Monday, December 19, 2022

Robert Bridges*

Robert Bridges (1844―1930) is an English poet. He began his career as a physician with the idea that he would retire at age 40 to dedicate himself full-time to writing. He did retire in 1882, but primarily due to lung disease, following a severe bout of pneumonia. He had been writing all along, privately publishing his first poetry collection in 1873.

Robert Bridges reflected his deep Christian faith in his poetry. Although his best-known poems are the shorter pieces found in some early collections from 1890 and 1894, his greatest critical achievement came with the long poem The Testament of Beauty (1929). Bridges was appointed Poet Laureate in 1913.

Besides writing his own poetry he made valuable contributions through his Yattendon Hymnal (1899) which preserved early hymn tunes through his translations of hymn texts into English ― through critical studies of John Milton and John Keats ― and especially through making sure the poetry of his friend Gerard Manley Hopkins was not forgotten. Bridges published Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1918 after his friend’s death.

Noel: Christmas Eve 1913

Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis

A frosty Christmas Eve
---when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
---where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
---in the water'd valley
Distant music reach'd me
---peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
---ran sprinkling on earth's floor
As the dark vault above
---with stars was spangled o'er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep
---that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
---by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
---and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
---or the bright stars singing.

Now blessed be the tow'rs
---that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer
---unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders
---(said I) an' our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ
---in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch
---the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above
---and the mad romping din.

But to me heard afar
---it was starry music
Angels' song, comforting
---as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly
---to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me
---by the riches of time
Mellow'd and transfigured
---as I stood on the hill
Heark'ning in the aspect
---of th' eternal silence.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Robert Bridges: 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.