Posts tagged ‘poetry’

November 25, 2012

reverence for existence

The great Swiss author Ramuz, writing some years ago, spoke of a certain sense of holiness “which is the most precious thing the West has known, a certain attitude of reverence for existence–by which we must understand everything which exists, oneself and the world outside oneself, the mysteries which surround us, the mystery of death, and the mystery of birth, a certain veneration in the presence of life, a certain love, and (why not acknowledge it?) a certain state of poetry which the created world produces in us”. It is precisely this sense of holiness, this fundamental reverence for life and for death, itself considered as the nocturnal phase of life, it is this state of poetry produced in us by the created world which, during the last decades, and more particularly of recent years, has given way to the pressure of pride, of pretentiousness, of boredom and despair.

From page 75 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965). [This concept closely parallels the term quiddity as used by C.S. Lewis, or “omnivorous attentiveness” as Alan Jacobs calls it.]

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May 8, 2012

star-charts on the inner walls

Stone
by Charles Simic

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

See and hear the poet read this poem here.

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March 24, 2012

the thing to remember

Imperative

The thing to remember is how
tentative all of this really is.
You could wake up dead.

Or the woman you love
could decide you’re ugly.
Maybe she’ll finally give up
trying to ignore the way
you floss your teeth as you
watch television. All I’m saying
is that there are no sure things here.

I mean, you’ll probably wake up alive,
and she’ll probably keep putting off
any actual decision about your looks.
Could be she’ll be glad your teeth
are so clean. The morning might be
full of all the love and kindness
you need. Just don’t go thinking
you deserve any of it.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (page 3).

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February 22, 2012

fills the young person’s head with the sound of voices

The poet, Plato writes in Phaedra, “clothes all the great deeds accomplished by the men of old with glory, and thus educates those who come after.” The poet’s myth teaches the Ideal Type by example, not by precept, and allows the student through his imagination to participate in the past, partaking of the Ideal. Often the student is asked—paraphrasing Shelly—to go out of his own nature: to imagine himself in the sandals of some mythical or historical figure. How would you have advised the Senate, his teacher might ask him, had you been Regulus returned from Carthage with the ultimatum? (45)

Likewise in classical schools, students are often asked to play the “devil’s advocate”…. This … negates certain parts of the Ideal in such a way that the negation demonstrates the nonessential nature of these parts. …In any case, classical education eventually fills the young person’s head with the sound of voices: the impassioned debate of many great figures of myth and history concerning what is good, beautiful, and excellent in man. Through his imagination, the student participates in this dialectical confabulation, and his thoughts and actions become literally involved with the Ideal Type. The Ideal is refined, and action and thought join inextricably in the life of virtue. (47)

From Norms and Nobility by David Hicks.

February 17, 2012

brief elaboration of a tube

I’ve been enjoying Leonard Cohen’s recent album, Old Ideas. Here are the lyrics from one song, first published as a poem in The New Yorker (January 23, 2012). Although the title and refrain are in Cohen’s voice, I hear all the rest of this as a wry commentary by Cohen’s Creator (who uses him as a speaking tube):

GOING HOME
by Leonard Cohen

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision

That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

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February 7, 2012

promises to keep

Two masterpieces, with Auden echoing Frost:

Their Lonely Betters
W.H. Auden (1950)

As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.
A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
Robert Frost (1922)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I ran into the last line of this Auden poem on the dedication page to Educating for Life (collected essays by Nicholas Wolterstorff), and it immediately brought to mind Frost’s classic (which the Auden poem recalls in several ways).

January 9, 2012

coming beneath the light of that star

This first item is an unpublished prayer by Christine Perrin, responding to “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot (for a 9th grade history class event in 2012). Eliot’s poem is below.

Epiphany

Lord, you know we are walking this road
toward your star; we left, or tried to leave,
our palaces, our sherbets; leaving itself
has been painful and has shown us
the ambiguity in our hearts. Why did I think
that coming beneath the light of that star
would make this easier? You were born,
you died, and so must we. Be near
in the cursed dark, give us hope that one day,
without doubt, we will arrive, we will experience
the undiluted pleasure of your suffering
and loving face. Give us patience as we make
our way, falteringly, to the cleft in the rock.

And here is the poem by T.S. Eliot to which this prayer is a response:

Journey of the Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

January 2, 2012

a person who cares about words and is honest with them

It is easy to say what either flatters or manipulates and so acquire power over others. In subtle ways, being a pastor subjects our words to corruption. That is why it is important to frequent the company of a poet friend – Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Emily Dickinson, Luci Shaw are some of mine – a person who cares about words and is honest with them, who respects and honors their sheer overwhelming power. I leave such meetings less careless, my reverence for words and the Word restored.

Is it not significant that the biblical prophets and psalmists were all poets? It is a continuing curiosity that so many pastors, whose work integrates the prophetic and psalmic (preaching and praying), are indifferent to poets. In reading poets, I find congenial allies in the world of words. In writing poems, I find myself practicing my pastoral craft in a biblical way.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson in chapter XIV, “Poets and Pastors.”

November 23, 2011

eating of the last sweet bite

November 5, 2011

badly used and abused language

The apocalyptic pastor is a poet. St. John was the first major poet of the Christian church. He used words in new ways, making (poetes in Greek is maker) truth right before our eyes, fresh in our ears. The way a pastor uses the language is a critical element in the work. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth. This is St. John’s work; it is every pastor’s work.

…The language of our time is in terrible condition. It is used carelessly and cynically. Mostly it is a tool for propaganda, whether secular or religious. Every time badly used and abused language is carried by pastors into prayers and preaching and direction, the word of God is cheapened. We cannot use a bad means to a good end. Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets.

…We learn patience in the very act of reading/listening to St. John’s Apocalypse. If St. John would have been impatient, he would have given us a slogan on a decal. The reason St. John insists on patience is that he is dealing with the vast mysteries of God and the intricacies of the messy human condition. This is going to take some time. Neither the mysteries nor the mess is simple. If we are going to learn a life of holiness in the mess of history, we are going to have to prepare for something intergenerational and think in centuries.

From Eugene H. Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor.

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