Monday, October 31, 2022

Thomas Traherne*

Thomas Traherne (1637—1674) was largely unknown as a poet at the time of his death — or even two hundred years after his death. Two manuscripts containing poetry and prose, at first thought to be by Henry Vaughan, were discovered in the winter of 1896—97, and were almost published as such. By 1903 the poems had been identified as Traherne’s and were published under his name.

There’s no evidence William Blake was familiar with Traherne’s lines —
-----"In all Things, all Things service do to all:
-----And thus a Sand is Endless, though most small.
---------- And every Thing is truly Infinite,
---------- In its Relation deep and exquisite."
which seem to pre-echo “Auguries of Innocence” — however, this similarity says much about the depth of Traherne’s originality of thought and poetic vision.

His philosophical/theological priorities were also expressed in his Christian Ethicks (1675): “He that would not be a stranger to the universe, an alien to felicity, and a foreigner to himself, must know God to be an infinite benefactor, all eternity, full of treasures, the world itself, the beginning of gifts, and his own soul the possessor of all, in communion with the Deity.”

Critical interest in Traherne continues, as further manuscripts come to light. A project known as “The Oxford Traherne” — a planned 15-volume critical edition of Thomas Traherne’s works commissioned by Oxford University Press — is planned to begin production in 2024.

The novelist Marilynne Robinson has the following poem appear in her novel Jack (2020, FSG) which is the fourth novel in the series that began with her Pulitzer Prize winner Gilead (2004). The book’s title-character receives the first ten lines of this poem on a slip of paper, from a woman whose interest in him is both curious to him and revitalizing.

For Man To Act As If His Soul Did See

For Man to Act as if his Soul did see
The very Brightness of Eternity;
For Man to Act as if his Love did burn
Above the Spheres, even while it's in its Urne;
For Man to Act even in the Wilderness,
As if he did those Sovereign Joys possess,
Which do at once confirm, stir up, enflame,
And perfect Angels; having not the same!
It doth increase the value of his Deeds,
In this a Man a Seraphim exceeds.
To Act on Obligations yet unknown,
To Act upon Rewards as yet unshewn,
To keep Commands whose Beauty's yet unseen,
To Cherish and retain a Zeal between
Sleeping and waking; shews a constant care,
And that a deeper Love, a Love so rare,
That no Eye Service may with it compare.
The Angels, who are faithful while they view
His Glory, know not what themselves would do,
Were they in our Estate! A Dimmer Light
Perhaps would make them erre as well as We
And in the Coldness of a darker Night
Forgetful and Lukewarm Themselves might be.
Our very Rust shall cover us with Gold,
Our Dust shall sprinkle while their Eyes behold
The Glory Springing from a feeble State,
Where meer Belief doth, if not conquer Fate
Surmount and pass what it doth Antedate.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Thomas Traherne: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Graham Hillard

Graham Hillard is the founding editor of Cumberland River Review, and for fifteen years has taught creative writing and contemporary literature at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. He is also a regular contributor to the Washington Examiner and National Review. This spring he joined the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

His poetry collection, Wolf Intervals, has just appeared through Cascade Books as part of the Poiema Poetry Series. I’m pleased to have assisted Graham as his editor.

New York poet Eleanor Lerman has written, “In these sharply crafted poems, Graham Hillard challenges the reader to examine how nature both blesses and infects the human soul. Fields and forests, orchards and cities, wolves and children: all are caught in the dance between humanity and the natural world.”

The following poem is from Wolf Intervals. Another of the poems from this new book can be read at Poems For Ephesians.

Sunday Sermon

So here again we come with all our sins
Broad blown, stinking to heaven. We concede
The good in one another fitfully,
Neglect what we have promised, turn away
When turning inward might occasion pain.
Like beasts of burden that each year must pull
A little harder to advance their load,
We put our backs into the work. We call
This love and are not wrong to do so. When
The pastor climbs into the pulpit, I
Give you my hand, this palm and grip that you
Have known so well, that used to fairly throb
With certainty and youth. Your other hand
Now grasps the bulletin, that blank expanse
Where sermon notes are tucked into the soil
Of each believer’s comprehension, such
As it is. Hebrews 4:15 will be
Our text today: Christ tempted so completely
That he is able to commiserate
With all His lowly flock. We know the verse,
Accept the truth of it, yet even minds
That God is sanctifying can be prone
To wander, as the hymnist says. An hour
Or two will see us safely home, reduced
From holiness to all the cognizance
Of age: that bodies shrink and sag and turn
Against themselves; that muscles atrophy;
That we could live another forty years
Inside these prisons, bound to one another
By habit, love, commitment, and a fear
That neither of us cares to name. Your notes
Have nearly filled the page by now, and I
Can’t help but glance at your neat letters, like
A line of clerics leaning to one side.
Christ stooped into the muck with his creation.
Temptation came his way, but did he taste
What we discover daily? If I could
Contribute to your jottings I might add
A line or two. He knew our sorrows. But
He never married. He never grew old.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Edith Lovejoy Pierce (1904―1983) is an English poet who, as a newlywed, moved to Illinois with her American husband in 1929. She is the author of several poetry collections including In This Our Day (1944), Therefore Choose Life (1947, Harper & Brothers), and White Wake in the Sea (1966). She also translated the prayer book With the Master: A Book of Meditations (1943) by Philippe Vernier.

The quote that predominantly comes up next to her name on the internet is “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” Pierce is also known for her pacifism.

The following poem first appeared in the September 1945 issue of Poetry, and is from Therefore Choose Life.

The Tongue of the Snake

Then spoke with the tongue of the snake
A voice from the camouflage tree:
"Remember the likeness of me?
Remember the story I told?
The first word to worship is 'take,'
The next to bow down to is 'hold."'

Like the purr of a soothing refrain:
"The fairest of all words is 'eat.'"
The eyes were the color of meat.
Sliding heavy as liquified lead,
It had wheels within wheels for a brain,
And it hissed: "There is fruit overhead."

"The apples are bitter and hot."
Its scales had the rattle of steel.
"The apples are ripe for a meal."
Its stripes were as vivid as flak.
"They either explode or they rot
Explode when they drop in your track."

It straightened itself like a rod
Then plunged like a piston to earth.
"The apples are golden in worth,
And no one can taste them in vain.
If you want to be knowing as God,
The apples are worth all the pain."

Its scales had the thunder of drums.
"What matter the blood and the sweat?
What mater the sword at the gate?"
Hypnotic its eye, as a gem.
"If you want to throw God when he comes,
The apples are ripe on the stem."

Its length like a languor of oil
Slid back to the camouflage tree.
"Remember the likeness of me?"
The dollar leaves rustled in dread.
"Take care that the apples don't spoil.
Beware! There is fruit overhead."

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 10, 2022

John Clare*

John Clare (1793―1864) is a self-educated rural poet who in 1820 caught the attention of the literary elite in London. He had been raised on folk ballads, and was influenced by poets such as Scotland’s James Thomson.

He is best known for his detailed descriptions of nature and of farm life, which celebrate God as the creator and sustainer of all we see ― as can be seen in this exerpt from "Nature's Hymn to the Diety":

-----All nature owns with one accord
-----The great and universal Lord:
-----Insect and bird and tree and flower ―
-----The witnesses of every hour ―
-----Are pregnant with this prophecy
-----And 'God is with us', all reply.
-----The first link in the mighty plan
-----Is still ― and God upbraideth man.

After Clare’s initial grand reception, and top-selling first book, the fashion for peasant poets evaporated, and his subsequent collections were virtually ignored. This change in fortune was hard on him, both financially and emotionally.

As his place as a celebrated poet slipped away, he also found the lifestyle he was raised to vanishing. The enclosure movement in Britain took common land, the public was free to grow crops or graze cattle on, and privatized it for use by the aristocracy. These things, plus Clare’s financial and family difficulties, led to bouts of depression and delusions.

Theologically John Clare sided with the Arminian Wesleyans ― particularly disliking Calvinism ― though remaining loyal to the Anglican church. He was appreciative of the Evangelical movement, and it’s focus on caring for the poor ― which he benefitted from in his own life.

In 1841 he was officially declared insane, and spent the rest of his life at St. Andrew’s Asylum, Northampton ― where some believe he wrote his best poetry.


The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Clare: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Evangeline Paterson*

Evangeline Paterson (1928—2000) is an Irish poet, who grew up in Dublin, and at various points in her life lived in Ireland, Scotland, and England. Irish, English, and American poets she described as influential for her include, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, and Seamus Heaney.

She has been noted to be insightful in her observations of people — painting poetic portraits by skilfully expressing the particularities of individual people’s lives. In an interview in 1989 she humbly responded to a question relating to this by saying,
-----“I don't know that poets are more aware than most people,
-----except in spots. I don't imagine I'm more perceptive than
-----any other woman who has lived a long time and read a lot
-----and watched people a lot, except when the poetic function
-----takes over. It's like the shutter of a camera opening, and
-----letting in one flash of really penetrating insight, which
-----is then taken in and worked over by the inner chemistry
-----until a poem comes out. In between these moments of vision,
-----I think we're just as stupid as the rest of humanity.”

Earlier this year, Matthew Stewart contributed a piece to Wild Court (King’s College, London) entitled “‘Marginalised and Pigeonholed’: a re-evaluation of Evangeline Paterson;” he argues there that Paterson “merits wider critical recognition as one of the most outstanding poets of her generation.” He goes on to lament that since the appearance of her New and Selected poems Lucifer, with Angels (1994, Dedalus), her later poems have not been collected into a volume which would make her work more accessible to readers today.

The following poem is from her book Deep Is The Rock (1966).


Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
With a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.
Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come to save them)
But weep, weep for the quenchers
For when the Day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines
Then their eyes shall be opened
On a waste place,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced
By broken reed-stems…
Wood, hay, and stubble,
And no grass springing.
And all the birds flown.
Weep, weep for those
Who have made a desert
In the name of the Lord.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Evangeline Paterson: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.