30 January 2023

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 30 January 2023

‘The radiant Orb unveils, / In all his pride of light’ (Anna Seward) … early morning on Stowe Pool to the east of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation on Thursday next (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today commemorates Charles king and martyr (1649). As a young prince, Charles I was a guest of the Comberford family at the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth, in 1619, while his father stayed at Tamworth Castle.

Anna Seward (1742-1809) by Tilly Kettle … she was part of a literary and intellectual circle in Lichfield

I was back in Tamworth last week, visiting the Moat House and some places associated with the Comberford family, and in recent mornings my reflections have drawn on poems about Tamworth by Mal Dewhirst, ‘Our Town’ and ‘We are Tamworth.’

I thought it only fair, therefore, to reflect on a poem from Lichfield this morning, and my choice of poem is ‘Sonnet 52’, by Anna Seward (1742-1809), a Romantic poet, often called the ‘Swan of Lichfield’.

Anna Seward was the elder of two surviving daughters of Canon Thomas Seward (1708-1790), a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, and his wife Elizabeth (Hunter). Elizabeth later had three further children, who all died in infancy, and two stillbirths. Anna Seward mourned their loss in her poem Eyam (1788).

Anna Seward was born on 12 December 1742 in Eyam in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where her father was Rector. Anna and her younger sister Sarah spent almost all their lives in the Peak District and in Lichfield.

When Thomas Seward was appointed a Canon Residentiary of Lichfield Cathedral in 1749, he moved to Lichfield with his family. They moved into the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral Close in 1754. Sarah (Sally) died suddenly of typhus at the age of 19 in 1764.

Anna Seward was part of a literary and cultural circle in Lichfield that included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Maria Edgeworth, the poet Sir Brooke Boothby whose family once owned the Moat House, and the Levett family. She was also involved in the Lunar Society in Birmingham, which included Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Lovell Edgeworth.

Anna Seward cared for her father in the last 10 years of his life, after he suffered a stroke. When he died in 1790, he left her financially independent with an income of £400 per annum. She continued to live at the Bishop's Palace until she died on 25 March 1809.

My choice of poem this morning, ‘Sonnet 52’ by Anna Seward, is appropriate reading early on a Monday morning and at the beginning of the week.

The former Bishop’s Palace in Lichfield … home of the poet Anna Seward, the ‘Swan of Lichfield’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sonnet 52, by Anna Seward:

Yes, thou shalt smile again! – Time always heals,
In Youth, the wounds of sorrow. – O! survey
Yon now subsided Deep, thro’ night a prey
To warring winds, and to their furious peals
Surging tumultuous. – Yet, as in dismay,
The settling billows tremble – Morning steals
Grey on the rocks; and soon, to pour the day
From the streak’d east, the radiant Orb unveils,
In all his pride of light. – Thus shall the glow
Of beauty, health, and hope, by soft degrees
Spread o’er thy breast; – disperse these storms of woe:
Wake with soft Pleasure’s sense, the wish to please,
Till from those eyes the wonted lustres flow,
Bright as the Sun, on calm, and crystal Seas.

‘Yes, thou shalt smile again! – Time always heals’ (Anna Seward) … the Friary Clock Tower in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Opening Our Hearts.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by James Roberts, Christian Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, who reflected on Holocaust Memorial Day last Friday and World Interfaith Harmony Week.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters at this time of remembrance. May their pain and loss never be forgotten, and the Holocaust be a perpetual reminder of where prejudice and discrimination ends.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The statue of King Charles I outside Lichfield Cathedral … he is commemorated with a Lesser Festival in the Church of England on 30 January (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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