Monday, November 24, 2014

Edith Södergran

Edith Södergran (1892—1923) is one of the first modernist poets to have written in Swedish. She was born in St. Petersburg, but lived most of her life just across the border in Finland. After her first book, Dikter (Poems) appeared in 1916 she attempted to connect with the literary community in Helsinki, but found the reaction to her work ranged from "puzzled admiration to ridicule." Her early poems reflect an interest in Nietzschean philosophy, which later gave way to a deep Christian faith. She published five poetry collections, the most critically-acclaimed being Shadow of the Future (1920).

She suffered from tuberculosis, which in combination with her poverty eventually took her life. She received little attention for her work in her lifetime, but is now considered Finland's greatest modern poet. The following poems are from David McDuff's translation of her Complete Poems published by Bloodaxe Books.

Two Ways

You must give up your old way,
your way is dirty:
there men go with greedy glances
and the word “happiness” you hear from every lip
and further along the way lies the body of a woman
and the vultures are tearing it to pieces.

You have found your new way,
your way is pure:
there motherless children go playing with poppies,
there women in black go talking of sorrow
and further along the way stands a pale saint
with his foot on a dead dragon’s neck.

Christian Confession

Happiness is not what we dream of,
happiness is not the night we remember,
happiness is not in our yearning’s song.

Happiness is something we never wanted,
happiness is something we find it hard to understand,
happiness is the cross that was raised for everyone.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Peter Levi

Peter Levi (1931—2000) is a British poet whose father was Jewish and Mother was Roman Catholic. He became a Jesuit novice when he was just 17, and became a priest. He left the priesthood in 1977 to get married. In 1984 he became Oxford Professor of Poetry. He wrote more than twenty volumes of poetry including: The Gravel Ponds (1960), Death Is A Pulpit (1971) and Reed Music (2007). He also edited The Penguin Book of English Christian Verse (1984).

When The Paris Review asked for his advice to young writers, part of what he said was, "Steer clear of the writing departments of universities..." and then he added, "Writing is like breathing or it ought to be. One’s got to write poems. Like one has to go to church. Not out of social duty, or because there’s any pressure on one to do so. Not even out of reaction to people who say one shouldn’t do so. But just because of some decent, natural good behavior. One might as well go on with it."

The following poem was included in the anthology British Poetry Since 1945 by Edward Lucie-Smith (Penguin).

"To speak about the soul"

To speak about the soul.
I wake early. You don't sleep in summer.
In the morning a dead-eyed nightingale is still awake in you.
What has been done and suffered
with whatever is left to be suffered
is in the soul.
Oracles are given elsewhere. Their speech is announced with

In the early morning
you see women walking to the sanctuaries:
a light touch of sun on the whitewash:
a light touch of fire burning the oil.
You tell me nothing.
This is the desert I will write about.
The desert is not an island: the island is not enchanted: and the
------desert is no habitation for men.
The bird with the burnt eyes sang sweetest.
A desert further off
One small simple cloud. Heat at midday. A little constellated
------handwriting. Heat at midnight.
You never say.
To be woken by hearing
the voices of the enchanted birds
and the voices of the disenchanted birds.

Say what is like a tree, like a river, like a mountain, a cloud over
------the sun?
My memory has been overshadowed
by that live light and by that dying light.

The soul is no more than human.

The rising sky is as wide as the desert.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, November 10, 2014

John Suckling

Sir John Suckling (1609—1642) is a poet, playwright, ambassador, parliamentarian, and military man. When his father died in 1626, he inherited extensive estates. He was very popular at court, and is credited with having invented the game of cribbage. In 1630 he was knighted.

His prose work Account of Religion by Reason appeared in 1637. His play Aglaura in 1638 was performed twice for Charles I—the same year The Goblins was published, which is said to have been influenced by Shakespeare's The Tempest.

In 1640 he was involved in a plot to restore to the king control over parliament. He was forced to flee to Paris, where he died. It is believed he was murdered, although rumour of his death being a suicide was also circulated.

Upon Stephen Stoned

Under this heap of stones interred lies
No holocaust, but stoned sacrifice
Burnt not by altar-coals, but by the fire
Of Jewish ire,
Whose softest words in their hard hearts alone
Congealed to stone,
Not piercing them recoiled in him again,
Who being slain
As not forgetful, whence they once did come,
Now being stones he found them in a tomb.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jenny Robertson

Jenny Robertson is a Scottish writer who I first discovered through her 1989 anthology of Christian poetry, A Touch of Flame (Lion Publishing). She has written many books which fit in intertwining ways into her areas of interest: Children's books, adult novels, poetry, books about eastern European peoples (particularly victims of totalitarianism), the Holocaust, Christianity, and mental health. She and her husband have lived in England, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Scotland.

Her poetry books include Beyond The Border, Loss And Language (both from Chapman) Ghetto (Lion Publishing) and Clarissa, or Arrested Development. George Mackay Brown has written, “Jenny Robertson’s verse has its beginnings in a deep well of compassion; and drawn up into sun and wind, each word falls bright and singing upon the stones of our world.”

Corn King

Corn King
leap, leap, Lord of life,
dance, dance, dear delight.

Grain buried deep
today, tomorrow, sleep
---------bright to death.

Broken Corn King, harvested,
thrashed, ground, milled for bread,
---------at daylight leap
---------from your dark sleep.

Harvester, begin
the dance, the dear delight.
Yielded sheaves, golden bright,
---------a garnered hoard,
welcome their harvest lord;
while corn-fat valleys shout and sing,
the Harvest King,
the harvest home
with broken bread and one cry: Come!

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.