Waiting for the Typhoon

A middle-class district. The hammers tapping
All day, and all the radios talking of so many
Metres per second, and all the aerials flapping.
Cans and candles have vanished from the shops.
The price of timber, for boarding the windows,
Has gone up and up. The tapping never stops.

The worst since—when was it? Oh damn it all,
It is always the worst something since sometime—
The worst rainy season, the worst A-bomb, the
Worst H-bomb, the worst political scandal, the
Worst harvest, or the worst outbreak of sex-crime.

Listening to the hammers and the chattered warning,
Watching the tethered trees and the urgent clouds—
       tonight or tomorrow morning?
One thinks of those who are truly embarrassed,
Whose houses would faint at the sight of a hammer,
Whose homes, tomorrow, will have fallen down
       in the worst way since last time.

Even the cicadas begin to sound a little harassed.
       Turning a desperate somersault,
A small green insect shelters in the bowels of my
       quivering typewriter—
Good reason for me to call a halt.

D. J. Enright, from Bread Rather Than Blossoms, 1956. Available in Collected Poems: 1948-1998.

(For Doug, on the way to Japan. Highly recommended. All of the Bread Rather Than Blossoms poems were written while Visiting Professor at Konan University in Kobe.)

A Jewish Family

(In a small valley opposite St. Goar, upon the Rhine)

Genius of Raphael! if thy wings
     Might bear thee to this glen,
With faithful memory left of things
     To pencil dear and pen,
Thou wouldst forego the neighbouring Rhine,
     And all his majesty—
A studious forehead to incline
     O’er this poor family.

The Mother—her thou must have seen,
     In spirit, ere she came
To dwell these rifted rocks between,
     Or found on earth a name ;
An image, too, of that sweet Boy,
     Thy inspirations give—
Of playfulness, and love, and joy,
     Predestined here to live.

Downcast, or shooting glances far,
     How beautiful his eyes,
That blend the nature of the star
     With that of summer skies !
I speak as if of sense beguiled ;
     Uncounted months are gone,
Yet am I with the Jewish Child,
     That exquisite Saint John.

I see the dark-brown curls, the brow,
     The smooth transparent skin,
Refined, as with intent to show
     The holiness within ;
The grace of parting Infancy
     By blushes yet untamed ;
Age faithful to the mother’s knee,
     Nor of her arms ashamed.

Two lovely Sisters, still and sweet
     As flowers, stand side by side ;
Their soul-subduing looks might cheat
     The Christian of his pride :
Such beauty hath the Eternal poured
     Upon them not forlorn,
Though of a lineage once abhorred,
     Nor yet redeemed from scorn.

Mysterious safeguard, that, in spite
     Of poverty and wrong,
Doth here preseve a living light,
     From Hebrew fountains sprung ;
That gives this ragged group to cast
     Around the dell a gleam
Of Palestine, of glory past,
     And proud Jerusalem!

William Wordsworth, composed 1828, published 1835.


Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
               Let me once know.
          I sought thee in a secret cave,
          And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:
               Go seek elsewhere.

I did; and going did a rainbow note:
               Surely, thought I,
          This is the lace of Peace’s coat:
          I will search out the matter.
But while I look’t, the clouds immediately
               Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
               A gallant flower,
          The crown Imperial: Sure, said I,
          Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devour
               What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man,
               Whom when for Peace
          I did demand; he thus began:
          There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
               Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetness did not save
               His life from foes.
     But after death out of his grave
          There sprang twelve stalks of wheat:
Which many wondring at, got some of those
               To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
               Through all the earth:
     For they that taste it do rehearse
          That virtue lies therein,
A secret virtue bringing peace and mirth
               By flight of sin.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
               And grows for you;
     Make bread of it: and that repose
          And peace which ev’ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
               Is only there.

George Herbert 1633

The structure of this poem is unusual: a parable within a parable. The strangely prospering grain, of course, ends up as the bread of communion. In that sense, this poem is rather trite. Yet it is interesting to note here with regards to that communion-bread connection that harvest, threshing, grinding, leavening, and baking of the grain are elided by ‘Make bread of it.’ Gone is the metaphoric suffering (shared with the wine of communion): an agricultural seed-bearing pod is violently abased, and then ferments, becoming something new. The abasement and fermentation of the plants, like the suffering and inspiration of the people, lead to new entirely new things which they could not have become without experiencing trauma, new things which are considered intrinsically more valuable. Here, Herbert has more of a prosperity gospel thing going on: the wheat grows easily, doesn’t suffer, is made into bread, and brings peace. Yes, the ‘Make bread of it’ would require the same as the perhaps more violently produced bread above, yet eliding over the metaphorical value of the ‘suffering’ is all the more striking in its absence with the presence of another metaphor there.

On Keats

A garden in a garden : a green spot
        Where all is green : most fitting slumber-place
        For the strong man grown weary of a race
Soon over. Unto him a goodly lot
Hath fallen in fertile ground ; there thorns are not,
        But his own daisies ; silence, full of grace,
        Surely hath shed a quiet on his face ;
His earth is but sweet leaves that fall and rot.
What was his record of himself, ere he
        Went from us? ‘Here lies one whose name was writ
        In water.’ While the chilly shadows flit
        Of sweet St. Agnes’ Eve, while basil springs–
        His name, in every humble heart that sings,
Shall be a fountain of love, verily.

Christina Georgina Rossetti. 18 January 1849 (Eve of St. Agnes)

The Secret Rose

Far-off, most secret, and inviolate Rose,
Enfold me in my hour of hours; where those
Who sought thee in the Holy Sepulchre,
Or in the wine-vat, dwell beyond the stir
And tumult of defeated dreams; and deep
Among pale eyelids, heavy with the sleep
Men have named beauty. Thy great leaves enfold
The ancient beards, the helms of ruby and gold
Of the crowned Magi; and the king whose eyes
Saw the Pierced Hands and Rood of elder rise
In Druid vapour and make the torches dim;
Till vain frenzy awoke and he died; and him
Who met Fand walking among flaming dew
By a grey shore where the wind never blew,
And lost the world and Emer for a kiss;
And him who drove the gods out of their liss,
And till a hundred morns had flowered red
Feasted, and wept the barrows of the dead;
And the proud dreaming king who flung the crown
And sorrow away, and calling bard and clown
Dwelt among wine-stained wanderers in deep woods;
And him who sold tillage, and house, and goods,
And sought through lands and islands numberless years,
Until he found, with laughter and with tears,
A woman of so shining loveliness
That men threshed corn at midnight by a tress,
A little stolen tress. I, too, await
The hour of thy great wind of love and hate.
When shall the stars be blown about the sky,
Like the sparks blown out of a smithy, and die?
Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows,
Far-off, most secret, and inviolate Rose?

William Butler Yeats. 1899.

A prayer of the ♥

O lorde Jhesu Cryste I commende my
to thy love that ytt may enter into thy
by love and spirituall delectacyon
and I beseche the good lorde to inflame
myn ardently with thy love and so
to kyndle myn with the blessyd
love of the good lorde that never
hereafter I fele inordynately
any ly joye or carnall

For each read “heart,” of course. From Robert Brygandyne’s prayer book, reign of Henry VIII. See Eamon Duffy, Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240-1570 Yale University Press, 2006), plate 105 and pages 161-162. This is a beautiful book, illustrated with and full of discussion of English prayer books, mostly late pre-Reformation ones.

Sursum Corda

‘Lift up your hearts’ ‘We lift them up.’ Ah me!
I cannot, Lord, lift up my heart to Thee :
Stoop, lift it up, that where Thou art
          I too may be.

‘Give Me thy heart.’ I would not say Thee nay,
But have no power to keep or give away
My heart : stoop, Lord, and take it
          to Thyself to-day.

Stoop, Lord, as once before, now once anew ;
Stoop, Lord, and hearken, hearken, Lord, and do,
And take my will, and take my heart,
          and take me too.

Christina Georgina Rossetti. Before 1886.

The Rose

Press me not to take more pleasure
      In this world of sugred lies,
And to use a larger measure
      Than my strict, yet welcome size.

First, there is no pleasure here:
      Colour’d griefs indeed there are,
Blushing woes, that look as clear
      As if they could beauty spare.

Or if such deceits there be,
      Such delights I meant to say,
There are no such things to me,
      Who have pass’d my right away.

But I will not much oppose
      Unto what you now advise:
Only take this gentle rose,
      And therein my answer lies.

What is fairer than a rose?
      What is sweeter? yet it purgeth.
Purgings enmity disclose,
      Enmity forebearance urgeth.

If then all that worldlings prize
      Be contracted to a rose;
Sweetly there indeed it lies,
      But it biteth in the close.

So this flower doth judge and sentence
      Worldly joys to a scourge:
For they all produce repentance,
      And repentance is a purge.

But I health, not physic choose:
      Only, though I you oppose,
Say that fairly I refuse,
      For my answer is a rose.

George Herbert, 1633

Some notes on the text:
sugred lies: sugared lies, lies made sweet
Colour’d griefs: griefs painted, as with makeup, to be more attractive
As if they could beauty spare: As if they had beauty enough to spare some
pass’d my right away: handed off my right
yet it purgeth: Roses were used as a purgative.
Purgings…urgeth: purgatives bring forth the harmful food, which one will avoid in future
physic: a purgative medicine
Only…Say that fairly: fairly in a double sense: 1) justly 2) prettily


I watched a rosebud very long
     Brought on by dew and sun and shower,
     Waiting to see the perfect flower :
Then, when I thought it should be strong,
     It opened at the matin hour
And fell at evensong.

I watched a nest from day to day,
     A green nest full of pleasant shade,
     Wherein three speckled eggs were laid :
But when they should have hatched in May,
     The two old birds had grown afraid
Or tired, and flew away.

Then in my wrath I broke the bough
     That I had tended so with care,
     Hoping its scent should fill the air ;
I crushed the eggs, not heeding how
     Their ancient promise had been fair :
I would have vengeance now.

But the dead branch spoke from the sod,
     And the eggs answered me again :
     Because we failed dost thou complain?
Is thy wrath just? And what if God,
     Who waiteth for thy fruits in vain,
Should also take the rod?

Christina Georgina Rossetti, 7 January 1849

Coloss. 3.3.

Our life is hid with Christ in God.

My words and thoughts do both express this notion,
That Life hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is straight, and our diurnal friend,
The other Hid, and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt In flesh, and tends to earth.
The other winds towards Him, whose happy birth
Taught me to live here so, That still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternal Treasure.

George Herbert, 1633

A fun one. The italics relay ‘My Life Is Hid In Him That Is My Treasure.’ The slightly different title likely originates with an editor. We find the dualist light and dark, the sun ‘our diurnal friend,’ and then ‘Hid, and doth obliquely bend.’ That is, at night, it swings around the other side of the world. So also, Herbert has two lives, one terrestrial and the other eventually heavenly. It’s curious that by this time, and perhaps this is simply when it became the generally accepted belief among Christians, that the expectation of a post-mortem spiritual escape to heaven, with the physical body abandoned on, or rather in, the earth.