Book of Comfort

20 September 2016

When we first learned that the owners of the house we had rented for almost 7 years were planning to sell, I begin to compile a wee 'Book of Comfort'... When the ground beneath us starts to shift, we cling to what we know.


As I teenager I pondered the life of a nun - I longed to be in a safe, prayer-filled place. I devoured the Starbridge novels by Susan Howatch and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. But I was self-aware enough to know I longed to be a mother even more than I wanted to be a nun!

I can't remember where I got this wee handmade journal, but it seemed to be the perfect place to gather favourite poems and prayers and psalms... The first few pages included a bookplate and lovely mediaeval-style illustrations, so I continued the pattern of an image and a prayer/poem. It's only A6 size, which is quite hard for me to write in, but I can read my scrawl, so that's all that matters!


I began by writing out my favourite passages from my christening Book of Common Prayer - strange to think this is almost as old as I am... It's weathered much better than I (certainly needed my reading glasses to read the tiny print!)


The first piece is the Magnificat - a lifelong favourite, I can recite from memory - I remember reading it in many a Carol Service. I was never pretty enough to play Mary in the school nativity play, but I always had a good reading voice.

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me,
And holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm,
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel. 
As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

I can't pretend to have always known what the words mean, having first read it aged 5 years old. But I do remember always liking the fact that God: 'hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek'  - I instinctively responded to the radical nature of the message, the 'upsidedown-ness' of the politics...

~~000~~
21 September 2016

Evening Prayer and Compline are my two favourite litanies. The prayers for protection and peace have always spoken deeply to me, even as a child... I used to love singing this (and the Magnificat) in the village choir:
Nunc Dimittis
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared
before the face of all people.
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.


O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, 
and all just works do proceed.
Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give,
that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments,
and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies
may pass our time in rest and quietness, 
through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.


Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open,
all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts 
by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love thee,
and worthily magnify thy Holy Name,

through Christ our Lord. Amen.


The lyrical words of all these prayers are held deep in my DNA... I 'know' them in my bones... I don't necessarily hold to all the theology they espouse (the whiff of triumphalism, the enforced humility); but the second Collect of Evening Prayer is something I often say before I go to sleep...


Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord,
And by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.
For the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Certain words sing out from each of these prayers... Peace, Light, Rest, Quietness, Defence from Peril, Fear and Darkness, Cleansing, Inspiration, Perfect Love, Open Hearts... These are things EVERY Soul seeks, whatever their persuasion, and yes, they bring me Comfort.


~~000~~
24 September 2016

Now the pages move into poetry - old favourites, new discoveries...

Sitting in Quietude
Winter has a message of its own
When the cold is like a flower - 
Flowers have their fragrance,
Winter has its handful of memories.
The shadow of a withered branch
like lean blue smoke
Paints a stroke across the afternoon window,
In the cold the sunlight grows pale and slanted.
It is just like this,
I sip the tea quietly
As if waiting for a guest to speak.
~ Lin Huiyin~
(Translated by Michelle Yeh)


No Time Ago
no time ago
or else a life
walking in the dark
i met christ

jesus) my heart
flopped over
and lay still
while he passed (as

close as i'm to you
yes closer
made of nothing
except loneliness
~ e.e. cummings ~

I've always had a love for e.e. cummings and his sparse verse and funky punctuation - it makes one stop and pause, which may have been his intention. And the other poem I copied from a magazine ages ago (I didn't record which one). I love the imagery of Winter - the 'handful of memories', the shadow of a branch being like 'lean blue smoke' - it reminds me of ikebana... As does the arrangement in cumming's poem, now I think about it, and so I guess that's why I put the image of the vase of flowers opposite...

Like my moonboards, I choose all the images in my wee book subconsciously, and so often I only see connections when I write about them here... Aren't we curious creatures, we humans??
~~000~~
27 September 2016


Nature is a constant source of joy and inspiration - here are two nature poems, one new to me found in a random book of poems; the other an old, old favourite (I studied the Romantic poets for A-level way back when...). 


The Waking
I strode across
An open field;
The sun was out,
Heat was happy.

This way! This way!
The wren's throat shimmered,
Either to other,
The blossoms sang.

The stones sang,
The little ones did,
And flowers jumped
Like small goats.

A ragged fringe
Of daisies waved;
I wasn't alone
In the grove of apples.

Far in the wood
A nestling sighed;
The dew loosened
Its morning smells.

I came where the river
Ran over stones;
My ears knew
An early joy.

And all the waters
Of all the streams
Sang in my veins
That summer day.
~Theodore Roethke~


From Lines Composed a few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh, nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in mind of man
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
~William Wordsworth~

I just love the 5th stanza of the The Waking: 'Far in the wood/ A nestling sighed/ The dew loosened/ Its morning smells' - I know that early dew smell, there is no other like it :) 

And dear William's 'a sense sublime/ Of something far more deeply interfused', I've experienced every day of my life - long before I ever knew the words to describe it. Indeed it is a counter-refrain to the 'still, sad music of humanity'...

~~000~~
28 September 2016

Now the pages are filled with the words of my beloved, John Keats - starting with my absolute favourite poem (one of the very few I can recite by heart). Forget Shakespeare, THIS is a proper sonnet!!


When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, of charact'ry
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! - Then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.


Keats died aged 26 from TB, which he contracted when he nursed his younger brother Tom who died aged 19 in 1818. Keats only started writing poetry when he himself was 19, and was prolific in those 7 years till his death - both his letters and his poems show how brightly he burned...

~00~

These are the opening lines of a V-E-R-Y long poem, 'Hyperion', which tells the tale of the Battle of the Titans, when the young gods, led by Apollo, defeated the old guard. I truly have never read lines that more perfectly set a scene - they still send shivers down my spine when I read them...


Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve's one star,
Sat grey-hair'd Saturn, quiet as stone,
Still as the silence round his lair;
Forest upon forest hung above his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer's day
Robs not one light seed from the feather'd grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
A stream went voiceless by, still deadened more
By reason of his fallen divinity
Spreading a shade; the Naiad 'mid her reeds
Press'd her cold finger closer to her lips.

Along the margin-sand large foot-marks went,
No further than to where his feet had stray'd,
And slept there since. Upon the sodden ground
His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
Unsceptred; and his realmless eyes were closed;
While his bow'd head seem'd list'ning to the Earth,
His ancient mother, for some comfort yet...



~~000~~
11 October 2016

Here's another all-time favourite Keats poem, 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' - it's a poem that's best read aloud, as it has a wonderful rhythm...


Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone.
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew.
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful - a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love, 
And made sweet moan.

I sat her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend and sing
A faery's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in a language strange she said -
'I love thee true.'

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sighed full sore.
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream'd - Ah, woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill side.


I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death pale were they all;
They cried, 'La belle dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!'

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.


I was thrilled to find THE perfect images in my extensive stash... It is the mix of words, images, the memories they evoke - the very 'known-ness' of the words - that bring me comfort... 

What brings you warm comfort as we, in the northern hemisphere, tip into the darkly cold half of the year?

~~000~~
21 October 2016


Two poems from two non-English poets (one of the joys of growing older is discovering poetry of other lands...). It's only as I type these out here, I realize they cover both night and day - there's always a time for poetry!


A Clear Midnight
This is thy hour, O Soul,
thy free flight into the wordless, 
Away from books, away from art, 
the day erased, the lesson done.
Thee fully forth emerging
silent, gazing, pondering the themes
thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.
~ Walt Whitman ~

~0~


The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. 
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~Rumi~



~~000~~


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