George Herbert at Bemerton

I am the man who has seen affliction…
(Lamentation 3:1)

His portrait would have him
serenely contemplating a garden,
one hand raised beatifically
like the saints of old.

Often I would have my days like that,
passed in that perfect serene of green,
spirit quiet within like the waters without,
no trouble straining pastoral brow.

But poems and pastors are not made like this;
the cure of souls is the work of the broken,
and contemplation is fuel for deed,
the quiet where turmoil turns to seed,

and the man who knew thoughts that were all cases of knives
was no doe-eyed dreamer but a brother to affliction,
and in earth’s pulley his grief pulled upward
and poems sprung from the love-mended rhyme.

Quo Vadis?

Anselm Kiefer, sculpture

We could not see the top of this wall –
but now that we’ve scaled it, what lies before?
A dream of tomorrow? A promise of now?
The moment is furrowed on destiny’s brow.
No sureness of footing, yet held for the fall;
the wall is beneath us – what now?

Epiphany (After Peter Steele’s “Madonna and Child”)

8730##S.jpg.248x605_q85Tomorrow is Epiphany Sunday, and so I’ve chosen to begin my month of looking at Peter Steele’s poetry with this response to his poem “Madonna and Child”. Steele’s poem is an ekphrastic poem, meaning that it has come “out of” another art work, Justin O’Brien’s intriguing “Madonna and Child” (image from I’ve followed Steele’s Shakespearean sonnet structure and have responded myself to the painting.

But more important than any of these works is the truth of Epiphany, the revelation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. No art-work or poem can do justice to this truth.

Epiphany (After “Madonna and Child”)

It’s not His face that makes His glory known,
And yet we do our best. See how refined,
Complete He is: His mother stern, enthroned,
Her gaze towards us, His towards the side,
His right hand raised, as though to warn us how
The scars will find their way into His palm.
Behind them: grey squares and diamonds, no glow,
Only a crimson-tinted chair. How calm
He stands upon His mother’s knees, how vacant
Her gaze! If swords will pierce through souls, she seems
To take it well, her stoic eyes aslant,
Almost – it looks – on brink of hazy dreams.
Yet He appears to stare straight at the Tree,
The unseen throne of this epiphany.

Madonna and Child - Peter Steele

He might have just come from the barber, unless
She keeps razor and scissors bright in a jar
To smarten him up on Fridays. There's finesse
In the gowns' fall, the boy's bearing, the scar
That pinks each hand and foot, the woman's gaze
Towards you and beyond, the nailed-up throne
To house the poet's 'heaven in paraphrase',
The haunting grown the stranger, being sown.
And here's the thing: among those out to see,
Young as they are, what he and she can tell
Of all time's blessings and its piracy,
The tolling or the spiring of a bell,
Guess as they do at the soured wine and the lance,
The feet are poised forever towards a dance.

(From Peter Steele, White Knight with Beebox: New and 
Selected Poems, John Leonard Press, 2008)