28 December 2014

‘Dust in sunlight and memory in corners’
… sharing memories of ‘Little Jerusalem’

‘Dust in sunlight and memory in corners’ … sunset at Clare Hall this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The Sunday after Easter is sometimes called ‘Low Sunday’ for a variety of reasons –ranging from the spiritual anti-climax some feel after the great celebration of Easter, to the fact that the high attendances on Easter Day do not carry through to the following Sunday.

For some people, this Sunday after Christmas is another ‘low’ Sunday. But the attendance figures seemed to be good in Christ Church Cathedral for the Cathedral Eucharist this morning [28 December 2014]. I was the deacon, reading the Gospel and assisting with at the administration of the Holy Communion.

The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, presided, and the preacher was the Revd Cecilia Grace Kenny, who spoke about the prophecy of Simeon and Anna when the Christ Child was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem by the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph (see Luke 2: 22-40).

Next Sunday [4 January 2015] marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the poet TS Eliot on 4 January 1965, and I was reminded this morning of his poem ‘A Song for Simeon,’ which is based on this Gospel passage and the canticle Nunc Dimittis.

This is one of four poems by TS Eliot published between 1927 and 1930 and known as the Ariel Poems. In ‘Journey of The Magi’ and ‘A Song for Simeon,’ Eliot shows how he persisted on his spiritual pilgrimage. He was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England on 29 June 1927; ‘Journey of the Magi’ was published two months later, in August 1927, and a few months later Faber, for whom he worked, published ‘A Song for Simeon’ as part of a series of Christmas booklets. In all, Eliot wrote four poems for the series.

Both ‘Journey of The Magi’ and ‘A Song for Simeon’ draw on the stories of Biblical characters concerned with the arrival of the Christ Child. Both poems deal with the past, with a significant Epiphany event, with the future – as seen from the time of that event, and with a time beyond time – death.

‘A Song for Simeon,’ as with ‘Journey of The Magi,’ is also in the mouth of an old man, the Prophet Simeon in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here too, Eliot draws on a Christmas sermon by Lancelot Andrewes: “Verbum infans, the Word without a word, the eternal Word not able to speak a word.” In Eliot’s words, the old man sees a faith that he cannot inhabit in “the still unspeaking and unspoken Word.”

I hope to speak about Eliot again next Sunday when I preach in Zion Church, Rathgar, on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

After coffee in the Cathedral Crypt following this morning’s Eucharist, three of us went for lunch in La Dolce Vita in Cow Lane, in the Temple Bar area near the cathedral.

This was my first time to meet my cousin Stephen Comerford – his late father, also Stephen Comerford, was my second cousin. There were family stories to recall, reminiscences to share, and memories to exchange as we recalled Comerford families in Wexford and Dublin, the family links with Comberford, Lichfield and Bunclody, and competed to see who could remember the most Jewish shops in the Clanbrassil Street area.

It was like we had moved from Simeon and Anna in the Temple in Jerusalem to the Erlichs and Rubensteins in Little Jerusalem.

‘The winter sun creeps by the snow hills’ … the setting sun reflected on the glass walls of the shopping centre at Clare Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later, two of us went on for a Christmas visit to other family members. On the way back, as we stopped briefly at Clare Hall, we could see in the east the snow-filled clouds that are hovering the Irish Sea but not moving into the coast.

To the west, the sun was setting and casting long rays onto the high glass walls of the shopping centre and the surrounding buildings. There was such a clear sky, and colours were so sharp it might have been possible to imagine that this was a summer evening in Greece. And I recalled those lines by TS Eliot in ‘A Song for Simeon’:

The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;

My life is light …
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners

Christ Church Cathedral before this morning’s Cathedral Eucharist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A Song for Simeon (TS Eliot)

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

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