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Lenten Poetry as Anglican Heritage

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


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.


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.



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 V

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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