poetry


Hymn at Matins this morning “when Matins is said during the day”, second verse:

in te nostra cupiditas
et sit in te iucunditas

ps 37:4:

Delectare in Domino,
et dabit tibi petitiones cordis tui.

Perhaps not. Only Ronnie Knox translates this as “place all your longing in the Lord”, so I suppose for this to be a paraphrase this hymn would have to be one of those newly written for the Office, and the writer would have to be familiar with the Knox translation.

Unless he was reading “delectare” as really passive, and not as a deponent, “be delighted” and not “delight”. This might explain where Knox got his version from as well. Arrrrrrr. I have been wondering about this ever since I read this verse  quoted in Betty Knot’s translation of the Imitation, loved it, and then discovered that no-one else at all thought this verse says this.  Hmm.

Actually the joy and the desire are the other way around, aren’t they? So it’s probably not any kind of paraphrase, it just happened to remind me of a favourite verse. Och well. In which case I will share with you a great way of spending some time piously. You need a Bible with lots of cross-references or you could, I suppose, use the search option on a Scripture website. Take your verse-of-the-moment and write it down. Look up all the cross-referenced verses and write them down too. Look up all the references to those verses, and write them down. Etc.

You can start off quite mechanically, but if it’s a verse that you are really “into” at the time, some of the cross-referenced ones will be more striking than others and you can stick with those, and choose which of the “threads” or ideas that come to follow. Writing the verses out slows you down, and lets the associations and whatnot form and reform in your head. It’s very good thing to do when you are looking for a pious “pastime” or trying to avoid timewasting (even if you should be doing something else, it makes you all clean and happy inside and inspired to attack life anew) or feeling blue (gloomy, not lightly cooked).

My work is done,
My task is o’er,
And so I come,
Taking it home,
For the crown is won,
Alleluia,
For evermore.

My Father gave
In charge to me
This child of earth
E’en from its birth,
To serve and save,
Alleluia,
And saved is he.

This child of clay
To me was given,
To rear and train
By sorrow and pain
In the narrow way,
Alleluia,
From earth to heaven.

J.H. Newman,
The Dream of Gerontius

From – who would gess it – yes, Chestertons “Ballad of the White Horse”. The setting: The beginning of the battle of Ethandune where, through the help of Our Lady the Christian army under King Alfred of Wessex won victory over the pagan Vikings under Guthrum, who far outnumbered them. Harold, a young and boisterous earl under King Guthrum, had sneered at the ragged Celts under Colan who fought with Alfred, thinking them so despicable that he refused even to fight them in manly combat and rather, in a rash movement, tried to shoot Colan with a bow. Colan had no defence weapon save his one sword, which he threw at Harold and thereby killed him, thereby being left weaponless himself. But, if you never have done so before, you should read the whole thing. It’s a very encouraging reading.

And all at that marvel of the sword,
Cast like a stone to slay,
Cried out. Said Alfred: “Who would see
Signs, must give all things. Verily
Man shall not taste of victory
Till he throws his sword away.”

Then Alfred, prince of England,
And all the Christian earls,
Unhooked their swords and held them up,
Each offered to Colan, like a cup
Of chrysolite and pearls.

And the King said, “Do thou take my sword
Who have done this deed of fire,
For this is the manner of Christian men,
Whether of steel or priestly pen,
That they cast their hearts out of their ken
To get their heart’s desire.

“And whether ye swear a hive of monks,
Or one fair wife to friend,
This is the manner of Christian men,
That their oath endures the end.

“For love, our Lord, at the end of the world,
Sits a red horse like a throne,
With a brazen helm and an iron bow,
But one arrow alone.

“Love with the shield of the Broken Heart
Ever his bow doth bend,
With a single shaft for a single prize,
And the ultimate bolt that parts and flies
Comes with a thunder of split skies,
And a sound of souls that rend.

“So shall you earn a king’s sword,
Who cast your sword away.”
And the King took, with a random eye,
A rude axe from a hind hard by
And turned him to the fray.

Notburga will be off for the next two weeks: presenting her groundbreaking research results to the wider scientific community, enjoying a 50 € dinner in Uppsala castle, watching reindeers and the midnight sun in north Sweeden, and attempting all the while to draw Europe’s leading grassland scientists into small talk in such a way as to make them remember her very favourably when she sends them her application for a postdoc job.

In case any one should miss her here (I know, human conceit knows no limits…) she has decided to put up a marvellous poem, which, though probably our select readership knows it by heart anyway, absolutely deserves to be posted on this blog – voilà:

The Pelagian Drinking Song

– Hilaire Belloc –

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn’t believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall —
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
Especially barley brew!

And with this I shall raise a glass of wheat bear (real ale being hard to get hereabouts) tomorrow night to whomsoever shall celebrate the day on which Raymond d’Aguilers fell to the ground and wept for joy for first seeing the city of Jerusalem from the summit of Nebi Samuel. Prost!

Hilaire Belloc

‘… the controversy was ended by His Lordship, who wrote to the Incumbent ordering him to remove from the Church all Illegal Ornaments at once, and especially a Female Figue with a Child.’

When that the Eternal deigned to look
On us poor folk to make us free
He chose a Maiden, whom He took
From Nazareth in Galilee;
Since when the Islands of the Sea,
The Field, the City, and the Wild
Proclaim aloud triumphantly
A Female Figure with a Child.

These Mysteries profoundly shook
The Reverend Doctor Leigh, D.D.,
Who therefore stuck into a Nook
(Or Niche) of his Incumbency
An Image filled with majesty
To represent the Undefiled,
The Universal Mother— She—
A Female Figure with a Child.

His Bishop, having read a book
Which proved as plain as plain could be
That all the Mutts had been mistook
Who talked about a Trinity
Wrote off at once to Doctor Leigh
In manner very far from mild,
And said: “Remove them instantly!
A Female Figure with a Child!”

Envoi

Prince Jesus, in mine Agony,
Permit me, broken and defiled,
Through blurred and glazing eyes to see
A Female Figure with a Child.

… this cheers the grassland scientist’s heart:

Eternities

by beloved G.K. Chesterton

I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well hath He spoken: “Swear not by thy head.
Thou knowest not the hairs,” though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees,

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth’s arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.

I can never get over the fact that we actually have actual stuff actually written by actual St actual Patrick. I mean, this is a chap who lived 387-460/93.  It’s not old compared to St Clement of Rome or St Ignatius of Antioch: St Augustine is about 25 when Patrick is born: but this is the edge of the planet we are talking about, not civilisation. I suppose Ireland produced Pelagius about the same time, unless Pelagius’ porridge stuffing was Scott’s Porridge Oats.

‘S’mazin’.

Here’s the case for his being from Dumbartonshire. And here’s the Breastplate – the usual version and another one. What? It’s not by St Patrick? Don’t care. It’s Irish. If you need authentic then read the Confession again. I can see why you might be impatient – the Celto-loonies have tagged onto poor ole St Patrick as well. Lunacy!

Here is his Confession, on Calvin College’s CCEL, beginning with Patrick being Kidnapped By Pirates.

Another bit of the Confession, picked at random:

I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God, and you men of God, eloquent speakers, listen and contemplate. Who was it summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned in the law and powerful in rhetoric and in all things? Me, truly wretched in this world, he inspired before others that I could be—if I would—such a one who, with fear and reverence, and faithfully, without complaint, would come to the people to whom the love of Christ brought me and gave me in my lifetime, if I should be worthy, to serve them truly and with humility.

bellshrineofstpatrick.gif

According, therefore, to the measure of one’s faith in the Trinity, one should proceed without holding back from danger to make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, to spread God’s name everywhere with confidence and without fear, in order to leave behind, after my death, foundations for my brethren and sons whom I baptized in the Lord in so many thousands.

And I was not worthy, nor was I such that the Lord should grant his humble servant this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favour in these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined.

[…]

How did I get this wisdom, that was not mine before? I did not know the number of my days, or have knowledge of God. How did so great and salutary a gift come to me, the gift of knowing and loving God, though at the cost of homeland and family? I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others.

And the Really Good One about the Paschal fire? I’ve stood on the Hill of Tara. It was grey and raining and green, and apart from Aelianus and his English-about-to-wed-a-lunatic-Irish-nationalist friend running around with a Union Jack, it could have been Holy Week in the early 400s. Here it is:

And on the very night that St Patrick was celebrating the Passover, they were partaking of the worship of their great pagan festival. Now there was a custom among the pagans — made clear to all by edict — that it would be death for anyone, wherever they were, to light a fire on the night before the fire was lit in the house of the king (ie the palace of Tara). So when St Patrick celebrating the Passover lit the great bright and blessed divine fire, it shone clearly and was seen by nearly everyone living on the plain of Tara. And those who saw it viewed it with great wonder. All the elders and nobles of the nation were called in the king’s presence and he spoke to them. ‘Who is this man who has dared to commit such a crime in my kingdom? Let him perish by death!” And the answer from those around him was that they did not know. Then the wise men answered: “‘O king, life forever!” This fire, which we see lit this might before the fire of your own house, must be quenched this night. Indeed, if it should not be put out tonight, it will never be extinguished! You should know that it will keep rising up and will supplant all the fires of our own religion. This one who lit it, and the kingdom he bringing upon us this night, will overcome us all — both you and us– by leading away everyone in your kingdom. All the kingdoms will fall down before it, and it will fill the whole country and it ’shall reign forever and ever.’”

[The king and men confront Patrick to try to kill him but he and his followers escape. The king sees only 8 deer and one fawn in the darkness…]

“The next day, which [for us] was the Day of the Passover [Easter Day], was for the pagans the day of their greatest festival…. While they were eating and drinking in the place of Tara,…Patrick with only five companions appeared among them, having come through ‘closed doors’ in the way we read about Christ. He went there to proclaim and demonstrate the holy faith in Tara in the presence of all nations.”

(Muirchu’s Life of St Patrick)

While looking for something else, I came across this review, which, it being more interesting than is usual for a review of something one has not oneself seen, I read to the end. And it turned out to be by C.S. Lewis. (Not sure whether you’ll be able to read it if you don’t have an institutional subscription to JSTOR – it didn’t throw up the usual insistence on logging in, so you may.)

 

The review is of The Oxford Book of Christian Verse, ed. Lord David Cecil (Oxford, 1940). Lewis takes issue with various of Cecil’s introductory points, and makes his own, in a most interesting way. E.g.:

 

It is the profane poetry which assumes attitudes of greater clarity and consistency than inner experience will really support; it is the sacred poetry which gives us life in the raw. For whatever else the religious life [he means the life of religious people, not the regular life] may be, it is apparently the fountain of self-knowledge and disillusion, the safest form of psychoanalysis. I had almost said “and the least expensive”, but that’s as may be. Most Christians, I suspect, would say that while the cost is merely nominal if we regard the value of the goods, it is seldom less than the totalwealth of the purchaser.

 

Once, if you wanted an ode to celebrate your victory at the games, you went to the poet (Pindar or another) and ordered it, just as vou ordered your banquet from the cook; and you had the same chance of getting a good poem, if you chose a good poet, as of getting a good dinner, if you chose a good cook. … A poet who could not practise his art to order would then have been no less ridiculous than a surgeon who could not operate or a compositor who could not print except when “inspired”. But in the last few centuries we have unquestionably lost the power of fitting art into the processes of life –of producing a great work to fill up a given space of wall in a room or a given space of time in an evening’s festivity. The decay of the hymn (for there was no difficulty about it in the Middle Ages) is only one instance of this general phenomenon. I do not doubt that this escape of poetry from the harness is a very great evil, and a very bad omen for the future of the culture in which it has occurred…

I was listening to a programme on the Radio devoted to Hilaire Belloc’s poem: Matilda – Who told lies, and was burned to death from his 1907 collection Cautionary Tales. There was much discussion on this programme of the marked enthusiasm among children for the lex talionis and its strict implementation. I suppose this is a consequence of the relative innocence of children which causes them to perceive justice more acutely and to feel less powerfully the benefits of mercy. After all children also tend to find the idea of recreational sexual activity, homosexuality and divorce quite appalling. All of which reminded me of a celebrated comment made by my wonderful little sister many years ago when she was about five. There had been a spate of burglaries in the area and there was some concerned familial discussion of this trend and the likelihood of its growth to encompass our small abode. After some minutes of this discussion my sister spoke up her eyes burning with fierce indignation, “if the wobbers came to our house I would wing the police and the fire bwigade.” There was a brief confused silence after which my Father asked “why would you call the fire brigade?” To which my sister responded with grim satisfaction “the police would catch the wobbers and the fire bwigade would set them on fire.” It turned out my sister had assumed quite logically that there were three emergency services because someone (the ambulance brigade) had to tend to the wounds of the victims of crime, someone (the police) had to catch the criminals, and someone (the fire brigade) had to impose retribution upon them.

Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false,
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD,
and vindication from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

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