Monday, May 20, 2019

The Dream of the Rood


Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,                                                     5
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth’s corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
fair through predestiny. Indeed, that was no wicked one’s gallows, 10
but holy souls beheld it there,
men over earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous that victory-beam – and I stained with sins,
with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory’s tree
honored with trappings, shining with joys,                                     15
decked with gold; gems had
wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
Yet through that gold I clearly perceived
old strife of wretches, when first it began
to bleed on its right side. With sorrows most troubled,                  20
I feared that fair sight. I saw that doom-beacon
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood’s going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer’s tree,                                                  25
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words:
“It was long since – I yet remember it –
that I was hewn at holt’s end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,                    30
worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind’s Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord’s word                                       35
bend or break, when I saw earth’s
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself – he, God Almighty –
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,                     40
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.                                          45
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill                                                         50
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,                                           55
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men’s hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,               60
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body’s head;
beheld they there heaven’s Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house, 65
men in the slayer’s sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.
But we there lamenting a good while                                             70
stood in our places after the warrior’s cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,
fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord’s thanes,                    75
friends, learned of me,. . . . . . . . . . .
adorned me with silver and gold.
Now you may know, loved man of mine,
what I, work of baleful ones, have endured
of sore sorrows. Now has the time come                                        80
when they will honor me far and wide,
men over earth, and all this great creation,
will pray for themselves to this beacon. On me God’s son
suffered awhile. Therefore I, glorious now,
rise under heaven, and I may heal                                                  85
any of those who will reverence me.
Once I became hardest of torments,
most loathly to men, before I for them,
voice-bearers, life’s right way opened.
Indeed, Glory’s Prince, Heaven’s Protector,                                   90
honored me, then, over holm-wood.
Thus he his mother, Mary herself,
Almighty God, for all men,
also has honored over all woman-kind.
Now I command you, loved man of mine,                                     95
that you this seeing tell unto men;
discover with words that it is glory’s beam
which Almighty God suffered upon
for all mankind’s manifold sins
and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam.                                          100
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,                                                   105
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem – he holds power of doom –
everyone here as he will have earned
\for himself earlier in this brief life.
Nor may there be any unafraid                                                      110
for the words that the Wielder speaks.
He asks before multitudes where that one is
who for God’s name would gladly taste
bitter death, as before he on beam did.
And they then are afraid, and few think                                        115
what they can to Christ’s question answer.
Nor need there then any be most afraid
who ere in his breast bears finest of beacons;
but through that rood shall each soul
from the earth-way enter the kingdom,                                         120
who with the Wielder thinks yet to dwell.”
I prayed then to that beam with blithe mind,
great zeal, where I alone was
with small company. My heart was
impelled on the forth-way, waited for in each                              125
longing-while. For me now life’s hope:
that I may seek that victory-beam
alone more often than all men,
honor it well. My desire for that
is much in mind, and my hope of protection                                130
reverts to the rood. I have not now many
strong friends on this earth; they forth hence
have departed from world’s joys, have sought themselves glory’s King;
they live now in heaven with the High-Father,
dwell still in glory, and I for myself expect                                  135
each of my days the time when the Lord’s rood,
which I here on earth formerly saw,
from this loaned life will fetch me away
and bring me then where is much bliss,
joy in the heavens, where the Lord’s folk                                     140
is seated at feast, where is bliss everlasting;
and set me then where I after may
dwell in glory, well with those saints
delights to enjoy. May he be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died                                                      145
on that gallows-tree for mankind’s sins.
He loosed us and life gave,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with glory and gladness to those who there burning endured.
That Son was victory-fast in that great venture,                           150
with might and good-speed, when he with many,
vast host of souls, came to God’s kingdom,
One-Wielder Almighty: bliss to the angels
and all the saints – those who in heaven
dwelt long in glory – when their Wielder came,                          155
Almighty God, where his homeland was.

-- Anonymous Anglo- Saxon poem (perhaps Cynewulf); translation from Old English, 1982, Jonathan A. Glenn.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

[O sweet spontaneous


O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
the
doting

                   fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
and poked

thee
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

        beauty        how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
            (but
true

to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

                        thou answerest


them only with

                                   spring)

--e. e. cummings (1894-1962), American poet, from Tulips and Chimneys (1923)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

"Find Work"


I tie my Hat-- I crease my Shawl—
Life's little duties do—precisely
As the very least
Were infinite—to me—
—Emily Dickinson, #443

My mother’s mother, widowed very young
of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,
moved through her father’s farm, her country tongue
and country heart anaesthetized and mute
with labor. So her kind was taught to do—
“Find work,” she would reply to every grief—
and her one dictum, whether false or true,
tolled heavy with her passionate belief.
Widowed again, with children, in her prime,
she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time
spent in the lifelong practice of despair.
But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,
her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

-- Rhina P. Espaillat (1932- ), award-winning Domincan- American poet

Friday, May 17, 2019

It Is Not Always May


No hay pajaros en los nidos de antano.
-Spanish Proverb

The sun is bright,--the air is clear,
   The darting swallows soar and sing.
And from the stately elms I hear
   The bluebird prophesying Spring.
So blue yon winding river flows,
   It seems an outlet from the sky,
Where waiting till the west-wind blows,
   The freighted clouds at anchor lie.
All things are new;--the buds, the leaves,
   That gild the elm-tree's nodding crest,
And even the nest beneath the eaves;--
   There are no birds in last year's nest!
All things rejoice in youth and love,
   The fulness of their first delight!
And learn from the soft heavens above
   The melting tenderness of night.
Maiden, that read'st this simple rhyme,
   Enjoy thy youth, it will not stay;
Enjoy the fragrance of thy prime,
   For oh, it is not always May!
Enjoy the Spring of Love and Youth,
   To some good angel leave the rest;
For Time will teach thee soon the truth,
   There are no birds in last year's nest!

-Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet and teacher, the most famous American poet of the 19th century

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Journey Prayer


God, bless to me this day,
God bless to me this night;
Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,
Each day and hour of my life;
   Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,
   Each day and hour of my life.

God, bless the pathway on which I go;
God, bless the earth that is beneath my sole;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of gods, bless my rest and my repose;
   Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
   And bless, O God of gods, my repose.

-- St. Brendan the Voyager (484-577) Irish monk, whose feast day is May 16.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Servant Girl at Emmaus


(A Painting by Velázquez)

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his—the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face—?

The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had
seen this morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching
         the winejug she's to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

--Denise Levertov (1923–1997), Anglo-American poet

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Untitled


They took away what should have been my eyes,
(But I remembered Milton's Paradise).
They took away what should have been my ears,
(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears).
They took away what should have been my tongue,
(But I had talked with God when I was young).
He would not let them take away my soul —
Possessing that, I still possess the whole.

-- Helen Keller (1880–1968), American author, teacher, and public speaker