Hymn: “O God, our Help in ages past”

Continuing my series on great old hymns, today I’d like to focus our attention on another familiar (and so much-neglected nowadays in my experience) favorite. Continue reading

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Numbered Sonnet Opus 2 #3

Alas, my lady, what is happiness?
For music, dancing, wit, and jesting fade,
And even beauty pales as time grows less,
As do all mortal joys that God has made.
But weighty conversation with dear friends,
And peaceful silence, swaddling with its hush,
Because they seem to serve eternal ends,
Do not so quickly dim beneath Time’s brush.
Still, as the starlight fades as dawn draws nigh,
And tongues find subtler scents as hunger wanes,
Our souls were made to taste the joys on high,
For all that sense is dulled by sin’s black stains.
But even so, I cannot but protest:
Alas, my lady, what is happiness?

Back in high school, I began an (execrable) sonnet beginning with the line “Alas, my lady, what is happiness?” And apparently I finished it, but when I reorganized my (digital) poetry-related files sometime in college I thought, from my brief glance at it, that I hadn’t finished it, and so decided to thoroughly revise it, just so I could get one more piece out of my “unfinished projects” collection without completely discarding it.

About two years ago, I thought of a concept for a “reimagining” of the sonnet, completely changing everything about it except the form and the first line, and started into writing it. But my thoughts ran dry, and the poem lay essentially untouched (except for a slight revision that also added one line, that fall) until earlier this month, when browsing through my unfinished poems I happened on it and thought of how I could continue it. Getting that thought down turned fairly easily into finishing the poem.

I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

“Gardens”

The gospel begins in a glorious garden.
For love they daily labored, the lightest of loads,
Their efforts governed by one solitary rule.
But teased and tempted, they transgressed, and failed the test,
Dooming all their descendants to so disobey,
Binding every baby born to share the bitter blame.

Another garden, of a moonlight evening,
Saw the Second Adam’s anguished sorrow, sighing, speak
And heard his humble, heartfelt prayer as hours grew short
Till the ill-bought betrayer brought his brutal band
To bind and drag him down to meet the dreadful doom
Which he, our righteous Champion, now chose to face.

Later, after he died our death, his dust was laid
In grief within a borrowed garden rock-cut grave,
But when Mary, still mourning, came to embalm him,
An angel, glorious, announced the awesome truth:
The Christ had risen in utter triumph from the tomb.

When all his plans at last are fully accomplished,
This wretched, weary world made new, we are assured,
The temple where our Lord will always dwell with us
Will sit within the splendor of a garden city.

I began this poem in the middle of last month when I thought of the concept for the first two stanzas, intending it to be for Good Friday. Then I ran into difficulty, and when I returned to it I had forgotten what meter I was in, so I had to adjust what I wrote in that sitting to match the rest; I also found that I had written a poem as suited to Eastertide as to Holy Week. So I dithered as to when to post it, and settled on today.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

Hymn: “All glory, laud, and honor”

Continuing my series on great old hymns, since tomorrow is Palm Sunday, I decided to focus our attention today on a hymn about the Triumphal Entry. I covered my favorite Palm Sunday hymn four years ago, and another particularly suitable text the previous Advent, but this is also a favorite hymn, and unlike “Hosanna, loud hosanna” (which only dates to 1873) this is actually an old hymn (the Latin more than a thousand years older than that). Continue reading

“Psalm 17”

Give ear, O Lord, and hear my earnest plea;
Come listen to my prayer, uphold my cause;
Establish righteousness upon the earth.
You know my heart, my thoughts, by day and night;
You see my foes accuse me without cause,
For by your law, the word you speak on high,
You kept my feet from ways of violent men,
From slipping from the safety of your paths.

O God, you who alone can answer prayer,
Bend down your ear to me to hear my call;
Show forth again the glory of your grace,
Savior of all who hide themselves in you.
Oh, shelter me beneath your mighty wings
From those surrounding me who seek my life:
The arrogant have sought me, tracked me down,
And lie in ambush, ready now to pounce.

Rise up, O Lord; rebuke my wicked foes,
Who only care for what they may acquire,
Their wealth amassed to pass on to their heirs,
But give no thought to righteousness—
Subdue them, so that they must bow the knee
And yield their lives before your holy name.

But as for me, my eyes shall see your face,
Your shining, everlasting righteousness;
Asleep or waking, and in life or death,
For me, to see your glory is enough.

This poem is the seventeenth in my series of verse paraphrases of the Psalms. I began this project in 2012, starting with the first Psalm, and have worked on one Psalm at a time; I began this poem soon after finishing my setting of Psalm 16, in August of last year, but because I put it down and worked on other things for several months I didn’t finish it until last month.

I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

Hymn: “I sing th’almighty power of God”

My church is going to have the first sessions of its annual “Creation Conference” this evening. So I thought it would be particularly fitting to resume my series on great old hymns with one that is not only a good age in hymn terms, and not only a favorite from my childhood, but also aptly describes God’s power and detailed care shown to and in his creation. Continue reading

Pre-Birthday Musings

So tomorrow is my birthday. What can I say that I haven’t said before, many times, and at great length?

Last year I made a “birthday sale” of my book; I might do something similar around Easter, but not this week. By this time next year I hope Dreams and Prayers will be out, if not long enough to merit a sale-price promotion, or at least nearly ready, and The Invasion will be well on its way to being ready. But God alone knows how well the summer and autumn will go.

Throughout my years of school, unlike so many of my classmates (and the stereotype), I was never particularly happy to see the end of a year or a semester. (Thus the poem I read at my high school graduation.) But this was only one of the ways, if perhaps the first, in which a reaction, inclination, or idea that seems natural or obvious to me seems completely foreign to those around me, and in retrospect vice versa.

In middle and high school, I would never have believed that my happiest hours would ever be in social situations (and I had only begun to understand how exhausting they would be), nor that I would wish I had fewer books. Nor, once I started writing poetry in high school, did I imagine that a day would come when I would still be writing poetry but when most of my poetry would be deliberate, rather than spontaneous, compositions.

“This, too, is vanity, a chasing after wind.”