Monday, August 3, 2015

Dante Alighieri*

Dante Alighieri (1265—1321) is one of the world's most influential poets. He wrote his epic poem The Divine Comedy — which consists of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso — while in exile from his home of Florence. It is an allegory, warning corrupt society to turn from evil, and to truly follow Christ. Rather than writing in Latin, Dante chose to write in an Italian centred on the Florentine vernacular; in so doing he did much to begin to unify the Italian language.

In July, my wife and I visited Dante's Florence, from which he was exiled for the last twenty years of his life. Ironically, the city of Florence for centuries has wanted to have his bones returned to them. The photograph shows me standing at the foot of Dante's statue in Piazza Santa Croce. The statue was erected in 1865 — 150 years ago — to mark the 600th anniversary of his birth.

The following is from Allen Mandelbaum's translation. It is spoken by those in Purgatory on behalf of those still living.

from Purgatorio Canto IX

“Our Father, You who dwell within the heavens—
but are not circumscribed by them—out of
Your greater love for Your first works above,

praised be Your name and Your omnipotence,
by every creature, just as it is seemly
to offer thanks to Your sweet effluence.

Your kingdom’s peace come unto us, for if
it does not come, then though we summon all
our force, we cannot reach it of our selves.

Just as Your angels, as they sing Hosanna,
offer their wills to You as sacrifice,
so may men offer up their wills to You.

Give unto us this day the daily manna
without which he who labors most to move
ahead through this harsh wilderness falls back.

Even as we forgive all who have done
us injury, may You, benevolent,
forgive, and do not judge us by our worth.

Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
against the ancient foe, but set it free
from him who goads it to perversity.

This last request we now address to You,
dear Lord, not for ourselves—who have no need—
but for the ones whom we have left behind.”

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Dante Alighieri: 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 27, 2015

Michelangelo

Michelangelo (1475—1564) is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time. He is famous for his painting on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling — particularly for the scene depicting the creation of Adam — although he didn't consider himself to be a painter. As a sculptor he is known for his marble statue of David (in Florence), and his Pietà, (which is now in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome). His skill as an architect is demonstrated by his design for the dome of St. Peter's, which was completed after his death.

All of these wonders my wife and I were able to see on our recent visit to Italy, which inspired me to investigate the poetry and spirituality of the man. Michelangelo said, "The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection." He also said, "Many believe — and I believe — that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him."

It was in the 1530s that he began to write poems, about 300 of which have been preserved. The following translation is by the British poet Elizabeth Jennings.

Sonnet LXXVII

Although it saddens me and causes pain,
The past, which is not with me any more,
Brings me relief, since all that I abhor —
My sin and guilt — will not come back again.

Precious it is to me because I learn,
Before death comes, how brief is happiness:
But sad also, since when at last I turn
For pardon, grace may yet refuse to bless.

Although, Oh God, your promise I attend,
It is too much to ask you to forgive
Those who for pardon have so long delayed.

But in the blood you shed, I understand
What recompense and mercy you've displayed,
Showering your precious gifts that we may live.

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 20, 2015

Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi (c.1181—1226) is the founder of the Franciscan order. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis, however, turned his back on living the life of the nouveau riche to take a vow of poverty. He believed that possessions only increased envy and conflict, and were destructive to peace in the world.

During this time, Rome came down hard on lay groups who were critical of papal abuses, and the Franciscan's poverty could have been seen as an indictment of the Church's opulence. In France in 1209, the Pope had twenty thousand people killed in one day for supposed heresy. The Franciscans received papal approval, however, because their leader did not criticise the Church publicly. By the 1220s they officially became a religious order.

At his death, the Catholic Church went to great trouble to take control of Francis's legacy. He was canonized within two years, and work was started on the basilica in Assisi — built supposedly in his honour. Francis, however, would never have endorsed the building of such a church. Joan Acocella has written of this in The New Yorker: "It is hard to think of a single important Franciscan principle that was not violated." Early writings about Francis were suppressed, in an attempt to rewrite his history. His own writings remain, including many inspiring poems, such as the following.

This post is inspired by a visit to Assisi my wife and I enjoyed earlier this month.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is Hatred, let me sow Love.
Where there is Injury, Pardon.
Where there is Doubt, Faith.
Where there is Despair, Hope.
Where there is Darkness, Light, and
Where there is Sadness, Joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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 13, 2015

Jane Kenyon*

Jane Kenyon (1947—1995) was poet laureate of New Hampshire at the time of her death. She published four volumes of her own poetry, and a collection of Anna Akhmatova's poems translated from Russian. Her posthumous essay collection, A Hundred White Daffodils, reveals the importance of the local church, she and her husband Donald Hall attended.

The following poem did not appear in any of the books published in her lifetime, but in Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, which Graywolf published in 1996. Some of the most spiritual poems in that collection are among the New poems. According to the New York Times Book Review, Kenyon "sees this world as a kind of threshold through which we enter God's wonder."

In the Nursing Home

She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Jane Kenyon: 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 6, 2015

Paul Quenon

Paul Quenon is a Trappist monk who has primarily lived at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky since 1958. At age 17 he was drawn to investigate Gethsemani, having read Thomas Merton's autobiography, and then as a novice, he served under the direction of Merton. Quenon is a photographer and a poet. Several of his earlier books, such as Terrors of Paradise, were published by Black Moss Press (Windsor, Ontario). His new collection, Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems appeared from Paraclete Press in 2014.

As my friend, Kentucky poet, David Harrity (who has visited Brother Paul at Gethsemani) has said: "Paul recites and sings poetry seven times a day by profession—namely the ancient psalms of the Bible, in choir with several dozen other monks. This sets the bar pretty high for a boy from West Virginia who came to pray and work and read all about God in a monastery, which makes a natural breeding ground for poets."

The Cowl

—solemn as chant,
one sweep of fabric
from head to foot.
Cowls hanging
on a row of pegs—
tall disembodied spirits
holding shadows
deep in the folds
waiting for light,
for light to shift
waiting for a bell
for the reach of my hand
to spread out the slow
wings, release the
shadows and envelope my
prayer-hungry body
with light.

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, June 29, 2015

Kenneth Leslie

Kenneth Leslie (1892—1974) is a Canadian poet, clergyman and political activist. In the 1920s he was part of a literary society in Halifax called The Song Fishermen which included Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carmen. After this he, and his first wife, moved to New York. His first collection, Windward Rock (Macmillan, 1934), received positive attention on both sides of the Atlantic, and his fourth book, By Stubborn Stars (Ryerson,1938) won him the Governor General's Award.

Although he was not a communist, he was given the nickname "God's Red Poet" due to his political activism. In the late 1930s he worked steadily against fascism and anti-semitism. He founded the influential journal The Protestant Digest, which earned him many friends and many enemies. The magazine's editorial advisers eventually included Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. Rather than face the House Un-American Activities Committee, Kenneth Leslie returned home to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.

In 2010, The Porcupine's Quill published The Essential Kenneth Leslie.

The Preacher

for Albert Cohoe

Constrained to call and cry the wares of God,
you stumble in the pulpit, troubled, dumb,
suddenly striken, silent as a clod,
no whispered word, not even a breath will come.
What strange antagonist takes strangle hold
upon your spirit's tendons till they bend
to breaking, and yet leaves your spirit bold
to claim a victor's blessing at the end?
There! He has gone, and going swings a gate
for swift release. Your throat, a golden flume,
the flowing torrent of a soul in spate,
mad with hwyl of spirit, fills the room.
Now we can guess the pain, the silent cry,
and whose hand struck the hollow of your thigh.

Jesus Thought Long

Jesus thought long
on an oar thinned to breaking.
It was flesh in His hands
of hard toil partaking.
Jesus found beauty
in the curl of a shaving
And truth in a yoke
worn out and past saving.

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, June 22, 2015

Sergiu Mandinescu

Sergiu Mandinescu (1926—1964) is a Romanian poet who spent fourteen years of his brief life in a communist prison. While incarcerated, he was not permitted to have either pen or paper — sometimes living in solitary confinement — and so, Mandinescu had to memorize his poems as he wrote them. Whenever he shared a cell with other prisoners he was able to recite his poetry to them, but had to be careful of watchful guards and informers. Much of his poetry was lost, due to the continual mistreatment he faced from communist authorities.

Like many Romanian political prisoners, Mandinescu was able to turn to his Orthodox Christian faith, which helped him to survive. It is not surprising, then, that the following poem, is in the form of a prayer.

Amen (Prison Prayer)

If I only had an angel’s quill
and the dark ink of night
perhaps only then I might
gather from all my vagaries
to write my memories
telling why I’m bleeding, I will.
Plundered stars of the night.
At the window of Hope — irons tight.
At the door of Salvation — the lock.
Our pale face, asleep on the block.
As the hatred breaks out, all its dark flame will sweep
in a split second, the fire will wring
our mind, soul and wing,
our ashes piled high, in a heap.
When the terrible hammers will shatter the silence
to pieces, as great as the penance,
our broken-up souls will be reaching the sky,
as the martyrs will burn on the pyre, up high.
Such a terrible grief and the beatings of kind
caused so many inmates to have shattered their mind
as a great many more for eternity strive
from the ones who’ve been there, just the dead are alive.
Just like him and like you, I am only a bloke:
see, My Lord? I do walk and I talk
as a true living corpse my existence is bare
I am ready, My Lord, to be taken up there.
I embrace all the pain and the anguish I merit
as I wait to be called by the heralds of Heaven
in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

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.