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Lenten Poetry as Anglican Heritage

March 7, 2019

 
 
The following poets are folks who happened to have also been Anglican Clerics, Laity, and Hymnists. Each poem is fitting for Ash Wednesday. Poetry is arguably a large portion of the literary corpus of Anglican Patrimony, if one were ever to be authoritatively defined. Lenten poetry consists of love poems to God, written as forms of contrition for one's sins, expressing desire to return to the great Lover of Souls. Such poems are ways in which a Prodigal Son returns to his Father. Enjoy.

For Ash Wednesday - a Hymn to God the Father

by John Donne

 

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, 

         Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

         And do run still, though still I do deplore?

                When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

                        For I have more.

 

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won

         Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

         A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?

                When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

                        For I have more.

 

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

         My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son

         Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;

                And, having done that, thou hast done;

                        I fear no more.

 

[This poem was turned into a beautiful hymn in The English Hymnal #515

Ash Wednesday

by Christina Rossetti

 

I

 

My God, my God, have mercy on my sin, 
For it is great; and if I should begin 
To tell it all, the day would be too small 
To tell it in.

 

II

 

My God, Thou wilt have mercy on my sin 
For Thy Love’s sake: yea, if I should begin 
To tell This all, the day would be too small 
To tell it in.

Lent
Robert Herrick
 

IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

 

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

 

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

 

No ;  ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

 

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

 

To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Lent

by George Herbert

 

Welcome deare feast of Lent:
who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie,
But is compos'd of passion.

 

The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church sayes, now: 
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow 
To ev'ry Corporation. 

The humble soul compos'd of love and fear 
Begins at home, and layes the burden there, 
When doctrines disagree. 

He sayes, in things which use hath justly got, 
I am a scandall to the Church, and not 
The Church is so to me. 

True Christians should be glad of an occasion 
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion, 
When good is seasonable;

 

Unlesse Authoritie, which should increase

The obligation in us, make it lesse, 
And Power it self disable. 

Besides the cleannesse of sweet abstinence, 
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense, 
A face not fearing light: 

Whereas in fulnesse there are sluttish fumes, 
Sowre exhalations, and dishonest rheumes, 
Revenging the delight. 

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring 
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing, 
And goodnesse of the deed. 

Neither ought other mens abuse of Lent 
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument 
We forfeit all our Creed. 

It 's true, we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day; 
Yet to go part of that religious way, 
Is better than to rest: 

We cannot reach our Savior's purity; 
Yet are bid, Be holy ev'n as he. 
In both let 's do our best. 

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone, 
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one 
That travelleth by-ways: 

Perhaps my God, though he be far before, 
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more 
May strengthen my decays. 

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast 
By starving sin and taking such repast 
As may our faults control:

 

That ev'ry man may revel at his door, 
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor, 
And among those his soul.

Posted on Tuesday, February

At the round earth's imagined corners blow [Holy Sonnets]

by John Donne

 

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

 

Ash Wednesday

John Keble

 

"Yes--deep within and deeper yet
The rankling shaft of conscience hide,
Quick let the swelling eye forget
The tears that in the heart abide.
Calm be the voice, the aspect bold,
No shuddering pass o'er lip or brow,
For why should Innocence be told
The pangs that guilty spirits bow?

"The loving eye that watches thine
Close as the air that wraps thee round -
Why in thy sorrow should it pine,
Since never of thy sin it found?
And wherefore should the heathen see
What chains of darkness thee enslave,
And mocking say, 'Lo, this is he
Who owned a God that could not save'?"

Thus oft the mourner's wayward heart
Tempts him to hide his grief and die,
Too feeble for Confession's smart,
Too proud to bear a pitying eye;
How sweet, in that dark hour, to fall
On bosoms waiting to receive
Our sighs, and gently whisper all!
They love us--will not God forgive?

Else let us keep our fast within,
Till Heaven and we are quite alone,
Then let the grief, the shame, the sin,
Before the mercy-seat be thrown.
Between the porch and altar weep,
Unworthy of the holiest place,
Yet hoping near the shrine to keep
One lowly cell in sight of grace.

Nor fear lest sympathy should fail -
Hast thou not seen, in night hours drear,
When racking thoughts the heart assail,
The glimmering stars by turns appear,
And from the eternal house above
With silent news of mercy steal?
So Angels pause on tasks of love,
To look where sorrowing sinners kneel.

Or if no Angel pass that way,
He who in secret sees, perchance
May bid His own heart-warming ray
Toward thee stream with kindlier glance,
As when upon His drooping head
His Father's light was poured from Heaven,
What time, unsheltered and unfed,
Far in the wild His steps were driven.

High thoughts were with Him in that hour,
Untold, unspeakable on earth -
And who can stay the soaring power
Of spirits weaned from worldly mirth,
While far beyond the sound of praise
With upward eye they float serene,
And learn to bear their Saviour's blaze
When Judgment shall undraw the screen?

 

 

Ash Wednesday
by T. S. Eliot

 

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.


II 


Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.


III 

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond
repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair, 
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.


Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only. 

IV 


Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile



If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.


O my people.


VI 


Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Picture: Stained Glass window depicting the Return of the Prodigal Son from Buckinghamshire, England; Church of All Saints.

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