Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wedge a Bit of Poetry in There

I've written a lot of rituals over the years, by myself or collaborating with one or more other Pagan clergy. Sometimes I end up writing original verse and chants for the 'high points' of the ceremony, but often I find someone else has already come up with words that are better than anything I can muster. I don't mean invocations and other bits from contemporary Pagan books, though I certainly enjoy those. I mean poetry - the stuff my high school English teacher forced me to slog through, a fact for which I am now (belatedly) grateful.

I thought I would share a few of my favorite poetic bits with you today, words that have inspired me and let me wrap a ritual around them, at the turning of the moon tides or the turning of the seasons. Sometimes it's enough just to read the poem, out loud or silently, and let it seep in as you meditate. And sometimes these poems beg to be shared with a wider audience, their sentiments brought alive by the vibration of voices around a circle. Perhaps they will inspire you as well. Here we go:


First, an excerpt from the poem Hertha by Algernon Charles Swinburne:

I am that which began;
               Out of me the years roll;
       Out of me God and man;
               I am equal and whole;
God changes, and man, and the form of them bodily; I am the soul.

       Before ever land was,
               Before ever the sea,
       Or soft hair of the grass,
               Or fair limbs of the tree,
Or the fresh-coloured fruit of my branches, I was, and thy soul was in me.

       First life on my sources
               First drifted and swam;
       Out of me are the forces
               That save it or damn;
Out of me man and woman, and wild-beast and bird; before God was, I am.

       Beside or above me
               Nought is there to go;
       Love or unlove me,
               Unknow me or know,
I am that which unloves me and loves; I am stricken, and I am the blow.

       I the mark that is missed
               And the arrows that miss,
       I the mouth that is kissed
               And the breath in the kiss,
The search, and the sought, and the seeker, the soul and the body that is.

       I am that thing which blesses
               My spirit elate;
       That which caresses
               With hands uncreate
My limbs unbegotten that measure the length of the measure of fate.

       But what thing dost thou now,
               Looking Godward, to cry
       "I am I, thou art thou,
               I am low, thou art high"?
I am thou, whom thou seekest to find him; find thou but thyself, thou art I.


A short bit from the 20th century black American poet, novelist and playwright Langston Hughes. I'm sure he would find it ironic that I, a polytheistic Pagan, use the words that he, a non-theistic humanist, wrote:

Oh, God of Dust and Rainbows,
Help us to see
That without the dust the rainbow
Would not be.


Profound words of transformation from the 13th-century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi:

Every midwife knows
that not until a mother’s womb
softens from the pain of labour
will a way unfold
and the infant find that opening to be born.

Oh friend!
There is treasure in your heart,
it is heavy with child.

Listen.
All the awakened ones,
like trusted midwives are saying,
'welcome this pain.'

It opens the dark passage of Grace.


How about a bit of seasonal verse from Edward Dowden, titled In September:

Spring scarce had greener fields to show than these
Of mid September; through the still warm noon
The rivulets ripple forth a gladder tune
Than ever in the summer; from the trees
Dusk-green, and murmuring inward melodies,
No leaf drops yet; only our evenings swoon
In pallid skies more suddenly, and the moon
Finds motionless white mists out on the leas.


Another one from Swinburne; this time, the whole poem. This one is titled The Garden of Proserpine:

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.


And finally, I leave you with the wise words of Native American writer Linda K. Hogan:

Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.