Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Something different

For many years I have loved and hated poetry.  I have a few favorite poets that have crafted words into my soul -- Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Wendell Berry, and a few others.  There are also some occasional works of Tennyson, Blake, and the like that I return to again and again, and a few lesser known poets I enjoy reading.

I also used to write a bit of poetry myself, most often as a way to express something that I couldn't deal with in prose.  The following is a bit complex and most often when people read it they just smile and nod and give me a blank look.

So maybe it helps to explain it before you read it.  (Or maybe it should just moulder in the depths of my files and not trouble you?)

"Inscape" is a term that has been used to describe Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry.  The idea is that by describing an external landscape, the poet is really describing the interior of his own soul.  So what is described in the poem as a geographical reality is actually an internal, spiritual reality.  So that's the first word of the title.

"The Prodigal Turns" is the moment I'm trying to capture here, recognizing (as becomes clear through the poem) that I am the prodigal.  I am trying in this poem to say something about the moment of repentance, the transition from self-absorbed sinner to repentant, Jesus-focused sinner.

So the first movement starts in late summer, watching the line of brown move down the mountainside.  The self-absorbed idealist (me) lives in a land of self-indulgent dreams.  Reality forces the dreamer to acknowledge that these dreams will not -- and should not -- be actualized.

Autumn, the second movement, has the speaker beginning to deal with the grotesque and violent nature of his own sin.  The self-absorbed person simply feeds off the life of others, consuming without reckoning the cost.  There's an obvious allusion to Matthew 6 and the trust in which we're called to live; but the cat -- an external reflection of the speaker -- is still caught in that violent, consumer pattern of self-indulgence.

Winter, the third movement, is the one that calls me back to this poem most often.  This movement has had three different titles since I wrote the poem.  "Holiness" makes obvious what I have tried to capture here, and the entire movement is a statement about the nature of sin.  God's grandeur is so far beyond what I can take in.  By shutting myself against God's glory, I am left facing my own inability to accept it, my own corrupted nature.  My closed eyes do not impede God's glory, they simply separate me from him.

Spring is the moment we most often call repentance, but it is the result of the first three movements.  The flood waters bring death, of course, as in the story of Noah and as in baptism.  We too often leap directly to new life, but death has to come first or there is no room for new life to grow.  There is an innocence, a powerlessness, in the muddy flats left behind when a swollen river recedes.  Yet floodplains are often the most fertile soils available.

So here it is, for what it's worth.

Inscape: The Prodigal Turns

Prologue: Narcissism
            In a far country, dreams grow like ivy up the sides of the valley;
            all they touch is trimmed in gaudy green
            with streaks of brilliant red.
            The earth turns.  Emerald leaves wither and die.
            An avalanche of brown precedes the snowline
            as it falls from the hilltops.

Autumn: Hubris
            A cat, death brooding in its eyes, stalked a sparrow.
            The bird neither sowed nor reaped, nor took measures
            for its own defense.
            Cats may levitate if need be, rising slowly
            above brown earth for a mouthful of bloody down;
            mine did.  I mourned silently for the bird, but cried out
            in awe of the spectacle: Life from death.
            My cat only chewed hollow bones
            and left a scarlet-black stain on the earth.

Winter: Holiness
            Hell is bright days in winter
            when the sun has no power to warm.
            I cannot open my eyes, partly for the cold
            and partly for the light jabbing icicles
            through my eyelids.  Ice-crystal rainbows
            obscure frost-rimmed trees ringing like bells
            in the breeze, or cracking like a firing squad at sunrise.
            Too grand for me, this miracle-laden landscape
            must remain external, and behind my eyelids
            I stand face to face with my pettiness.

Spring: Surrender
            Aggressive freshets of meltwater steer
            downhill; they seek a river.  Before reaching its banks
            they are a flood to give even Noah pause.
            Death swims these raging waters.
            As days go by, the deluge recedes;
            I see muddy fields, barren and fertile as my own soul,
            awaiting the sower.

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