Psalm 67

God of mercy, God of grace,
Show the brightness of Thy face;
Shine upon us, Savior, shine,
Fill Thy Church with light divine,
And Thy saving health extend,
Unto earth’s remotest end.

Let the people praise Thee, Lord!
Be by all that live adored;
Let the nations shout and sing
Glory to their Savior King,
At Thy feet their tribute pay,
And Thy holy will obey.

Let the people praise Thee, Lord!
Earth shall then her fruits afford,
God to man His blessings give,
Man to God devoted live;
All below and all above
One in joy and light and love.

–Henry F. Lyte

The Church-Builder

The church flings forth a battled shade
Over the moon-blanched sward:
The church; my gift; whereto I paid
My all in hand and hoard;
Lavished my gains
With stintless pains
To glorify the Lord.

I squared the broad foundations in
Of ashlared masonry;
I moulded mullions thick and thin,
Hewed fillet and ogee;
I circleted
Each sculptured head
With nimb and canopy.

I called in many a craftsmaster
To fix emblazoned glass,
To figure Cross and Sepulchure
On dossal, boss, and brass.
My gold all spent,
My jewels went
To gem the cups of Mass.

I borrowed deep to carve the screen
And raise the ivoried Rood;
I parted with my small demesne
To make my owings good.
Heir-looms unpriced
I sacrificed,
Until debt-free I stood.

So closed the task. “Deathless the Creed
Here substanced!” said my soul:
“I heard me bidden to this deed,
And straight obeyed the call.
Illume this fane,
That not in vain
I build it, Lord of all!”

But, as it chanced me, then and there
Did dire misfortunes burst;
My home went waste for lack of care,
My sons rebelled and curst;
Till I confessed
That aims the best
Were looking like the worst.

Enkindled by my votive work
No burnng faith I find;
The deeper thinkers sneer and smirk,
And give my toil no mind;
From nod and wink
I read they think
That I am fool and blind.

My gift to God seems futile, quite;
The world moves as erstwhile;
And powerful Wrong on feeble Right
Tramples in olden style.
My faith burns down,
I see no crown;
But Cares, and Griefs, and Guile.

So now, the remedy? Yea, this:
I gently swing the door
Here, of my fane–no soul to wis–
And cross the patterned floor
To the rood-screen
That stands between
The nave and inner chore.

The rich red windows dim the moon,
But little light need I;
I mount the prie-dieu, lately hewn
From woods of rarest dye;
Then from below
My garment, so,
I draw this cord, and tie

One end thereof around the beam
Midway ‘twixt Cross and truss:
I noose the nethermost extreme,
And in ten seconds thus
I journey hence–
To that land whence
No rumour reaches us.

Well: Here at morn they’ll light on one
Dangling in mockery
Of what he spent his substance on
Blindly and uselessly!…
“He might,” they’ll say,
“Have built, some way,
A cheaper gallows-tree!”

–Thomas Hardy

HEAVEN

Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! — Death eddies near —
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time.
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.

—Rupert Brooke

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I don’t know how serious Brooke was being at the time. His short life was drawing toward its close and I think that he somehow sensed it because of the themes he touches in his poetry. Maybe not. And maybe he was being entirely flippant, but I don’t think so.

What do we know of heaven? What can we dream or imagine? Nothing much, but what we know; and that’s what this poems shows me. We have such little, silly dreams.

Night

That shining moon–watched by that one faint star:
Sure now am I, beyond the fear of change,
That lovely in life is the familiar,
And only the lovelier for continuing strange.

–Walter de la Mare

Lord and Saviour, True and Kind

Lord and Savior, true and kind,
Be the Master of my mind;
Bless, and guide, and strengthen still
All my powers of thought and will.

While I ply the scholar’s task,
Jesus Christ, be near, I ask;
Help the memory, clear the brain,
Knowledge still to seek and gain.

Here I train for life’s swift race;
Let me do it in Thy grace;
Here I arm me for life’s fight;
Let me do it in Thy might.

Thou hast made me mind and soul;
I for Thee would use the whole;
Thou hast died that I might live;
All my powers to Thee I give.

Striving, thinking, learning, still,
Let me follow thus Thy will,
Till my whole glad nature be
Trained for duty and for Thee.

–Bishop H. C. G. Moule

____________________

Not the greatest, is it? but not the worst either.

A Star in a Stone-Boat

For Lincoln MacVeagh

Never tell me that not one star of all
That slip from heaven at night and softly fall
Has been picked up with stones to build a wall.

Some laborer found one faded and stone-cold,
And saving that its weight suggested gold
And tugged it from his first too certain hold,

He noticed nothing in it to remark.
He was not used to handling stars thrown dark
And lifeless from an interrupted arc.

He did not recognize in that smooth coal
The one thing palpable besides the soul
To penetrate the air in which we roll.

He did not see how like a flying thing
It brooded ant eggs, and bad one large wing,
One not so large for flying in a ring,

And a long Bird of Paradise’s tail
(Though these when not in use to fly and trail
It drew back in its body like a snail);

Nor know that be might move it from the spot—
The harm was done: from having been star-shot
The very nature of the soil was hot

And burning to yield flowers instead of grain,
Flowers fanned and not put out by all the rain
Poured on them by his prayers prayed in vain.

He moved it roughly with an iron bar,
He loaded an old stoneboat with the star
And not, as you might think, a flying car,

Such as even poets would admit perforce
More practical than Pegasus the horse
If it could put a star back in its course.

He dragged it through the plowed ground at a pace
But faintly reminiscent of the race
Of jostling rock in interstellar space.

It went for building stone, and I, as though
Commanded in a dream, forever go
To right the wrong that this should have been so.

Yet ask where else it could have gone as well,
I do not know—I cannot stop to tell:
He might have left it lying where it fell.

From following walls I never lift my eye,
Except at night to places in the sky
Where showers of charted meteors let fly.

Some may know what they seek in school and church,
And why they seek it there; for what I search
I must go measuring stone walls, perch on perch;

Sure that though not a star of death and birth,
So not to be compared, perhaps, in worth
To such resorts of life as Mars and Earth—

Though not, I say, a star of death and sin,
It yet has poles, and only needs a spin
To show its worldly nature and begin

To chafe and shuffle in my calloused palm
And run off in strange tangents with my arm,
As fish do with the line in first alarm.

Such as it is, it promises the prize
Of the one world complete in any size
That I am like to compass, fool or wise.

—Robert Frost

The Year

The crocus, while the days are dark,
Unfolds its saffron sheen;
At April’s touch the crudest bark
Discovers gems of green.

Then sleep the seasons, full of might;
While slowly swells the pod
And rounds the peach, and in the night
The mushroom bursts the sod.

The winter falls; the frozen rut
Is bound with silver bars;
The snowdrift heaps against the hut,
And night is pierced with stars.

Coventry Patmore

Winter

Clouded with snow
The cold winds blow,
And shrill on leafless bough
The robin with its burning breast
Alone sings now.

The rayless sun,
Day’s journey done,
Sheds its last ebbing light
On fields in leagues of beauty spread
Unearthly white.

Thick draws the dark,
And spark by spark,
The frost-fires kindle, and soon
Over that sea of frozen foam
Floats the white moon.

—Walter de la Mare

Fill Thou My Life

Horatius Bonar is a quiet sort of poet. He’s never given me much of the old thrill, but he’s a good example of what the quiet persistence yields. We seek light at the end of a poem, and in this poem we receive it.

The word “praise” is so well-worn one feels it is like a pair of old jeans, all the color washed out and so threadbare in so many places only the vulgar and indecent would want to use it. What Bonar does with the word “praise” in this poem is restore its glory. Such restoration is a needed function with the state of religion being what it is today, and language.

It starts slowly, but the last stanza is mighty, and that is partly what I mean by the example of what the quiet persistence yields.

Fill thou my life, O Lord my God,
in every part with praise,
that my whole being may proclaim
thy being and thy ways.

Not for the lip of praise alone,
nor e’en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up
of praise in every part!

Praise in the common things of life,
its goings our and in;
praise in each duty and deed,
however small and mean.

Fill every part of me with praise;
let all my being speak
of thee and of thy love, O Lord,
poor though I be, and weak.

So shalt thou, Lord, from me, e’en me,
receive the glory due;
and so shall I begin on earth
the song forever new.

So shall each fear, each fret, each care
be turned into a song,
and every winding of the way
the echo shall prolong;

So shall no part of day or night
from sacredness be free;
but all my life, in every step
be fellowship with thee.

Jerusalem My Happy Home

Cyberhymnal has an inferior version of the hymn, but then they have this original text:

Jerusalem, my happy home,
When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?

O happy harbor of the saints!
O sweet and pleasant soil!
In thee no sorrow may be found,
No grief, no care, no toil.

In thee no sickness may be seen,
No hurt, no ache, no sore;
There is no death nor ugly devil,
There is life for evermore.

No dampish mist is seen in thee,
No cold nor darksome night;
There every soul shines as the sun;
For God himself gives light.

There lust and lucre cannot dwell;
There envy bears no sway;
There is no hunger, heat, nor cold,
But pleasure every way.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
God grant that I may see
Thine endless joy, and of the same
Partaker ay may be!

Thy walls are made of precious stones,
Thy bulwarks diamonds square;
Thy gates are of right orient pearl;
Exceeding rich and rare;

Thy turrets and thy pinnacles
With carbuncles do shine;
Thy very streets are paved with gold,
Surpassing clear and fine;

Thy houses are of ivory,
Thy windows crystal clear;
Thy tiles are made of beaten gold—
O God that I were there!

Within thy gates nothing doth come
That is not passing clean,
No spider’s web, no dirt, no dust,
No filth may there be seen.

Aye, my sweet home, Jerusalem,
Would God I were in thee:
Would God my woes were at an end,
Thy joys that I might see.

Thy saints are crowned with glory great;
They see God face to face;
They triumph still, they still rejoice
Most happy is their case.

We that are here in banishment
Continually do mourn:
We sigh and sob, we weep and wail,
Perpetually we groan.

Our sweet is mixed with bitter gall,
Our pleasure is but pain:
Our joys scarce last the looking on,
Our sorrows still remain.

But there they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.

Thy vineyards and thy orchards are
Most beautiful and fair,
Full furnished with trees and fruits,
Most wonderful and rare.

Thy gardens and thy gallant walks
Continually are green:
There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
As nowhere else are seen.

There is nectar and ambrosia made,
There is musk and civet sweet;
There many a fair and dainty drug
Is trodden under feet.

There cinnamon, there sugar grows,
Here nard and balm abound.
What tongue can tell or heart conceive
The joys that there are found?

Quite through the streets with silver sound
The flood of life doth flow,
Upon whose banks on every side
The wood of life doth grow.

There trees for evermore bear fruit,
And evermore do spring;
There evermore the angels be,
And evermore do sing.

There David stands with harp in hand
As master of the choir:
Ten thousand times that man were blessed
That might this music hear.

Our Lady sings Magnificat
With tune surpassing sweet,
And all the virgins bear their part,
Sitting at her feet.

There Magdalen hath left her moan,
And cheerfully doth sing
With blessèd saints, whose harmony
In every street doth ring.

Jerusalem, my happy home,
Would God I were in thee!
Would God my woes were at an end
Thy joys that I might see!

Where High the Heavenly Temple Stands

Where high the heavenly temple stands,
the house of God not made with hands,
a great High Priest our nature wears,
the Guardian of mankind appears.

He, who for men their surety stood,
and poured on earth his precious blood,
pursues in heaven his mighty plan,
the Savior and the Friend of man.

Though now ascended up on high,
he bends on earth a brother’s eye;
partaker of the human name,
he knows the frailty of our frame.

Our fellow-sufferer yet retains
a fellow feeling of our pains;
and still remembers in the skies
his tears, his agonies and cries.

In every pang that rends the heart
the Man of Sorrows had a part;
he sympathizes with our grief,
and to the sufferer sends relief.

With boldness therefore at the throne
let us make all our sorrows known;
and ask the aid of heavenly power
to help us in the evil hour.

—Michael Bruce

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The Oremus site has a MIDI of the music they use for this, and the tune is one of those reliable little tunes of which the Trinity Hymnal is so full. I love it; I wish we used them more over here. Not flashy, not really remarkable, but unassuming, brief and very good. It matches the words which really are not remarkable, but do what they need to do, verge almost on understatement, but still remain serious, doctrinal and good. Nor is the poet artless (that first inversion and alliteration all bringing attention to the subject in line 3 of the first verse; how it all goes back to where it starts, etc.), he achieves the proper effect: it strikes me, as a poem, more than anything as trustworthy in they way it goes about what it has to say. Direct, full of Biblical allusions that require something of the reader, bold, and as unassuming as the music.

And it reminded me what it was like to worship for a year and a half in the Providence Reformed Baptist Church of Minneapolis . . . excluding, of course, the above adjective ‘brief’.

That Holy Thing

THEY all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but Thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!

My how or when Thou wilt not heed,
But come down Thine own secret stair,
That Thou mayst answer all my need—
Yea, every bygone prayer.

—George MacDonald
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With George MacDonald it usually is not great poetry. But I love that third verse with the unexpected secret stair. It makes the whole poem. I found it in the hymnal at the back of my Irish Book of Common Prayer.

An Attempt

This is probably going to get shot down (too open ended, too basic at times, too likely to stop certain students cold, and really too subjective for teachers to evaluate), but I’m trying to get it into the advanced progress test as part of the reading evaluation. I never know, though, what my boss is going to say so I gave it a shot. Here it is for you to see what sort of things I try to get away with.

Acquainted with the Night

by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

How, or for what purpose, is Frost using the present perfect tense?
____________________________________________________________________________________
What action dominates A) the first verse, B) the second verse, C) the third?
A)_________________, B)__________________, C)___________________.
Would you say the setting is urban or rural? Why?
____________________________________________________________________________________
Find the superlative adjectives. What does Frost use them for, or what does he mean?
____________________________________________________________________________________
What is he unwilling to explain to the watchman?
____________________________________________________________________________________
What cause can you think of for an interrupted cry?
____________________________________________________________________________________
At what point does uncertainty enter the poem?
____________________________________________________________________________________
What if the clock is not a real clock but something else he sees? What could it be?
____________________________________________________________________________________
Does this interpretation help you understand the words “neither wrong nor right”? How, or why?
____________________________________________________________________________________
Consider how certain the first line of the poem is. Now go to the next to the last line: what has happened to certainty?
____________________________________________________________________________________
How would you say that first line has changed by the time it is used to close the poem?
____________________________________________________________________________________

Trinity-Sunday

O HOLY, blessed, glorious Three,
Eternal witnesses that be
In heaven, One God in Trinity !

As here on Earth, when men withstood,
The Spirit, Water, and the Blood
Made my Lord’s Incarnation good :

So let the anti-types in me
Elected, bought, and seal’d for free,
Be own’d, sav’d, sainted by you Three !

—Henry Vaughan

Love Sick

Jesus, my life ! how shall I truly love Thee?
O that Thy spirit would so strongly move me :
That Thou wert pleas’d to shed Thy grace so far
As to make man all pure love, flesh a star !
A star that would ne’er set, but ever rise,
So rise and run as to out-run these skies,
These narrow skies, narrow to me, that bar,
Sor bar me in that I am still at war,
At constant war with them. O come, and rend
Or bow the heavens ! Lord, bow them and descend.
And at Thy presence make these mountains flow,
These mountains of cold ice in me ! Thou art
Refining fire, O then refine my heart,
My foul, foul heart ! Thou art immortal heat ;
Heat motion gives ; then warm it, till it beat ;
So beat for Thee, till Thou in mercy hear ;
So hear, that Thou must open ; open to
A sinful wretch, a wretch that caus’d Thy woe ;
Thy woe. Who caus’d his weal ; so far his weal
That Thou forgott’st Thine own, for Thou didst seal
Mine with Thy blood, Thy blood which makes Thee mine,
Mine ever, ever ; and me ever Thine.

—Henry Vaughan

The School In August

The cloakroom pegs are empty now,
And locked the classroom door,
The hollow desks are lined with dust,
And slow across the floor
A sunbeam creeps between the chairs
Till the sun shines no more.

Who did their hair before this glass?
Who scratched ‘Elaine loves Jill’
One drowsy summer sewing-class
With scissors on the sill?
Who practised this piano
Whose notes are now so still?

Ah, notices are taken down,
And scorebooks stowed away,
And seniors grow tomorrow
From the juniors today,
And even swimming groups can fade,
Games mistresses turn grey.

–Philip Larkin

“I Have Been Taught”

I have been taught by dreams and fantasies
Learned from the friendly and the darker phantoms
And got great knowledge and courtesy from the dead
Kinsmen and kinswomen, ancestors and friends
But from two mainly
Who game me birth.

Have learned and drunk from that unspending good
These founts whose learned windings keep
My feet from straying
To the deadly path

That leads into the sultry labyrinth
Where all is bright and the flare
Consumes and shrivels
The moist fruit.

Have drawn at last from time which takes away
And taking leaves all things in their right place
An image of forever
One and whole.

And now that time grows shorter, I perceive
That Plato’s is the truest poetry,
And that these shadows
Are cast by the true.

—Edwin Muir, Collected Poems; Faber & Faber, 1960

The Autobiography of Edwin Muir

One of the great incongruities about Edwin Muir is that you first form the idea he was a very gentle person and then he tells you about all his violent dreams. Of course, if you’ve read his poetry, you’ve been exposed to his dreams. He was one of those interesting people who remember their dreams and seem to have very coherent ones (I envy that). But having read the poetry and afterward read how directly some of it came from his dreams, one is still surprised.

Perhaps it really isn’t an incongruity that he should dream all his violence and live a sad, beautiful and wise life. Perhaps he isn’t giving us the real story, though that is doubtful if T.S. Eliot’s remarks on the man are anything to go by. Muir became a Christian later in life—of some sort, he isn’t specific about it but definitely not a Calvinist—though not before he had been a socialist, and really heavy into psychoanalysis, besides the revivalism of his early life (they got a pretty good dose of that in all the islands surrounding England back in his day: see The Book of Ebenezer LePage). The psychoanalysis played a very important part in his life and his poetry, which perhaps allowed him to focus on his dreams.

He was into psychoanalysis to recover memories, to deal with his troubles, to find a myth to give sense and meaning to the disordered world to which he was violently and abruptly exposed. It is compelling to consider whether mankind has a faculty of collective memories, one that even includes the memories of animals, and perhaps more.

As you read you realize. He puts it together for you with the simplicity of clarity and a calm insight that is moving. It is like reading the book of Ruth sometimes, or the prose of William Butler Yeats. He took the chaos with which he was presented, the lack of education and wrestled with it patiently all his life, step by step in a way that—at least to me—explains above all the success of his gentleness.

I really enjoy Muir’s poetry, and have benefitted from his translations of Kafka (there’s another chap coming to grips with modernity by means of myth). Reading his autobiography has ordered and explained it for me, not in a direct or didactic way, but by suggestion, gently. Here is a poem of his:

The Good Man in Hell

If a good man were ever housed in Hell
By needful error of the qualities,
Perhaps to prove the rule or shame the devil,
Or speak the truth only a stranger sees,

Would he, surrendering quick to obvious hate,
Fill half eternity with cries and tears,
Or watch beside Hell’s little wicket gate
In patience for the first ten thousand years,

Feeling the curse climb slowly to his throat
That, uttered, dooms him to rescindless ill,
Forcing his praying tongue to run by rote,
Eternity entire before him still?

Would he at last, grown faithful in his station,
Kindle a little hope in hopeless Hell,
And sow among the damned doubts of damnation,
Since here someone could live, and live well?

One doubt of evil would bring down such a grace,
Open such a gate, and Eden could enter in,
Hell be a place like any other place,
And love and hate and life and death begin.

—Edwin Muir

The Laurel Poetry Series: Alexander Pope

The selection here can be haphazard. Haphazard means you may sometimes be pleasantly surprised, and this is what I was with this small book. The introduction was written by John Wain. It is exactly what one would want from an introduction: succinct, complete, sympathetic, critical. I am just now getting around to the classical age, developing an understanding and taste for it. John Wain has opened much of it for me with his essay on Pope.

And Pope opens some more. One can’t help feeling that if he had lived to see our day, that man who all his life endured afflictions would probably have died of the sight. I’ve never plowed through a volume of the Wicked Wasp of Twickenham, so I can’t comment on the selection, but let me leave you with the conclusion of that wonderful work of wit and anticipation of our age, The Dunciad.

She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of Night primeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain,
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ ethereal plain;
As Argus’ eyes by Hermes’ wand oppress’d,
Clos’d one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heap’d o’er her head!
Philosophy, that lean’d on Heav’n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense !
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private , dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine !
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor’d;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries All.