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Below is my traditional set of meditations for Holy Week; this year I decided to choose them all from among poems. The title of each day is also a link to a passage in the Gospels that gives the day its name and/or recounts what happened on it, and (in my opinion) goes well with the poetic selection.
If you’re in the Baltimore area or willing to be, Mount Calvary (816 North Eutaw Street) will be having Triduum liturgies at 7 pm on Maundy Thursday, 12 noon on Good Friday, and 8.30 pm on Holy Saturday. We’ll also be holding a Tenebræ service on Wednesday evening at 7.30, and our customary Sunday Masses are at 8 am and 10 am, Palm Sunday and Easter included.
As in a fish-pond clear and still, the fish
Draw to some dropped-in morsel as it moves,
Hoping it may provide a dainty dish,
So I saw splendors draw to us in droves,
Full many a thousand, and from each was heard:
‘Lo, here is one that shall increase our loves!’
And every shade approaching us appeared
Glad through and through, so luminously shone
Its flooding joy before it as it neared.1
The Adam in the hollow of Jerusalem respired:
softly their thought twined to its end,
crying: O parent, O forkèd friend,
am I not too long meanly retired
in the poor space of joy’s single dimension?
Does not God vision the principles at war?
Let us grow to the height of God and the Emperor:
Let us gaze, son of man, on the Acts in contention.
The Adam climbed the tree; the boughs
rustled, withered, behind them; they saw
the secluded vision of battle in the law;
they found the terror in the Emperor’s house.
The tree about them died undying,
the good lusted against the good,
the Acts in conflict envenomed the blood,
on the twisted tree hung their body wrying.
Joints cramped; a double entity
spewed and struggled, good against good;
they saw the mind of the Emperor as they could,
his imagination of the wars of identity.
He walked slowly through his habitation
in the night of himself without him; Byzantium slept;
a white pulsing shape behind him crept,
the ejection to the creature of the creature’s rejection of salvation.
Conception without control had the Adam of the error;
stifled over their head, the tree’s bright beam
lost in the sides of the pit its aerial stream;
they had their will; they saw; they were torn in the terror.2
For the Commons convene in the Hall of the Nation; like spirits of fire in the beautiful
Porches of the Sun, to plant beauty in the desart craving abyss, they gleam
On the anxious city; all children new-born first behold them; tears are fled,
And they nestle in earth-breathing bosoms. So the city of Paris, their wives and children,
Look up to the morning Senate, and visions of sorrow leave pensive streets.
But heavy brow’d jealousies lower o’er the Louvre, and terrors of ancient Kings
Descend from the gloom and wander through the palace and weep round the King and his Nobles.
While loud thunders roll, troubling the dead, Kings are sick throughout all the earth,
The voice ceas’d: the Nation sat: and the triple-forged fetters of times were unloos’d.
The voice ceas’d: the Nation sat: but ancient darkness and trembling wander thro’ the palace.3
Here is no continuing city, here is no abiding stay.
Ill the wind, ill the time, uncertain the profit, certain the danger.
O late late late, late is the time, late too late, and rotten the year;
Evil the wind, and bitter the sea, and grey the sky, grey grey grey.
O Thomas, return, Archbishop; return, return to France.
Return. Quickly. Quietly. Leave us to perish in quiet.
You come with applause, you come with rejoicing, but you come bringing death into Canterbury:
A doom on the house, a doom on yourself, a doom on the world.4
Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.
But as he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart:
How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.
Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.
Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.5
Et mater mei’—
Come, let us with the mariners invoke
‘Mater divinae gratiae
Star of the Sea
Pray for me’
How many times
Has she been summoned by those trusting rhymes?
Did they echo from the porthole
Just above the spray
Where the native sailors sang
At moments through the day
Of their mother
God’s own Mother
Christ their brother?
Did the crying sea-gulls seem to pray
When the ship’s bells rang
A clamorous Angelus
Mingled with the De Profundis too?
And all the bells were ringing to bring help to you
And the ship sailed
Out into the translucent blue
And you were sinking
Under the green marble mountains
In the bitter sea
And did you think
She would forget you in your loss?—
Mary, who took you to her heart
With Tom, Dick, and Harry
All the sad sons especially
Whom Christ gave her from the start
When He looked from the Cross
At the bars and the bedrooms
And the Devil in the street
When He watched you through the Blood
That poured across His eyes
The bells had rung in Heaven
There on the absolutely even
Suddenly silent ocean
And the sea-roses clustered at her feet6
Since I am coming to that Holy roome,
Where, with thy Quire of Saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy Musique; As I come
I tune the Instrument here at the dore,
And what I must doe then, thinke here before.
Whilst my Physitians by their love are growne
Cosmographers, and I their Mapp, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be showne
That this is my South-west discoverie
Per fretum febris, by these streights to die,
I joy, that in these straits, I see my West;
For, though their currants yeeld returne to none,
What shall my West hurt me? As West and East
In all flatt Maps (and I am one) are one,
So death doth touch the Resurrection.
… We thinke that Paradise and Calvarie,
Christs Crosse, and Adams tree, stood in one place;
Looke Lord, and finde both Adams met in me;
As the first Adams sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adams blood my soule embrace.7
Then at the altar We sang in Our office the cycle of names
of their great attributed virtues; the festival of flames
fell from new sky to new earth; the light in bands
of bitter glory renewed the imperial lands.
Then the Byzantine ritual, the Epiclesis, began;
then their voices in Ours invoked the making of man;
petal on petal floated out of the blossom of the Host,
and all ways the Theotokos conceived by the Holy Ghost.
We exposed, We exalted the Unity; prismed shone
web, paths, points; as it was done
the antipodean zones were retrieved round a white rushing deck,
and the Acts of the Emperor took zenith from Caucasia to Carbonek.
Over the altar, flame of anatomized fire,
the High Prince stood, gyre in burning gyre;
day level before him, night massed behind;
the Table ascended; the glories intertwined.
The Table ascended; each in turn lordliest and least—
slave a squire, woman and wizard, poet and priest;
interchanged adoration, interdispersed prayer,
the ruddy pillar of the Infant was the passage of the porphyry stair.8
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1Dante Alighieri, Paradiso V.100-109.
2Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘The Vision of the Empire’ η.
3William Blake, The French Revolution I.54-64.
4T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral.
5Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
6Dunstan Thompson, The Death of Hart Crane, ll. 9-52.
7John Donne, Hymne to God my God, in my Sicknesse, ll. 1-15, 21-25.
8Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘Taliessin at Lancelot’s Mass’ ll. 25-44.