For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

L'Ascensione (I)

Can love be so changed? New, same; homely, strange.
Chains of time, molten, were reforged a ring
That opens its bearer every door and age.
A furnace, blown hot in hell's harrowing

With love's late breath, made liquid history's core:
Fashioned to freedom by fire of burnt flesh
Sorrow times seven has tempered mixed ore,
Clean bathed and bright is it lifted now fresh -

Ring, hammered by God, smith naked in sweat,
(Lo the anvil his will, his nerves, his brain)
Bear then, crushed soul who paid death's sad debt;
A world forsook is thine. With iron rod reign.

Tak'n captive on high is love's captivity,
Flow lay, o through each nature's love flow free.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Two Dreams

Twice have I dreamt of you by night.
The first time you were climbing up the stair –
I close behind – you, to my mind
Not quite inciting me to follow you,
Nor yet displeased, something of warning,
Something of danger in your enigmatic look
As much in silence as your words
That made me careful of presumption
Careful to walk too thoughtless after you,
To assume that in the room above there lay
Unguarded welcome, a setting by
Of courtesy’s sharp distance:
You have been so in waking life,
And so, in uncertainty, have I.

The second dream was in a dining hall
Busy with people, sitting ready, chattering
The food not served. One place was empty,
The one beside you, and without looking round
Knowing me there still shy and undecided
Whether to sit or to forbear
Your hand lay once, twice, gently on the seat.
It quite compelled, as if I was all yours,
But yet it did not tell me you were mine.
It said – sit down, without a fuss,
Without love’s ostentation, without
A demonstration. Be quite content.
Sit quiet, happy, and await my pleasure
And if I turn and smile on you
When at my leisure – well, perhaps that’s all
You will receive. But you are mine in ways
The other men are not: although I am not yours,
Not in the way you want. And sad to say
You are in waking life so, every waking day.
And so in certainty am I.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Even In Our Sleep

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep
Pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

Aeschylus: from the Agamemnon.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Sarum Office: Psalmody for Matins during Eastertide

The cursus (or order for running through the Psalter) differs in Sarum Matins during Eastertide, compared to the rest of the year. I've pasted in the Eastertide cursus for Sarum Matins in the table below (psalms are numbered new style, as per Coverdale) - courtesy of Dr William Renwick who generously provided me with this information.

What I'm about to say isn't exact, but during Easter week one runs through the usual Sunday Matins and Sunday Prime psalms more or less consecutively. Then, during weeks 1-4 of Sundays after Easter, one says three psalms of the appointed twelve Matins psalms for that day of the week, so on the four Mondays of Eastertide one runs through the twelve psalms one would normally say on a single Monday. The only day that doesn't get this treatment is Saturday which is mostly occupied by the office of St Mary in Eastertide.

1st Sunday after Easter
2nd Sunday after Easter
Office of BVM
3rd Sunday after Easter
4th Sunday after Easter
Rogation Sunday
Office of BVM

A query: when they were coming up with their bright ideas for lightening the psalm cursus for clerics in the early twentieth century and again in the 1960s, didn't anyone consider this as a good starting point for a revision for Matins that could have left the day hours more or less intact, perhaps also cutting down on the length of Lauds a little and spreading the long Psalm 119 over the week from Prime-None instead of over a single day? A four or five week cycle for Matins could have covered the entire traditional liturgical year, which (apart from Lent) is mostly made up of four or five week blocks: think of the liturgical months from August to November, Advent, Eastertide etc., and even Septuagesima added to Lent makes up two blocks of four or five weeks depending on whether one includes Holy Week in the count. This is what a conservative revision could have looked like, and wouldn't have been such a radical departure. In fact all that would have been needed was a slim volume detailing which antiphons to use for the psalms on these days: everything else (but everything) could have been left untouched.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

La Passione e Morte (II)

Love's tortured flesh, finite as flesh, its pain
Filled full, with its life's breath ceased. I waited
The god's death whom I bore, blanched while blood's rain
Ran from temple to chin unabated

Till cries were all sunk down to Sabbath rest.
Torches glare long on the slow agony,
But tumult fearing dawn's strange quietness
Departs, though hope grows not as light doth grow.

The splendour and the sword promised at love's birth
Tore entrail deep, as then I knew. Bereft,
A day has come blank both to grief and mirth
And how should I make sense of aught that's left?

A crowbar heaving to a heavy stone,
This pencil dark entombs love's bloodless bones.

Monday, 8 April 2019

La Passione e Morte (I)

Unlike the cool mountain vesper rest – joy’s
Quiet beat replied by bass of night’s fall,
Mind’s sight eyes, sleepless, her unmelting snows,
O'er my bed’s vale her heights swing star-hung tall –

Unlike this toss and turn, this hedged-in room:
Love sickens to drain down death’s heaviness.
I wake astert, find love, bowed in the gloom,
Reproach and smite me for my chariness,

Then trail to face the crowd. The daily crowd
Sees here no deity. They know not what
They do. Stripped common, its furrow over-ploughed,
I hid my face when love’s noon turned a blot.

My nib thrusts to love’s dead heart through his side
To draw in blood. Its well and point has dried.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

To a Modern Girl

I wrote this poem To a Modern Girl eleven years ago in my late 20s, as a private joke in an e-mail. A friend had suggested to me in a wonderful piece of spontaneous alliteration that men want a girl to be model, minx, muse & matron all at once. This poem was my reply to him. Since I am posting a few poems here I thought I would dig this out and was surprised to find that I still had it stored in my sent mail box.

Girl, Woman yet lissom-limbed, bring home the long,
The dark ripe fruit, the low hung apples of posterity,
In the volum'nous skirts of femininity.  In one be divers.
Be model, stalk out repulsing all possession, pulsing hauteur,
O leopardess, concede no wanton curve in your spartan geometry,
Unless an arch look soon pulled taut.  But stop not there.
Be muse, dight too the fashion of an ancient age, up-gather
Softer tresses, that your bright Beàtrician head may kneel
O'er lyre, and gentler lips pierce by clean flightéd notes
From their enamell'd chastity: and of me worshipped be.
But be elder yet.  Before a damsel of Apollo, you were in the streets,
A minx.  Let loose hair teasing kiss brown shoulder (the artlessly
Half-naked one), and o'er it, in a glance, show you would ease
An ache fore night: then (curse you) twist that lithe body, play
A pouting game, and make us wait all day.  But lest I weary
Of all these: be eldest of them all, primaeval Eve, a matron be.
Hands beautiful from labour; as Dian many-breasted; thy womb
Like Nature's teeming.  I to thee by Mother Earth of our one clay
Bound, thou to me by fast oaths fastened on heaven's floor
Bound, in one creaking well-worn bed, a comfortable hearth,
And daily bread.  So - be a Gucci model, slave-girl Fotis be,
And fair Mnemosyne.  But more be Rachel, Leah and
O most! Penelope.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Ombra e Mistero

This is a poem called Ombra e Mistero by the Italian poet, artist and literary critic Luigi Cerantola: below is my attempt at translation.

San'Agata, quel piatto in che tu reggi
le gemmanti bella - candidi scogli,
e cupida sirena a sortilegi
che ai naviganti sfrondano li orgogli

ma chi l'occhio sospinge oltre i rigogli
della carne del senso, altri vagheggi
scopre nel mite vespro e nei vergini
silenzi del crepuscolo, sui colli

quetando la sua guerra in discoloro
di luce e tempo, via dall'ora ignota
sospesa sulla torre, entro il cipresso

ombra e mistero - lontananza immola
forse di paradisi, e nimbo d'oro
raggiante a noi l'illimite riflesso.

Saint Agatha, that platter where the buds
gem-bright thou lift'st, white reef-rocks, lovely Girl
(she, sea-siren insatiable, chants such spells
to shred the sailors’ every yard of pride,

Yet he whose eye prevents luxuriance
of fleshly lusts, in cool of the day's eve,
and the dusk’s falling virgin silences,
finds there diverse desires; upon the hills

His strife sinks quiet in the ebbing hue
of light and time, beyond the hour unknown
pendent on the tower, within the cypress

Shade and mystery), that offer up from far;
mayhap thy aureole or celeste spheres' light
mirrored may strike on us immeasurable.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

L'Epifania (II)

The city’s neon sheen left marrow-cold
These bones, wandering, chill-numbed, years lost down
Paths from fabled youth’s jewelled east. For, not old,
My spring drab autumn turned, prime's purpose drowned.

Glib priests professional heaven's way advised,
An end, indoors, they stirred not to pursue.
My face turned to night's road. I saw arise
Love’s star – unsought, almost forgotten. I viewed,

Then knelt and wept, removed the tinfoil crown
Of all I thought to be. Close have I found
Flesh full of God, girl holding mastery,
All my hope and desire soft on her knee.

Write gold, lead pencil; fume, spirit's incense-grains;
Enounce her myrrh-balm pulsing wine-sweet my veins.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

L'Epifania (I)

Her light: never have I known light like this.
Six thousand suns and lamps and moons that bend
Wave streams round bodies, cities, vistas; lend
The wide coloured mirror visual bliss,

Hang themselves separate. But here within
Her bright cloud-glory quakes the holy place,
Dense in her look, air, movement, clothes, hair, face,
Cloud that I stand in, cloud me indwelling,

Cloud where my eye and mind and blood are light,
Dark-rending syllable, fiat God-sung.
Love's liquid lark-ascent hailing her dawn,
Chant clear washing the pages of the night:

This scribbled writ, light, veiled eternity,
Transfigure radiant to her epiphany.

Monday, 4 March 2019

La Vita Rinata (II)

Love’s form, virgin-conceived, in mind’s wordless
Womb swollen, joy close-confined shamefaced lest
Judged profane the bright herald’s swift advent
In flesh and blood, nor flesh nor blood’s descent.

Things germane leap to hear my voice, pregnant
Its timbre with meek mild magnificence,
Possessed of a burden, that weariness
Of the lead world makes light of. Wyrd-driven, sent

Without men’s wall, I scarcely know or care -
For love, a pain-expected birth, is borne
In shower of gold, and without travail, there
I look upon a God of glory shorn.

This pen’s a sword that severs with a smart
And pierces sore love’s bearer to the heart.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

La Vita Rinata (I)

In the second her lovely load listed
Through roll and slow sway from left hip to right,
A smile – between breath and breath – she lifted,
It shivered, shattered me into delight.

Sudden, love hatched in the warm golden hay
Of her hair, nestling slew me in her eyes,
Drenched sweet in delight and dread disarray,
A glory has humbled, laid bare all disguise.

Flaring, the Ancient of Days’ instant fire
Burst a flaming phoenix, I its straw pyre,
A second – then two – her face moved away,
The bird has flown: but the bright ashes stay.

The ink blacks this page with desire’s soot
A smile burns my soul from the tip to the root.

L'Ascensione (I)