Category: Inspiring Poems

Inspiring Poetry: Intimations of Immortality

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

          Hath had elsewhere its setting

               And cometh from afar;

          Not in entire forgetfulness,

          And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come 

               From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

               Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

               He sees it in his joy

from “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

Perhaps children are more aware of spirituality than adults are. I posted on this recently, then came across Richard Rohr quoting from this wonderful poem by William Wordsworth in Rohr’s book “Falling Upward”.

This post tries to make the link between Wordsworth’s poem and thoughts about childhood and spirituality.

I remember being asked to write an essay at school about evolution, and everything in me (as someone who did not follow any particular spiritual way and certainly not Christianity) protested that all that I was was an advanced form of amoeba.  I struggled to find words for it, though – “humanity”, “emotion” were the best I can remember. As Wordsworth writes:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

          And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come 

               From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Likewise, I remember as a teenager being moved by sunrises, sunsets, powerful songs, beautiful music – what I would now describe as “the transcendent” – what there is in this life that is beyond words, that takes us out of ourselves, that raises us, spiritually.

…he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

               He sees it in his joy

Sometimes people talk about “original sin”, but I think there is also “original awareness” of spirituality. 

To become like a child we do not need to regress in our understanding.  But we may need to be born again to a realisation of the reality of spirit in our humanity, and to a wondrous appreciation of the presence, everywhere, of beauty and transcendence, calling us out of ourselves to God, who is the ultimate transcendence, who is ultimate spirit and being, and who calls us to a relationship that will transcend our dreams and ground our spirit in the greatest love of the universe.

I think Wordsworth put it all so well in his poem!

Inspiring Poems: Wordsworth and Spirituality

In Wordsworth’s great poem The Prelude, he writes about the growth of his character, personality and mind:

“Fair seed-time had my soul”

Book 1, line 300

The insight is that what is within him is something more than merely character, personality and mind: there is mystery within, a transcendent quality to human life – what I would describe as spirituality:

“Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows

Like harmony in music; there is a dark

Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles

Discordant elements, makes them cling together

In one society…”

(1, 339-344)

He moves from here to the perception that there is mystery and transcendence in the universe – that we live in a spiritual cosmos:

“Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!

Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought,

And givest to forms and images a breath

And everlasting motion, not in vain

By day or starlight this from my first dawn

Of childhood didst thou intertwine for  me

The passions that build up our human soul…”

1, 401-7

In such a cosmos, human life has a particular significance, meaning and dignity:

“….we recognise

A grandeur in the beatings of the heart”

1, 413-4

Beauty in the world speaks of joy, even of kinship and at-home-ness:

“I held unconscious intercourse with beauty

Old as creation, drinking in a pure

Organic pleasure…gathering in it seemed

New pleasures like a bee among the flowers”

1, 562-80





And that this natural beauty actually raises human life, I would say to a spiritual life:

“the earth

And common face of Nature spake to me

Rememberable things…

To impregnate and elevate the mind”

1, 568-596

I hope you have enjoyed, and may have been inspired by, some more of Wordsworth’s poetry in this post. The year 2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Inspiring Poems: “Wisdom and Spirit of the universe”

” WISDOM and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul, that art the Eternity of thought!
And giv’st to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion! not in vain,
By day or star-light, thus from my first dawn
Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human soul;
Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man;
But with high objects, with enduring things,
With life and nature; purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying by such discipline
Both pain and fear,–until we recognise
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart. “

by William Wordsworth (from “The Prelude”)

Inspiring Poem – "Heaven" by George Herbert

I first read this poem when I was a teenager, and I was completely amazed at how George Herbert both makes the poem rhyme with echoes of the word on each previous line, but also how it suggests such profound meaning.

See whether you agree…!

O who will show me those delights on high?
Echo. I.
Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.
Echo. No.
Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?
Echo. Leaves.
And are there any leaves, that still abide?
Echo. Bide.
What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.
Echo. Holy.
Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?
Echo. Yes.
Then tell me what is that supreme delight?
Echo. Light.
Light to the minde: what shall the will enjoy?
Echo. Joy.
But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure?
Echo. Leisure.
Light, joy, and leisure; but shall they persever?
Echo. Ever.

‘Heaven’ by George Herbert

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Inspiring Poems: The Wreath

A WREATHED garland of deservèd praise,
Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give,
I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways,
My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,—
Wherein I die, not live ; for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee,
To Thee, who art more far above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicity.
Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practise them : then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.

This poem is particularly amazing in the way that the words are threaded from one line to the next, like a kind of wreath. See how “praise” is repeated, then “give”, then “ways”, and so on… I’ve marked the first few in bold below.

A WREATHED garland of deservèd praise,
Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give,
I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways,
My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,—
Wherein I die, not live ; for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee,
To Thee, who art more far above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicity.
Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practise them : then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.

George Herbert, who wrote this poem, was probably also thinking of the “crown of thorns”; but he has a “crown of praise” instead to give to God.

Image by Nadine Zarya from Pixabay

Inspiring Poem – "Annunciation" by Scott Cairns — from Featured Blog by Malcolm Guite

Image by Linda Richardson Yesterday we considered a poem by John Donne, today we pair and compare it with a poem of the same title by Scott Cairns. I draw out some of the parallels and differences in the brief essay on this poem in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word. The image above was […]

Annunciation by Scott Cairns — Malcolm Guite

Inspiring Poem from a Featured Blog – "Annunciation" by John Donne — Malcolm Guite's blog

The poem I have chosen for December 3rd in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is The Annunciation by John Donne, and once again it is accompanied by a beautiful illustration from the book of responses to these poems by Linda Richardson. She writes: The imagery of The Annunciation is richly grounded in our […]

Annunciation by John Donne — Malcolm Guite

Featured blog: Daryl Madden

Daryl Madden is another poet/blogger whose work I enjoy, and whose writing has sometimes inspired my own work.

I am sharing this poem for you to enjoy.

I was especially taken by the final verse:

.

Let roots of faith

Grow deep this day

In deserts rain

Through shades of gray.

.

Here is the whole poem, called “Dawnings’ Gray

.

Slow the dawning

From the night

Horizons glow

Of black and white

.

Soul is seeking

Colors, employ

The empty scene

Devoid of joy

.

Still a prayer

Spirit appeal

Inspiration

To reveal

.

Let roots of faith

Grow deep this day

In deserts rain

Through shades of gray.

Dawnings’ Gray — DarylMadden

Inspiring Poems: "Up-Hill"

Image by ashish verma from Pixabay

Does the road wind up-hill all the way? 
   Yes, to the very end. 
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? 
   From morn to night, my friend. 

But is there for the night a resting-place? 
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. 
May not the darkness hide it from my face? 
   You cannot miss that inn. 

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? 
   Those who have gone before. 
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? 
   They will not keep you standing at that door. 

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? 
   Of labour you shall find the sum. 
Will there be beds for me and all who seek? 
   Yea, beds for all who come.

Christina Rossetti’s beautiful poem I found rather pessimistic when I first read it : an up-hill road all the way?

But when you read it carefully, you see that she not only accepts that life can be demanding and sometimes a real struggle for some people, but that also there are times of consolation:

But is there for the night a resting-place? 
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. 
May not the darkness hide it from my face? 
   You cannot miss that inn. 

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? 
   Those who have gone before. 
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? 
   They will not keep you standing at that door. 


And at the end of the journey is a resting place:

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? 
   Of labour you shall find the sum. 
Will there be beds for me and all who seek? 
   Yea, beds for all who come.

Inspirers – of love, of spirituality, of time – T.S.Eliot

For me, T.S.Eliot is the writer of time, of love, of spirituality, and of “the desert”.

This is a spiritual desert -“The Waste Land” – as he calls it in his most influential work…

desert TSEliot

That concept – of a spiritual desert – has spoken to me many times:

 

Movements of Time

 

I.

In a world of time

we must find a way

to bear reality

 

At a still point

descending deeper

than the twittering world

the silence rinses the soul

 

And the word is here

in the quietness of the desert

though assailed by shrieking voices

of temptation

 

Love remains the mover

primal

beyond time.

 

loveprimal OOM

 

Eliot also writes about what he calls “moments of illumination”, as in this wonderful phrase (from “The Waste Land”):

Gazingintoheartlight ELIOT

“The heart of light” – the idea of a “timeless moment” inspired this:

 

II.

Sometimes

there is a timelessness

in a moment

 

That cuts deeper

into the mind

than the soul understands

 

And the spirit arises anew

forever now facing

a different direction

however unnoticeable.

 

Eliot sees both how life feels meaningless and empty for some, but he went on more and more to see how transcendence is possible:

 

pentecostalfire ELIOT

 

My final poem for this post was inspired, like the other two, by “Burnt Norton” in Eliot’s wonderful work “Four Quartets”.  There is a beautiful passage there about how the human body’s “dance” is like the movement of the stars, and I wanted to express this wonder about the order of the universe, notwithstanding how confusing life often is…

 

There is a pattern in the universe

the flow of the blood

the drift of stars

the seasons of the moon

 

We take our place in the dance

moving hesitantly

stumbling

 

But the dance goes on

lifts with its music

 

Moves our feet

with the rhythm of the heart.

 

dancegoesone OOM