The Language of Flowers: For Christina Rossetti

As an Anglican myself, I have to say that our literary exports don’t get much better than Christina Rossetti. Granted, she’s in formidable company, alongside George Herbert, John Donne, William Cowper, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot and R.S. Thomas (why did you need to have the middle initial S in order to be a successful 20th-century Anglican poet?). Yet Rossetti is special for a bunch of reasons. She stands to this day as one of the most important female writers of her day – no small claim when you think of some of the writers she shared an era with – and has a remarkable balance of spiritual richness and honest as well as transcendental exploration of life that makes her successful not just as a writer of faith but also as a poet. She endured much in her life and produced poetry of only increasing beauty through that life, growing both in honesty and grace as a writer. It’s fitting, therefore, that she has a day in the Church of England calendar in her memory. It isn’t celebrated in the Anglican Church of Australia, but I can’t let a minor feast day for a beloved writer go by without writing something to honour it. So here is a poem in memory of an amazing woman, Anglican and poet.

The Language of Flowers

There it was,
in your garden, amidst220px-Violatricolorarvensis.jpg
bleeding cyclamen, besides
burdened burdock and a trampled
patch of furze and hyacinth.

Ivy was torn
where you cut through the garden;
juniper drooped and lilac sank.
Yet, then you spied the valley lily
growing where it should not grow,
and a shock of eglantine.

Soft, you thought:
“I planted cyclamen to say,
I must wait. I gathered
burdock with its spines to say,
This is done. So go away.
I am done with artifice;
clematis I will rip from soil.
With dogwood, I am durable.
I cannot plant much else.”

Yet there it stood,
unplanted, unthought. When you went
to pluck a thorn to pierce
a puffed-up dream, you found instead
in varied purple-yellow-white
the heartsease for your sleep, and found
a day-bloom burst from night.

You had ripped
your palace down. There was no place
to lay your head but grass and weed.
Yet on that bed of purple light,
you dropped to rest your heart.

Thirty-Two Blessings

image

Gratitude begets gratitude, just as love begets love.
(Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved)

That I am begotten by love,
Sustained

That my heart beats
And my feet move

That the air is rich
For me to breathe

That love is patient,
That love is kind

That I can know
What goodness is

That I have companions
Beside my walk

That song is true
(Only hear the birds!)

That the world is full
Of light, of play

That colour
Amazes

That I have climbed
Mountains and trees

That my eyes receive
The signals of life

That yellow flowers I cannot name
Line my road, my way

That I can talk for hours
To God

That I am small
And He is not

That language is beauty
And also meaning

That I have never suffered
As I should

That again the sun has chosen
To rise

That I must never
Truly fear

That I have been given
Home and name

That I belong
Where I am found

That sun and rain
Are common gifts

(That roads are built
That we may walk

And we may sit
In neighbourhood)

That even sparrows have a home
(How much more I, a child of grace?)

That I am held
In arms like His

That hope is stored
Where none can harm

That life is hid,
Yet lived today

That I can look up to a sky
And think – Sublime!

That all this glory
Is yours and mine

That in these thirty-two years of grace
It is not I but Him –

For this and more,
Much thanks.

August

image

I gather moments like raindrops,
         like snowdrops:
these microscopic buds of spring
         tricked by sun
     to come out, one     by one;
  I see
how hesitant can be
              can be
     the grandest glimpse of things
               and sing.

I catch the way your moments dance
         from distance –
yet close enough to ring
         the shadows into song
       in soft, legato days  of praise.
   I find
how hopefully we hold
               and hold
      in tentative expectancy
                  to see.

You hold our hope in moments of joy,
          unalloyed.
What we do not expect
          grips tight. I neglect
       too soon what we know.    Let go
     of fears
that pass. Joy is forever,
            forever
       the things that stir our hearts in song.
               Not long.

image

Gratitude

Image: Osvaldo Gago, Wikimedia Commons
Image: Osvaldo Gago, Wikimedia Commons

…The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
– T.S. Eliot, “Preludes”

I will be late for work:
the traffic tells me so,
and Adam's curse run deep in roads
too busy to know their name.
Beaten by roadside lies the debris
and dust of abandoned schedules: here 
someone burst a tyre, there
a jerry-can was left, there some refuse
of a long-forgotten breakfast.

Why do wild flowers speak
in pitches more alive to me?
Pointed, they dance in the breeze: 
small, white-purple flecks of something else,
another time, another Where. 

Yet life is lived on roads,
and time is stretched in tyre-marks 
to places where we'd rather be. 
Wake up. Gratitude's an act of grace
and this day is thick with its potential.

Nothing's lived except when it harkens
to all that defies it,
and all that belies it.
If the day begins thus, then let it, and listen:
this is where you must now be.


Psalm: Lilies (The Cornucopia of Heaven)

Lilies and peonies by Guiseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) Wikimedia Commons
Lilies and peonies by Guiseppe Castiglione (1688-1766)
Wikimedia Commons

After Antonio Vivaldi, “Le Quattro Stagioni – La Primavera: II. Largo”

 Creator God, whose praise and power are proclaimed by the whole creation: receive our morning prayers, we pray…

(A Prayer Book for Australia)

Consider         how the lilies open –

Watch them enter     into light…

Solomon

in all his        splendour

was not robed like these.

Consider,    also           fleeting sparrows:

not gathering,                  not  daring night.

Watch sparrows                    dance

across these flowers –

watch as dew           sings praise.

O sing, and be                        in quiet hours

witnesses       of lily-joy..

Consider how            the lilies       open –

watch, and praise Him

in light…

Jacaranda

Uncommonly strong, it stays purple,
while elsewhere the street is lined

with debris from seasons
which the trees soon forgot.

Confused fig-leaves turn golden,
drop to the ground as rain gushes gutters

and sunscreen, umbrellas,
opposites, swap in uncertain hands –

yet lilac and stoic at the end of my street
Jacaranda declares it is summer.

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