, after shift.
The poor are with us always, and we have come

a long way to find them. The first one into the pool
is already better for it, in this heat.
The water returns to a stillness I have come
already to love. Were he to stretch a hand

and offer it, I think I could not stand
to relinquish this choice infirmity.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Image Update review of John Terpstra's poetry collection,Two or Three Guitars here

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Terpstra: 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, April 12, 2010

Pauline Johnson

Pauline Johnson (1861—1913) was born on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. Her Mother was English, and her father a Mohawk chief. Sometimes going by her Indian name of Tekahionwake, she was the first native poet to have her work published in Canada, and was one of a very few women in the country, at the turn of the century, who could make her living by what she wrote and performed. She toured Canada extensively, and also performed in the US and Britain.

Her best-known poem is “The Song My Paddle Sings”; it captures well the peaceful rhythm of a canoe trip, in stanzas such as:
-----The river rolls in its rocky bed;
-----My paddle is plying its way ahead;
-----Dip, dip,
-----While the waters flip
-----In foam as over their breast we slip.
Her poetry often celebrates her native heritage, and Canada’s natural beauty. Pauline Johnson’s work sometimes reflects her Christian faith, as demonstrated by the following poem.

A Prodigal

My heart forgot its God for love of you,
And you forgot me, other loves to learn;
Now through a wilderness of thorn and rue
Back to my God I turn.

And just because my God forgets the past,
And in forgetting does not ask to know
Why I once left His arms for yours, at last
Back to my God I go.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Pauline Johnson: 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, April 5, 2010

Richard Wilbur

American Episcopalian (Anglican) poet Richard Wilbur was born in 1921. He has received many honours including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1987 he was appointed as the second Poet Laureate of the United States. He stands out among contemporary poets, in that he uses metre in most of his poems, and frequently also uses rhyme.

In his work he seeks to make connections between the visible and the invisible — between the physical and spiritual worlds. This is demonstrated well in the following poem, which is one of his favourites, and one of his best known:

Love Calls Us To The Things Of This World

--The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
------------------Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

--Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

--Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down in so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
---------------------------------------The soul shrinks

--From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,
-------------------"Oh, let there be nothing on
-----earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven."

--Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

--"Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
------------------keeping their difficult balance."

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Richard Wilbur: 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: