Monday, February 26, 2024

Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin

Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin (1715―1795), known in English as Timothy O'Sullivan, is an Irish poet probably born in County Limerick. There are few records concerning his early life, although it is thought that he was a teacher.

His early verse is typical of Munster poetry of the time, including romantic verse, laments, drinking songs, and eulogies for members of the Catholic gentry. He was publicly a Jacobite supporter, and was once imprisoned in Cork for drinking the health of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

In the 1760s he moved to County Waterford and underwent a spiritual conversion, forsaking the writing of secular verse. In the nineteenth century Ó Súilleabháin’s poems were often sung as hymns in Munster churches. The plaque pictured above, was erected in 2001 in the grounds of the Cathedral in Waterford. Ó Súilleabháin died, in 1795, while at prayer in their recently-built Cathedral.

I am indebted to the poet Pádraig J. Daly for sending me a copy of Furnace of Love (Dedalus, 2002) the book of his translations of Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin’s religious poetry. The following is from that collection.

from Poem of Jesus


Great Son of the resplendent city of enchanting light,
Mercy of Paradise, Person of the Holy Three,
Heart’s Love, pardon my twisted thinking
And steer my soul without turbulence into your kingdom, Jesus.
Amen, O Jesus,
Who bought me dearly
On the cross on Friday,
Your enemies harassing You,
Far from your people,
Your mother beside You,
Pitifully keening;
And I, maliciously,
Since life began in me,
Flaying You fiercely.
Five hundred thousand times
One hundred regrets are mine
That that is how I repaid You.

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, February 19, 2024

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is a 14th century poet best known as the author of Canterbury Tales ― a collection of twenty-four stories, voiced by characters on pilgrimage from London to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. They were written mostly in verse, in a London dialect of late Middle English.

Some of Chaucer’s pilgrims (such as the Second Nun) are devout, some (the Pardoner) use religion for personal gain, and some (the Prioress) simply lack spiritual depth. He uses humour and irony, as his characters quote scripture in ways that often demonstrate their own failings. The author sometimes lets his readers decide, through subtle details like showy jewellery, about each pilgrim’s sincerity. The intent, I believe, is to encourage people to be authentic in their faith, and to caution them against the flaws in religious practice in Chaucer’s England.

Chaucer’s Retraction, here in translation, shows how he would like Canterbury Tales to be seen:
--------Now I pray to all who hear or read this little treatise,
--------that if there is anything in it that they like, they thank
--------our Lord Jesus Christ for it, from whom proceeds all wisdom
--------and goodness. And if there is anything that displeases them,
--------I pray also that they ascribe it to the fault of my ignorance
--------and not to my will, which would readily have spoken better
--------if I had the knowledge. For our book says, "All that is
--------written is written for our doctrine," and that is my intention.
--------Therefore I beseech you, for the mercy of God, that you pray
--------for me that Christ have mercy on me and forgive my sins,
--------especially my translations and compositions of worldly
--------vanities, which I revoke in my retractions…

The following translation by A.S. Kline is from The Knight’s Tale (Section 2/Lines 807-816) ― the first of the stories told ― and though the story itself comes from a pre-Christian world view, it is written so that it speaks of the sovereignty of God.

from The Knight’s Tale

Destiny, that Minister-General,
Who executes on earth, over all,
The Providence that God saw long before,
Has such power that though all men swore
The contrary of a thing by yea or nay,
Yet there will come to pass upon a day
What will not happen in a thousand years.
For certainly our appetites down here,
Be they for war, or peace, hate or love,
All are ruled by the vision that’s above.

Here is another section, from The Second Nun's Tale, (scroll down to the open tab) that I posted at Poems For Ephesians.

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, February 12, 2024

Kristina Erny

Kristina Erny is an American poet and visual artist who was raised as a third-culture teacher’s kid in Seoul, South Korea. She has lived in various parts of the United States ― including in Arizona, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing, and in Kentucky, where she was the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Asbury University ― but has spent much of her teaching career abroad. She and her husband are raising their three children in Shanghai, where she is currently teaching literature and creative writing to international secondary students.

Among the honours her poems have received are the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Award, and the Tupelo Quarterly Inaugural Poetry Award, as chosen by Ilya Kaminsky. Her debut poetry collection, Elijah Fed by Ravens, was published this past December by Solum Literary Press. The following poem first appeared in Blackbird and is from her new book.

Elijah and the Widow

Even ravens need crust,------something.
Left behind, everyone left.
It begs the question:
jar bottom,
a flag of surrender?
Hostile, hand-held, the haze.

Always the tone;
never the ringing.
Driven you

to the pot where the flour is
hoped for, hidden—& then, his face in the doorway—have,
eat—Yes, we are eaten
—still a future, grim, O,

won’t you come in.

I would have baked the cake &
died. Instead, you perform, participate in
onerous miracle, & tomorrow
wake up, blinking, hoary film under your nails.

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, February 5, 2024

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop (1911―1979) is an American modernist poet characterized by agnosticism, yet often wrestling with Christian faith. She was raised first by her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia and later by her paternal grandparents in Massachusetts.

She published only 101 poems in total, and yet was honoured with the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956, and the National Book Award in 1970.

Critic Tom Travisano says: “Although Bishop was no churchgoer, Christian motifs appear throughout her poetry. She had a religious nature and education, and the foundations of her work are recognizably Christian.” In 1955 she wrote to Robert Lowell, “I believe now that complete agnosticism and straddling the fence on everything is my natural posture —although I wish I weren’t.”

Similarly, Cheryl Walker, of Scripps College in California, notes that two of Bishop’s favourite poets were Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Herbert. Bishop wrote about, “how really concerned Herbert was with all these insoluble problems of man’s relationship to God... It is real. —It was real and it has kept on being and it always will be, and Herbert just happened to be a person who managed to put a great deal of it into magnificent poetry”

You can hear her reading the following poem which is from The Complete Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1983) at The Poetry Foundation.

At the Fishhouses

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.

Down at the water’s edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

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.