You create and give; I take and arrange
words like atoms, rhythms like pulses
and the matter of your cosmos like
the setting of a table:
an act of grace here, a wilderness feast.
You create and I, created, imitate.
More, I steward
the tones you have embedded in our movements, our speech.
I listen and echo
the hidden poundings of the muted heart,
as a host at table might –
Here, a space is left for you.
And then I point,
first to you who, poised at the vast edge of nothing,
said, Let there be.
And then, second, to the open arms,
the nails, the wood,
the carpenter carved up to make
a home for us.
As October draws to a close, it’s time for an essay to draw together our month spent with W.H. Auden. He is a controversial figure in Christian poetry, and so this essay comes with a minor warning that it may not be to everyone’s reading taste. But he is, I think, still a rewarding poet to look at, for all his weaknesses and for some of the problems that he presents as a Christian writer. I hope that you all find it an interesting read.
W.H. Auden – Undoing the Folded Lie
Coming unbelievably to the end of another month, it is time for me to draw to a close my study of Marianne Moore’s work. To finish it off, here is an essay I have written on her poetry – a rich and fascinating body of work which I often do not understand but am always rewarded by. I hope that you have also enjoyed our month of looking at her poetry.
Marianne Moore – The Poet Who Disliked Poetry
George Herbert wrote around four hundred years ago, but his poetry is still powerfully immediate today. Perhaps it’s the sometimes shocking honesty of his work, perhaps the incredible confidence with which he moves between poetic forms and makes them altogether his own. This is particularly apparent in the handful of sonnets that he wrote. Herbert rarely wrote sonnets, but when he did they were powerful – so powerful that you often forgot you were even reading a sonnet.
Take “Redemption”, for example, one of my personal favourites. Breaking with a tradition that sees sonnets often being addresses to a beloved or an exposition of a theme, this sonnet is a story and one with an undeniable bite to it at the end. I have used “Redemption” as the starting point for a new poem which I have called “Justification”. Like Herbert’s poem, it tells a story which illustrates a theological concept. I have tried to stick as closely as possible to Herbert’s form without recycling his ideas. Here are both poems for you to read.
Tired out from night on night awake,
Hurling back and forth these arguments,
Revising who said this, made that mistake,
My head worn out, my body weak and dense,
I set before you my best-argued case,
My final, full summation of the facts.
The spleen I vented then before your face
Fell in the night, the thudding of an axe.
I turned to you, expecting angry flame,
An answer thick with all your wounded pride;
Instead I saw blood flowing from your side.
You smiled in the silence of my shame.
All mine is yours, whispered your last heart beat;
You took my words and nailed them through your feet.
George Herbert – Redemption
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possessiòn.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.
Thanks to those of you who responded to my post about my new poetry project – a year of studying and learning from 12 of the best Christian poets, one a month, four poems from each. I’ve received some great suggestions and have also come across some wonderful poets myself as I’ve been searching for the right people to look at. One of the joys of the project already has been seeing that there’s simply too many great Christian poets out there. Sorry to those of you who’ve made suggestions which I won’t be able to include – picking just twelve has been quite a challenge!
Of course, the list might change, so I’m going to reveal each poet as we move through the list rather than announcing the full list now. It’s a great list, though, and I’m really excited to be looking at all of them. It’s also interesting to note some trends which have developed, quite unknowingly, in the list. Most are Catholic or Anglican. A lot of them are Welsh! And, unsurprisingly perhaps, very few of them are my countrymen or women – Australian. I’ll look at the poets in chronological order, so that means that this month we’re going to be starting way back in the seventeenth century, with Welsh-born Anglican minister and poet George Herbert. I can’t wait!