Category : Poetry & Literature

The Ballad of God-Makers for G.K. Chesterton’s Feast Day

A bird flew out at the break of day
From the nest where it had curled,
And ere the eve the bird had set
Fear on the kings of the world.

The first tree it lit upon
Was green with leaves unshed;
The second tree it lit upon
Was red with apples red;

The third tree it lit upon
Was barren and was brown,
Save for a dead man nailed thereon
On a hill above a town.
That night the kings of the earth were gay
And filled the cup and can;
Last night the kings of the earth were chill
For dread of a naked man.

”˜If he speak two more words,’ they said,
”˜The slave is more than the free;
If he speak three more words,’ they said,
”˜The stars are under the sea.’

Said the King of the East to the King of the West,
I wot his frown was set,
”˜Lo, let us slay him and make him as dung,
It is well that the world forget.’

Said the King of the West to the King of the East,
I wot his smile was dread,
”˜Nay, let us slay him and make him a god,
It is well that our god be dead.’

They set the young man on a hill,
They nailed him to a rod;
And there in darkness and in blood
They made themselves a god.

And the mightiest word was left unsaid,
And the world had never a mark,
And the strongest man of the sons of men
Went dumb into the dark.

Then hymns and harps of praise they brought,
Incense and gold and myrrh,
And they thronged above the seraphim,
The poor dead carpenter.

”˜Thou art the prince of all,’ they sang,
”˜Ocean and earth and air.’
Then the bird flew on to the cruel cross,
And hid in the dead man’s hair.

”˜Thou art the son of the world.’ they cried, `
”˜Speak if our prayers be heard.’
And the brown bird stirred in the dead man’s hair
And it seemed that the dead man stirred.

Then a shriek went up like the world’s last cry
From all nations under heaven,
And a master fell before a slave
And begged to be forgiven.

They cowered, for dread in his wakened eyes
The ancient wrath to see;
And a bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
And lit on a lemon tree.

–G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Posted in Church History, Poetry & Literature

Malcom Guite–Our Mother-tongue Is Love; A Sonnet for Pentecost

From there:

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.

Posted in Pentecost, Poetry & Literature

Ted Schroder–the Prophetic Imagination of Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

In 1960 he moved to San Francisco to become Professor of Slavic Languages at the University of California at Berkeley. He experienced cultural shock and depression by his new environment far different from Europe. It was not until he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980 at age 69 that his work became universally recognized. Hitherto his writing in Polish was proscribed in Poland. He was able to return home to visit and was feted for expressing the angst of his generation and nation. In 2000 he moved to Krakow where he died and was buried in Skalka, a crypt belonging to the monastery of the Pauline Fathers in close proximity to many of Poland’s major artists.

In contrast to many intellectuals he was pessimistic in appraising life because he had experienced the power of Evil. He believed passionately in the Devil because he had seen his face in the Nazis and in the Soviets. He was discouraged by his students at Berkeley who were indifferent toward Christianity. In teaching Dostoevsky he came into serious conflict with them when he openly acknowledged the existence of good and evil, which they dismissed as reactionary. “They took it as given that human behavior was governed by certain social and psychological ‘determinants,’, that, in other words, all values were relative. Just so, Russian intellectuals of the last century shifted moral responsibility onto the ‘environment’: change the society and you change the man. And it was precisely this denial of individual responsibility that Dostoevsky took as depressing proof of Christianity’s decline among educated Russians.”

Read it all.

Posted in History, Poetry & Literature, Poland

Even more Poetry for Memorial Day–Theodore O’Hara’s “Bivouac of the Dead”

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

No rumor of the foe’s advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow’s strife
The warrior’s dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shriveled swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And the proud forms, by battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

Read it all.

Posted in Poetry & Literature

More Poetry for Memorial Day: Tomas Tranströmer’s The Half-Finished Heaven

From here:

Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.

The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.

And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

Posted in Poetry & Literature

More Poetry for Memorial Day–Patterns

I walk down the garden-paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jeweled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden-paths.
My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.
And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover.
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon–
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se’nnight.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

–Amy Lowell (1874–1925)

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

–Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

In thanksgiving for all those who gave their lives for this country in years past, and for those who continue to serve”“KSH.

P.S. The circumstances which led to this remarkable poem are well worth remembering:

It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915 and to the war in general. McCrea had spent seventeen days treating injured men — Canadians, British, French, and Germans in the Ypres salient. McCrae later wrote: “I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.” The next day McCrae witnessed the burial of a good friend, Lieut. Alexis Helmer. Later that day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the field dressing station, McCrea composed the poem. A young NCO, delivering mail, watched him write it. When McCrae finished writing, he took his mail from the soldier and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the Sergeant-major. Cyril Allinson was moved by what he read: “The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.” Colonel McCrae was dissatisfied with the poem, and tossed it away. A fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915. For his contributions as a surgeon, the main street in Wimereaux is named “Rue McCrae”.

Posted in Canada, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Poetry & Literature

(PPH) Anthony Doerr, author of ‘All the Light We Cannot See,’ returns to Maine

At Bowdoin, Doerr majored in history because it gave him the flexibility to take classes across a range of subjects. Bowdoin allowed him to explore his curiosities and what it means to be human. He sought out subjects of interest – in science, sociology, architecture, astronomy and nutrition – but never took a creative writing class. He did submit a poem as part of an application for a poetry workshop, but was rejected.

Still, writing was central to his time at Bowdoin. He wrote for the college newspaper and other publications, and his history major required a thesis. That was his first experience at long-form writing, and it led directly to his career as a novelist and essayist. Being a writer, he said, was never a consideration as a kid. It all happened at Bowdoin.

“Growing up where I did, being a novelist was something I could not do. I never met a novelist. I thought novelists were dead or living in Paris,” he said. “But at Bowdoin, I got to write a thesis. I learned how to hash out a book and what it was like to build a longer project. It was only 90 pages, but it was a way to start putting together a big piece of research and larger blocks of text. It felt empowering as a 20-year-old.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Education, Poetry & Literature, Rural/Town Life, Young Adults

Helena Bonham Carter reads Christina Rossetti’s Song poem for the poet’s Feast Day

Listen to it all there .

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)

Posted in History, Poetry & Literature

Eleanor Parker–A medieval spring poem for Eastertide

When I see blossoms spring,
And hear the birds’ song,
A sweet love-longing
Entirely pierces my heart,
All for a love new
That is so sweet and true,
That gladdens all my song:
I know in truth, iwis,
My joy and all my bliss
On him is all ylong. [is all because of him]

Of Jesu Christ I sing,
Who is so fair and free, [noble]
Sweetest of all thing;
His own ought I well to be.
So far for me he sought,
With suffering he me bought,
With wounds two and three;
Well sore he was swung,
And for me with spear was stung,
Nailed to the tree.

Read it all.

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Where Springs Not Fail

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), “Heaven-Haven”

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that pierced died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

–John Updike (1932-2009)

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?

Sam believes that Gandalph has fallen a catastrophic distance and has died. But in the end of the story, with Sam having been asleep for a long while and then beginning to regain consciousness, Gandalf stands before Sam, robed in white, his face glistening in the sunlight, and says:

“Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?”

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

“A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from bed… “How do I feel?” he cried.” Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” –he waved his arms in the air– “I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!”

— J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), The Return of the King

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

“Then today look how majestically”

All year, death, after death, after death.
Then today look how majestically clouds float in the sky

–Barbara Ras (1949- )

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Easter Night

All night had shout of men, and cry
Of woeful women filled His way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display
Smote Him; no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.

Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.

–Alice Meynell (1847-1922)

Posted in Easter, Holy Week, Poetry & Literature