RESURRECTION POEMS AND STORIES FOR LOCKDOWN

I began this blogging web site, discussing novels, poems, stories etc., as a way or doing something purposeful through Lockdown. Being around Easter when I started, this is my first theme. I have chosen a series of poems as well as the Journey to Emmaus story from the gospel of St. Luke. Following each there is a Comment. I hope you will find these blogs stimulating, thought- provoking and interesting. As I chose material, I was struck by the particular relevance to our present experience of Lockdown. The T. S Eliot poem “The wounded surgeon plies the steel” is a notable example.

Please feel free to join me and also to add your comments.

Welcome to the site and happy reading!

RESURRECTION

MARINA





Quis hic locus,quae

regio,quaemundi plaga

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

O my daughter.

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning

Death

Those who glitter with the glory of the humming bird. meaning

Death

Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning

Death

Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

Death

Are become unsubstantial, reduced by a wind,

A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog

By this grace dissolved in place

What is this face, less clear and clearer

The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger-

Given or lent?more distant than stars and nearer than the eye

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet

Under sleep where all waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat,

I made this, I have forgotten

And remember.

The rigging weak and the canvas rotten

Between one June and another September.

Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own

The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.

This form, this face, this life

Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me

Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,

The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers

And woodthrush calling through the fog

My daughter.

Continue reading “RESURRECTION”

THE JOURNEY TO EMMAUS

St Luke 24. 13-35( KJV 1611)

And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about three score furlongs.

And they talked together of all these things which had happened.

And it came to pass, that while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad.?

And the one, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things that are come to pass there in these days.

And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:

And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death and they crucified him.

But we trusted it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done.

Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre:

And when they found not his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.

And certain of them which were at the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

And they drew nigh unto the village whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.

But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is towards evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together,and them that were with them,

Saying the Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.

And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them by the breaking of the bread.

Comment.

The story of the Journey to Emmaus is one of the great short stories within the Gospels. Its spiritual value is developed, especially in the King James Version of the Bible, by its strengths as literature. It focuses on the walk of two disciples, we presume to their village home, following the crucifixion of their master. Their walk is clearly intended to be one way, but becomes, through the nature of their encounter on the road, a return journey. So they end up at the place they started from but utterly changed.

On the road from Jerusalem to their village the mood of the disciples -one of obvious despair and bewilderment- is expressed by the walkers’ body language as “they communed together and reasoned”. “Communed” suggests the close intimacy of their communication and their sadness is conveyed to the one who overtakes them. The sound of the ancient word “holden” (from the verb “to hold” so meaning something like “held” by their preoccupations ) is perfect for conveying this heavy downcast mood which makes them unable to look properly upward and outward to see that the stranger might be Jesus. Giving a perfect summary of the reasons for their sadness the stranger surprises the listeners with his critical response that challenges their understanding of the meaning of what they have experienced. Based on scriptural authority, the stranger shows them there is another perspective. They, in their misery, have not seen what is there to be seen.

We, as readers, are in the position of knowing who the stranger is so we are in a privileged position. We can watch what they do.Yet, as readers, we can identify with the disciples seeing things as they do-so too would we. Thus we watch in knowledge while we are also dramatically involved in the effect that the revelation is going to have on the two disciples.

Obviously stirred by the words of Jesus, the disciples urge him to “abide” with them. The word “constrained” ( compare “invited”) suggests the pressure inside them to urge him. It is the sharing of the meal that brings revelation. The wonderful sentence that leads to this deserves special attention: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, that he took bread,and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.” Count the commas!. The commas ensure pauses, adding the slow rhythmic build- up reinforced by the alliteration of “bread”, ” blessed”, “brake” all rhythmically accented. The pauses with the “and”s (four of them including the start) help to isolate each stage of the action, each of significance to the hosts (who will know, anyway, of the Last Supper ritual).

The King James’ Version is rightly famous for its appropriateness for public reading. It is both formal and simple. In addition however it opens the way to imaginative contemplative reading. The build up of clauses and the start “And it came to pass” which works like the word “behold” (at the start of the story) to invite contemplative focus. These phrases help to concentrate the reading for this kind of focus on the significance of what is to pass or be beholden.

The revelation “and their eyes were opened and they knew him” brings it into direct contrast the beginning of the encounter “But their eyes were holden that they should not know him”. Glancing through a variety of recent translations no modern version makes this kind of strong linkage using the eyes: though several have “their eyes were opened” none specifically use the contrasting sense of their eyes being earlier blinded. At this point Christ vanishes. The point of recognition reached, his visual presence is required no longer.

The revelation impels action. The joyous journey back contrasts with their initial outward state of dolour. Their conversation reflects their wondrous joy: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the scriptures”. (Again notice the effect of two strong words “hearts” and burn” being placed side by side, slowing speech to emphasise the significance) . Where they were blind before, now they see.

It is this kind of slow , strong rhythmic beat emphasising key words and not allowing a more flat kind of recording prose to predominate. The point of scripture is that it is not there to be ordinary to be presented in an ordinary kind of conversational prose but to direct attention to what is truly significant. What we have in the King James Version is the story beautifully told to bring out the potential for renewed vision enabling a movement from despair to joy.

GOOD FRIDAY

 "The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart. 
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our and Adam's curse
And that to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.  
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by a ruined millionaire
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevent us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in purgatorial fires 
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

 
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food; 
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound substantial flesh and blood
Again in spite of which we call this Friday good.

T. S. Eliot “The Four Quartets.”

T. S Eliot’s verses from East Coker the second of The Four Quartets is astonishingly relevant to a world struggling to deal with the corona virus. The bringing together of this awareness for readers with the Easter message is very powerful. Images that might at another time mean little -for example “The whole earth is our hospital Endowed by the ruined millionaire”- now seems omnipresent in a world where we are either patients or potential patients. How potent is the image of the “wounded surgeon” in times when we are aware of the heroism of the caring professions doing their work while vulnerable to or unbeknown suffering from the disease. In Britain too our Prime Minister with the responsibility of dealing with the effects of the disease at the national level has been in intensive care. “That to be restored our sickness must grow worse” is the actual truth that makes us consent to the restrictions on our freedom.

How about the theology of the poem? Some of it might puzzle us. But clearly we are confronted in a boldly immediate but apposite analogy with the meaning of the Crucifixion. Arrogant humanity has worked on the assumption we are self-sufficient, well able to look after ourselves:””That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood”. The virus has made it abundantly clear how vulnerable we are and the poem demonstrates how open we are to God’s judgement. How is God challenging humanity this particular Easter? That is the question the poem presents us with.

(The word “prevents” in the poem means “comes before us in anticipation” (O.E.D) )