The story of Simeon has given the church one of its oldest hymns, called the “Nunc Dimittis”, after the first two Latin words of the song: “Now dismiss…” There have been many musical versions of Simeon’s song, but today’s poem takes as its inspiration a modern setting by the living Swiss composer Carl Rütti. Rütti’s setting, full of dissonance and peace at the same time, perfectly captures the tension of the story, a moment of jubilation, fulfilment of age-old longing and pure relief and release. The same mood is captured for me in the painting by Rembrandt, who tackled the story of Simeon at the start and end of his career. This is the second of his versions, left unfinished at his death. Is it fitting that he never finished it? Rembrandt caught many of the most poignant moments of Scripture in a manner both raw and sublime. I personally love the second version much more than the first, though the latter is polished where the former is rough. Yet the roughness fits the theme perfectly: Simeon’s praying hands stretched out with the infant Jesus balanced over them, his eyes barely open, his mouth open just enough to say this final prayer. I’ve tried to capture some of this in today’s poem.
After the silence, a cascade
of wonder, of sound, of light.
Before the darkness, a sight
of promise, of presence, of peace.
And in this aching and drooping of arms,
an answer, a dimming, an eternal day.
Now dismiss. I hold the day;
I hold the way that holds me into night.
For now, where do we live?
These streets are made for walking:
quiet, reflective, built atop a hill where the cityscape
sinks beneath a thoughtful gaze.
No walls to be broken, no walls to repair;
watered gardens greet the roaming eye,
an expectant couple waits
at the edge of the evening street.
Fruit trees, plane trees, crickets in the night:
all of this is built for peace,
but never built to last.
Clouds drift; distant, the birds sing.
The courtyard sunk in silence sits.
Somewhere cars continue the day,
and floating in the distance thoughts
of mateship dearly bought, and peace
woven where no need for war
had driven us to foreign shores,
repeat: We shall remember them.
This has no glory, only silence.
And in the silence fit
a thousand thoughts and prayers,
a million unremembered things,
a cove too far away. At the going down of the sun – remember.
Remember thedawn and the children who lied,
the stories we told to justify.
Remember the lines that we drew in soil,
and the poppies in fields, dancing peace.
Lest we forget: a hundred years is short enough and long enough to twist and deny.
The silence ends. Too soon the bugle calls the flag’s ascent.
Some twist their heads. Some do not know.
Let the children come and hear
the trumpet of no retreat.