A Poem from the Iona Community by Peter Millar

Each month Peter Millar, a long-time member of the Iona Community shares a reflection.  At Easter it took the form of a poem which Peter asked readers to share with others.

Reference There is no copyright on this poem. No quotes from others. It
would be great if you could share it in these days of Lent and of Easter. Thank you and let us hold God’s amazing world in our hearts.
Peter.

Easter 2022 
                            
Every new day across our planet
there is a constant certainty moving in our midst - it is this:
violence, disconnection and radical change 
are our sure companions and disturbers.
Sometimes the whole edifice spins too fast as we
ponder the human future and the divisions that ensnare us. 

Yet within these shadows are fragile possibilities of light
always inviting us to engage with other visions and
truths -  ones that spring from our depths:
emerging from places of insight, where life-giving
currents still flow freely in fractured times.
Ancient wisdoms that renew and restore. 
 
I call it Resurrection,
while others who don’t go there, know its meaning.
Whatever our path, is it not the willingness to see
our world through the eyes of Love; to know we are all wounded
healers: to walk in another’s shoes: to touch the Good Earth and its radiant
Mystery, and to believe that farewells should be free of regrets, that matters
most in every age? 

 Peter Millar, Edinburgh, Easter 2022

I know Easter has come and gone but I am sharing this poem because it aligns with my view of the latent nature of love (or Jesus) in all humanity. In this case defined by Peter in his Easter poem as ‘Resurrection’ –

… while others who don’t go there, know its meaning.
whatever our path, is it not the willingness to see
our world through the eyes of Love; …

And so inclusively expressed independent of traditional religious spirituality.

The resurrection is a gift. An amazing gift of love connecting all humanity in that common denominator giving purpose to the world. At the same time providing individual support and care empowering the on-going beautification of life.

And even if our world is violent and chaotic – life-giving currents still flow freely in fractured times.

I am sure we can all recall the many times when the basic goodness within humanity has been particularly relevant in supporting us at challenging times in our lives. And isn’t the Good earth wonderful in its radiant mystery?

The Iona CommunityWelcome to the Iona Community – A Christian ecumenical community

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars – Richard Lovelace – Comments

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind, 
         That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
         To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase, 
         The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
         A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such 
         As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
         Lov’d I not Honour more.
Richard Lovelace (1617 – 1657)

This is a well-known poem by Richard Lovelace who is known as a cavalier poet.  He strongly supported the royalty at the time of the Civil War. It was a very turbulent time in England. He did get injured in battle and eventually died of his wounds.

S1 … RL is trying to placate Lucinda. A religious person perhaps and peace loving

S2 … RL being a soldier gives focus to a new mistress. This implies that a different kind of love is involved.

S3 … RL states that he would not be loved or respected if such Honour were not obeyed. He would not be true to himself. Again, a placating voice.

What exactly is honour and does honour always have precedence? Honour – the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right. Well, we all must make tough decisions according to our conscience.

Richard Lovelace on Wikipedia

Sharing a Christmas Letter …

… sharing a Christmas Letter from a close friend –

Christmas Letter
I know you appreciate a Christmas Letter. And I guess you have been sending out a few to family and friends. Look guys, I wrote this letter to you a few years ago now, I’m not sure whether you understood what I was trying to say and whether you remember the essence.
Well, I just want to reiterate that I do love you dearly and I will be there for you throughout 2022. You are that bit special!
And yes, I know you think of me at times. And you are good at remembering birthdays; I thank you for that.
How could you forget my name LOL. We do have that unique relationship!

Love, as always … be in touch +

Ancient Egyptian Love Poems – John L Foster translator

Ancient Egyptian Love Poems – John L Foster translation

We explored some Egyptian Love Poems created 3,000 years ago at a recent U3A Poetry Appreciation session.

They were translated from the Ancient Egyptian by John L Foster from the book Love Songs of the New Kingdom (Charles Scribner’s Sons – New York 1974)

In 2003 the ABC Radio National program ‘Poetica’ explored this work … the summary text –
Four small collections of anonymous poems have survived from the New Kingdom of pharaonic Egypt. Written on papyri and a stone vase, they are approximately 3,000 years old, but John L Foster’s translations make them seem very contemporary, fresh and erotic. This program presents a selection of the poems accompanied by music from Michael Atherton and the Musicians of the Nile.

Here are two of the poems …

How clever my love with a lasso  

How clever my love with a lasso -  
she'll never need a kept bull!  
She lets fly the rope at me  
(from her dark hair),  
Draws me in with her comehither eyes,  
wrestles me down between her bent thighs,  
Branding me hers with her burning seal. 
(Cowgirl, the fire from those thighs!) 

… this example is quite contemporary … and makes that universal statement on how passionate love flows endlessly through the years

Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me 

Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me  
As sweet soothing oil to the limbs of the restless,  
as clean ritual robes to the flesh of gods,  
As fragrance of incense to one coming home 
It is like nipple-berries ripe in the hand,  
like the tang of grain-meal mingled with beer  
Like wine to the palate when taken with white bread.  
While unhurried days come and go,  
Let us turn to each other in quiet affection,  
walk in peace to the edge of old age.   
And I shall be with you each unhurried day,  
a woman given her one wish:      to see  
For a lifetime the face of her lord. 

… love, food wine nicely married … and oil is referenced so important in ancient times … and it does say something about the culture of the day and the place of woman in society … that very last word Lord … if it was changed to love it would remove the subservient nature

… but I do like the line – walk in peace to the edge of old age … taking quiet affectionate togetherness to the precipice … implying parting at death

It is interesting to see how love is articulated through the centuries in words. And the importance given to love by making it remembered by transcribing on material objects.

The Sun Rising – John Donne – Comments

The Sun Rising
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
               Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
               Late school boys and sour prentices,
         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
         Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.
               She's all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world's contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
John Donne (1572 - 1631)

This is a love poem. The sun has intruded into the bedroom of the lover. And the lover engages in a witty rebuke to the personified sun.

S1 – A question – must lovers heed the seasons, is love independent – Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?  And a complaint – go disturb others who need sentence. But the answer is emphatically given in the last lines – ‘Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime’. And the idea that love is independent of time. And we exist in the rags of time – hours, days, months.

S2 – the sun is so strong but it only takes a wink to deny light. The lover does not want to do this for it will detract from seeing the beauty of his partner. And then the suggestion that the sun might be blinded by the beauty of his lover. And as for all those kings of yesterday, seek them not they are here with me, metaphorically speaking.

S3 – And the hyperbole continues emphasising the now … the room, the bedroom, the love scene … here is all important in this contracted space. Shine here to us and thou art everywhere. The whole world is here to be seen in total focus on the now.

But the sun is everywhere it penetrates all it is such an amazing star. For the sun is intricately involved in all aspects of the solar system. John Donne would not have known that neutrinos come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. Perhaps love too is similarly involved.

Does the sun dictate all life – and does love dictate everything too? And love is of far more importance transcending the universe. And is love internal in some way to all life?

And is the ‘spiritual son’ equally involved in all aspects of life whether recognised or not? Well, that is another matter – excuse the pun.

John Donne is known as the king of the metaphysical. John Donne on Wikipedia.

I did not realise that I had covered this poem in 2019

Donal Og – Lady Augusta Gregory – Comments

Donal Og (young Donal)

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday
and myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

Anonymous (8th century Irish ballad)
Translated by Lady Augusta Gregory

From WikipediaIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies.

From the Guardian
The translation from the Gaelic leaves much of the original’s grammatical structure in place, giving her English remarkable energy

Well, in the 8th century a woman needed a man for financial support and a living apart from love getting in the way.

And it is the same old story of a lover promising the world and the beloved half believing through misty eyes. The promises detailed in terms of agricultural life – that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked. And she giving three hundred cries and none were heard. She knew his promises were meaningless – you promised me a thing that is not possible. But did that matter? Lovers are generally  prone to be forgiving of the faults in others.

And religion joins forces with her passion it being Passion Sunday the day she gave herself to him and to him forever – my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

She is in deep depression at the loss of love; the loss of him – it was you put that darkness over my life.

The counsel of her mother was too late – it was a bad time she took for telling me that; / it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

That last line brings in religion again – and my fear is great that you have taken God from me! Perhaps she believes that if she does commit suicide God would be taken from her. And perhaps she is feeling suicidal. Commit is not the word to use today in that association.

This lament is the story of love, grief and despair which flows endless through the centuries.

When you are old – W. B. Yeats – Comments

When you are old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And, nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountain overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

W B Yeats (1865 -1939)

My thoughts on this well-known poem …

S1 …The speaker, who may or may not be old himself, is talking to lady who is young. We will consider a male – female conversation. The speaker is saying that when you are old and sitting in your chair by the fireside read my words. At the same time remember your beautiful eyes that were known to me when you were young.

S2 … As you look back on life remember all those that loved you. But this man, the speaker, loved you (all will love you) through the journey of your life with all its ups and downs – your pilgrimage implying a spiritual journey, and moreover he loved or will love your aging face too.

S3 … And when you think of me in old age – personified as Love (note the capital) you will be sad to see how time as fled. The speaker considers himself dead  … the glowing bars has nice double meaning in terms of the lost love … but in a way he will be “hidden alive” – his face amid a crowd of stars.

I must admit that when I read this poem many years ago I thought it a little arrogant, but I do like the way face is a key element in each stanza.

Yeats is often identified in this poem with Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary who ended up marrying another man.

This poem was a response by Yeats to the French poet Pierre de Ronsard and his poem When You Are Truly Old.

Quand vous serez bien vieille

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

Pierre de Ronsard (1524 – 1585), Sonnets pour Hélène, 1578

Here is a literal translation courtesy of – https://lyricstranslate.com

When you are truly old, beside the evening candle,
Sitting by the fire, winding wool and spinning,
Murmuring my verses, you’ll marvel then, in saying,
‘Long ago, Ronsard sang me, when I was beautiful.’

There’ll be no serving-girl of yours, who hears it all,
Even if, tired from toil, she’s already drowsing,
Fails to rouse at the sound of my name’s echoing,
And blesses your name, then, with praise immortal.

I’ll be under the earth, a boneless phantom,
At rest in the myrtle groves of the dark kingdom:
You’ll be an old woman hunched over the fire,

Regretting my love for you, your fierce disdain,
So live, believe me: don’t wait for another day,
Gather them now the roses of life, and desire.

Yeats has converted the sonnet form to three quatrains. And there is quite a different ending in Ronsard’s sonnet. Ronsard is very forceful thinking there is still much regret involved in the relationship using the words fierce disdain, at least from his perspective. And then there is the advice to live each day to the full. Don’t live in the past – So live, believe me: don’t wait for another day.

And my advice is of course to live each day to the full whatever the circumstances and whether you are young or old.

This is an example of taking an existing poem and using it in creating a new poem unique to your own thoughts. A little different from a paraphrase … to express the meaning of (something written or spoken) using different words, especially to achieve greater clarity.

Pierre de Ronsard on Wikipedia – https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_de_Ronsard

W. B. Yeats on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._B._Yeats

The Nature of Love – Rabindranath Tagore – Comments

The Nature of Love

The night is black and the forest has no end;
a million people thread it in a million ways.
We have trysts to keep in the darkness, but where
or with whom — of that we are unaware.
But we have this faith — that a lifetime’s bliss
will appear any minute, with a smile upon its lips.
Scents, touches, sounds, snatches of songs
brush us, pass us, give us delightful shocks.

Then peradventure there’s a flash of lightning:
whomever I see that instant I fall in love with.
I call that person and cry: ‘This life is blest!
For your sake such miles have I traversed!’
All those others who came close and moved off
in the darkness — I don’t know if they exist or not.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Tryst = secret romantic meeting

Here are my thoughts on this philosophic poem from this Indian prophet/poet master.

Love and nature go hand in hand for many regard the creation of the universe as being based on love. In that way it is a fitting link in the title.

Lines 1-4 … Life can be mysterious and likened to a forest where we transact with many as we live. Trysts imply romantic associations in our meetings with others. True that we never know who we are going to meet each day and that Christians are impelled to love others in life but not necessarily like them of course. But romantic love is something different so I have to come to terms in reconciling the tryst idea in transactions with others.

Lines 5-8 … Do we search for bliss over our lifetime? And do we have faith that we will eventually find this magical substance through living? Well the process of living gives snatches of delightful shock to the senses.

Lines 9-14 … I have broken this sonnet with a blank line for the last 6 lines give dramatic change from the bliss of human relationships to the wondrous flash spiritual encounter with love supreme. In other words you could say a mountain top experience of God. And ‘For your sake such miles have I traversed!’ implies that this gives meaning to life. And the sonnet ends stating that human relationships fade away and are not real in comparison – ‘I don’t know if they exist or not’.

The poem is a personal spiritual statement. How the reader relates to such is equally personal and based on individual life experience. A poem that engenders thought on our spiritual nature.

Rabindranath Tagore on Wikipedia

Summary info … Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 in Calcutta. He was India’s greatest modern poet and the most creative genius of the Indian Renaissance. Besides poetry, Tagore wrote songs (both the words and the melodies), short stories, novels, plays (in both prose and verse), essay on a wide range of topics including literary criticism, polemical writing, travelogues, memoirs and books for children. Apart from a few books containing lectures given abroad and personal letters to friends who did not read Bengali, the bulk of his voluminous literary output is in Bengali. Gitanjali (1912), Tagore’s own translation of the poetic prose from the Bengali Gitanjali (1910) won him the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore died on 7 August 1941 in the family house in Calcutta where he was born.