Monday, October 25, 2010

John of the Cross

John of the Cross (1542–1591) was a Spanish mystic and Carmelite friar known for his allegorical poetry. It is from him the phrase “the dark night of the soul” has come to us.

In his prologue to The Spiritual Canticle he writes, “Who can describe the understanding [the Spirit of the Lord] gives to loving souls in whom He dwells? ...[L]et something of their experiences overflow in figures and similes, and from the abundance of their spirit pour out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanations.”

Clearly there is a relationship between “Song of Solomon” (aka “Song of Songs”, aka “Canticles”) and this poem. John of the Cross wrote a commentary on each stanza of the poem, as well, for those who might question the spiritual nature of his writing.

Selections from The Spiritual Canticle

Stanzas between the Soul and the Bridegroom


1. Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
You fled like the stag
After wounding me;
I went out calling you, and you were gone.

2. Shepherds, you that go
Up through the sheepfolds to the hill,
If by chance you see
Him I love most,
Tell him that I sicken, suffer, and die.

3. Seeking my love
I will head for the mountains and for watersides,
I will not gather flowers,
Nor fear wild beasts;
I will go beyond strong men and frontiers...

9. Why, since you wounded
This heart, don’t you heal it?
And why, since you stole it from me,
Do you leave it so,
And fail to carry off what you have stolen?...

13... Bridegroom
Return, dove,
The wounded stag
Is in sight on the hill,
Cooled by the breeze of your flight...

33. Do not despise me;
For if, before you found me dark,
Now truly you can look at me
Since you have looked
And left in me grace and beauty...

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, October 18, 2010

F.R. Scott

F.R. Scott (1899–1985) was a “first mover of Canadian poetry,” according to Louis Dudek. He was born in Quebec City, and went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Scott studied law, and later became Dean of Law at McGill University. During the depression he became leftist in his political views, and became influential within the Canadian socialist movement. In 1970 he was offered a seat in the Canadian Senate, which he declined.

His credentials as a poet are equally impressive. F.R. Scott was the editor of such publications as McGill Fortnightly Review, The Canadian Mercury, and Preview — which helped him to initiate new poetry in Canada. He won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1981 for his Collected Poems. (In 1977 he’d already won the GG for nonfiction for his Essays on the Constitution.) Leonard Cohen recorded Scott’s poem “A Villanelle For Our Times” for his CD Dear Heather (2004) with musical accompaniment.


What is it makes a church so like a poem?
The inner silence – spaces between words?

The ancient pews set out in rhyming rows
Where old men sit and lovers are so still?

Or something just beyond that can’t be seen,
Yet seems to move if we should look away?

It is not in the choir and the priest.
It is the empty church has most to say.

It cannot be the structure of the stone.
Sometimes mute buildings rise above a church.

Nor is it just the reason it was built.
Often it does not speak to us at all.

Men have done murders here as in a street,
And blinded men have smashed a holy place.

Men will walk by a church and never know
What lies within, as men will scorn a book.

Then surely it is not the church itself
That makes a church so very like a poem,

But only that unfolding of the heart
That lifts us upward in a blaze of light

And turns a nave of stone or page of words
To Holy, Holy, Holy without end.

*This is the first Kingdom Poets post about F.R. Scott: 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, October 11, 2010

Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman is a poet associated with the new formalism — a movement of contemporary poets who have returned to the use of many elements from poetry’s past; their poems often include metre, rhyme and symmetrical stanzas — but don’t use archaic language, or awkward inverted sentence structures in order to make a poem rhyme. Like Richard Wilbur, who continued writing with formal rhythm and rhyme when others were exclusively writing free verse, newer poets such as Dana Gioia and Mark Jarman seek to maintain that tradition. Jarman co-edited the influential 1996 anthology Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism.

He has taught at Vanderbilt University in Nashville since 1983, where he is the Centennial Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing. His ninth and most recent collection, Epistles was published by Sarabande Books in 2007.

As the journal Image has said, Jarman is courageous, in that he is not only “a champion of the formalist tradition in poetry” which is diametrically opposed to the prevailing trends of recent decades, but he is “unafraid to place [his] religious faith and doubt at the center of his work”. His collection Unholy Sonnets (an uneasy echo of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets), from which the following poem is taken, respects the traditional sonnet structure, and yet is open to its potential variations.

Sonnet #16

And if when he returned he found his mother
Behind the stone that rolled away for him,
Her muscles limp, her memory grown dim,
Unable to respond when he said, “Mother?”
And if he even recognized his mother,
Her outer light and inner light both dim,
Would he do for her what had been done for him?
Would God’s son give a new life to his mother?

I think he would balk. And I know why.
And I know this will sound unorthodox,
For she, like any mother, would have given
A kidney if she could have or an eye
To see her boy alive. The paradox
Is that he’d rather see her safe in heaven.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Mark Jarman: 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, October 4, 2010

William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827) was an eccentric poet, engraver and visual artist who saw himself as a prophet — and the heir of a tradition that came through Shakespeare and Milton — in a lineage that goes back to the prophets of the Bible. Although he was little known in his own day, Blake has become one of the most influential poets of the English language.

He believed in Christ’s divinity and in his resurrection, yet he was critical of the church. He viewed the Bible as the primary source for his inspiration, and yet he often twisted it to fit his own ideas. Since many of his writings are metaphorical and he created his own mythology — which can be interpreted in “the spiritual sense” that he applied to interpreting scripture — he is difficult to categorize. His theology, without doubt, became distorted. Even so, there is evidence of real faith and spiritual wrestling in his work.

The following poems come from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789 and 1794)

The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life, & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice
Little Lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb:
He is meek, & He is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee.

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about William Blake: 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: