Archives For Poetry

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a man of faith. Who like the rest of us, struggled from time to time. His poetry, some of which is tainted by “prescription” laudanum (the liquid variety of opium), can seem to us to be untouchable. Coleridge’s original meaning almost unattainable.

Kubla Khan being a quintessential example, followed closely by his ‘Aids to reflection: confessions of an inquiring spirit’ written in latter part of his life. The work starts out strong, but veers off in strange statements that appear unrelated to the whole.

Throughout his life Coleridge moved from Christian orthodoxy towards Unitarianism and back again. Ever since my first encounter with Kubla Khan, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and Frost at Midnight, I’ve had an interest in this wild–at-heart eclectic 18th Century Christian.

Reading Coleridge is an adventure. Over the years I find myself finding new depth in the way Coleridge expressed his theology through poetry. It’s his theology that interests me. Especially where it becomes obvious in certain portions of his work.

One of the less obvious poems where Coleridge expresses his theology through poetry is ‘Ode to the departing year’, written near the end of 1796. The poem is nine stanzas long and reads like a political sigh.

Coleridge’s tone is sombre, firm; paralleling the same, very human gasps for breath, found in the imprecatory Psalms, which call on the name of Yahweh for guidance and deliverance.

Reflecting on this piece R.A Foakes wrote:

‘in such poems Coleridge frequently falls into a sort of quasi-Miltonic heroics that morph into gothic melodramatics…but Coleridge was a man deeply engaged with the political problems of the time’.[ii]

It’s easy to agree because “Ode to the departing year’ was written during the late 18th Century, a ‘time of great political turbulence’ (Foakes, 2009:2).

The ‘French Revolution’ and its reign of terror, general turbulence in Europe, and war. A spiral of conflict triggered  by the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793.

‘Ode to the departing year’ is rich in imagery. It could be mined for days, by anyone with a keen theological eye who has the gusto to read, reread and discover the many new ways the passages could be understood.

For example, in its closing refrain Coleridge ends with an almost introspective note to himself:

‘Away, my soul, away!
I unpartaking of the evil thing,
With daily prayer and daily toil
Soliciting for food my scanty soil,
Have wailed my country with a loud lament.
Now I recentre my immortal mind
In deep Sabbath of meek self-content;
Cleansed from the vaporous passions that bedim
God’s image, sister of the Seraphim’.[iii] 

Understanding what Coleridge means by ‘sister of the Seraphim’, and how it is used in this context is difficult to determine.

I presume he means that nations stand alongside Angels in close proximity to God. Like the Seraphim, humans can also stand before God [v]. Since in Christ, we are permitted to approach as freely as He has chosen to approach us.

The reference to Seraphim is strange. Does Coleridge mean the Seraphim of the Bible? If so, the image takes on a whole new picture when the historical context is applied.

‘The “fiery serpents” for which the Israelites feared the desert (Num 21:6–8; Deut 8:15) become further embellished as “flying serpents” (Is 14:29; 30:6). The serpents, designated by the same Hebrew word as seraphim, are distinguishable from them only by context (Is 6:2, 6). This pairing suggests that the image of a seraph may have had more in common with our idea of dragon than of angel’.[vi]

The reference to the ‘Lampad seven’ indicates light, candle or torch. Perhaps even Light bearer. Lampad is a term found in Greek mythology, a connection that Coleridge exploits in order to paint an image of blinding light.

‘‘Throughout the blissful throng,
Hushed were harp and song:
Till wheeling round the throne the Lampads seven,
(the mystic Words of Heaven)
Permissive signal make:
The fervent Spirit bowed, then spread his wings and spake!
”Thou in stormy blackness throning
Love and uncreated Light,
By the Earth’s unsolaced groaning,
… Seize thy terrors. Arm of might!…
The Past to thee, to thee the Future cries!
Hark! how wide Nature joins her groans below!
Rise, God of Nature! rise”

Coleridge may have borrowed from the significance of the imagery surrounding God’s heavenly throne in Rev.4:5:

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. (Rev. 4:5, ESV)
From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. (Rev. 4:5, NLT)

There are ‘torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God‘ gathered before His throne, along with the unique creatures (Seraphim) assigned to the task of protecting God’s Holiness.

Coleridge’s words are a lament. Carried with this is a solemn prayer. ‘Departing Year! ’twas on no earthly shore My soul beheld thy vision!’ War and calamity appear to be what the closing year has brought upon his world.

It’s not just the year, but the era that Coleridge now sees as being brought to a close. For Coleridge this is the apocalypse. Hence Foalke’s comment about Gothic melodramatics that I mentioned earlier.

The only source of solace is in the one who commands Heaven and earth. Fixing eyes to heaven, even when ‘human ruin chokes the streams’; when ‘Ambition is marked in his war-array!’ and when nations take ‘mad avarice [as their] guide. [And] At cowardly distance, kindle with pride‘. 

Coleridge isn’t alone. Minus the Gothic melodramatics, Peter wrote with a similar grasp of the times:

‘The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 4:7-11, ESV)

For the Christian, the New Year is also about an ending. It is a new beginning to the beginning of the end of all things!! With the New Year we are reminded that God owns time and space, just as He owns everything He created; and with that we are reminded that God entered time and space in Jesus Christ, and we have His promise that He will do so again for the final time.

The New Year also a good time to be reminded that faith is not a feeling. Faith is lived out through prayer and gratitude. Faith impacts emotions and as such it walks alongside reason. As such we should take a moment to reconsider all that we can be grateful for in the passing year. Laying down before God, like Coleridge does in Ode To the Departing Year, all that we may struggle with, giving over to God, also those things that have perhaps weighed us down or look to weigh us down.

With the New Year, we may not be able to see beyond the days ahead, but we are called by God to rest, recognise and acknowledge that He is the one who does. As the clock moves past 12 on the evening of 31st, may we too, sing with those gathered around His throne,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
  who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8)

 


References: 

[i] Foakes, R.A 2009, Shadowy nobodies and other Minutiae: Coleridge’s originality in The Coleridge Bulletin,  The journal of the friends of Coleridge Summer new series 33 (NS) 2009

[ii] “beings who stand before God” (see Isa. 6:1–2), McGee, J. V. Thru the Bible

[iii] Coleridge, S.T 1796 Ode to a departing year in The complete poems, 1997 Penguin Classics, Penguin Group (p.126)

[iv] Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. 2000  Dictionary of biblical imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

“The Titanic is unsinkable. Therefore we don’t need the extra lifeboats.We’ll get there faster without them.”

“But…”

“Oh. Shut up will you. You have a hidden bias. You’re bigoted and intolerant; a complete fool who doesn’t believe in ‘progress’.”

Karl Barth:
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“There is a lie to be seen in the contrast between all the fuss and bother [the luxuries & arrogance] on board this ship and the helpless way in which it then had to submit to a very elementary force of nature.
 .
The catastrophe brought this lie to light. God will not be mocked. He certainly intends us to work and to achieve something in the world. But He does not intend us to act as though we were done with working, and could now go fooling around.
 .
…If we have to say of the Titanic and its 1500 victims today…the blame for this lies with humanity.”
 .
(On The Sinking of The Titanic, 21st April 1912)

Related reading:

A Slow Turn To Starboard

Let The Pharaohs of Our Age Also Learn: Pride Comes Before a Fall

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Schoolyard popularity
Social media celebrities
Armchair activists ignoring reality

News feed narcotics
Narcissist neurotics
Status anxiety?

A “like” is not endorsement
Endorsement is not a comment
Silence betrays arrogance?

Fearing opinions
Impression management
Feeds perceptions

Poses vs. tags
Covering and uncovering
Wrinkles and rags

The calm update hides a post-atomic sky
Words are lost in the smoke & desolation
Blind mirrors reflect no light

 


©RL2014

‘Sin is mainly located not in political and economic structures, but in the human heart; good and evil are not political categories’ 

(J.Ratzinger, cited by O’Sullivan, J. 2006 in The President, the Pope, and The Prime Minister, p.194)

 

On Prayer

September 21, 2017 — 1 Comment

 

 

Christian. Ignite Hope.

Christian. Write.

Christian. Shine.

Christian. Unchain.

Christian. Gather.

Christian. Sever.

Christian. Bind.

Christian. Empower.

Christian. Sacrifice.

Christian. Love.

Christian. Say ”No”

Christian. Say “Yes”

Christian. Breathe.

Christian. Live.

Christian. Comment.

Christian. Eat.

Christian. Be Content.

Christian. Exercise.

Christian. Rest.

Christian. Obey.

Christian. Grow.

Christian. Go.

Christian. Listen.

Christian. Question.

Christian. Discern.

Christian. Fight.

Christian. Serve.

Christian. Repent.

Christian. Pray.

Christian. Learn.

Christian. Translate.

Christian. Interpret.

Christian. Apply.

Christian. See.

Christian. Encourage.

Christian. Challenge.

Christian. Walk.

Christian. Follow.

Christian. Seek.

Christi n . Be found.

Christian. Bless.

Christian. Hear.

Christian. Heal.

Christian. Forgive.

Christ     . Victorious.

….

 ‘The focal point of the Church’s action is the decisive activity of prayer…Because prayer is the decisive activity, prayer must take precedence…, and in no circumstances must it be suspended.’[1]

….

Christian.

Don’t forget.


References:

[1] Barth,K. 1938 Freedom Under the Word, C.D 1.2 Hendrickson Publishers 2010 p.695

{inspired by St.Patrick’s Breastplate}

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Hear the seldom gong and its solemn tone
.       a high pitched, heart wrenching groan.

Unheard human tears, receive an audience before Divine ears.
Unhinged society’s switched off its intelligence;
Blank talking into the eyes of its own darkness.

The abussos,

.      its emptiness,

.      its quiet violent chasm.

The depth of which only God knows.

.       “Bring forth the railings, planks and rope,
.        sure up a bridge, empowered by grace.
.        and may from it spring, all manner of hope.”

Bind and pull back those who’ve just climbed down the walls in order to ascend
Warn the others and waste no time on those who still refuse to comprehend.

For once safely over this monstrous abyss,
.     only hope will carry those who did not cease to exist.

Huddle together,

.           walk quickly,

.                   pray ferociously.

For war is coming.

Those content with slavery find no excuse to resist,
.          intolerance is not tolerated by virtue of tolerance.
All hail the veiling master, the academic oppressor, and their slave traders;
Who’ve categorized the masses, tagged and sold them into subservience.

Ushered into these new wastelands,
.            convenient science feeds industrialized collectives
.            and is protected by martial law.

The only two options given,
are total submission or total war.


(©RL2017)

 

bago

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This watery eyed bluff before me,

.                 accompanies the sunrise,

.                 like drips of dew falling from moist leaves.

.

With its green back turned towards the east

.      this mountain makes the most of the brisk morning breeze.

Knowing, soon, it’ll be encased in the fiery Australian summer heat.

.

It’s face still draped in darkness;

.                  a sign that this giant still sleeps.

.

The smoldering remnants of a bush fire

.                   clothes each crevice in blue shadows,

.        its rock walls lightly illuminated by the dawn.

.

Unlike the humans below,

        .this drowsy, cool mountain is in no hurry

to awaken this slow vista from its quiet yawn.

.

Decorated by the crowded sound of the Eastern Rosella,

.        the sky above it welcomes clouds.

Some grey and some white.

Some not yet visible to the human eye.

.       (The latter’s arrival only announced

.                      by an ominous, pink, morning sky.)

.

Even the laugh of Kookaburra,

.                      or the Galah’s collective chalkboard screech,

.                      fail to waken, with alarm,

.        this bluff and its plateaued peak.


(©RL2017)

No writer goes without giving a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat hyperbolic critique of the circles in which they sometimes find themselves. Here’s mine.


92dgypsir9k-raphael-koh_bw_unsplash

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We share pictures of books
Show off our reading pace so everyone looks.

Pat ourselves on the back for having beaten our friends to it,
Be the first to blog, tweet, and hope the bubble applies “likes” to it.

We quit our news feeds to quiet the noise.
Yet feed news feeds with the sound of our own voice.

It’s all supply and demand you see,
I post my thing and demand that you read.

Yes, we like those we think can, or may, or will, advance our career.
And only add those who can pad our stats to show off our appeal.

Heaven help the soul who seeks to participate.
This is a “community” that doesn’t reciprocate.

We’ll sit in silence and execute our higher responses
While pushing our own intellectual repertoire up your noses.

If you speak outside the paradigm, you can be sure to be hated.
That, though, is never openly stated.

Not publicly of course,
fans, followers and friends might just as openly disendorse us.

It would impact our numbers; steal our thunder.

Outdo, be outone, but don’t overdo the outdo, or your membership is done.

Don’t rock the boat, cause these inflated egos don’t float.

Simply, don’t! Not even with quotes.

Our prime pedestals should appear dressed prim and proper,
Should be camera ready, because we’re the only real show stoppers.

If you serve with ambition and don’t provoke our progressive suspicions,
and as long as your not seen as competition,
you’ll fit in with this cult of neo-Gnosticism.

Ode to the wall of virtual snobs.

.


(©RL2016)

Image: Raphael Koh

‘Proximity & activity don’t always equal connectivity’ – Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited, p.43