Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday in a Jesuit retreat house


The Jesuit Centre of Spirituality at Manresa ... based in the former Baymount Castle in Clontarf (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 22013)

Patrick Comerford

I spent Ash Wednesday on retreat in Manresa, the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Clontarf. The retreat was facilitated by two Jesuit members of the Manresa team, Father Piaras Jackson, who until recently was editor of Sacred Space www.sacredspace.ie the daily prayer site, and Father Brendan Comerford, a former Director of Novices in the Jesuit Novitiate who also teaches spirituality in the Milltown Institute.

Throughout the day, we were in the Conference Room, the Prayer Room and the Pedro Arrupe Chapel. But there was time too after lunch and at the end of the day for a stroll down to the shoreline at Dollymount looking out onto Bull Island and the wooden bridge across to the narrow water.


The Jesuit saints ... one of the Evie Hone windows in the Prayer Room (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The focus points in the Prayer Room are five spectacular stained-glass windows by Evie Hone (1894-1955), originally designed for the Jesuit House in Rahan, near Tullamore. When the house in Rahan was closed, the windows were relocated to Manresa, where a new prayer room was built in 1992, designed to display them at their most resplendent.

These five windows, with their expressive intensity and vibrant colours, create an atmosphere of warmth and immediacy that enriches the prayerful atmosphere in Manresa.

Evie Hone was born into a family of distinguished Irish artists. She was a descendant of Joseph Hone, a brother of Nathaniel Hone. At the age of 11, she became partially lame from infantile paralysis. A visit to Assisi in 1911 made a profound impression on her. In 1921, with her friend Mainie Jellett (1897-1944), she became a pupil of the cubist painter Albert Gleizes, who had turned increasingly to religion.

Today, Evie Hone’s reputation rests largely on the expressive intensity of her stained glass output; one of the best known of her works is the window in Eton Chapel. But she was also closely involved in the Irish art scene, and once had a studio in the coachyard in Marlay Park, Rathfarnham.

The Jesuit community in Manresa lives in a house that was originally known as Granby Hall and then as Baymount Castle.

At one time, the house was residence of James Traill, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor (1765-1783). He was consecrated bishop on Saint Michan’s Church, Dublin, in 1765, and died suddenly in Abbey Street, Dublin, in December 1783.

Baymount Castle was bought and renovated in 1838 by Robert Warren (1787-1869), and he continued to live in the castle until 1847, when he moved to Killiney.

Robert Warren was a property speculator and developer and he made a great deal of money on the sale of lands to the Dublin-Bray railway. He built Killiney Castle (now Fitzpatrick’s Castle Hotel), and Victoria Castle (now Ayesha Castle). He lived in Killiney Castle but also had a town house at 40 Rutland Square (now Parnell Square). Killiney Castle had demesne of 33 acres, and he built Holy Trinity Church on part of the lands.

However, when he died on 20 June 1869 his estate foundered mainly due to the failure of a speculative development in the Foxrock and Galloping Green area and his property was sold off through the incumbered estates court.

Meanwhile Baymount Castle had been acquired by the Irish Loreto Sisters, who ran a school there. When the house was destroyed by fire in 1851, the Loreto Sisters renovated it once again, but they later sold it and moved to Balbriggan.

In 1898 the castle was bought by Lord Ardilaun, a member of the Guinness family and the owner of the neighbouring Saint Anne’s estate.

When World War I began, William Lucas Scott opened a preparatory school for boys that continued in Baymount Castle until 1936.

The castle was then it acquired by John Tudor Gwynn (1881-1956), at the time the Irish Affairs Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, and a former colonial administrator in India. His father, John Gwynn (1827-1917), was Dean of Raphoe and a lecturer in theology in Trinity College Dublin; his mother, Lucy Josephine O’Brien, was a daughter of the Irish patriot, William Smith O’Brien. Dean Gwynn was also the father of the Robert Malcolm Gwynn (1877-1962); another son, Brian Gwynn, was the father-in-law of Archbishop George Simms.

In 1948, the Archbishop of Dublin asked the Jesuits to establish a north-side retreat house, and they bought Baymount Castle, with 17 acres. Retreats began in 1949. Building work on the new retreat house began in 1966, and it opened in 1967.


Looking out onto Bull Island and Dublin Bay from the shore at Dollymount below Manresa (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

With the Saints in Lent (1): TS Eliot and ‘Ash Wednesday’

TS Eliot ... ‘Ash Wednesday’ has been described as “the greatest achievement” of his poetry.”

Patrick Comerford

Today is Ash Wednesday, and I am on a retreat today in the Manresa in Clontarf with the staff and students of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

In previous years, during Lent and Advent, I have followed the seasons of the Church Calendar, day-by-day, introducing appropriate poems and their authors as an aid to reflection and prayer.

Then, during the Season of Advent at the end of last year [2012], I brought us through the season day-by-day looking at the lives of appropriate and inspiring saints.

I have decided to this again this Lent [2013], looking at the lives of saints in the calendars of different traditions in the Church.

I suppose if TS Eliot (1888-1965) was to feature in the Calendar of some Anglican Churches, he would be ascribed a commemoration last month, on 4 January – the anniversary of his death almost 50 years ago.

However, on Ash Wednesday, I inevitably find my thoughts turning to TS Eliot and ‘Ash Wednesday,’ which has been described as “the greatest achievement of Eliot’s poetry.”

I used this poem last year on Ash Wednesday, but I think its worth looking at again this year on Ash Wednesday.

‘Ash Wednesday’ and Eliot’s conversion

‘Ash Wednesday’ was published in its complete form in 1930, three years after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927 and it appears in his Selected Poems before his other first Christian works, the ‘Ariel Poems,’– ‘Journey of the Magi’ (1927), ‘A Song for Simeon’ (1928) ‘Animula’ (1929) ‘Marina’ (1930) and the much later ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees’ (1956).

Eliot was baptised by the Revd William Force Stead (1884-1967) in Holy Trinity Church, Finstock, a small and locked village church outside Witney, on 29 June 1927. Stead was a fellow American, a poet and the chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford. It was Stead who first encouraged Eliot to read the poems of George Herbert and John Donne and the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes. A day later, Stead brought Eliot for confirmation in his private chapel by the Bishop of Oxford, Thomas Banks Strong, a former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

‘Ash Wednesday’ is the first long poem written by TS Eliot after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927, although the first four ‘Ariel Poems,’ which were written at the same time, were published earlier. The complete ‘Ash Wednesday’ was first published in April 1930 in a small book with a limited, edition of 600 signed copies, followed by two print runs of 2,000 each in Britain and the US. Three of the five sections of ‘Ash Wednesday’ had already been published earlier as separate poems between 1927 and 1929.

The title, of course, refers to ‘Ash Wednesday,’ the first of the forty days of Lent, and the poem deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith in the past strives to move towards God.

‘Ash Wednesday’ is richly but ambiguously allusive and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation. The poem is concerned with personal salvation in an age of uncertainty, where the weariness of giving up to a creed weighs heavily on the speaker:

(Why should the agéd eagle stretch its wings?)
“Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?


Eliot’s journey to Christianity was along a long and winding path. Yet this poem, which is not so much about God as a prayer to God, displays a great spiritual maturity in a relatively new convert.

What did Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism mean socially in 1927? Virginia Woolf said of his conversion that “a corpse would seem to me to be more credible.” EM Forster claimed that Eliot had “no trace of trace of religious emotion. He has not got it; what he seeks is not revelation, but stability.” But what was the reaction of his other contemporaries, including Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein?

Eliot’s conversion may have been shocking at the time, if not revolutionary. But their response, whatever it may have been, was not going to turn him: “No one ever attempted to convert me; and, looking back on my pre-Christian state of mind, I do not think that such a campaign would have prospered.”

‘Ash Wednesday’ constitutes the greatest leap in Eliot’s verse and life and the greatest pause in his poetic writings before the hiatus between his plays and The Four Quartets.

In ‘Ash Wednesday,’ Eliot’s poetic persona has somehow found the courage, through spiritual exhaustion, to seek faith. That faith demands complete submission, including the admission that faith must ultimately come from without because what is within has been exhausted. If ‘The Hollow Men’ (1925) admits powerlessness over damnation, ‘Ash Wednesday’ admits powerlessness as a prelude to, or a requirement for, salvation.

Yet if ‘Ash Wednesday’ is about penitence, it i also about repentance. The opening lines, taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXIX, use the verb “turn” three times. “Turn” echoes the Greek word for repentance, μετάνοια (metanoia), literally “changing one’s mind” – as the prophets called on Israel to “turn back, turn from your wicked ways.”

‘Ash Wednesday’ forms a personal liturgy. It is a song of death and hoped-for rebirth, a song of hope while doubting hope, a song of faith while seeking faith, a song of love for one who has known little love, a prayer for mercy that acknowledges mercy as undeserved.

The stairs in the turret in Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Most readers are familiar with Eliot’s references to the stairs in ‘Ash Wednesday,’ which recall his life-long preoccupation with Dante, who, in Purgatorio, has seven ascending stairs that encircle Purgatory.

Eliot reworks the main images of ‘Ash Wednesday’ again and again throughout the poem, including: wings, the garden with its fountains and springs, the desert with its gourds and bones, the dominant, recurring archetype of the “Lady” or Mary/Beatrice figure, the stones she turns blue, the white light of transfiguration, the Word and the word, and the yew-tree.

Christ is never mentioned in the poem, while the devil is mentioned once, though limited to “the devil of the stairs” – some personal demon, not the fallen archangel of evil. And, while the poem may have the feeling of Lent, and the wilderness of the desert is prominent, Eliot makes no mention of ashes either.

Eliot’s portrait of the female redemptive figure in Part II and IV of ‘Ash Wednesday’ is the closest he comes to the admiration of, much less the love of, a real woman in his verse. However, the Lady is essentially unapproachable, and they never speak to each other unlike Dante and Beatrice. Professor Barry Spurr of the University of Sydney, in his new study of Eliot’s Anglo-Catholicism, ‘Anglo-Catholic in Religion’ – TS Eliot and Christianity (Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2010), says this is says ‘Ash Wednesday’ is “the finest Marian poem, in English, of the twentieth century.” But other critics say that in the poem’s conclusion the feminine archetype is identified with the Holy Spirit.

Part I of ‘Ash Wednesday,’ ‘Perch’io non Spero’ (Because I do not hope), was first published in the Spring 1928 issue of Commerce along with a French translation. It draws on a 14th century poem by Guido Cavalcanti, and a versicle prior to the Mass on Ash Wednesday: “Deus tu converses vivificabis nos” (“Lord, thou wilt turn again and quicken us”). It also draws on one of the traditional readings in The Book of Common Prayer for Ash Wednesday (Joel 2: 12-17), which urges a turning – and a re-turning – to God: “Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning …turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2: 12, 13).

Part I of ‘Ash Wednesday’ is composed of five stanzas with a couplet from the Anglican liturgy at the end. Each stanza calls for a different renunciation.

The first is renunciation of hope, hope in this world for past diversions that might threaten his new-found faith.

The eagle may be the eagle that represents Saint John the Divine in iconography – the Prologue of his Gospel later punctuates Part V.

Stanza 2 renounces the hope of fulfilment in this world, acknowledging that the “positive hour” of the “one veritable transitory power” is evanescent, thus the seemingly timeless moment of bliss or power in this existence is no longer a hope.

In Stanza 3, he rejoices in his own helplessness to change human condition, and so renounces the blessed face of this world and the voice of temptation within it.

If this sounds self-centred, then in Stanza 4 he defines what this entails: “And pray to God to have mercy upon us.” There is no going back.

Stanza 5 recalls the imagery of Stanza 1:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air.


Then comes a direct appeal to God:

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.


The concluding couplet appended separately is taken directly from ‘Ave Maria’ in the Anglo-Catholic version of the Rosary, reminding us that now and the hour of our death are really the same, and the pilgrim again asks for mercy:

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.


‘Salutation’ (Part II of ‘Ash Wednesday)’ was published in December 1927 in the Saturday Review of Literature, and again in January 1928 in Eliot’s own magazine, Criterion.

The three stanzas in Part II give a glimpse of paradise that the hollow men could never have achieved.

Stanza 1 begins with an appeal to the Lady, the Beatrice/Mary figure, and introduces three white leopards that have feasted on the pilgrim’s body and released his bones to sing. Eliot makes his leopards white, in contrast to the spotted leopard of Dante that represents fraud in The Inferno. Eliot’s leopards are divine agents to help in the purification of the pilgrim, friends of the Lady.

There are references too to Ezekiel’s vision:

... And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? ...
(see Ezekiel 37: 3).

Of course they shall live, for this is a poem about faith. And the speaker credits the Lady’s goodness that his bones now “shine with brightness.”

Stanza 1 ends with an admonishment by God to prophesy to the wind (see Ezekiel 37: 4), a fitting task for a pilgrim too timid as yet to prophesy. Lastly the bones begin to sing, giving us the song to the Lady that makes up stanza two.

Stanza 3 echoes the first stanza, as the bones sing again:

We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other...
... We have our inheritance.


‘At the first turning of the second stair’ ... the stairs to my rooms in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Som de l’escalina’ (Part III of ‘Ash Wednesday’) was published in the Autumn 1929 issue of Commerce, along with a French translation. In Part III, Eliot retreats from a vision of Paradise to one of Purgatory.

Stanza 1 begins with the pilgrim “At the first turning of the second stair.” He looks back and sees “the same shape”

Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.


What or who is this same shape? Perhaps it is the shadow, the past or the unconverted nature of the poet.

In Stanza 2, the pilgrim climbs another half-flight, and there, poised at “the second turning of the second stair,” he leaves the devil and the shape “twisting, turning below,” then enters darkness. If the experience of the first stair re-enacts the struggle of renunciation, the second stair reminds us of old age and death.

The stairs leading to the gallery in Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

There are numerous groups of three that can be applied symbolically to these three stanzas about the stairs:

● The world, the flesh, and the devil.
● Dante’s spotted leopard (fraud and deceit), lion (violence), and she-wolf (lust and hunger).
● Past, present and future.
● Life, death and eternity.

We then have the “first turning of the third stair.”

The conclusion of Stanza 3 draws on the words the priest prays after breaking but before consuming the host at the Eucharist, which neatly transforms the temptations of the flesh into the ultimate Christian solution – the incarnation of Christ as remembered in the Eucharist:

Lord, I am not worthy,
Lord I am not worthy
But speak the word only.
.

Part IV provides another homage to the Mary/Beatrice figure. Is she the Virgin Mary? She certainly dresses “in white and blue, in Mary’s colour.” Or, does she represent the Church Triumphant? Or, are we being pointed towards the Holy Spirit?

In Stanzas 1 and 2, this is a figure of redemption beyond time:

In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked ...
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking ...
The Silent sister veiled in white and blue.


Stanza 3 recalls the temptation of Stanza 3 of Part III and dispenses with it.

The unicorns in Stanza 4 are a symbol of purity associated with virgins, but they need no jewels, for a hearse should be black, not gilded.

The white light which Eliot speaks of at the beginning of Stanza 4 is the dazzling light that forced Moses to veil face, the dazzling light at the Transfiguration, and Dante’s vision of Beatrice in the Paradisio:

I saw Beatrice turned round, facing left,
her eyes raised to the sun – no eagle ever
could stare so fixed and straight into such light!


But in this stanza in ‘Ash Wednesday,’ the poet manages to look at the Lady, glimpsing time redeemed in paradise.

Stanza 4 repeats a recurring theme, trying to restore “with a new verse the ancient rhyme.”

Stanza 4 to Stanza 8 of Part IV – the last two consisting of only one line each – reiterate the renewal brought by the Lady while introducing Part V:

Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word, unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile.


This last, one-line stanza is the middle line of the second, five-line part of the prayer Salve Regina (‘Hail Holy Queen’), customarily said by Anglo-Catholics at the end of the Rosary:

Turn then, most gracious Advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.


Praying those words, “after this our exile” leads, therefore, leads to the promise of the Beatific Vision, of seeing Christ one-to-one.

In Part V, in the opening words, the poet contrasts the word and the Word, and this opening stanza draws on the prologue of the Gospel according to Saint John. Here Eliot is playing with language to confound reason, searching for the fulfilment of the promise in Part IV.

In Stanza 3, we find the Word is present in this world, however disguised and veiled, however ignored by the many, “those who walk in darkness.”

There are three single-line stanzas (2, 5 and 7):

O my people, what have I done unto thee.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
O my people.

Here Eliot is quoting Micah (6: 3) from one of the Good Friday reproaches or the Improperia, a series of antiphons and responses expressing the remonstrance of Christ with his people. At the 16th century Anglican Reformation, the Reproaches were not included in The Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer.

In Part VI, we move from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, bringing Lent to its climax and its completion. Stanza 1 repeats the opening of ‘Ash Wednesday,’ changing only the word “Because” to “Although”:

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn


This change reminds us of Eliot’s subtleties.

Stanza 2 briefly reworks themes from ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Hollow Men,’ recalling the death of Phlebas the Phoenician, “Wavering between the profit and the loss” (‘Ash Wednesday,’ Part VI, line 4; see ‘The Waste Land,’ Part IV, line 3).

A reference to the dream kingdom of ‘The Hollow Men’ follows in lines 5-6:

In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
.

Compare this with ‘The Hollow Men’ Part II, lines 19-20:

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom.


After another equivocation – “(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things,” – Eliot moves on in Stanza 2 (lines 8-10) to empower the wings in Part 1 that were “merely vans to beat the air”:

From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings


Stanza 4 cautions us again not to be distracted by this world or its poetry:

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.


The yew-tree is a conventional symbol of death in English poetry.

After these lines, and without a stanza break, Eliot then continues in lines 25-26 with a supplication to the Lady, who is now revealed as a poetic incarnation of the Holy Spirit:

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


The repeated symbolism brings us to a climax. Among the rocks of this world which the Lady, in her world, has changed to blue as a symbol of redemption, the petitioner finally acknowledges that he is united with the Spirit through his repentance.

The poem ends with a prayer from the Psalms: “And let my cry come unto thee” (see Psalm 102: 1).

‘The place of solitude where three dreams cross / Between blue rocks …’ … blue waters and small boats in front of Skerries Sailing Club on Ash Wednesday two years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Ash Wednesday, TS Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.
At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the fig’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word
But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will

And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Readings:

Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51: 1-18; II Corinthians 5: 20b - 6:10; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have given your only Son to be for us
both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life:
Give us grace
that we may always most thankfully receive
these his inestimable gifts,
and also daily endeavour ourselves
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (14 February): 2, Saint Valentine

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin.