late in evening the sky bruised
ringed them ugly and full
the sea moiled, black with heaving
feverish and wild
the rimless sky flickered with lightning
thunder padded and prowled
the wind woke, came like a beast
pawing this way and that
and the boat plunged and heaved
they held on in the scream of the sea
praying that as Christ had once calmed them
the waters might hear him again
then one of them looked and saw
in the midst of the worst of the night
a star chinking like gold
he pointed, they followed his arm
the storm did not lessen the least
but their faith was made of new fire
they fought like men unafraid
and the morning was born at last
This is an extract from Kenneth Steven’s wonderful sequence of poems, entitled A Song among the Stones, which tells the dangerous journey of four Celtic monks on their way from Iona to Iceland.
The only thing far away
In this country, Jamaica is not quite as far
as you might think. Walking through Peckham
in London, West Moss Road in Manchester,
you pass green and yellow shops
where tie-headwomen bargain over the price
of dasheen. And beside Jamaica is Spain
selling large yellow peppers, lemon to squeeze
onto chicken. Beside Spain is Pakistan, then Egypt,
Singapore, the world … here, strangers build home
together, flood the ports with curry and papayas;
in Peckham and on Moss Road, the place smells
of more than just patty or tandoori. It smells like
Mumbai, like Castries, like Princess Street, Jamaica.
Sometimes in this country, the only thing far away
is this country.
From Kei Miller’s collection of poetry, There Is an Anger that Moves
the invisible walls,
the rotten masks that divide one man
from another, one man from himself,
for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive
From Octavio Paz’s long poem Sunstone / Piedra de Sol.
No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led others to expect him to say.
Thomas Merton, Dancing in the Water of Life: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage
… Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
From ‘The Bright Field’ by R. S. Thomas
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
From ‘Aurora Leigh’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
To quote Malcom Guite one more time, here’s an excerpt from his poem ‘Maundy Thursday’, also published in The Word in the Wilderness:
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.