Since the beginning of the pandemic. My wife and I have been watching Malcolm Guite’s YouTube Channel in which he offers what he calls “Spells in the Library.” These “spells” are the incantations of poetry and words found in the collections of books in his library. We find these weekly installments enchanting.
Earlier this week he posted a piece on John Betjeman. I have posted it below. It’s delightful.
Now, as I was beginning to watch this I was caught by his opening introduction. Obviously he is speaking extemporary, yet I found his words remarkably poetic. Poets can do this sometimes.
I believe it was Ruth Pitter who took words which C.S. Lewis penned or spoke and turned them into a poem. She said, if I remember this correctly, that she had to do little or no altering of the words to make the poem. Lewis had been so steeped in verse, that poetry was the tea which was brewed through his words. I think Dr. Guite is of that same kind.
At any rate, I took his words and made a poem. The first half or so are the words (almost verbatim) by which he introduces his Spell in the Library on Betjeman. It seemed I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I wrote something down.
At any rate, if any of this is worthy, it is to the credit of Dr Guite. If any of it unworthy, the fault is mine.
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
“Chaos has come again,” as Othello says.
I’ve got this Betjeman, (Don’t you see?)
Where it’s perched precariously,
Where it really shouldn’t be;
This book, Betjeman’s Britain,
Because I took it out of the shelf,
And can’t actually…
I can’t remember…
I can’t find the gap for it myself.
So you can see,
All the other books
That are on their sides,
They have a home to go to,
But I can’t…
Find their way home
At the moment.
We all, like volumes
Lie on our sides
Where we shouldn’t be.
We cannot find
The gap where we fit—
Where we slide
Snug up against another’s side—
Cozy, upright, ready to be read,
Where we sit.
And we wait for the Reader
Who gives life to the dead
Who has gone before us
Who has made for us the best
Place where we might abide and rest.
But chaos has come again.
We can’t…I can’t…they can’t
Find their way home
Though they have a home to go to.
Here we sit or lie;
Here we wait until we do
Find our way back and into
That gap, the place our Reader choose.
One day, in a moment,
He will take us up and read,
And by His voice blow the leaves
Of these open pages, and with life breathe
And speak us with words into being.
We shall rise. We shall find our place
Straight-spined, standing tall, awash
In the grace of the Spoken Word
Surprised as Betjeman
The second of the O Antiphons is O Lord, or Adonai. The Antiphon continues the unfolding hope for redemption. Followed by Wisdom, this Antiphon speaks of the Lord’s appearing to Moses and His presence and self-revelation through the glory cloud and the Law which we read about in the book of Exodus. Even though the Lord delivered Israel from slavery with an outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6), the Lord would again and again need to lay bar his holy arm in order to save his people. We tend, I think, to first imagine the Lord’s outstretched arm as one that is bared in order to strike. But the gospel show us otherwise. In this way, John in his gospel (echoing Isaiah) asks, “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
In this installment, artist Sarah Stone provides a beautiful interpretation of the sonnet I’ve written and Ed Pilkington reads the poem. You may read, see, and hear via the video below.
O Lord (O Adonai)
“O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.”
From Sinai's bush which blazed in holy fire
You answered, “I AM!”, gave Moses your name.
And promised your arm would reach, never tire
’Til you saved your son from slav’ry and shame.
And even while gath’ring the bread sent each day
Sheltered beneath Sinai’s thundering peak,
The people yet complain, reject, and stray
From HIM WHO IS, deliv’er of the weak.
O Lord, redeem! My arms cannot bear
The doing demands of performance lords,
Nor can avoid the tangle of sin’s snare
I'm trapped by desire, cupidity’s cords.
Baring his arm I AM reached to the lost
By taking the wood of manger and cross.
Several artists at the church I pastor have been collaborating on an Advent art installation titled, “O Come, O Come.” This is the first installment and the project takes its inspiration from the Great O Antiphons, and thus the project’s title borrows its name from the advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The text of that carol make use of the antiphon’s text for each of its verses.
If these Antiphons intrigue you, I’d suggest you listen to Malcolm Guite discuss the season of Advent HERE. Today is Sapientia which marks the beginning of the week before the Nativity and on which day the first of the antiphons, O Wisdom, would be sung.
The visual art included here is by artist Hannah Lis and my father-in-law, Ed Pilkington, is reading the sonnet I’ve written below.
O Wisdom (O Sapientia)
“O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.”
In the silence, before words, songs, or speech,
The Spirit breathes over the water's night;
The Most High speaks; Wisdom readies to teach,
Drive away darkness, sing: "Let there be light!"
O'er Sinai, I AM in glory thunders;
Wisdom speaks again, makes her precepts known,
Reveals the way, writing worded wonders,
Her purpose and promise on tablets of stone.
David's Branch shall come, rule with right wisdom;
Prince of Peace, Immanuel, God of Might,
O'erturn the proud, exalt in His Kingdom
The meek and low whom he heals, mends, makes right.
Tonight, Wisdom waits, poised in the world's wild--
Inhales to speak through the cries of a child.
Below is a video which incorporates poem, reading, and art.