Now the Hour Bows Down: Rainer Maria Rilke

Now the hour bows down, it touches me, throbs
metallic, lucid and bold:
my senses are trembling. I feel my own power —
on the plastic day I lay hold.

Until I perceived it, no thing was complete,
but waited, hushed, unfulfilled.
My vision is ripe, to each glance like a bride
comes softly the thing that was willed.

There is nothing too small, but my tenderness paints it
large on a background of gold,
and I prize it, not knowing whose soul at the sight,
released, may unfold . . .

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Poems from the Book of Hours (New Directions Paperbook) . New Directions. Kindle Edition.

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THE NEW MOON: Carmina Gadelica

THE NEW MOON

IN name of the Holy Spirit of grace,
In name of the Father of the City of peace,
In name of Jesus who took death off us,
Oh! in name of the Three who shield us in every need,
If well thou hast found us to-night,
Seven times better mayest thou leave us without harm,
      Thou bright white Moon of the seasons,
      Bright white Moon of the seasons.

[Translated from the Gaelic:

A GHEALACH UR

AN ainm Spiorad Naomh nan gras,
An ainm Athar na, Cathrach aigh,
An ainm Iosa thug dhinn am bas,
O! an ainm na Tri tha d’ ar dion ’s gach cas,
Ma’s math a fhuair thu sinn an nochd,
Seachd fearr gum fag thu sinn gun lochd,
      A Ghealach gheal nan trath,
      A Ghealach gheal nan trath.]

The following is another version from John Henry Dixon, Inveran:

In name of the Father Almighty,
In name of the Glorious Son,
In name of the Holy Spirit,
By grace of the Three-in-One.

If to-night, O moon, thou hast found us
      In peaceful, happy rest,

May thy laving lustre leave us
      Seven times still more blest.

         O moon so fair,
         May it be so,
         As seasons come,
         And seasons go.

[From the Carmina Gadelica]

“Carmina Gadelica is a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs, lexical items, historical anecdotes, natural history observations, and miscellaneous lore gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909, and recorded, translated, and reworked by the exciseman and folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912)” (Wikepedia).

Although there has been some criticism of Carmichael at the way in which it appears he edited & ‘polished’ the material (his notebooks do nevertheless carry the originals), it is certain that most of this material would have been irretrievably lost during the clearances of the Scottish Crofters (this was the forced eviction of the inhabitants of the Highlands and western islands of Scotland, mid 18th century – mid 19th century, primarily to allow for the introduction of large scale sheep farming. This resulted in the destruction of the traditional clan society and began a pattern of rural depopulation and emigration from Scotland).

THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: FRANCIS THOMPSON

Hound of Heaven

The Hound of Heaven: Francis Thompson

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me’.

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateway of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossom heap me over
From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or, whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ‘thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.’

I sought no more after that which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me’ (said I) ‘your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
Banqueting
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine:
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.’

Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou has hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amidst the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amarinthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

‘Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

Easter Moon: Chris Mann

Milky Way Moon

Easter eve on a hillside in a valley, a Valley of a Thousand Hills, it’s western ridge lifting steadily, lifting with the spin of the world through ragged red streaks of cloud up into the darkening, star-specked sky.

Wrapped in a dark brown rug, twitching and grunting, a boy on the hillside dreams in the grass. The jumpy red flames of a thorn-wood fire flicker quick changes of light and shadow on his face, a soil-smudged hand, pushed out from under the rug, lies unfurled by his side.

Young native, citizen and explorer of earth, your howls of frustration and shouts of glee, your scowls and hugs are as frank and primitive as the night through which the planet sails it’s valleys and mountains, it’s animals, plants and seas. Scooping you up, I sense a kinship that stretches back, being after being, down long millennia of bush and grassland, through epochs of ice and rain, to life’s first twitch in primordial brine. You rouse such compassion in me now, you animate my faith, that love involves our beings best, and Christ resurrected is love restored.

Climbing the hill, your small-boned body’s passion for life held in my arms. I crunch across fire-blackened tufts of grass towards the dim white blur of a building on the crest. A backlit, sky-blue curtain flicks aside, a window swings open. Your mother leans across the sill and says,  I’m glad you’re back, it’s late.

I pause on the stoep and watch the valley’s eastern ridge spin slowly down, down into the dark abyss of space. Brightly serene, above the silhouettes of boulders, bush, power-lines, sheds and trees along the rim of our world, a full moon rises silently into sight, it’s rough white shape that of the rock rolled from the entrance to a tomb.

[From ‘Epiphanies’, by Chris Mann, published by The Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown, 2017. After 15 years of poverty alleviation work in rural areas, Chris Mann moved with his family to Grahamstown, where he is convenor of Wordfest South Africa, and Professor Emeritus of Poetry at Rhodes University]

A Letter to an Unborn Child: Chris Mann

Reflection of a candle in the window on a rainy night

Tonight, your mother and I, romantic still, intend to open our star-filled window and in the light of a candle first lit at our wedding, to bring your being, waiting already within us, into fuller life.

Your mother, with forehead smudged, has laboured all day to paint a canvas reality of trees. It fills us with wonder, that we who are used to the sweat of design, the pain of composition and revision, can hope, merely in a flash of joy, to usher in new life, the spark, moist and complex, wriggling in darkness, that’s you.

Being spring, the season is right for such a seeding. May the night’s tranquillity, the glimmering light of the stars, be gifts to cherish in your bones.

And should you ever, growing older, search your origins for the moods, the protein motions that nurtured you, don’t think a share of sorrow, of nightmare, remorse and illness was never, with ecstasy, not also ours.

Our choice, to build a space in which your being, molecule by molecule could emerge, is tinged with trepidation. It rises from a reverence, inchoate yet real, for the shaping spirit that we ourselves are children of.

And when, growing older, you see our imperfections, the frail glasswork of our dreams, remember this: that the night, the stars, this blue-quilted bed were wondrous to your parents.

You were conceived in love.

[From ‘Epiphanies’, by Chris Mann, published by The Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown, 2017. After 15 years of poverty alleviation work in rural areas, Chris Mann moved with his family to Grahamstown, where he convenor of Wordfest South Africa, and Professor Emeritus of Poetry at Rhodes University]

‘You come and go’:Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

You come and go. The doors swing closed
ever more gently, almost without a shudder
Of all who move through the quiet houses,
you are the quietest.

We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times
we just hear them more clearly.

Often when I imagine you
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.
You run like a herd of luminous deer
and I am dark. I am a forest.

You are a wheel at which I stand,
whose dark spokes sometimes catch me up,
revolve me nearer to the centre.
Then all the work I put my hand to
widens from turn to turn.

[From ‘The Book of Hours’ which Rilke published in April 1905. ‘These poems explore the Christian search for God and the nature of Prayer, using symbolism from Saint Francis and Rilke’s observation of Orthodox Christianity during his travels in Russia in the early years of the twentieth century’.
Recommended by Margaret Place]