Last on Occasional Poetry

Defend the Best in order to Live the Best

Wilfred Owens is British.

What? I thought we were looking at poems by Americans for Americans.

Well, no. Any writer who celebrates freedom and living freely would be appropriate for these July blogs on occasional poetry.

Besides, I used Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” (the first poem for the July 5 blog) as one of the first examples of sacrifices reminding us to live our lives, not just drive.

The Wilfred Owens poem selected for this July 25 blog reminds us of the best of life and living that life.

Owens died in 1918, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.

His poetry reflects his years in the war: his rage at the senseless cruelty and devastation of war alongside his compassion for his comrades trapped in the mucky trenches and on the bloody battlefields. Three of his best of these are “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, and “Strange Meeting.”

Yet he’s more than just a war poet. Other poems revel in nature and life and love.

This poem, a practice in alliteration and  consonance, takes as its title “From My Diary, July 1914”.

Leaves
Murmuring by myriads in the shimmering trees.
Lives
Wakening with wonder in the Pyrenees.
Birds
Cheerily chirping in the early day.
Bards
Singing of summer, scything through the hay.
Bees
Shaking the heavy dews from bloom and frond.
Boys
Bursting the surface of the ebony pond.
Flashes
Of swimmers carving the sparkling cold.
Fleshes
Gleaming with wetness to the morning gold.
A mead
Bordered about with warbling waterbrooks.
A maid
Laughing the love-laugh with me; proud of looks.
The heat
Throbbing between the upland and the peak.
Her heart
Quivering with passion to my pressed cheek.
Braiding
Of floating flames across the mountain brow.
Brooding
Of stillness; and a sighing of the bough.
Stirs
Of leaflets in the gloom; soft petal-showers;
Stars
Expanding with the starr-d nocturnal flowers.

Closing

July closes our three-month focus on Occasional Poems—Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial and Flag Day, and these three July blogs on what we should remember as we celebrate our independence in the mid-summer.

I’m preaching, aren’t I? Sorry. Not.

Should you have a question about copyright, please refer to the July 5 blog.

On August 5 we have the promised Rock Allegory, “Hotel California.” While you’re checking that song out, try a bit of Carmina Burana as well.

Occasional Poems ~ the Cost of Freedom

Independence should be celebrated all through July, not just on the 4th.

Memorial Day and Flag Day are commemorative occasions just ripe for a poet. While we’ve had this Plague Year, most writers are practicing their skills. Special occasions—especially in this climate–offer many opportunities for practice.

The hardest thing for any writer is to share the work. We spend so much time in our heads and at our desks, tapping away on ideas, that we forget the whole reason of writing is to communicate. We would like our brains to communicate with our hearts. Honestly, though, most of us want to communicate our ideas to other people. Special occasions give us that chance.

Poets in groups can become addicted to Open Mic nights. Everyone reads a bit of their ideas. However, sharing with other writers is not sharing with the hardest audience: families, friends, and the greater world.

Public ceremonies will stretch any writer’s abilities.

When writing and performing for occasions, we have 2 Chief Reasons to remember ~

1] Adhere to audience requirements.

2] Keep to the 4 Requirements of Song.

Now let me add a 3rd:

3] Manipulate structure to stand out. Poets who do so can provide copies of their poems to participants. It’s like free publicity. “All politics is local”, 1930s newspapermen said, and word-of-mouth is the best marketing.

Independence Day

On Independence Day we celebrate our freedoms. Only rarely do we stop on July 4th and remember those who sacrificed so that we have those freedoms. Our two poems for this blog are commemorations, one autobiographical by a soldier prophetic for his own life.

My apologies before we begin for the double-spacing. I am still–still struggling with the new Block Editor in Word Press. The Classic Editor used to let me single space. Grrrr.

Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier”

English poet Rupert Chawner Brooke died aboard a troop ship headed for Gallipoli in April 1915. His poem “The Soldier” is one of the most famous poems written during World War I.

If I should die, think only this of me:

     That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

     In that rich earth a richer dust concealed:

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

     Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

     Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

 

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

    A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

        Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given:

Her sighs and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness;

        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

This poem is especially poignant, for Rupert Brooke sacrificed himself for England in 1915, at the start of World War I, called at that time the War to End All Wars. Unfortunately, that title was not possible and never will be, as long as human nature is what it is.

Brooke himself was prophetic, for he died at the age of 27. An excellent brief biograpy of Brooke and analysis of his poetry is here.

“The Soldier” helps us to envision this person living, just as we live. That connection grips our own hearts closely, for we could easily be required to sacrifice ourselves as Brooke was.

This poem is a sonnet unannounced, for Brooke does not tell us—as many poets do—that this is Sonnet 11 or “A Sonnet”. The opening octet presents to us the loss, ending with the sadly ironic “suns of home” for England’s dead sons buried away from home.

The closing sestet presents the gain and the reason for the sacrifice. The cleansed soul, giving back as England gave. The last three lines are a list, almost like a catalog, individual items with the grouped phrases linked by semicolons: sighs & sounds; dreams; laughter with friends; gentleness; and peace.

Death arouses emotion, but Brooke asks us to THINK about the life lived before death came. Think about life. Be in the present. Celebrate freedom—before we have to sacrifice to keep it.

Gwendolyn Brooks’ “the sonnet-ballad” 

Brooks announces her sonnet but also ties it to the form of “ballad”. Because of copyright issues (see below), you can find her complex poem at this link.

A ballad tells a story, highly repetitive, strongly emotional. The reader must infer parts of the story. Those parts are obvious, however. (A good clue for those of us practicing poetry: not every element has to be included. If it’s obvious, then the reader can figure it out.)

Gwendolyn Brooks poses with her first book of poems, A Street in Bronzeville.

Every folk ballad has the three subject matters of love, betrayal, and death. Most literary ballads (so-called because we know the writer’s name—and that’s the only reason for the word literary) also have those same three subject matters.

In “the sonnet-ballad”, the poem’s speaker mourns her soldier gone. Thus, she reminds us of the sacrifices by those on the home front. They feel betrayed by the death of their beloved.

Particular phrases in Brooks’ poem that haunt us—just as the speaker herself is haunted by her loss. She remembers “my lover’s tallness” and “an empty heart-cup”. She knows her lover had to “court / Coquettish death”.

We also have the powerful circular rhetorical device, when the writing opens and closes with the same line. These two lines are the obsessive repetition of grief: love betrayed by death.

That repetition then makes us see and heed more repetition: the ending of the opening octet is the opening of the concluding sestet—“would have to be untrue”. We want the words that tell of death to be untrue. Here is Brooke’s cleverness: the betrayal is not by her beloved but the betrayal is her beloved.

And now we back up into the poem, this deceptively simple poem of complex ideas, which is the chief reason that I love Brooks.

She personifies Death as a female; that’s nothing new. Brooks, however, crafts Death as a flirty temptress, coquettish, with strange possessive arms. We know that no soldier is truly tempted by death.

Her lover, though, falls to Death. He “stammers”—that hesitation that reaches for life but cannot grasp it because Death draws him in.

He is the “hard man” who changes, an unwanted change by him, by her, by family and friends … yet still changed.

Closing

Both poems—Brooke and Brooks—are poems of the sacrifice that gives us freedom. The cost is destruction, of life, of hopes, of dreams, of potentials.

For that reason, we view Independence Day as more than picnics and fireworks. And for that reason, all this July we look at poems that remind us of the cost of Independence.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. ~` John F. Kennedy.

As you write your own Occasional Poems, remember the lessons of rich details and heart-deep emotions, of stories hinted and lines crafted, all to be memorable to your audience.

Copyright Notification: Every writer needs to understand copyright. Works enter Public Domain 70 years after the writer’s death. Rupert Brooke died in 1915; his still-powerful work is now in the Public Domain. Gwendolyn Brooks is an important modern American poet. She died in 2000. I can analyze her poem, but I should not provide it here without permission. That’s the reason she has a link—and when you check all the previous blogs, that’s the reason those poems also have links rather than being presented as part of the blog.
The remaining words of the blog are mine. I’m still alive. All of the remaining words are copyrighted to me, as of the date of the writing of this blog post.

 

More: Bright Wednesday

On this Bright Wednesday, we celebrate for He is Risen!

Our Reading is The Road to Emmaus / Luke 24:13-35

“He is Risen” is the word that the women gave, based on the evidence of the tomb and the message from the bright angel who reassured them.

Yet the disciples could not bring themselves to believe. They wanted to, desperately, but their earthly realism prevent complete belief.

So, three days after the Crucifixion, on the day of the Resurrection, two of the Jesus’ followers are walking on the road to Emmaus. One of them is Cleopas. The historian Hegesippus[1] recorded that Cleopas was the son of the brother of Joseph; therefore, he was a cousin of Jesus.

The two men are talking about the events, especially the words of the women just that morning. And a stranger greets them.

They recount the troubling events, especially the greatest troubling event of the body missing from the tomb but the angel no longer there. And they admit they are amazed.

A Bright Amazement

We have forgotten the true meaning of “amaze”:  to fill with astonishment, to stagger, to stupefy, to awe. To be amazed is to be confused by mystery.

They explain the whole amazing events to the stranger as they walk the road to Emmaus together.

But they do not really see the stranger. Just as they never really heard His message. Not until he rebukes them: 

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart — to believe all that the prophets have spoken!26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24)

Once again, Christ had to teach them. Now, perhaps, they listen with better understanding. Now, perhaps, they can heed His words.

Yet Christ does not reveal Himself to them. They do not “see” who HE is until he joins them for supper, breaks the bread and blesses it and gives it to them. Only then, hearts burning within them, they recognize Him.

And He instantly vanishes.

A Bright Understanding

In life, how often do we not see what is before our faces? How often do we not understand until a flash of understanding reveals all?

How often do we never receive that flash of understanding?  How often is that the tragedy? That the information is before us, but we lack the spirit to see and comprehend?

As with these two disciples, so it often is with us. We see the constant daily miracles of God, but we do not “see” them, we do not accept them, we do not understand them.

Perhaps our prayers should be for more understanding, more discernment. The gifts we ask for should be the witness of His miracles. We should pray that we heed the lessons we hear and have heard over and over again.

A Prayer for Brightness

Many years ago, in my search for More about my faith in Christ Jesus, I stumbled upon this. In whatever document I found it in, this little prayer was called “The Sarum Prayer.”  I copied it into a journal.

Over the years, I have continued to move it forward in my journals. I re-encounter it at unexpected intervals. Every time it speaks to me, reminding me of lessons I still need to heed.

It’s comforting, but also a little sad, to realize that every individual in every generation has to learn the same lessons about Christ and our walk with Him. Yet generation after generation, century after century, we find strange connections, present to ancient past, from now to the person who first penned this little prayer.

The Sarum Prayer

(From the 1527 Sarum Primer[2] )

God be in my head / And in my understanding.

God be in mine eyes / And in my looking.

God be in my mouth / And in my speaking.

God be in my heart / And in my thinking.

God be at my beginning / And in my departing.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegesippus_(chronicler)

[2] https://www.oursanctuary.net/sarum.html

More: Bright Tuesday

Easter Tuesday is Bright Tuesday.

In this day of contemporary music and blended worship services, with guitars and drums accompanying the pianos and organs, the staid traditional services that I once bemoaned seem foreign.

When we regularly sing music from Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman with updates to standard hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “Just As I Am”, the dry old services of my past seem more than outdated. Those old services now are strange.

In the Dark Ages, I once volunteered to play the piano for my church (a chore that I thought would only last a few months). I tried to add new music for the piano solos before service and the offertory: new arrangements of old hymns and old praise songs that my plain church had never sung.

Favorites were “Flee as a Bird to your Mountain” here (an old Broadman hymn that my church never sang) ~

and “God So Loved the World” here ~

After all, the new arrangements were in music books from the local Christian store. And the old praise songs were from the back of the Broadman hymnal.

I ran through a lot of songs in the few years that I served as pianist.

One of the songs in constant rotation, primarily because it was less than a minute, was something that is often called the “Glory Be” but is actually called “Gloria Patri”.

Glory be to the Father / And to the Son / And to the Holy Ghost

As it was in the beginning / Is now and ever shall be / World without end.

Amen. Amen.

YouTube Video

Isn’t it lovely?  Praise and contemplation, wish and hope, in simple three lines packed with glory.

There. I promised today’s blog would be short. And sweet.

More :: Bright Monday

Easter begins with Sunrise—the tomb open and empty, the faithful women first to see, first to receive the good news, 1st to spread the good news, and the glorious joy continued far, far beyond Bright Monday.

This week should be the most celebrated time in the church, yet it is often the more neglected than any other time of the church.

Fasting and grief are over; feast and joy return. Christ is Risen!  Christ is Lord of All!

Vincent Van Gogh's version of a bright sun
a bright sun, this by Van Gogh. Did he need More?

Easter Monday

The week after Easter is known as Easter Week (the week before Easter is Holy Week). Monday can be called Easter Monday or Bright Monday.

I prefer Bright Monday, for Christ’s resurrection brought radiant and wondrous light to the world.

In the Germanic-based languages (of which English is the most widespread), the word Easter comes from a pagan goddess of dawning, brightening, springtime. Latin-based languages and Greek call this most important day Pascha, for the Passion of Christ, or Resurrection Sunday. The Eastern churches, the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic, says Bright Week.

The joyful spirit of Easter which continues on Bright Monday will remain in the church until Ascension, 40 days after the Resurrection. This is Pentecost. (Read Matthew 28: 8-15)

More on my Faith Journey

When I began my search for More about Christianity–more than I had encountered growing up in my plain church–one of the first things I encountered was The Apostle’s Creed.

If you grew up with the Apostle’s Creed, it probably never affected you as much as it affected me. I hope it did. And I hope it does. I hope it will do so for all the rest of the days of your life.

In my plain church, the only holy-based texts that we learned were John 3:16 and the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. Occasionally we learned more, such as John 14:1-6.

The Apostles’ Creed woke me up to more. Hearing this Creed spoken from heart by everyone around me:  that was powerful.

That changed my path. I walked beyond the plain barren and into the rooted flowering of the ancient church brought into the modern day.

More Background on the Creed

The first written documentation of the Apostles’ Creed, kept carefully by the Roman Catholic Church, is a letter from 390 AD. The Creed may have existed earlier; it certainly reached its final written form by the late 700s.

Before the Creed was an earlier and shorter version, now called the Old Roman Symbol. One of the early Church leaders, Irenaeus called it a rule of faith. Irenaeus died in 202.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, / and in Christ Jesus, His only son our Lord, / Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, / Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried, / On the third day rose again from the dead, / ascended into Heaven, / sits at the right hand of God the Father, / whence He will come to judge the Living and the Dead; / and in the Holy Spirit, / and in the Church, / the remission of sins, / the resurrection of the flesh (the life everlasting).

Tradition claims that each one of the original apostles contributed a part of the Roman Symbol. In dealing with various heresies, the Roman Symbol gradually changed into the Apostles’ Creed that we know today.

The fact that the Creed does not appear in a document until 390 AD means nothing to me. When a congregation is primarily un-lettered (as it would have been in antiquity and the Middle Ages), when memory is more important than documents (which can be forged and which not everyone can read and check for accuracy), a common saying that everyone knows is much more important.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost;

Born of the Virgin Mary;

Suffered under Pontius Pilate;

Was crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into Hell;

The third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into Heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,

The holy catholic church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting. Amen.

More Questions on the Creed?

Here are some things you might not understand and have questions about. This is what I’ve learned over the years.

“The Holy Ghost” ::  Some churches say “Holy Spirit”. “Ghost” is an old hold-over in the English language; it means “spirit”.

“He descended into Hell” :: Some churches now omit this line. I don’t. I believe that Christ spent his Holy Saturday in a harrowing of hell, rescuing from Hell those who believed in Him who had died before Him.

1 Peter 3:19-20 states that Christ preached to the imprisoned spirits. Spirits can only be imprisoned in a supernatural environment. The only two supernatural environments that I know are Heaven and Hell. I don’t think any soul in Heaven considers that a prison.

“The quick and the dead” ::  “Quick” is another old hold-over in the English language. “Quick” means living. Christ will judge the living and the dead at his Second Coming, when this world ends.

“The holy catholic church” ::  Saying the Apostles’ Creed does not mean a person is swearing allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Just like ghost and quick, catholic has a special meaning of universal. While we have many religions that are connected to Christianity, we all have a universal belief in Christ Jesus as our Savior through His grace.

In Ephesians 4:5, Paul writes that we Christians have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  Christ is our Lord. Our faith is in Him. We are baptized through Him as a public declaration of our faith.

This phrase, by the way, is the reason that I think the religion I grew up in avoided the Apostles’ Creed like the plague. (And that’s not a cliché; that’s truth.)

“The resurrection of the body” ::  At Christ’s Second Coming, the “dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

More Belief in the Creed

Is there any part of the Creed that you do not believe? Every part has a direct connection to the Bible.

Are you like Thomas Jefferson with his Bible, picking and choosing the parts you like and don’t like? Cutting out whole sections and pasting new pages together?

Should we be like Thomas Jefferson?

Or should we take the whole Bible, using it as our guide?  Even the uncomfortable parts that are there to help us grow?

The Creed helps us understand our faith.

It reminds us of the great tenet of God’s love. For what other reason would Christ have sacrificed Himself?  For what other reason would we have the communion of saints?  And for what other reason does He forgive us of our sins?

How to Remember the Creed

Start with God.

Then Jesus.

Then eight parts about His life and death and afterlife. Notice the sequence.

Then six beliefs we have about our faith. The third part of the Trinity, two on the community, and three things we are most grateful for.

Learn each part, then put them all together.

Tomorrow is Bright Tuesday.

As you continue through your resurrected year, make a point of learning the Apostles’ Creed. By the next Bright Monday, you should know it “by heart”, especially if you take every part “to heart”.

Join us tomorrow for a look at the “Gloria Patri”, a little song that packs power.

If you hesitate to learn the Apostles’ Creed because you haven’t officially memorized in years and it’s sooooo looooonnnngggg, I will first tell you that you memorize songs on the radio all the time. Then I will tell you that the “Gloria Patri” is a good starter for memorization.

Hopefully, Bright Tuesday’s blog will be short. (Bright Monday started to be short. Oh well.)

More: Black Saturday

It’s Black Saturday, the vigil before Easter’s Resurrection.

for Black Saturday, image of blackened altar, from Pinterest
image of a Blackened Altar, from Pinterest

The key to this Saturday?  The church is bare, the altar blackened, all hope entombed with Christ.

After the Crucifixion, the black veil is removed from the altar cross, for Christ is brought down from the 300-pound cross that the Sanhedrin and the Romans intended to be His failure.

They didn’t know the key, though.

The Crucifixion and the Tomb are the beginning of His triumph.

Christ holds three keys:  the key to Heaven (Matthew 16:19) and the keys to Hell and Death (Revelation 1:18). On Black Saturday, Christ descended into Hell in what is often called “Harrowing of Hell”.

These three keys were going to be my topic.

After all, Christ’s descent into Hell for the Harrowing is often removed from modern versions of the Apostle’s Creed.

That little phrase “He descended into Hell” belongs there, right before “He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the Quick and the Dead.”

And that’s a scary painting. Here’s Michelangelo’s “Final Judgment” of Christ, separating those on the Heavenly path from those who will descend eternally to Hell.

Image close-up from the Sistene Chapel by Michelangelo, known as the Final Judgment.
“Depart from Me, you workers of Iniquity. I never knew you.” a Truly Black Saturday for many.

But at last evening’s Good Friday service, I heard something I have never heard before.

I want to share it.

The Story of God

This is ten minutes. A very important ten minutes.

Listen to this. It is the key to this entire week and the celebration of all next week, the Bright Week shining with Christ’s Resurrection and great gift to us.

Go. Share the story. Tell everyone of God’s great love for us. After all He does for us, we reject Him in countless ways that we don’t even notice.

But here’s the Key: he will never leave us nor forsake us. (from Hebrews 13:5)

Christ holds the Keys: of Hell, of Death, and to Heaven. Christ offered freely: “Not my will but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) How often I wish to say that but my foolish earthly pride chains me?