Love to the End

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My king, the heavens were your throne, your seat.
The task beneath us, we shuffled in our pride;
All things beneath you, you God washed our feet.

Undignified, so lowly, indiscrete!
What, Rabbi, wash our feet? we all decried.
My king, the heavens were your throne, your seat…

With thrones to claim and enemies to beat,
The servant’s towel the victory robe you tied;
All things beneath you, you, God, washed our feet.

Reclining in our comfort, souls replete
With motives mixed and dull, we turned aside…
My king, the heavens were your throne, your seat.

The lord of all now redefining great –
What did such love demand? Our status cried.
All things beneath you, you, God, washed our feet…

The shame of it, the love now made complete:
This utmost-love of nails and pierced side.
My king, the heavens were your throne, your seat:
All things beneath you, you, God, washed our feet.

The Lesson (After W.H. Auden’s “But I Can’t”)

One of W.H. Auden’s greatest gifts as a poet was his versatility, being one of the major figures in the 20th century for resurrecting a wide range of traditional poetic forms. He was as comfortable with free verse as he was with long-forgotten French forms. His masterly villanelle, “But I Can’t” – an achingly simple meditation on time – is a perfect example of this. The villanelle is one of my favourite of the traditional forms, so I had fun working with this form for my response to Auden’s poem. One of the advantages of the villanelle is that the repeating refrains allow for more to be said through the form than the words themselves convey. I hope you enjoy both Auden’s use of the form and my response.

The Lesson (After W.H. Auden’s “But I Can’t”)

It doesn't pay to look too deep
If our lives will go on in their contented way;
We must learn just to breathe and sleep.

The questions that in silence creep
And nag at our minds: cast them away.
It doesn't pay to look too deep.

Graze in fields, content like sheep,
Wander, wonder, drift and stray:
We must learn just to breathe and sleep.

Time may show up the truths we keep
And make our lies as plain as day;
It doesn't pay to look too deep.

For time will run and time will leap;
What time will show, I dare not say.
We must learn just to breathe and sleep.

The answer's vague and guessing's cheap.
(If desperate, we can always pray.)
It doesn't pay to look too deep;
We must learn just to breathe and sleep.

He that made the ear (After George Herbert’s “Longing”)

My last George Herbert-inspired poem is a bit different to the other three. This time I have decided to use just two lines from his poem, “Longing”, as the stimulus for my own poem:

Lord heare! Shall he that made the ear
                                               Not heare?
 
It seemed a great place to start. The original poem is quite long so I won’t include it in this post. But you can read it here if you are interested. My poem is written in the form of a villanelle, which is a traditional French form that involves the cycling repetition of two refrains. I hope you enjoy it!

 

He that made the ear (After George Herbert’s “Longing”)

My heart lies at Your feet in fear.
My vision trembles and thoughts cry:
Shall He that made the ear not hear?
 
I wait through all the waiting year,
Bringing You my waning sigh;
My heart lies at Your feet in fear
 
And yet this quiet hope hangs near,
A question with no firm reply:
Shall He that made the ear not hear?
 
I watch, in hope You will appear;
Lord, hear! I cry. My words aim high –
My heart lies at Your feet in fear.
 
Clouds laugh at me and vacuums jeer;
But there is time still to defy.
Shall He that made the ear not hear?
 
The heavens sit, a blank frontier,
Yet nothing hides there from Your eye.
My heart lies at Your feet in fear…
Shall He that made the ear not hear?