Monday, August 14, 2017

John Milbank

John Milbank is Director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham. Last summer he retired from his position as Nottingham's Research Professor of Religion, Ethics, and Politics. He has also taught at the universities of Virginia, Cambridge and Lancaster. As a student he studied under Rowan Williams.

Of his three poetry collections, The Dances of Albion (2015, Shrearsman Books) is most recent. As a poet he is more focused on British mythology and fairy tales than theology.

He is, however, better known as a theologian — particularly for founding the "Radical Orthodoxy" movement — and is the author of several influential books including, Theology and Social Theory, and The Suspended Middle. He is sceptical of secular reason, and critical of liberalism.

Considering Lilies

Looking for rain,
celestial water
above all ponds,
the weed-lilies of convulvulus
in September foregather in the hedgerows
like white bells for a late marriage
of a still beautiful virgin,
their pure glamour disparaged,
as gypsy-women are the tares of queendom,
more savagely still in their darkness
and more blowingly resplendent
through its untamed virtue.

Returning on the train in hope
after many years
of a better consummation, he
recalled the school bell’s autumn sound
which once confirmed yet interrupted
his childhood rural pasturage.
It had reached attractively and insidiously
across all fields and past them,
suspending forever nature’s mute
untimetabled instruction.
So we probe the stars with signals,
travel anywhere in lines and pay
in numbers if we get them right
for anything available.

While nature lost still stays our course,
like a vast golden shadow of background,
ever forgotten, ever present
to accuse us of a wholly inadequate answer
to her perennial welcome.
Why do the skies alter, the seas surge and yet
the earth stays firm on which we are planted
in order to till, walk ever onwards,
look upwards that we might re-consider always?
Shifting the soils like a horde of phantoms
has got us nowhere.
Gridding the earth with waves and networks
has communicated to us nothing.

The road bends: he longs to linger
by the gate’s opening perchance
to greet her. Lone winds leave
the fascinating clouds from which
the dark birds also swarm. The willowherb
grows in this season more freely than the grasses.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274) is an Italian philosopher, theologian and priest. His theological masterpiece Summa Theologica, written between 1265 and 1273, was intended to be the sum of all known learning as understood through the philosophy of Aristotle.

In 1256 he began teaching theology at the University of Paris, and then in 1265 he was summoned to Rome to serve as the papal theologian.

In his day, he was the leading proponent of natural theology. He took a poetic approach to his thought, seeking the meaning of the whole visible universe, writing down what he observed, and considering its relationships. In the area of poetry he is best known for his five Eucharistic Hymns.

Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee,
Who in Thy sacrament dost deign to be;
Both flesh and spirit at Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.

O blessed memorial of our dying Lord,
Who living Bread to men doth here afford!
O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.

Fountain of gladness, Jesu, Lord and God,
Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.

O Christ, Whom now beneath a veil we see,
May what we thirst for soon our portion be,
To gaze on Thee unveiled, and see Thy face,
The vision of Thy glory and Thy grace.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Vittoria Colonna

Vittoria Colonna (1492—1547) the marchioness of Pescara, is the most successful and renowned female Italian writer of her day. At age 19 she married Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos — who within two years was off to fight the French. The couple rarely saw each other, for he was often engaged as a military captain under Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. When he died in 1525, as a result of battle wounds, she immediately tried to join a convent. She dedicated herself to writing poetry, including a series of poems in his memory.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, inspired by the ideal of her grief, wrote a poem which includes the lines:
-------She knew the life-long martyrdom,
---------The weariness, the endless pain
-------Of waiting for some one to come
---------Who nevermore would come again.

She became close friends with Michelangelo in 1536. He made drawings of her, addressed sonnets to her, and they spent a lot of time together. In return, she presented him with a gift manuscript of spiritual poetry.

Colonna was an advocate of religious reform, as demonstrated within her poetry and in the prose meditations she published. Some believe that her popularity began to wane as both she and Michelangelo started expressing the Protestant-flavoured theology of grace.

Although more formal translations exist, I have included Jan Zwicky's more contemporary free translation of the following poem.

from Sonnets for Michelangelo — 31

If this little music, stirring the frail air,
can gather up the spirit,
open it and melt it as it does —
If this mere breeze of sound, this mortal voice,
can lift the heart so,
heal it, startling thought and firing our resolve —
what will that heart do when,
before God in the first and ancient heaven,
it hears the music of all being?
When, struck by truth, it steps forth
in the great wind of that singing?

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Madeline DeFrees*

Madeline DeFrees (1919—2015) is the author of eight full-length poetry collections. In 1937 she entered the order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and took on the name of Sister Mary Gilbert. It was under this name that she published her early poetry, including her first collection, From the Darkroom (1964). Her greatest influences have perhaps been Hopkins, and Dickinson.

She is one of the poets featured in my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry(available here) and through Amazon.

When asked — in a 2009 Image interview with Jennifer Maier — about the pressure within the convent to avoid individuality, as she was developing as a poet, she said:
----"There was a lot of internal pressure away from poetry. I knew
----Hopkins had given it up because he thought it would interfere
----with prayer...I used to think that because poetry required a
----kind of total attention, and so did prayer, that they went
----together. I had superiors, at least one, who told me that I
----wasn’t anything special just because I was a poet. I knew I
----wasn’t supposed to be writing poems when I was supposed to be
----praying. But they really are very close."

DeFrees was released from her vows in 1973. She explained why her poems would rarely be seen as being particularly Christian:
----"I used to think that the reason I didn’t write religious poems
----was that I really respected religion, and there was nothing worse
----than a poem that wanted to be religious and fell short of the
----mark. The main shortcoming would be sentimentality."

The following poem is from her collection Blue Dusk: New & Selected Poems (2001, Copper Canyon).

Balancing Acts

At 47, Hope's driven to find her feet in construction.
She crawls the hip roof of her house like a cat burglar,
gives herself plenty of rope, lashed to
the chimney. In her left hand, she carries a loaded
staple gun. Her right grips the insubstantial.

Cordless phone in my lap, I watch at 74, from my rented
wheelchair, fingers tattooing 9-1-1.
Let me hop with the help of the Sunrise Medical Guardian
to the open door to rehearse
our common fate. We are Siamese joined by a bungee

cord at the inner ear, that delicate point of balance.
Every day we devise new methods
of locomotion. When my walker, upset by a comforter,
collapses to the floor and takes me
with it, I want to reverse the digits:

four and seven, seven and four. Yesterday, Hope wrestled
the circular saw over the edge
where she clung to the ridge and tripped on the safety
cord. It was then I heard the Sirens
wooing Ulysses tied to the mast. Twilight hangs fire

in the west, then snuffs it out. Behind the slant roof
of a dormer, Hope disappears. Two ladders
reach into the void. Is that white flash a sneakered
foot in search of a rung? I conjure a cloudy head
between the smokestack and the evergreen.

No matter how I strain, I cannot bring her back.
Reluctantly I fiddle with the blind,
hear a tune old as the burning of Rome as I weave
between the cave and the whirlpool for a saving
equilibrium. What if I call her Faith,
the evidence of things unseen?

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Madeline DeFrees: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dulce María Loynaz

Dulce María Loynaz (1902—1997) is a Cuban poet and novelist, who published her first poetry collection in 1938. After the Cuban Revolution (1959) she refused to join the communist party. Even though the Castro government had her books removed from libraries and ensured that she was not published, she did not go into exile, but lived quietly in Havana. In 1992 when she received Spain's greatest literary honour — The Cervantes Prize — her work was once again permitted publication in Cuba.

The following poem was translated by James O'Connor.

Poems With No Names — XCVII

----Lord, it is You who gave me these eyes. Where should
I turn them during this long dark night that will last
longer than my own eyes?
----King to whom I swore my first vow, it is You who
gave me these hands. What should I take and what should
I leave behind on this pilgrimage that makes no sense to
any of my senses, this pilgrimage where I never have
enough or I have much more than I need?
----Sweetness in the bitter-sweetness of my heart, it is You
who gave me this desert voice. What word is worthy of
scaling the high peak of your silence?
----Breath in the clay of my flesh, it is You who gave me
these feet. Tell me. Why did you put so many forks in the
road if You are the Way, the Truth and the Life?

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821—1873) is an American poet who only published one book of poems in his lifetime: Poems (1860). His work was ignored by most of his contemporaries, although he received encouragement from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Alfred Tennyson, whom he had visited in his home on the Isle of Wight in 1855.

He completed a law degree from Harvard, but scarcely practiced. In the mid-1840s when he met and fell deeply in love with Hannah Jones, he began writing poems — primarily sonnets. They married in 1847. When she died shortly after the birth of their third child in 1857, Tuckerman was completely grief-stricken. It is out of this tragedy that much of his best poetry comes.

Although he was significantly influenced by the English romantic poets and the American romantics of his time, his rational, Anglican background, combined with the death of his dear wife, caused Tuckerman to become somewhat anti-romantic in his rejection of the pantheistic optimism of many of his contemporaries.

Jason Guriel wrote in The New Criterion, that Tuckerman "wrote poems too weird to be much appreciated in his own milieu, the United States of the nineteenth century, and not weird enough to distinguish the poet for many of his later readers who, failing to squint, saw little more than an accomplished sonneteer."

Sonnet XXVIII

Not the round natural world, not the deep mind,
The reconcilement holds: the blue abyss
Collects it not; our arrows sink amiss
And but in Him may we our import find.
The agony to know, the grief, the bliss
Of toil, is vain and vain: clots of the sod
Gathered in heat and haste and flung behind
To blind ourselves and others, what but this
Still grasping dust and sowing toward the wind?
No more thy meaning seek, thine anguish plead,
But leaving straining thought and stammering word,
Across the barren azure pass to God:
Shooting the void in silence like a bird,
A bird that shuts his wings for better speed.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600—1681) is a Spanish poet and dramatist of what is called the golden age of Spanish literature. Life is a Dream (1629—35) is one of his best known secular plays, and The Great Theatre of the World (c. 1635) one of his best known religious plays. King Philip IV was his patron, providing a pension for him, and funding the extravagant productions of his plays. He is also associated with the rise of opera in Spain. In 1651 Calderón was ordained to the priesthood, and in 1663 was appointed honorary chaplain to the king. He successfully found a dramatic form that well expressed Christian doctrine.

The following poem was translated by R.C. Trench.

The Cross

Tree which heaven has willed to dower
With that true fruit whence we live,
As that other death did give;
Of new Eden loveliest flower;
Bow of light, that in worst hour
Of the worst flood signal true
O'er the world, of mercy threw;
Fair plant, yielding sweetest wine;
Of our David harp divine;
Or our Moses tables new;
Sinner am I, therefore I
Claim upon thy mercies make;
Since alone for sinners' sake
God on thee endured to die.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.