The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear)

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
   In a beautiful pea-green boat, 
They took some honey, and plenty of money, 
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 
The Owl looked up to the stars above, 
   And sang to a small guitar, 
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, 
         You are, 
         You are! 
What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 
II 
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! 
   How charmingly sweet you sing! 
O let us be married! too long we have tarried: 
   But what shall we do for a ring?” 
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows 
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood 
   With a ring at the end of his nose, 
             His nose, 
             His nose, 
   With a ring at the end of his nose. 
III 
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling 
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” 
So they took it away, and were married next day 
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill. 
They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.
by Edward Lear: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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My Dad loved this poem (loves it still), and when I think of it, I think of him: grinning from ear to ear and dancing around the kitchen: “the moon, the moon, they danced by the light of the moon.” In fact, “you elegant fowl” is still a compliment trotted out on formal occasions.

I need to learn this poem by heart, and dance around the kitchen as I recite it to my kids, for I would love them to have such a sweet memory, too.

He Tends His Flock (Nicole T. Walters)

sheep

He Tends His Flock (Isaiah 40.11)

The sun is fading behind the trees now

And there’s a place I’m supposed to be

But the fog is rolling in like waves,

Slowly covering and drowning me.

Somewhere is the familiar path

That leads to safety, leads me home.

But in the descending darkness

My tired legs begin to roam.

 

Somewhere not too far from here

The gate is closing for the night.

He is counting every head to see

That each one made it home all right.

But tonight there’s one wandering lamb

Who forgot to watch for His lead.

Now I find myself alone and scared.

I find myself in desperate need.

Against the briars and jagged rocks

At first I begin to grope,

But the world spins around me

As I lay down my head, give up hope.

 

I lay down in defeat to die,

Unable to keep up the fight,

Until in the darkness of despair

A familiar voice breaks through the night.

Could this really be the one I love,

Come to carry me back home?

But isn’t he angry at my mistakes,

At my tendency to always roam?

Why would he leave the ninety-nine

For one alone I cannot see.

Why would He risk His own life

For a worthless lamb like me?

 

When he finds me at last,

Shivering in the cold night air

I see joyful tears in his eyes

And I understand why he is there.

I am not just another lamb

In a flock of nameless sheep.

I am like a precious child

He promised he would always keep.

He gathers me into his arms,

Forgetting all I have done wrong

And he carries me close to his heart,

For it is to him that I belong.

by Nicole T. Walters
Illustration by Corrie Haffly

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The Lord is my Shepherd: this poem gave me a fresh glimpse into what that means for us. Perhaps these words were just what you needed today.

I am not old (Samantha Reynolds)

elderly

I Am Not Old

I am not old…she said
I am rare.

I am the standing ovation
At the end of the play.

I am the retrospective
Of my life as art

I am the hours
Connected like dots
Into good sense

I am the fullness
Of existing.

You think I am waiting to die…
But I am waiting to be found

I am a treasure.
I am a map.

And these wrinkles are
Imprints of my journey

Ask me anything.

by Samantha Reynolds
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me…”

These are the opening lines of Jenny Joseph’s poem Warningthe first poem I came across which celebrated aging, and became the inspiration for the Red Hat Society: a community of women aged 50+ devoted to fun (like wearing purple, or spitting on sidewalks, or whatever else takes their fancy.)

I’m not quite ready to apply for the red hat society yet, but as I sit here at my keyboard I see old lady hands poking out the end of my long sleeves: no matter how much I lubricate them, they are wrinkly and my body bears the signs of aging. Today’s poem, like Jenny Josephs’, remind me of the good things that come with age. There is a freedom, a wisdom, a joy that accompanies the marks of aging: imprints of our journey.

This Is Just To Say (William Carlos Williams)

plums

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
by William Carlos Williams,”This Is Just to Say” from The Collected Poems: Volume I, 1909-1939
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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This poem is in the Norton Anthology of Poetry, the hefty tome I bought for my first year English class at university, and which still sits on my shelf. I remember first reading this poem at school, and wondering “how is this a poem? If you just wrote it in a sentence—without the short lines and stanza breaks—it would be a run-of-the-mill post-it note.”

And yet, twenty years later, I still remembered this poem (although strangely, I remembered it being about peaches, not plums), and I still think of it from time to time if I grab the last piece of fruit from the bowl and wonder if someone else had their eye on it.

But it does raise the question: what makes poetry poetry?

Idiot Psalms (Scott Cairns)

Idiot Psalms

Idiot Psalms

1   
       A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by Jew’s harp.
O God Belovéd if obliquely so, 
                     dimly apprehended in the midst 
                     of this, the fraught obscuring fog   
                     of my insufficiently capacious ken,   
                     Ostensible Lover of our kind—while 
                     apparently aloof—allow 
                     that I might glimpse once more 
                     Your shadow in the land, avail 
                     for me, a second time, the sense 
                     of dire Presence in the pulsing 
                     hollow near the heart.   
Once more, O Lord, from Your enormity incline 
                     your Face to shine upon Your servant, shy 
                     of immolation, if You will. 
                                     2   
       A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by baying hounds.
O Shaper of varicolored clay and cellulose, O Keeper 
                     of same, O Subtle Tweaker, Agent 
                     of energies both appalling and unobserved,   
                     do not allow Your servant’s limbs to stiffen 
                     or to ossify unduly, do not compel Your servant   
                     to go brittle, neither cramping at the heart,   
                     nor narrowing his affective sympathies 
                     neither of the flesh nor of the alleged soul. 
Keep me sufficiently limber that I might continue 
                     to enjoy my morning run among the lilies   
                     and the rowdy waterfowl, that I might 
                     delight in this and every evening’s intercourse   
                     with the woman you have set beside me. 
Make me to awaken daily with a willingness 
                     to roll out readily, accompanied 
                     by grateful smirk, a giddy joy,   
                     the idiot’s undying expectation,   
                     despite the evidence. 
                                     3 
       A psalm of Isaak, whispered mid the Philistines, beneath the breath.
Master both invisible and notoriously   
                     slow to act, should You incline to fix   
                     Your generous attentions for the moment 
                     to the narrow scene of this our appointed 
                     tedium, should You—once our kindly 
                     secretary has duly noted which of us 
                     is feigning presence, and which excused, which unexcused, 
                     You may be entertained to hear how much we find to say 
                     about so little. Among these other mediocrities, 
                     Your mediocre servant gets a glimpse of how 
                     his slow and meager worship might appear 
                     from where You endlessly attend our dreariness. 
Holy One, forgive, forgo and, if You will, fend off   
                     from this my heart the sense that I am drowning here   
                     amid the motions, the discussions, the several 
                     questions endlessly recast, our paper ballots. 
                                     4   
       Isaak’s penitential psalm, unaccompanied.
Again, and yes again, O Ceaseless Tolerator 
                     of our bleaking recurrences, O Forever Forgoing   
                     Foregone (sans conclusion), O Inexhaustible, 
                     I find my face against the floor, and yet again 
                     my plea escapes from unclean lips, and from a heart 
                     caked in and constricted by its own soiled residue. 
You are forever, and forever blessed, and I aspire 
                     one day to slip my knot and change things up, 
                     to manage at least one late season sinlessly, 
                     to bow before you yet one time without chagrin.
by Scott Cairns: Poetry (January 2009).
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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I first heard this poem spoken by Cairns himself at the Festival of Faith and Writing last year. I had never heard of Cairns, or the Idiot Psalms, and didn’t know what to expect. At first: it seemed snarky and pretentious, but then it began to hit uncomfortably close to home,

…. and I think: yes, this is no doubt how I sometimes pray, too. I start off self-important, asking for placations and blessings and if God would please just keep me comfortable. But, if I stay there long enough, at some point I become more aware of Him, aware that I’m rambling and asking for the wrong things, and in the wrong way. These lines stuck out to me in particular:

You may be entertained to hear how much we find to say 
                     about so little. Among these other mediocrities, 
                     Your mediocre servant gets a glimpse of how 
                     his slow and meager worship might appear 
                     from where You endlessly attend our dreariness. 
Holy One, forgive, forgo and, if You will, fend off   
                     from this my heart the sense that I am drowning here   
                     amid the motions.
I pray my own idiot psalms too, sometimes. And I am grateful that the Holy One who “endlessly attends our dreariness” is patient, loving, and knows we are little and young and self-absorbed, and yet he loves us still.

 

As The Ruin Falls (CS Lewis)

as the ruin falls

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains. 

by CS Lewis
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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I don’t feel competent or qualified to comment on most any of the poems I’ve shared this month, least of all one by CS Lewis.

But, these two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Like CS Lewis, God worked through the Anglican liturgy profoundly to shape my faith, and there is something for me in about starting worship in confession which focuses my attention on the magnitude of God’s grace. That Lewis starts with a recognition and confession of his own self-centeredness (and imprisonment in it) resonates deeply with me.
  2. “the pains you give me are more precious than all other gains”…. I see this poem as Lewis’ Philippians 3 proclamation: “I consider everything rubbish (crap!) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” For once we start to appreciate what it means to know Him, only then can we bless him as the ruins fall.

Kaleidoscope (Helen Wieger)

kaleideoscope

Kaleidoscope

There is this beautiful deep down
         that is real
            whole
            beautiful
    like the kaleidoscope

you have broken parts
          raw edges
          needs
            of stays,
            stability

Quaking, shifting, shaking
    deep down
      who are you
      this shape emerging
      new
    yet always there

by Helen Wieger

Illustration by Corrie Haffly

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Two years ago was my 20th high school reunion: an unexpected opportunity to revisit my teen-self and also reconnect with some girls I had known then. It is a rare thing to get a time-lapse glimpse of yourself and others; to note the continuity and discontinuity in us all. For of course, we are the same people we always were—I am recognizably the 16-year old Bronwyn they knew—and yet we have all changed so much.

Helen’s kaleidoscope poem captured something of this mystery for me.