Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category
A strong parting blessing:
It is time for me to go. May the Almighty
Father keep you and in His kindness
watch over your exploits. I’m away to the sea,
back on alert against enemy raiders.
(Beowulf: A New Verse Translation 316-319, Trans. Seamus Heaney)
There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.
Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?
For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.
Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate—
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.
I was trying to articulate recently to a friend why I so deeply love the over-arching savor of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I started to say that it was a world in which God was sovereign, but that doesn’t quite capture it.
Mark Horne has recently been posting on Proverbs and wisdom, and quoted Bilbo’s riddle of Strider:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
This made me think: Middle-earth is a world in which Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are all true. It is a creation subjected to futility, unwillingly, but in hope, with an end of maturity and glory. Patience, waiting, longing, work and groaning are all required; and there is a bittersweetness to most joy and victory, because life comes through sacrifice and death. Tolkien does an outstanding job of helping you to feel the passage of time. The length of the book, Bombadil, the scouring of the Shire — it is all necessary in this light.
Tolkien writes of a story’s having a “glimpse of Truth.” Death and life themselves in Middle-earth have the savor of God’s world.
Douglas Wilson, in Angels in the Architecture, writes of the connection between creatureliness and poetry:
Because we men cannot be God, we must learn to be good poets. (181)
And of the limits of precision compared to connotation, imagery and symbolism:
Words do not have decimal places. (191)
It is a little more than one week into 2007. Here is a prayer for the new year:
O Lord, Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory. Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour, that I may not be one moment apart from thee, but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought, speak in every word, direct every step, prosper every work, build up every mote of faith, and give me a desire to show forth thy praise, testify thy love, advance thy kingdom. I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with thee, O Father, as my harbour, thee, O Son, at my helm, thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails. Guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ear open to thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free. Give me thy grace to sanctify me, thy comforts to cheer, thy wisdom to teach, thy right hand to guide, thy counsel to instruct, thy law to judge, thy presence to stabilize. May thy fear be my awe, thy triumphs my joy.
This is adapted from historical Puritan prayers by Arthur Bennett in the outstanding book The Valley of Vision.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
— William Cowper
This great poem also serves as a hymn; see the music at the Cyber Hymnal.