Archive for March, 2011

Everything for Love

“Let us do everything for love and, remembering that love longs for love alone, nothing can appear hard to us.” ~ St. Theresa Margaret

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WordPress is awesome. It’s giving me the opportunity not only to like someone else’s blogpost, but to repost it in mine as a way of honoring the one who wrote it … and spreading the beautiful word. This poem, “Spring” was written by Billimarie at Typewriter Poetry — and I truly love it.

I have been thinking about Japan daily and praying for the people there, especially those trying to contain the fall-out from the nuclear reactors damaged by the tsunami. This poem was written for them.

I hope you, dear reader, like me, can see the beauty in this tribute. (Right after you read the prompt, click “read more” and you will be directed to “Spring” … ) Selah!

"SPRING" prompt: “Can you please write something regarding japan, lost & new love, nostalgia, tying in with the blossoming Sakura?? It’s very important in their culture, yet I see so few poems about it. Or you can feel free to venture into any topic relating to japan or Sakura, I’m a writer/sometes poet and understand about alternate artistic directions. This is so awesome of you, such a neat idea!! Thank you so so much =) ” … Read More

via typewriter poetry

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April is a beautiful time to celebrate poetry for life … and it’s National Poetry Month! So how can we enjoy it?

1) Read poetry this month. Read a poem-a-day! If you’re a poet, try writing a poem-a-day, too. It’s a worthy challenge!

2) Thursday, April 14th is Poem-in-your-Pocket day! Pocket your favorite poem and then share it throughout the day with the people you know. For more ideas about how to share poetry on April 14th, check out: Poem in Your Pocket Day.

3) On Monday, April 18th, I’ll be talking with Joy Curry on her “Joy in the Morning” radio show on 88.1 WETN at 8:30 AM about National Poetry Month, Holy Week, and my new collection of poems, Butterflies. To listen to the live stream, link to WETN Wheaton College Radio. (To get a preview-through-review, you can listen to the 2010 and 2009 clips of Jane & Joy on the radio.)

*And you can visit Jane Beal at Lulu Press to preview and purchase poetry, in printed or eBook format, including the latest collection, Butterflies. Enjoy, enjoy! Happy National Poetry Month to you & yours!

Share the love, share the poetry

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On Saturday, I visited the Loretto Convent in Wheaton to share a silent Lenten retreat with friends from Church of the Savior. This is the second time I have gone there, and I truly love it. I thought no place could have as powerful an impact on me, in times alone with God, as the Cenacle (a retreat house near here that has recently closed its doors) but the Loretto Convent is a very special spiritual place.

I was reading online this morning about the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which founded and helps to maintain the Loretto Convent. I read the testimonies of sisters. When they make their final profession as sisters, pledging poverty (interdependence), chastity (community as primary relationship) and obedience (full participation and accountability in the spiritual life shared together), they choose a motto. This motto is inscribed in a ring they wear all their lives.

As I read these mottos, I was struck by how beautiful and poetic they are, like lines of poetry. Most of them come from scripture; others are paraphrases of biblical ideas. How beautiful the first!

I am my Beloved’s and he is mine

This one comes from the Song of Songs. To read others, and the stories that go with them, visit: IBVM Sisters: Archives. May your heart be blessed by what these women have chosen to do with their lives in response to their calling.

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My favorite song on the radio these days is “Colgando en tus manos” by Carlos Baute (Venezuela) and Marta Sanchez (España). It is so-muy-romantico! These two singers have brought life back to the male-female duet. Wish two someones would do the same in English! To that hopeful end, I’m sharing my own idiomatic translation of the song.

I want the translation to be at least half as beautiful as the Spanish, so I can’t give a literal rendering. That’s like locking a song in chains and refusing to acknowledge that poetry must be free! But for those who must have word-by-word — and I understand you because that’s where I always start — there’s a link at the bottom of this page.

To hear the song on YouTube and read the lyrics in Spanish, click Colgando en tus manos. You could even open the YouTube video and listen to the Spanish song while you read the English translation below! When I was translating, that’s what I did.


Falling into your hands

Maybe meeting you was not by chance
just maybe destiny made it happen–
I want to fall asleep against your heart again
and awaken to your kisses.

Your sixth sense is dreaming with me —
I know that soon we will be one.
Your playful smile lives with me!
I know that soon I will be in your path.

You know that I am falling into your hands
so don’t let me fall away–
you know that I am in your hands

I send you poems in my own handwriting,
I send you the songs of Juan Luis Guerra —
I send you photographs of dinner in Marbella
and the time we were in Venezuela.

And so you remember me, and keep in mind
that my heart is falling into your hands,
take care, be careful!
My heart is in your hands.

I will not lose the hope of speaking with you —
I don’t care what destiny says or does!
I want to have your fragrance with me
and to drink from you what’s forbidden now.

You know that I am falling into your hands
so don’t let me fall away–
you know that I am in your hands

I send you poems in my own handwriting,
I send you the songs of Juan Luis Guerra —
I send you photographs of dinner in Marbella
and the time we were in Venezuela.

And so you remember me, and keep in mind
that my heart is in your hands —
take care, be careful! Very careful, careful.


Woman, I’m telling you, you have me in your hands —
take care, be very careful!
It doesn’t matter what destiny says or does — stay with me —
carefully, very carefully!
I want all of you —
your lips, your love, what’s forbidden now.

I send you poems in my own handwriting,
I send you the songs of Juan Luis Guerra,
I send you photos of dinner in Marbella
and the time we were in Venezuela.

And so you remember me, and keep in mind
that my heart is in your hands,
take care, be careful

When my heart is falling into your hands
When my heart is falling into your hands
When my heart is falling into your hands

I want to be like the light, rising, kissing all of you —
all of you, tenderly, the center of my eyes, the one I need for life.

Carlos Baute & Marta Sanchez
“Colgando en tus manos” (2009)

To read a literal, line-by-line translation, check out the post on this song on the blog “Learning by Singing Spanish.”

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Three great Irish poets are W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, and Galway Kinnell. I’ve posted poems by all of these men in times past — I love their lyricism and their vivacity! (~ even when things are sad or death comes — that is one of the strengths of the Irish — to be alive, lyrically and musically, no matter what). Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, friends.

“Love Song” by W.B. Yeats

My love, we will go, we will go, I and you,
And away in the woods we will scatter the dew;
And the salmon behold, and the ousel too,
My love, we will hear, I and you, we will hear,
The calling afar of the doe and the deer.
And the bird in the branches will cry for us clear,
And the cuckoo unseen in his festival mood;
And death, oh my fair one, will never come near
In the bosom afar of the fragrant wood.

“Personal Helicon” by Seamus Heaney
for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

“How Could You Not” by Galway Kinnell
for Jane Kenyon

It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters;
small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower
visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go
to the open door and look across at New Hampshire
and see that there, too, the sun is bright
and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon;
and I think: How could it not have been today?
In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing
the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly,
as if in the past, to those who once sat
in the steel seat of the old mowing machine,
cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper,
and drew the cutter bars little
reciprocating triangles through the grass
to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning
and found yourself grown completely tired
of the successes and failures of medicine,
of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly
now and then by hope that had that leaden taste?
Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it
and see that, now, it was not wrong to die
and that, on dying, you would leave
your beloved in a day like paradise?
Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little?
How could you not already have felt blessed for good,
having these last days spoken your whole heart to him,
who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence
he would not feel a single word was missing?
How could you not have slipped into a spell,
in full daylight, as he lay next to you,
with his arms around you, as they have been,
it must have seemed, all your life?
How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek,
which presses itself to yours from now on?
How could you not rise and go, with all that light
at the window, those arms around you, and the sound,
coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine
plane in the distance that no one else hears?

Postscript: To hear Galway Kinnell read a wonderful poem, click: Oatmeal.

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my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely)stood my father’s dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and(by octobering flame
beckoned)as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit,all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
-i say though hate were why men breathe-
because my father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all


anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

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Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preach on Transfiguration Sunday at my church, Church of the Savior, in West Chicago. To listen to the sermon, just click on:


May the Lord bless your heart as we travel from Epiphany through Lent into Easter.

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e.e. cummings

This week I read Christopher Sawyer Lauçanno’s massive biography (606 pages!) about the experimental, lyrical love-poet e.e. cummings whose goal in life was to be a “human being,” in the fullest sense, and to be free to paint and write poetry.

I felt I had to read about his life because I needed to come to some working understanding of how the man produced his extraordinary poetry. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that e.e. cummings was the son of a Harvard professor, went to Harvard himself at the age of 16, and majored in classics and comparative literature (he loved Greek). So he knew, very well, all the rules of grammar and punctuation in several languages (English, Greek, and French being his favorites though he also studied Latin and German besides) before he decided to break so many of them however he saw fit in his later poetry. (His earlier poetry can be quite traditional; one of his most-used forms is the eternal sonnet.)

He fell under the influence of the modernist poet Ezra Pound, to whom the biographer attributes e.e. cummings’ initial experimentation with non-traditional line breaks, spacing, and punctuation, but really, I think his studies of Middle English literature (with its phonetic spellings) and classical manuscripts (which could often be written in scriptacontinua) were what gave him permission to start breaking with convention in order to draw his readers’ attention to words and the power of language.  Given how different his work is from that of T.S. Eliot (famous for writing the heavily self-annotated poems The Waste Land, Four Quartets and the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), it’s rather extraordinary to realize they were contemporaries at Harvard (even playing in the same theatre production!). They clearly took their classical educations and went in two different directions with them.

But e.e. cummings was not lazy about grammar or punctuation, no matter how much he was lampooned or criticized by poetry reviewers. He was deliberate in what he was trying to provoke his readers to understand about words or ideas or both. That much is clear.

After a more or less idyllic childhood, his personal life was one long string of emotional disasters, it seems, and he coped with this by painting, drinking and writing poetry. He was imprisoned during World War I in France, which later resulted in the memoir The Enormous Room. He had a six year affair with the wife of a friend, which later turned into a marriage that lasted only two months. His soon-to-be ex-wife Elaine took their daughter Nancy and fled to Ireland with a new man; e.e. cummings didn’t see Nancy again until she was an adult. He married again, this time to Annie Barton, a woman who had been physically and sexually abused by her father. In that relationship, the affairs were once again on both sides, more or less repeatedly. When that ended, he met Marion, twelve years younger than he, and though they never married, they stayed together. While he was with her, his father was killed when a train crashed into his car, though miraculously his mother, who was in the car, survived.

The pain e.e. cummings experienced because of these betrayals and losses was acute and undeniable. It is not always possible to empathize with him, however, as his biographer reveals the poet’s nasty bouts of selfishness, misogyny, and racism against Jews (though not against Blacks). Yet there is a thread of redemption running through the tapestry of the poet’s life.

E.E. Cummings wrote poetry extraordinarily sensitive and aware of the natural world and the Spirit of God made manifest in it. He wrote anti-war poems as well as the lyrical love poems for which he is justly famous and best known. When he died, he was one of the most-read poets in the United States.

I’ve posted about e.e. cummings before (i thank You God for this most amazing and somewhere I have never travelled gladly beyond), but I thought I would re-post these two (two of my favorites) and some others that I love so that you can enjoy them.


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


Buffalo Bill’s
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death


i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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As a child, I rang doorbells and ran off,
leaving boxes full of electric rain clouds
and flaming bushes that recited verse.
When I grew up, I went into construction,
underbid on a contract. Rebuild
the temple in three days?
I thought they’d crucify me then
and there, but I went bankrupt instead.
I took a teaching gig, had some luck
as a commercial fisherman. I lost
a bartending spot because I misunderstood
“Water down the wine.” I became
a financial consultant, showed folks
how to stretch a little bread.
Resurrected! I am
in semi-retirement, unsure
what comes next. I’ve tried gardening before,
but I had a problem with snakes and weeds
that choked and poisoned my favorite flowers
and broke my heart. Now I’m taking up golf,
dimpling the world to my tee. “Fore!” I call,
but no one ducks and no one answers.
No one understands the word I’m saying,
just like they never understood the word
that was, was with me, was me,
in the beginning. Let there be more
to eternity than morning-noon-night, repeat.
Than lather-rinse repeat. Than
wax-on, wax-off and still get beat up.
Let the sky fill with helium balloons,
brand new colors, and full-throated warblers,
brand new songs. So say I.

Tom C. Hunley
The American Poetry Journal v3i1



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I was recently exploring The American Poetry Journal’s website and discovered this wonderful description of sevenlings, a poetic form based on a famous poem by Anna Akhmatova (one of my favorite poets!). Your challenge? Write a poem in this form!

Direct from APJ:

The sevenling is a poem of seven lines inspired by the form of this much translated short verse by Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966).
He loved three things alone:
White peacocks, evensong,
Old maps of America.
He hated children crying,
And raspberry jam with his tea,
And womanish hysteria.
… And he married me.
tr. D M Thomas
from Selected Poems (Penguin)
The rules of the sevenling are thus:

The first three lines should contain an element of three – three connected or contrasting statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines or be contained anywhere within them. Then, lines four to six should similarly contain an element of three, connected directly or indirectly or not at all. The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or as an unusual juxtaposition. There are no set metrical rules, but being such as short form, some rhythm, metre or rhyme is desirable. To give the form a recognisable shape, it should be set out in two stanzas of three lines, with a solitary seventh, last line. Titles are not required. A sevenling should be titled Sevenling followed by the first few words in parentheses The tone of the sevenling should be mysterious, offbeat or disturbing, giving a feeling that only part of the story is being told. The poem should have a certain ambience which invites guesswork from the reader.”


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Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravishèd,
Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, whenas thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt
Lest the world, flesh, yea, devil put thee out.

Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robbed and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she is embraced and open to most men.

*To read more of the works of John Donne, visit: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/donnebib.htm

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When I was in Denver last week, I visited my aunt and uncle’s church — and their Sunday morning Bible study on Revelation. Their text is Bruce Metzger’s Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. I learned a lot in a short time. (Metzger is a biblical genius!) The Sunday school teacher read to us Julia Ward Howe’s famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The fifth verse strikes me as powerfully relevant today, the day the Anglican Church celebrates the Transfiguration of Christ.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

Julia Ward Howe
Atlantic Monthly (1862)

Julia Ward Howe wrote about her song, which she penned for soldiers who were fighting during the Civil War to set men free from slavery, saying:

“I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

It is striking to me that Julia Ward Howe called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” her “desired poem.” It is even more striking to me that her song is about the Second Coming of Christ. Her lyrical verses are rich in biblical allusion — especially to the book of Revelation.

To learn more, visit Wikipedia’s Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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I was recently visiting my good friend, Dr. Jerry Root, in order to share with him and his beloved wife Claudia that I will be moving to Colorado to teach creative writing ~ where they are welcome to come visit me and go skiing anytime they please!

My conversations and experiences with Jerry never fail to be interesting (as I have noted before and in posts on the Brotherhood of the Briarmore than once!) for Jerry Root is a man with an expansive soul, a tender heart, and a brilliant mind. He is a professor of Christian Formation and Ministry, the assistant director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and a C.S. Lewis scholar. He preaches sermons that always change something in my soul and writes publications that have reached countless readers, including the books The Quotable Lewis and C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Evil. He generally makes the world a better place to live in just by being alive and being himself. He is one of the most encouraging people I have ever met, and that is no doubt why he has had such a positive impact on Wheaton College students (like our mutual friend Liz!) and the members of the churches where he has pastored.

Jerry has a penchant for remembering everything. For instance, when my housemate and I met up with him and others from Wheaton College to attend the midnight showing of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he immediately recognized her from a class she’d been in with him years before — and recalled that her mother had once visited and asked how her mother was doing now! Jerry also remembers stories about all kinds of famous people and events, especially literary sorts, and tells them to delight (and subversively instruct) whoever is listening.

On this occasion of my visit with him, in addition to celebrating the progress of the mead (a honey wine) currently fermenting in the Root Cellar, we spoke about poetry since I am going to go teach it in Colorado. We fell to talking about the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, and Jerry reached for a book our colleague, Brett Foster, had given him for his birthday, opened it, and read the poem, “Digging”:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney
Death of a Naturalist (1966)

Jerry said he never was himself much interested in potatoes but that Seamus Heaney made them interesting to him — that the poet’s descriptions invoke them in such a way that they come to matter. He was glad that Seamus Heaney didn’t dig with a spade, but with a pen, and so brought vividly to life for everyone who reads this poem the reality of the men in his family, Irish farmers, working the land. (We did not talk about the phrase “snug as a gun,” which does imply a darker side to Seamus Heaney’s penmanship, but it is worth thinking on further …)

Then Jerry Root read one of his favorite sonnets to me, sonnet 45 from Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence, “Astrophil and Stella.” The Greek origins of the name “Astrophil” make it mean “star lover” and “Stella” is, of course, Latin for “star.” Sonnet 45 is about Astrophil’s temporarily unrequited love, a moment when Stella reads a story about unrequited love, and Astrophil’s hope that, in so reading, her heart might be turned toward him whose experience is so like that of the protagonist in the romance she has read.

Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face,
But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,
Not though thereof the cause herself she know;
Yet hearing late a fable, which did show
Of lovers never known a grievous case,
Pity thereof gat in her breast such place
That, from that sea derived, tears’ spring did flow.
Alas, if fancy, drawn by imaged things,
Though false, yet with free scope, more grace doth breed
Than servant’s wrack, where new doubts honor brings;
Then think, my dear, that you in me do read
Of lovers’ ruin some sad tragedy.
I am not I; pity the tale of me.

Sir Philip Sidney (16th c.)

This reminded me of Dante’s story of Paolo and Francesca (and an image of them painted by one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; see my post on myDante), who fell in love reading a book together (and paid the price for it in hell — see Dante’s Inferno, Canto V!). Both Sidney’s poem and Dante’s are about how stories can affect the human heart in love. It’s a powerful idea.

Seamus Heaney gives us acute observation of his family at work in the natural world. Sidney gives us, like stargazer lilies, the lover waiting for the beloved to return the heart’s desires. Jerry Root has given me cause to think of these poets and their poems.

What has he given to you?

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Two days ago, I had to go to a government office (which will remain nameless) to deal with paperwork (which was necessary but ultimately not very important). I anticipated waiting awhile before I would be helped, so I brought a book: The Essential Haiku edited by Robert Hass. While the blur of government routine went on around me, I thought about Basho, a 17th century Japanese poet and poetry teacher. He chose his own pen name, which means “banana tree” (yes, I agree, a vivid choice!), and he was a haiku master. Here are some examples of his verse, translated into English, for interested mortals such as ourselves:

felling a tree

and seeing the cut end —

tonight’s moon


a bee

staggers out

of the peony


harvest moon —

walking around the pond

all night long



attached to nothing

the skylark singing

So many extraordinary poems! I loved them all. It made my wait seem short.

If you have somewhere to go, and you know you will be waiting a long time, I suggest reading Basho. You will feel as if you are traveling without moving, seeing the wonders of nature in your soul even if you are confined to a chair!

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When I was recently in Colorado, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Dave Matthews, the singer, song-writer and musician who fronts the Dave Matthews Band. One of the things I couldn’t help thinking of him, as I do of all courageous artists, is that he hasn’t wasted his gift. Because he has sacrificed and pursued music, his lyrics and his songs play inside of our souls — songs like the wondrous rhapsody “Satellite,” the intimate love song “Crash into Me,” and “Ants Marching,” an energetic and musically powerful critique of relational awkwardness in a capitolistic culture … and the dreams of childhood that we remember despite the regiment of our days.

The lyrics to this song, “Ants Marching,” do something important, something poetry does: invite us to understand ourselves and, maybe, change.

He wakes up in the morning
Does his teeth bite to eat and he’s rolling
Never changes a thing
The week ends, the week begins

She thinks — we look at each other
Wondering what the other is thinking
But we never say a thing
These crimes between us grow deeper

Take these chances
Place them in a box until a quiter time
Lights down, you up and die

Goes to visit his mommy
She feeds him well — his concerns
He forgets them
And remembers being small
Playing under the table and dreaming

Take these chances
Place them in a box until a quieter time
Lights down, you up and die

Driving in on this highway
All these cars and upon the sidewalk
People in every direction
No words exchanged
No time to exchange

When all the little ants are marching
Red and black antennas waving
They all do it the same
They all do it the same way

Candyman teasing the thoughts of a
Sweet tooth, tortured by the weight loss
Programs cutting the corners
Loose end, loose end, cut, cut
On the fence, could not to offend
Cut, cut, cut, cut

Take these chances
Place them in a box until a quieter time
Lights down, you up and die

Dave Matthews
Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)

In just a few months, I will move to the great Rocky Mountain state of Colorado to begin teaching creative writing at Colorado Christian University. For me, this is very much about “taking chances,” but there’s a possibility that I could — like anyone could — get swept up in a (work) pattern that never changes. When I hear “Ants Marching,” with its carpe diem emphasis, it reminds me not to let that happen. I want remain fully alive and present to the beauty of the created world.

All of us can.

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