Monday, June 27, 2016

Thomas Ken

Thomas Ken (1637—1711) is an English poet, best known for his hymns. He grew up in the home of his sister and her husband — the poet Izaak Walton — and was ordained an Anglican priest in 1662.

Thomas Ken served as royal chaplain to Charles II, and earned the king's respect by refusing to let the king's mistress stay in the chaplain's residence. This eventually led to his being appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1685. In this role he wrote the book Prayers for the Use of All Persons who Come to the Baths for Cure (1692).

Along with several other bishops, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1688 for refusing to sign the "Declaration of Indulgence" which James II, the next monarch, presented in support of Catholicism.

Thomas Ken's collected poetical works were published in four volumes in 1721, and the book — Bishop Ken's Christian Year: Or Hymns and Poems for the Holy Days and Festivals of the Church — appeared in 1868. His best known lyric comes at the end of the following hymn, sung around the world as "The Doxology."

Glory to Thee, My God This Night

Glory to thee, my God, this night
For all the blessings of the light;
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath thy own almighty wings.

Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself, and thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the awful day.

O may my soul on thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.

When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him, all creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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 20, 2016

Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam (1891—1938) is a Russian poet, described by Ilya Kaminsky as "Russian poetry's central figure in the twentieth century." In 1911 he converted to Lutheranism, some would argue because Jews were excluded from entering the University of Saint Petersburg. Translator Christian Wiman argues that it would have been far more advantageous for him to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, if his conversion had merely been a matter of convenience.

Mandelstam himself writes that:
-----"[Christian art] is an 'imitation of Christ' infinitely various in its
-----manifestations, an eternal return to the single creative act that
-----began our historical era. Christian art is free. It is, in the full
-----meaning of the phrase, 'Art for art's sake.' No necessity of any
-----kind, even the highest, clouds its bright inner freedom, for its
-----prototype, that which it imitates, is the very redemption of the
-----world by Christ. And so, not sacrifice, not redemption in art,
-----but the free and joyful imitation of Christ—that is the keystone
-----of Christian esthetics."

In the 1930s, he and his wife Nadezhda were arrested by Stalin's government and sent into internal exile. In 1938 he was arrested again, and sent into exile in Siberia, which led to his death.

The following poems are from Wiman's translations - Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam.

Cathedral, Empty

When light, failing,
Falling

Through stained glass,
Liquifies

The long grass
At the feet of christ,

I crawl diabolical
To the foot of the cross

To sip the infinite
Tenderness

Distilled
From destroyed

Hearts:
An air of thriving

Hopelessness
Like a lone cypress

Holding on
To some airless

Annihilating height.

Prayer

Help me, Lord, this night my life to save.
Hold me, Lord, your servant, your slave.
Hear me, O Lord, alive in Petersburg, my grave.

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 13, 2016

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828—1882) is a painter and poet who was born in London to Italian expatriate parents. He is only one of the Rossettis to have left his mark: His father was renown as a Dante scholar, his brother William Michael Rossetti was an influential art critic, and his sister Christina Georgina Rossetti is one of the leading poets of the nineteenth century.

In 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and some friends founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of British artists who valued "truth to nature" in painting through attention to minute details, and symbolic imagery.

In 1861 he achieved success with his book of translations The Early Italian Poets. When his young wife died in 1862, in his grief, he had the only complete manuscript of his own poetry buried with her. In 1869, they were retrieved from Highgate Cemetery

His Sonnet sequence, "The House of Life", from Ballads and Sonnets (1881) is considered by some to be his finest poetic achievement.

Sacramental Hymn

On a fair Sabbath day, when His banquet is spread,
It is pleasant to feast with my Lord:
His stewards stand robed at the foot and the head
Of the soul-filling, life-giving board.
All the guests here had burthens; but by the King's grant
We left them behind when we came;
The burthen of wealth and the burthen of want,
And even the burthen of shame.
And oh, when we take them again at the gate,
Though still we must bear them awhile,
Much smaller they'll seem in the lane that grows strait,
And much lighter to lift at the stile.
For that which is in us is life to the heart,
Is dew to the soles of the feet,
Fresh strength to the loins, giving ease from their smart,
Warmth in frost, and a breeze in the heat.
No feast where the belly alone hath its fill,—
He gives me His body and blood;
The blood and the body (I'll think of it still)
Of my Lord, which is Christ, which is God.

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 6, 2016

Jennifer Maier

Jennifer Maier is professor of English at Seattle Pacific University. She is the author of two poetry collections, the first of which — Dark Alphabet — won the Crab Orchard Review Series in Poetry First Book Award, and was named one of the Ten Remarkable Books of 2006 by the Academy of American Poets. In 2012 she received The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award for her poem "fly" which is inspired by a line in a Dickinson poem.

Maier is an associate editor with Image. The following is from her second poetry collection Now, Now (2013, University of Pittsburgh Press).

Annunciation with Possum and Tomatoes

Faith in spring, is a fertile bed, the hope of things
unseen — summer, round in the hand; toil, expectancy, ripe
weight. Grace, for a possum, is another thing:
a sleeping dog, an open gate, five soft globes,

each bite, a new beginning. She ate them all,
but afterward I dreamed I saw a jungle of tomatoes
grown wild against the house, the fruit hanging fat, allegorical,
as the red canopy in Dieric Bouts's Annunciation,

in which the Virgin, surprised in her bedchamber,
looks up from her book, as the Flemish angel, plain
and reliable as a school nurse, calmly delivers the news.
His right finger points up at the Father,

or at the tomato-shaped folds of the drapery, as he explains
about the fruit of the womb, how it will ripen and spill
to repair the blight in the garden, the one that begot death
and beauty in turn, having first made thieves of us all.

Bouts's Holland would not taste tomatoes for another century;
the plague was swallowing citizens left and right,
but the good people of Haarlem still donned their peasant
leggings and took to the field. Perhaps the ploughman,

framed moments ago in the Gothic arch of the Virgin's window,
has set down his rake and is resting in the shade of a tree,
thinking about the fall and its hungers, and about himself,
kin to all mortal creatures, the ones who sow, and the ones

who plunder after them, who wake famished in the night,
all furred appetite, dreaming of a fruit they have never known:
flesh and seed, crotch and vine, its taste in the mouth sharp
as the known world, delectable as Eden.

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, May 30, 2016

John Clare

John Clare (1793—1864) is known as the "Peasant Poet", because his parents were illiterate, and his father a farm labourer. He is known for poems praising the natural world and God as creator. His 1820 book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, carried him from obscurity to the attention of London literary society. For a time his work even outsold that of his contemporary John Keats.

As may be sensed in the following poem, he suffered from depression and even delusions, which eventually confined him to an asylum for the final 26 years of his life.

His poetry soon slipped into obscurity; however in recent years, the admiration of poets such as Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes, John Ashbery, and Seamus Heaney has helped to restore his reputation. He is now considered by many to be one of the most important poets of the 19th century.

I Am!

I am — yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes —
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live — like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange — nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below — above the vaulted sky.

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, May 23, 2016

Theophilus Kwek

Theophilus Kwek is a poet from Singapore who is currently a student at Merton College, Oxford, and served as the President of the Oxford University Poetry Society. Despite his youth, he has published three collections. The first two are: They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011) and Circle Line (2013). He won the Martin Starkie Prize for poetry in 2014, and the Jane Martin Poetry Prize in 2015 from Girton College in Cambridge.

Many of the Bible stories he regularly heard as a child have found their way into his poetry. Kwek has participated in readings with other Christian poets in Singapore. His third book Giving Ground (2016) has just appeared from Ethos Books (Singapore). He also won the New Poets' Prize in 2016. This post was suggested to me by Singapore poet Aaron Lee.

Magdalene

For days afterwards late Spring took its course.
A north wind came through the window-slats
and plovers returned to walk on water.
In the shorter shadows the city’s groves
filled out with leaves, promised black olives
as clouds wept and bowed over the temple.
We broke bread on the roof. Said fumbling prayers
to keep the hours, returned to usual squares,
gathered each evening in our knit circles.
It was all we could do to live, despite
the wanting the waiting or the altered light
of that once-opened sky, blue as a miracle.
In time we grew acquainted with the weight
of wonder, thought less of the mystery of things,
thought them more believable. Some went back
to Galilee. Others made for other seas,
nets and fresh tackle. I watched them leave,
then stood alone in the tug of wild hyssop
at the city’s sleeve, strong as love or the facts
of being known: brief night, the lightness of stone.

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, May 16, 2016

Czeslaw Milosz*

Czeslaw Milosz (1911—2004) is a Polish poet who during WWII participated in the underground resistance in Warsaw against both the Nazis and the Soviets, writing and editing books. His faith was severely challenged in the face of all the horrors he witnessed, and yet remained strong. Once he'd escaped from the oppressive communist regime that gripped his homeland, he lived in the United States from 1960 until his death; he continued to write in Polish, and then participated in its translation into English. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.

Joseph Brodsky wrote, "I have no hesitation whatsoever in stating that Czeslaw Milosz is one of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest." The following poem is from Second Space — the last book he published before his death.

Hear Me

Hear me, Lord, for I am a sinner, which means I have nothing except
prayer.

Protect me from the day of dryness and impotence.

When neither a swallow’s flight nor peonies, daffodils and irises
in the flower market are a sign of Your glory.

When I will be surrounded by scoffers and unable, against their
arguments, to remember any miracle of Yours.

When I will seem to myself an impostor and swindler because I take
part in religious rites.

When I will accuse You of establishing the universal law of death.

When I am ready at last to bow down to nothingness and call life
on earth a devil’s vaudeville.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Czeslaw Milosz: 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.