The Face of the Deep (1.3)

I continue here with Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (London: SPCK, 1892). The other entries are found in the Poetry category in the right column.

3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, for the time is at hand.
“Understandest thou what thou readest?” asked Philip the Deacon of the Ethiopian Eunuch. And he said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” Whereupon flowed forth to him the stream of light, knowledge, and love. Yet not then did his illumination commence: it already was his in a measure to enjoy, respond to, improve, even before his father in God preaced Christ unto him. What could he do before that moment? He could study and pray, he could cherish hope, exercise love, feel after Him Whom as yet he could not intelligently find.

So much at least we all can do who read, or who hear, this Book of Revelations: thus claiming, and by God’s bounty inheriting, the covenanted blessing of such readers and hearers. Any who pray and love enjoy already no stinted blessing. Even the will to love is love.Continue reading “The Face of the Deep (1.3)”

Sailing to Byzantium


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium,


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats – 1927

The Face of the Deep (1.1-2)

As foretold in days of yore, here is the beginning of a lengthy serialized presentation of Christina Georgina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse. The reader is guaranteed to gain from this:

a.) excellent poetry;

b.) the devotional commentary of a woman who, in the words of her brother,

clung to and loved the Christian creed because she loved Jesus Christ. “Christ is God” was her one dominant idea. Faith with her was faith pure and absolute: an entire acceptance of a thing revealed—not a quest for any confirmation or demonstrative proof (p. liv, The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, ed. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd, 1914);

c.) the first verse-by-verse commentary on the Apocalypse authored by a woman, which makes it of historical import for various fields; and

d.) a work written by a highly literate, perceptive, and expressive person whose knowledge of the Bible was truly minute and ready (idem, lxix), whose other theological reading apparently consisted of only the Confessions of Augustine, The Imitation of Christ of Thomas à Kempis, and The Pilgrim’s Progress of John Bunyan (idem, lxix). And yet I think all will agree that this limitation in the author’s reading has not in any way damaged the power of her commentary, for it is a “devotional commentary” after all, which is a genre having its own gemstones strewn on however different a beach than some of my readers may tend to walk.

I intend to keep matters of orthography, formatting, and emphasis as close as possible to the printed text. Due to the length of the pericopes, I think I’ll only post this first fully as a blog entry, an apéritif, perhaps with the rest to be posted on a web page. So! Here we go!


1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John:
2. Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

“Things which must shortly come to pass.”—At the end of 1800 years we are still repeating this “shortly,” because it is the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ: thus starting in the fellowship of patience with that blessed John who owns all Christians as his brethren (see ver. 9).

Continue reading “The Face of the Deep (1.1-2)”

Sonnets to The Unseen

I would approach You, Lord, but don’t know how.
Whatever stepping stones I once discerned
(Cool in the footloose morning, oh how they burned!)
Are well below my touching, lost to me now.
This layered-over life does not allow
For boyish ease forever, I have learned.
And so this crust of soil must now be turned;
The shining task will need a manly plow.
But where to set the blade? where begin?
I cast my eyes to heaven’s nowhere space,
But skyward, Lord, I cannot hope to trace
My way to You. The tilling goes too thin.
Like a plow, a prayer should leave a mark.
I look for You on earth and in the dark.

This is the first sonnet from the Prologue in Christopher Fitzgerald’s Sonnets to the Unseen: A Life of Christ (my copy was published by the author, 2001; it is apparently now published by World Library Publications, but their site is malfunctioning at the moment so I can’t give a link right now; it is available in many places on the web). If I remember correctly, I was originally drawn to this smart little book by the chance reading of an article about the author, in some local paper’s website, covering him as a cancer-survivor who’d written a history of Christ in sonnet format. As Shakespeare’s Sonnets are some of my favorite reading, I sent off an order for the book right away, back in 2001. Now, a meditation on the life of Christ in sonnet form may seem unbearable to some, but it’s really quite effective, being occasionally quirky, and often wondrous. Sometimes it seems we’re eavesdropping on a conversation between God and the author, which is always a delight when it’s done well, as it certainly is here! All this is accomplished with the firm-footed balance of a seemingly newly-gained true maturity (that clarity from illness I mentioned yesterday, perhaps?) that hasn’t yet forgotten the wonder of youth and yet which thankfully doesn’t insist on a false, pretentious, and inappropriate youthfulness, which is unfortunately common trait in literature these days (e.g. the explosion of novelistic solipsism — barf!). And such subject matter he has chosen! Mr. Fitzgerald’s sonnets are a delight to read. I’ll leave you with another, from page 5, in which the playful rhyme belies the serious theme:

Created in Your image? How is that?
We mortals truly are of foolish stuff,
Engaged in one great game of blind man’s buff.
What image is there here worth looking at?
What god equates with bone and body fat,
Which come to nothing, given time enough,
As we our mortal coil ingloriously slough
On taking leave of this our habitat.
If we on earth are in Your image made,
What does that say of You? Forgive me, Lord.
My doubts are such they cannot be ignored.
Because of what I’ve seen of man’s parade
Through each day’s version of the evening news,
This “image” talk serves only to confuse.

The Face of the Deep

If thou canst dive, bring up pearls. If thou canst not dive, collect amber. Though I fail to identify Paradisiacal “bdellium,” I still may hope to search out beauties of the “onyx stone.”

A dear saint—I speak under correction of the Judgment of the Great Day, yet think not then to have my word corrected—this dear person once pointed out to me Patience as our lesson in the Book of Revelations.

Following the clue thus afforded me, I seek and hope to find Patience in this Book of awful import. Patience, at the least: and along with that grace whatever treasures beside God may vouchsafe me. Bearing meanwhile in mind how “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

Now if any deign to seek Patience in my company, I pray them to remember that One high above me in the Kingdom of Heaven heads our pilgrim caravan.

O, ye who love to-day,
Turn away
From Patience with her silver ray :
For Patience shows a twilight face,
Like a half-lighted moon
When daylight dies apace.

But ye who love to-morrow,
Beg or borrow
To-day some bitterness of sorrow :
For Patience shows a lustrous face
In depth of night her noon ;
Then to her the sun gives place

Thus writes Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) in the “Prefatory Note” to her verse-by-verse commentary, the first ever such from the pen of a woman (so I’ve read, though I’m not entirely sure this is so), on the Book of Revelation, titled The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on The Apocalypse (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1892). Christina was the sister (and often the model for) her perhaps more well-known brother, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, also no mean shakes at the pen. Something that is often neglected in appreciation of the Pre-Raphaelites is their deep Christian faith, which found expression in their artworks. Christina was the most devout of the bunch. Throughout her life, she suffered from various illnesses, including Grave’s Disease, and eventually succumbed to cancer. Yet from the midst of such lifelong suffering came some of the finest poetry in the English language. Would we have had the same poetry had she been healthy all her life? I doubt it. For those faithful Christians who have suffered and who do suffer from life-threatening illnesses can tell you of the astonishing efficacy of such a furnace as deathly illness in refining one’s perceptions and intentions, in burning away the dross of concern for unimportant matters and in stoking a faith to burn fully aflame that in health was only an expiring ember in ash.

I intend to present here the entirety of Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on The Apocalypse, section by section, perhaps one per week. Most are on a single verse, so this will be a long-term serial presentation. I’ll present the first section, covering Apoc 1.1-2 sometime later this week.

I very much enjoy Christina’s poetry, as readers might have realized from my earlier presentation of one of her poems. Reading her, I hear my own voice as often as not, which is peculiar and comforting at the same time, and which is something that really only the very best of poetry can do to us. It’s hard to describe! Anyhow, she created quite a number of short poems as part of this commentary, where it works with her prose to illuminate the text of the Apocalypse. Her prose and poetry are organically intertwined here, just as you see in the preface above: who would understand the crucial referent of “Patience” in the poem once it were ripped from its moorings there in the Prefatory Note? Christina was also quite well aware of the importance of the imagery of “the face of the deep” particularly in reference to the Apocalypse and the text’s “surface” and “depth.” See particularly Kevin Mills, “Pearl-Divers of the Apocalypse—Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep.” Literature and Theology 2001 15.1:25-39. This is the article which led me to hunt down my copy of The Face of the Deep, which happily for me turned out to be a first edition, though a somewhat battered copy. The Face of the Deep has only recently been reprinted as volume four of Prose Works of Christina Rossetti (Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Continuum, 2003).

Christina Georgina Rossetti has accomplished with this work, The Face of the Deep, something that I would like to see more of from the hands of truly great artists: a work of great Christian faith, of impeccable artistic quality, with a focus on the devotional rather than the academic or worldly. Sadly, these days, it seems none of these three are often accomplished in tandem.

If thou canst dive, bring up pearls. If thou canst not dive, collect amber.


More Yehuda Amichai


כָּל עֶרֶב מוֹצִיא אֱלהִים אֶת סְחוֹרוֹתָיו
הַמַּבְרִיקוֹת מֵחַלּוֹן הָרַאֲוָה
מַעֲשֵׂי מֶרְכָּבָה, לוּחוֹת בְּרִית, פְּנִינִים יָפוֹת
צְלָבִים וּפַעֲמוֹנִים זוֹהֲרִים
וּמַחֲזִיר אוֹתָם לְתוֹך אַרְגָּזִים אֲפֵלִים
בִּפְנִים וְסוֹגֵר אֶת הַתְּרִיס: “שׁוּב
“לא בָּא אַף נָבִיא אֶחָד לִקנוֹת


Every night God takes his glittering
merchandise out of his showcase—
holy chariots, tables of law, fancy beads,
crosses and bells—
and puts them back into dark boxes
inside and pulls down the shutters: “Again,
not one prophet has come to buy”

Modern Hebrew Poetry: Y. Amichai

אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ, יְרוּשָׁלַיִם
יִשָּׁכַח דָּמִי
אֶגַּע בְּמִצְחֵךְ, אֶשְׁכַּח אֶת שֶׁלִּי
יִתְחַלֵּף קוֹלִי
בַּפַּעַם הַשְּׁנִיָּה וְהָאַחֲרוֹנָה
לְקוֹל נוֹרָא םִן הַקּוֹלוֹת
אוֹ לְאֵלֶם

If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
Let my blood be forgotten.
I shall touch your forehead,
Forget my own,
My voice change
For the second and last time
To the most terrible of voices —
Or silence

And there was no more Sea.

And there was no more Sea.

VOICES from above and from beneath,
  Voices of creation near and far,
Voices out of life and out of death,
    Out of measureless space,
  Sun, moon, star,
    In oneness of contentment offering praise.

Heaven and earth and sea jubilant,
  Jubilant all things that dwell therein ;
Filled to fullest overflow they chant,
    Still roll onward, swell,
  Still begin
    Never flagging praise interminable.

Thou who must fall silent in a while,
  Chant thy sweetest, gladdest, best, at once ;
Sun thyself to-day, keep peace and smile ;
    By love upward send
    Accounting love thy lot and love thine end.

Christina Rossetti, before 1893.