Hope Beyond The Shadow of a Dream

shrike
The Shrike from Dan Simmons brilliant imagination in Hyperion

“To be a poet, I realized, a true poet, was to become the Avatar of humanity incarnate; to accept the mantle of poet is to carry the cross of the Son of Man, to suffer the birth pangs of the Soul-Mother of Humanity.”

Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

A pandemic by its definition is something novel, something new, for which there is no resistance or immunity.  For all of history, disease was simply endemic, the novelty wears off fast.  Keats labored under ill health from tuberculosis.  Countless other poets, writers, musicians and composers died prematurely from the same.  The thing that proved most useful in reducing the impact of TB was a concept called public health.  The idea that what was best for an individual was what was best for society.  The idea that if we improved the quality of the public works in sanitation, sewage, better housing and clean drinking water for all we could stop or at least reduce the impact of cholera and TB.

There are other pandemics that happen that are more  metaphorical in their influence, but just as powerful in impacting human lives.  Truly novel new ideas in technology, art, literature, governance, religion, that travel like a virus, carried from one human to the next, until those ideas become ingrained as part of our culture.

Dan Simmons is one of those big intellects, whose writing stretches me, so nuanced are the things that capture his imagination.  Simmons has that rare talent who can write a good yarn, filled with complex ideas and not feel the need to hit you over the head, but let you find from it what you will. I have read and reread more than one of Simmons novels. The first time reading it for the excitement of the plot and then a careful rereading to try and understand the more complex connections. I have shared two poems that Simmons used as titles for novels, two of my favorites novels that he has written.

Simmons has written science fiction, horror, detective novels, historical fiction and there is only one thing that connects all of his writing in my perspective – the ability to expand his curiosity around a central idea rooted in literature and then let his creativity take it someplace new.  It is not without great thought that the titles and characters of many of his novels come directly from some of the greatest poets and writers of all time.  Tacit in his books is an understanding that ideas and literature have a power unto themselves that can move like energy across time and materialize action as real as any imaginary time machine.  Literature can bring to life a new reality in our minds.

There is not a cure for COVID-19 to be found in reading Keats or Hopkins or Donne or Shakespeare or Wordsworth.  But there is hope to be found in reading the classics, inspiration lays in wait. And in the end, hope is what’s needed during times like this.


Endymion
(Excerpt from Book 1)

By John Keats
     “Now, if this earthly love has power to make
Men’s being mortal, immortal; to shake
Ambition from their memories, and brim
Their measure of content; what merest whim,
Seems all this poor endeavour after fame,
To one, who keeps within his stedfast aim
A love immortal, an immortal too.
Look not so wilder’d; for these things are true,
And never can be born of atomies
That buzz about our slumbers, like brain-flies,
Leaving us fancy-sick. No, no, I’m sure,
My restless spirit never could endure
To brood so long upon one luxury,
Unless it did, though fearfully, espy
A hope beyond the shadow of a dream.

Come Away With Me

cst 40193 Lake Calhoun Bde Maka Ska

April

by William Carlos Williams

If you had come away with me
into another state
we had been quiet together.
But there the sun coming up
out of the nothing beyond the lake was
too low in the sky,
there was too great a pushing
against him,
too much of sumac buds, pink
in the head
with the clear gum upon them,
too many opening hearts of lilac leaves,
too many, too many swollen
limp poplar tassels on the
bare branches!
It was too strong in the air.
I had no rest against that
springtime!
The pounding of the hoofs on the
raw sods
stayed with me half through the night.
I awoke smiling but tired.


One of the true blessings of where I live are all the lakes and parkways near by with walking and biking trails.  It’s a pleasure to be out and moving during these strange days. We have had our first real taste of spring weather, early bulbs and perennials poking through and trees beginning to leaf out.   Grass is starting to turn green and the smell of earth worms is in the air.  The spring peepers are singing in the ponds and on an evening stroll last night several large toads joined me in hopping along the path on their way to their summertime destinations to hide under their favorite patch of rhubarb leaves.

There are many writers who were prodigious walkers.  Wordsworth, Dickens, Ben Johnson, Walt Whitman among many others were said to have daily rituals of walking many miles during the day to clear their thoughts and then write in the evening and on into the night.  Walking is such a relaxing form of transportation.  It is astounding how far one can go at a pace that allows for pleasant conversation and the ability to day dream.   During this pandemic, a daily walk is one of the highlights of my day.

What’s your favorite walk?  What cityscape, landscape, hike or neighborhood do you most enjoy exploring  in your vicinity?  What adventure awaits you when we get back to being able to go where your heart desires? On a walk with my sister around a lake last week, she mentioned she was watching videos of people walking in Paris, she found it oddly soothing to see normality on an everyday stroll in a place she has visited many times and recalls fondly.  If you’re feeling stressed get out for a walk and if that’s not possible find a virtual walk to have an out of body experience.

 


Rom: On The Palatine (April, 1887)

by Thomas Hardy

We walked where Victor Jove was shrined awhile,
And passed to Livia’s rich red mural show,
Whence, thridding cave and Criptoportico,
We gained Caligula’s dissolving pile.

And each ranked ruin tended to beguile
The outer sense, and shape itself as though
It wore its marble hues, its pristine glow
Of scenic frieze and pompous peristyle.

When lo, swift hands, on strings nigh over-head,
Began to melodize a waltz by Strauss:
It stirred me as I stood, in Caesar’s house,
Raised the old routs Imperial lyres had led,

And blended pulsing life with lives long done,
Till Time seemed fiction, Past and Present one.

For Old Religion’s Sake

download (2)
Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)

“Tears are the noble language of eyes, and when true love of words is destitute. The eye by tears speak, while the tongue is mute.”

Robert Herrick

 

A Prayer To Ben Johnson

by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

When I a verse shall make,
Know I have pray’d thee
For old religion’s sake,
Saint Ben to aid me.

Make the way smooth for me,
When I, thy Herrick,
Honouring thee, on my knee
Offer my lyric.

Candles I’ll give to thee,
And a new altar,
And thou, Saint Ben, shalt be
Writ in my psalter.


Ben Johnson has the unique position of being the only person buried upright in Westminster Abby.   Is it because he preferred people trampling on his head and not his heart or was that all the room the church could find at the time?  Johnson was a playwright, humorist, scholar and poet.  His writing landed him in jail several times and got him out of it just as quickly.   A young Shakespeare was in the cast of one of Johnson’s plays,  Every Man in His Humour.  Johnson was a man who had the good fortune of royal patronage and the ear of James I for his clear thinking and philosophical approach to academic rigor.  In 1616 he was given an annual pension by the King, making him possibly England’s first poet laureate.

By the 1620’s Johnson’s health and productivity was in decline and several poets that followed in his footsteps, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and Sir John Suckling called themselves the Sons of Ben. Johnson’s late plays were a critical and financial disaster, but he had at least the good humor to write an ode to himself poking fun at his expense.

The last line of the sonnet below is confusing with the word “ceston”.  I admit I was not sure of the meaning when I first read it and after several searches of online dictionaries I am not sure I am clear yet.   Ceston is not an English word today.   Seston are minute particles in water or soil, but I don’t think that’s what is meant.  In French Ceston means basket, that makes a little more sense.  But if you know the renaissance meaning of the word ceston please help solve the mystery.  What does ceston mean?


A Sonnet to the Noble Lady, the Lady Mary Wroth

by Ben Johnson

I that have been a lover, and could show it,
Though not in these, in rithmes not wholly dumb,
Since I exscribe your sonnets, am become
A better lover, and much better poet.
Nor is my Muse or I ashamed to owe it
To those true numerous graces, where of some
But charm the senses, others overcome
Both brains and hearts; and mine now best do know it:
For in your verse all Cupid’s armory,
His flames, his shafts, his quiver, and his bow,
His very eyes are yours to overthrow.
But then his mother’s sweets you so apply,
Her joys, her smiles, her loves, as readers take
For Venus’ ceston every line you make.

Gather the Roses Of Your Life Today

 

Ronsard
Pierre Ronsard

“Love wants everything without condition.  Love has no law.”

by Peirre de Ronsard

Sonnet to Helen
By Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

When you sit aging under evening’s star
By hearth and candle, spinning yarns and wool,
You’ll sing my verse in awe and say “Ronsard
Wrought song of me when I was beautiful”


Hearing such words, your serving-maid that night,
Though half-asleep from drudging, all the same
Will wake at my name’s sound and stand upright
Hailing the deathless praises of your name.

I’ll be a boneless phantom resting sound
Amid the myrtly shades1 far underground.
You, by the hearth, a crone bent low in sorrow
For your proud scorn that willed my love away.
Live now, I beg of you. Wait not the morrow.
Gather the roses of your life today.

 

Sonnet à Hélène

by Pierre de Ronsard

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant:
« Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j’estois belle ! »

Lors vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille resveillant,
Benissant1 vostre nom de louange immortelle.

Je seroy sous la terre, et fantaume sans os ;
Par les ombres Myrtheux je prendray mon repos.
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour, et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez2, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd’huy les roses de la vie.


Is it that lyric poetry fell out of popular taste in the 20th century because people stopped enjoying reading it or was it because poets tired of writing it? The reality is when constrained by rhyme and meter it is nearly impossible to build upon what great minds have already thought up and put to paper beautifully centuries before.  Take Yeats classic poem When You Are Old.  It’s an obvious homage to Ronsard’s Sonnet to Helen.  Ronsard having to be a bit more clever in his use of sexual innuendo’s to adhere to the social norms of his day, while Yeats’ poem is more nostalgic in nature.  I have included Yeats poem in an earlier Fourteen Lines blog post, you can compare the two.

When You Are Old by W. B. Yeats

But it also interesting to see the connections between Ronsard and Herrick’s classic To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time.   Is it coincidence?  Or is it a function of lyric poetry of that time period, which focused mostly on subjects of love,  has limited metaphors to choose from and so it’s inevitable there would be connections and overlap? I think the truth probably lies squarely on both.  I think poets like to play and in doing so create connections and homage to writers they admire.  I think that was true in the 16th Century and I think it is true today, regardless of the style with which writer’s write. Literature is a continuum of ideas where no one person is the beginning or the end.  It is a sine-cosine wave that reverberates throughout time.  Each of us have different length strings that resonate with the vibrations of the songs that stir our imaginations.

What two poems do you find connections, obvious or obscure?  Have you written an ode to poet?  If not, what poet would you most like to write an homage?


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

If Someone Should Find These Pearls

Abraham-Sutzkever-
Abraham Sutzkever to the right

“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”

Abraham Sutzkever

The Blade of Grass From Ponar

by Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by Maia Evrona

I kept a letter from my hometown in Lithuania, from one
who still holds a dominion somewhere with her youthful charm.
In it she placed her sorrow and her affection:
A blade of grass from Ponar.

This blade of grass with a flickering puff of dying cloud
ignited, letter by letter, the faces of the letters.
And over letter-faces in murmuring smolder:
The blade of grass from Ponar.

This blade of grass is now my world, my miniature home,
where children play the fiddle in a line on fire.
They play the fiddle and legendary is their conductor:
The blade of grass from Ponar.

I will not separate from my hometown’s blade of grass.
My good, longed-for earth will make room for both.
And then I will bring a gift to the Lord:
The blade of grass from Ponar.


In this period where many of us are home, isolated and a little stir crazy, more than the usual level of crazy, poetry can be a much needed tonic.  I object a bit though, when I see heroic words attached to articles and blog posts about how poetry is a “life saver.” I also object to the constant shaping of our pandemic response in militaristic terms. This is not a healthy mindset or discourse for our society in my opinion.  Framing everything as it were a battle, is war mongering of a different sort, that could lead to unhealthy bias and discrimination around cause and effect, resulting in finger pointing at the “other” as the cause, rather than searching for deeper understanding that blame is not a cure for COVID-19. The constant use of military terms for this public health crisis is unnecessarily violent hyperbole that serves no real value. These aren’t battles being fought, despite how distressing and grim they are for families impacted by this pandemic, health care workers working to exhaustion, laid off workers and bankrupt business owners. This is a disease. Battles are fought with guns and bombs. Disease is fought with shared purpose, sound public health strategies, good will, intelligent medical intervention and patience. No one is shooting at each other with intent to kill despite the rhetoric by news commentators.

However, there are poets who can say, “poetry saved my life.” When Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever said that poetry was his salvation, he meant it, literally. In 1944, Sutzkever and his wife, Freydke, needed to walk through a minefield to reach a plane that would take them to freedom. And to do so, they stepped to the rhythm of poetic meter — short, short, long, then long, short, long.  Was it luck or poetry that saw them through that immediate and present danger safely?  Regardless, it was his writing which had secured their opportunity for freedom. Sutzkevers writing about the Holocaust in Vilnius caught the attention of Russian leaders and with it his role in protecting and hiding historical Jewish texts from the Nazis. This prompted the Soviets to send not one but two rescue missions into Nazi-occupied Lithuania to fly the Sutzkevers to Moscow. Two years later Sutzkever testified on behalf of the Soviet Union at the Nuremberg trails in Germany. Sutzkever’s poetry stands as a testament of how poetry can triumph over tyranny and ultimately the ability of words to deliver justice, equally or more powerfully than bullets from guns.

 

 

 

From Epitaphs

by Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by Jacqueline Osherow

Written on a slat of a railway car:

If some time someone should find pearls
threaded on a blood-red string of silk
which, near the throat, runs all the thinner
like life’s own path until it’s gone
somewhere in a fog and can’t be seen—

If someone should find these pearls
let him know how—cool, aloof—they lit up
the eighteen-year-old, impatient heart
of the Paris dancing girl, Marie.

Now, dragged through unknown Poland—
I’m throwing my pearls through the grate.

If they’re found by a young man—
let these pearls adorn his girlfriend.
If they’re found by a girl—
let her wear them; they belong to her.
And if they’re found by an old man—
let him, for these pearls, recite a prayer.

The Mother Of God


Virgin Mary

The Mother of God

By William Butler Yeats

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

 


 

I had never given much thought to the Virgin Mary, at least Catholicism’s take on the Virgin Mary, until my recent Jesuit retreat. Participants were told to bring a Rosary if they had one and I honestly wasn’t sure what a Rosary was or what “saying” the Rosary involved.  Taking it seriously, my pre-retreat instructions, I decided to find out.  A Rosary is a chain or cord with 59 beads and generally a small crucifix attached, one bead for each prayer in the Rosary.  Several weeks before, I got down from a shelf a box of crafting supplies and beads that had accumulated over the years from various jewelry projects and proceeded to make my own Rosary. As you would guess, being a Protestant, a protester, I didn’t follow the traditional design. Mine is symmetrical on each side and does not follow the typical pattern, each bead a remnant of something gifted. I found a rock in Norway that contains a natural crucifix that goes all the way through the granite as white quartz. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I intend to attach it to the Rosary as a fitting place to remind me where it is and make it complete.

IMG_7962

Once having constructed my Rosary, now I needed to investigate about saying the Rosary.  Fortunately, there is lots of good information on line, the Jesuits quite helpful in providing detailed information in this regard. The website I found most interesting was from Xavier University.

https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/prayer-index/catholic-prayers

The Rosary is a Scripture-based prayer. It begins with the Apostles’ Creed, which summarizes the great mysteries of the Catholic faith. Then an Our Father (Protestants call it the Lord’s Prayer),  introduces each mystery, followed by many, many recitations of Hail Mary in each section. There are four sets of Mysteries: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and––added by Saint John Paul II in 2002––the Luminous.  Which version of the Rosary is recited is based on the day of the week and also on the calendar, and on the different Catholic traditions, the Jesuits versions a bit different than the other’s I have read on-line. All of them have the same goal; by using repetition within the Rosary, and by reciting the Rosary daily, the words are meant to lead the individual into restful and contemplative prayer related to each Mystery and a deeper faith. The idea is the repetition of the words helps us to enter into the silence of our hearts. The Rosary can be said privately or with a group or it can be done as a read and respond as a group chant, as was done at this retreat. It took close to 30 minutes at the retreat to recite each day, despite saying each part fairly rapidly, some in the group almost turning into a competition on how fast and loud they could respond, the result exhilarating but not the hypnotic chant to lure us into silent contemplation as it is intended.

I did not strangely, feel like a hypocrite, joining in on this daily ritual, despite my serious objections to many Catholic traditions and political positions. If you are going to be a protester, I figured I best understand more fully what is that I am protesting. The objective of why I was there was experience and inner reconciliation, not agreement or faith. We said the Rosary each day as a group walk, with one man leading it and respondents joining in each prayer after it was introduced, in a slow procession outside in two long single file lines.  The walks ended in front of a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, which I am sure in the summer time is ringed with flowers and on these cold February days was surrounded by snow.  It all felt somewhat familiar, most of the words and prayers used by Presbyterians in some modified form, right up until the end.  And that’s when things took a different and unexpected tangent in terms of my response.

Catholicism embraces the ideas of mystery and love and suffering and spectacle. I included Joyelle McSweeney’s poetry in one of the blogs proceeding this one because she is by her own words a Catholic poet, a Catholic artist, and it is from those roots of mystery and divine that her art arises.  Look back at the poem Cool Whip and see that in a different light given that perspective.

The Rosary we said each day ended with The Litany of Mary, a slightly different version than the one printed below, but essentially the same, the version we said even a bit more self flagellating and extreme in the wording.  It was the only time during the entire retreat my senses felt assaulted, I couldn’t say some of the words.  I was stunned.

The Litany of Mary

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

God our Father ln Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Most honored of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother of chaste love, pray for us.
Mother and virgin, pray for us.
Sinless Mother, pray for us.
Dearest of Mothers, pray for us.
Model of motherhood, pray for us.
Mother of good counsel, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.

Virgin most wise, pray for us.
Virgin rightly praised, pray for us.
Virgin rightly renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin gentle in mercy, pray for us.
Faithful Virgin, pray for us.

Mirror of justice, pray for us.
Throne of wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our joy, pray for us.

Shrine of the Spirit, pray for us.
Glory of Israel, pray for us.
Vessel of selfless devotion, pray for us.
Mystical Rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comfort of the troubled, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.

Queen of angels, pray for us.
Queen of patriarchs and prophets, pray for us.
Queen of apostles and martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of confessors and virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all saints, pray for us.
Queen conceived without sin, pray for us.
Queen assumed in to heaven, pray for us.
Queen of the rosary, pray for us.
Queen of families, pray for us.
Queen of peace, pray for us.

Blessed be the name of the Virgin Mary now and forever.

Whew. That is a lot take in, particularly if you have not grown up in the Catholic tradition. Its a bit of a shock to the system to hear it for the first time. There is much of it that is extremely beautiful. And it was moving, the entire experience of saying the Rosary, saying it aloud with 70 other men, and enjoyable except for that last bit.  It was also a bit frightening. Is this really what all these men believe?  Or is The Litany of Mary just words, that no one gives much thought in saying, a ritual that Catholics consider as being part of being a good Catholic because its tradition? Over half of the men had every word memorized. I know the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and I memorized Hail Mary prior to the retreat, so I had memorized probably 75% of the content of the Rosary prior to attending. I have been to quite a number of Catholic services and Catholic funerals in my lifetime and I had never, ever heard The Litany of Mary.

If you visit the link above you will find some of the best crafted, most carefully thought out poetry in the form of prayers, that have ever been written. The same can be said of the Psalms. The idea of poetry and religion are inextricably bound together. You can’t divide one from the other. And yet the Catholic obsession with the idea that Mary, as Jesus’s mother, has to be pure, a virgin, who gave birth only because of immaculate conception, unspoiled by the act of love of a human man, the physical love that is procreation, is not a healthy concept in my mind in unifying our own spiritual selves with our equally divine and sexual natures.  It strikes me that this false idea is at the core of the misogyny that runs through all of Christianity and in particular Catholicism. The repetition over and over, requesting that the Virgin Mary, pray for us, pray for us sinners, because only she is pure, rings completely false in my heart. In my Canticle, we should ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us, not because she is pure, but because she is one of us and knows by her own experience, we are in need of prayer.  But then, in my Canticle, I don’t believe in Heaven, so from my perspective all of it is poetry.

There is a long, long story on how the poem that I wrote below, called Mother of God came to be.  Looking back, I am no longer sure if my version of events is true, or the version of a friend who also was present is true.  I know what I thought I heard, but hearing and memory and understanding are not a very accurate thing in my experience. Two people can hear the same words and understand them completely differently.  I am not going to relate the events that shaped me writing the poem.  When I wrote it over the course of a week last July, I never once gave a thought to Yeats and his classic poem that I have included above.  Of course, I was aware of Yeats poem when I wrote it, having read it many times prior, so it could be my subconscious at work which often happens when I write. It wasn’t until I finished mine that I put the two side by side and read each of them.

I find it fascinating that fear is the thread that runs through both like water flowing in the same and opposite directions at the same time, like eddy’s in a river.  Yeats takes the reader into the mind of the Virgin Mary and what she must have felt, as a young woman, raising such a son, raising the son of God, given the portent billions of people now place on his life and death. Yeats projecting onto Mary emotions I have experienced as a parent, as most parents do, that our children are larger than ourselves, beyond ourselves, have more godliness than ourselves. My poem is an attempt at stepping into the wisdom of an extraordinary human woman. A flesh and blood woman saying goodbye to me, shortly before her death and wishing me well on my journey, knowing that fear will be omnipresent as part of the human condition, while in the act of saying goodbye, she was also saying goodbye to her fears.


The Mother of God

by T. A. Fry

The Mother of God said; “I want for you
Fearfulness – fear of unheralded brilliance.
How else will you know a life’s full value? 
This planet’s? Or a Mother’s resilience?
Thine’s Kingdom is not built on righteousness,
Nor borne of sanctity. It arises from
The wonder in another’s selflessness.
It is through such gifts Thy will is done.”

I asked, “Why must I be fearful?” “Balance,”
She replied. “Themis weighs more than justice.
What portion peacefulness and its absence,
Tips the scales toward a life of substance.
Even in shameless life death is nursed,
So thankfulness might be our undying curse.”

I asked again, “Mother, why must I fear?”
“I want for you fearfulness so you’ll grow.
Have courage to find new seeds to sow.
Push beyond your comfort level. Never,
Ever, ever settle. And if your bravery
Becomes austere, know my Love shall never disappear.”

You Enthrall Me

Donne
John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God

By John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

 


 

Several poets have used the sonnet form to write testaments to their God. Of all of them I consider John Donne to be the best. His poetry is abruptly visual and passionate.  It is love poetry in a religious context.  But what it makes it even more remarkable, or makes it easier to understand is how heretical it was when it was written. That John Donne is remembered as a great Elizabethan poet, rather than a Catholic martyr, is either a consequence of the wealth and influence of his family or the appreciation of his talent.

Donne was born, in 1572, into a wealthy Catholic family in England. His mother was related to the martyr Sir Thomas More, and her brother, Donne’s uncle Jasper Heywood, was the head of the Jesuit mission in England. These were dangerous years to be a Catholic  in England, a period of extreme persecution. Queen Elizabeth had proclaimed it high treason for a Catholic priest to be found anywhere in the realm. Catholic priests who were captured were brutally executed in a way to create fear and control by the Church of England. The punishment for Catholic martyrs was to be hanged, then taken down while still alive but incapacitated, their genitals cut off and their bowels torn out.

In 1583 Jasper Heywood was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Donne’s mother visited him.  In an attempt to assist him in preparing a defense, she smuggled a fellow Jesuit, William Weston, into the Tower in disguise, taking along her twelve-year-old son as part of the plan, hoping that a child would ally the guards’ suspicions a Jesuit priest was entering.

As a teenager Donne attended Oxford. However completing a university degree was unthinkable, because it would involve renouncing Catholicism and proclaiming the Church of England’s articles of faith.  Donne left Oxford before graduating and traveled abroad. In 1592 he returned and attended Lincoln’s Inn—a law college and finishing school for prosperous young men. A portrait painted at this time shows him wearing crucifix-shaped earrings, an insult to Protestants, and the painting bears a Spanish motto, Antes muerto que mudado (Sooner dead than changed)—a defiant assertion of his faith, the language as provocative as his poetry was later to be.

Donne’s poetry does not arise from an imagined peril, but instead was based on very real threats. In May 1593 his brother, Henry, one year younger, was arrested for sheltering a young Catholic priest, William Harrington. Harrington was condemned and executed as described. Henry, was found guilty of a felony for harboring a known Catholic priest, but escaped the same fate.

It is remarkable to consider how dangerous words can be.  The enduring fame of Donne and enjoyment of his poetry is due in my mind to the vivid imagery and religious zeal. His poetry shares his faith, defiance, devotion and courage through his art. And no one, not even on pain of death, was going to take his faith from him.


Holy Sonnets: I am a little world made cunningly

by John Donne

I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements and an angelic sprite,
But black sin hath betray’d to endless night
My world’s both parts, and oh both parts must die.
You which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres, and of new lands can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it, if it must be drown’d no more.
But oh it must be burnt; alas the fire
Of lust and envy have burnt it heretofore,
And made it fouler; let their flames retire,
And burn me O Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal