Monday, January 26, 2015

Edwin Muir*

Edwin Muir (1887—1959) is a Scottish poet, critic, and novelist. He is a major figure of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. Muir expressed that Scottish Literature should be written in English if it is to gain International attention; this was the opposite view of fellow-poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who wanted a return to Gaelic.

Muir and his wife, Willa, collaborated on many influential translations of German-speaking authors, including the first English translations of Franz Kafka's stories. He once wrote, "My marriage was the most fortunate event of my life." In the early 1920s, the Muirs lived in Europe—Prague, Dresden, Salzburg, Vienna and Rome—before returning to England.

His Selected Poems, edited by T.S. Eliot appeared in 1965. At that time Eliot wrote, "Muir will remain among the poets who have added glory to the English language. He is also one of the poets of whom Scotland should always be proud."

The Transfiguration

So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.

But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Edwin Muir: 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, January 19, 2015

Micheal O'Siadhail

Micheal O'Siadhail is an Irish poet who has published fifteen books of poetry, including his Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2013). His first collection, The Leap Year, appeared in 1978. His 2005 collection, Love Life, is about his relationship with his wife, who recently died in June of 2013 after 43 years of marriage.

He quotes Patrick Kavanagh, who he calls the best Irish poet of the 20th century, as saying "that any poet worth his salt is a theologian. He added, "I think he means that what a poet would have in common with a theologian is dealing with questions of meaning and of context, the context of our lives. I often use the phrase 'the ministry of meaning,' and I see an artist as a minister of meaning in many ways. I'm trying to ask the big questions about why we're here, what we're doing."

The following poem is one of three written by Micheal O'Siadhail for N.T. Wright's book Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013).


Earlier three birds on a tree
But now only one.
Imagine swoops of homing rooks
As evening tumbles in
Cawing and wheeling to gather
In skeleton branches
With nodes of old nest blackening
Into the roosting night.

Treetop colony
A rookery congregates.
Dusky assemblage.

Whatever instinct makes us hoard,
A desire to amass,
Toys, dolls, marbles, bird’s-nests and eggs
We fondle and brood on
Or how we’d swoop like rooks to nab
Spiky windfalls stamping
Open their milky husks to touch,
Smooth marvels of chestnut.

The collector’s dream
To feel, to caress, to keep.
A bird in the hand.

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, January 12, 2015

T.S. Eliot*

T.S. Eliot (1888—1965) is not only known as the author of such influential poems as The Waste Land (1922) and Four Quartets (1943). He is also known for such plays as Murder in the Cathedral (1935), and for his literary criticism, including the influential essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1920). The whimsical poems he originally wrote for his godchildren, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), were eventually transposed into the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which premiered in London's West End in 1981. In 1948 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

His "Choruses From 'The Rock'" were written for a pageant play in 1934, and yet seem to have been written for the twenty-first century.

from "Choruses From 'The Rock'" (II)

Thus your fathers were made
Fellow citizens of the saints, of the household of GOD, being built
-----upon the foundation
Of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself the chief corner¬stone.
But you, have you built well, that you now sit helpless in a
-----ruined house?
Where many are born to idleness, to frittered lives and squalid
-----deaths, embittered scorn in honey-hives,
And those who would build and restore turn out the palms of
-----their hands, or look in vain towards foreign lands
-----for alms to be more or the urn to be filled.
Your building not fitly framed together, you sit ashamed and
-----wonder whether and how you may be builded together
-----for a habitation of GOD in the Spirit, the Spirit
-----which moved on the face of the waters like a lantern
-----set on the back of a tortoise...
You, have you built well, have you forgotten the cornerstone?
Talking of right relations of men, but not of relations of men
-----to GOD...

Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten
-----or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying.
-----and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of God.
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands
-----alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that
-----was done by those who have gone before you...
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble
-----repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers...
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying
-----within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while
-----there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity
-----they will decry it.

What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD...

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about T.S. Eliot: first post, second 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, January 5, 2015

Aaron Lee

Aaron Lee Soon Yong of Singapore is the author of three poetry collections, all of which are published by Ethos Books. His most recent is Coastlands (2014) which was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival in November. His second book, Five Right Angles (2007) was a finalist in the Singapore Literature Prize Awards. He has co-edited several poetry anthologies, including No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry. Lee views the influential poet Edwin Thumboo as his mentor. Thumboo has said of Coastlands, "These poems possess a notable immediacy, profound resonance and imaginative unity."

The following poem is from Aaron Lee's collection Coastlands.

Psalm 23 Reprised

The jubilant chief cried, "The Lord is my shepherd,
he is all I need!" The fields were lush
and hummed with life as he wound his way
past the whispering sun-blessed streams.
so he shouted, "He makes me strong!
He heaps upon me the spoils of war!
Even against armies vast in the valley
he is ever my champion!"
At the table set by his enemies,
and wielding a leg of meat, the chief sat down at ease.
In the spoil-strewn field there was another king
with drawn sword, attended by angels.
His words were trampling war horses.
It was evening and the hills were scarlet with wonder.
A boy walked among them, his wounds weeping,
calling the names of the lost.

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, December 29, 2014

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts (1674—1748) is an English hymnist who was influential in developing the tradition of writing new lyrics to be sung in worship services, rather than remaining limited to versifications of the Psalms. He and his family were Dissenters or Non-Conformists, and so he was not eligible to attend Oxford or Cambridge. It is said that when he complained about the poor writing in the metrical Psalter, his father challenged him to do better. Although he wrote about 600 hymns, he is best known for those he wrote over a two year period, beginning when he was just 20.

Some of his best known hymns include, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross", "Jesus Shall Reign Where're the Sun", "O God Our Help in Ages Past", and the Christmas carol "Joy To The World". Since these hymns are so well known, I have opted to share a lesser-known carol.

Shepherds Rejoice

'Shepherds, rejoice! lift up your eyes
And send your fears away;
News from the region of the skies:
Salvation's born today!
Jesus, the God whom angels fear,
Comes down to dwell with you;
Today he makes his entrance here,
But not as monarchs do.

'No gold, nor purple swaddling bands,
Nor royal shining things;
A manger for his cradle stands,
And holds the King of kings.
Go, shepherds, where the Infant lies,
And see his humble throne;
With tears of joy in all your eyes,
Go, shepherds, kiss the Son.'

Thus Gabriel sang, and straight around
The heavenly armies throng;
They tune their harps to lofty sound
And thus conclude the song:
'Glory to God that reigns above,
Let peace surround the earth;
Mortals shall know their Maker's love
At their Redeemer's birth.'

Lord! and shall angels have their songs
And men no tunes to raise?
O may we lose these useless tongues
When they forget to praise!
'Glory to God that reigns above,
That pitied us forlorn!'
We join to sing our Maker's love,
For there's a Saviour born.

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, December 22, 2014

Rowland Watkyns

Rowland Watkyns (c.1614—1665) is a Welsh poet who, in 1635, was instituted as vicar of Llanfrynach, Breconshire. However, he was one of five clergyman in the area who were ejected, around 1649, from their parishes by their puritan overseers. Around the time of the restoration (1660) it is believed he was reinstated. Some of the poems in his collection, Flumma Sine Fumo (which means Flummox Without Smoke) (1662) "appear to express his gratitude to local benefactors".

One of the three sections in Flumma Sine Fumo is made up of 73 proverbs, written in the form of rhyming couplets. The following mourns the death of Charles I in 1649, who was king of England, Scotland and Ireland:

----By his beheading it may well be said,
----Three kingdoms by injustice lost their head.

Although Watkyns was a contemporary, and close neighbour of Henry Vaughan, and their political and religious views were compatible, neither is found to have mentioned the other by name. Both wrote about Christ's Nativity, which was disapproved of as a feast day by the puritans. This has led to speculation that they may have disliked the other's approach to poetry; what may be more likely, is that they practiced medicine, from opposing schools of practice.

Upon Christ's Nativity

From three dark places Christ came forth this day;
From first His Father's bosom, where He lay,
Concealed till now; then from the typic law,
Where we His manhood but by figures saw;
And lastly from His mother's womb He came
To us, a perfect God and perfect Man.
---- Now in a manger lies the eternal Word:
The Word He is, yet can no speech afford;
He is the Bread of Life, yet hungry lies;
The Living Fountain, yet for drink He cries;
He cannot help or clothe Himself at need
Who did the lilies clothe and ravens feed;
He is the Light of Lights, yet now doth shroud
His glory with our nature as a cloud.
He came to us a Little One, that we
Like little children might in malice be;
Little He is, and wrapped in clouts, lest He
Might strike us dead if clothed with majesty.
----Christ had four beds and those not soft nor brave:
The Virgin's womb, the manger, cross, and grave.
The angels sing this day, and so will I
That have more reason to be glad than they.

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, December 15, 2014

Barbara Crooker*

Barbara Crooker's latest poetry collection Gold (2013) is part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. Many journals, such as The Cresset and Green Mountains Review, and many anthologies including Good Poems for Hard Times (Viking Penguin), have published her work. She has been honoured with several awards, including the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and she has been nominated thirty-two times for the Pushcart Prize.

Every year, I send out a selected poem for Advent to friends. These are among a series that Barbara Crooker sent to me, in return, last December.


These are dark times. Rumors of war
rise like smoke in the east. Drought
widens its misery. In the west, glittering towers
collapse in a pillar of ash and dust. Peace,
a small white bird, flies off in the clouds.

And this is the shortest day of the year.
Still, in almost every window,
a single candle burns,
there are tiny white lights
on evergreens and pines,
and the darkness is not complete.


In the dark divide of mid-December
when the skies are heavy, when the wind comes down
from the north, feathers of snow on its white breath,
when the days are short and the nights are cold,
we reach the solstice, nothing outside moving.
It’s hard to believe in the resurrection
of the sun, its lemony light, hard to remember
humidity, wet armpits, frizzy hair.
Though the wick burns black and the candle flickers,
love is born in the world again, in the damp
straw, in some old barn.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Barbara Crooker: first post

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.