Monday, February 25, 2019

Thomas Dekker

Thomas Dekker (1572—1632) is a contemporary of Shakespeare who wrote prolifically — particularly as a playwright. He collaborated on plays with Ben Jonson — both before and after they had written mocking portrayals of each other for the London stage. Dekker’s most famous play, The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), a rowdy comedy of life in London, is still performed today. He was also very active as a pamphleteer, taking on such topics as the London Plague of 1603, and the Gunpowder Plot.

Paul McCartney borrowed from Dekker the following lines, almost unaltered, and set them to music, without acknowledging their source for The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road.
-----Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
-----Smiles awake you when you rise;
-----Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
-----And I will sing a lullaby...

Although Dekker was not particularly known as a religious man, C.S. Lewis recognized the root of the line, “All life is but a wandering to find home” — from the play The Witch of Edmonton — as an “exposition of medieval Christian doctrine.”

The following comes from Robert Hudson’s 2017 edition of Dekker’s Four Birds of Noah’s Ark — a prayer book, rather than a poetry book. Even so, these prayers are expressed in poetic lines, which speak eloquently in metaphor and echoing rhythms, very much like the Psalms. Hudson has annotated the prayers and modernized the language, without robbing Dekker’s prayers of their music.

A Prayer For The City

[Luke 19:41-44]

O Father of mercy, look down upon this city not
-----with an eye of justice, for no flesh
-----is righteous in your sight, but behold this,
-----your sanctuary, as your Son beheld Jerusalem.
Set, O Lord, a host of angels at the gates,
-----and let truth spread her banner on the walls.
-----Let not the arrow of the invader fall
-----upon our houses by day nor the sword
-----of the strong man smite us by night.
Give wisdom, O Lord, to the rulers of this city,
-----zeal to the preachers, and holiness of life
-----to the inhabitants. Let the tree of your gospel,
-----which for so many years has flourished here,
-----still spread into large branches, and may
-----those branches bear an abundance of lively fruit.
Save, O Lord, this temple of yours; bless it, defend it,
-----crown it with honors so that it may outshine
-----all the cities in the world
-----in goodness as it does in greatness. Amen.

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.