A poem for the fourth Sunday of Advent 2021

Early. An hour before sunrise. Coffee and poems at the kitchen counter. All the apartment was asleep. I read: “Fyre, erd, air, and watter cleir,/To Him gife loving, most and lest,/That come into so meik maneir;/Et nobis puer natus est.”

I love old things. Ancient verse among my favorite. These lines from William Dunbar’s poem “On the Nativity of Christ”[1] take a bit of reading and rereading to unpack the Scottish and Latin lines. And the poem “Veni, Creator Spiritus”[2] by John Dryden features the lines: “And peace, the fruit of love, bestow;/And, lest our feet should step astray,/Protect, and guide us in the way.”

What poem best fits the fourth Sunday of advent? The angels announced that the promised Messiah had come to bring peace.

Distracted. For many minutes I was distracted by a web site with images of famous paintings[3] of the adoration of the shepherds. Maybe it was an hour of distraction. I was frying eggs and toasting bread while looking at the paintings. William Blake’s illustration of Milton’s work[4] is omitted from the collection. His imagination of a brilliant ball of angels in the sky above shepherds[5] remained with me.

Then there was an explosion of household morning activities and responsibilities.

It was not until after the noon meal that my thoughts returned to this meditation. The fourth Sunday of Advent. Peace. The priest mentioned in the sermon that there is a liturgy of life we all participate in daily. He encouraged us to ditch the device and be present. Presence. That reminded me of the following poem by Denise Levertov.


Making Peace
by Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.


NOTES:
[1] This is a helpful blog post and video to help appreciate Dunbar’s poem. “On the Nativity of Christ. A poem by William Dunbar” by Celtic Cadences, June 7, 2009. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://celticcadences.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/on-the-nativity-of-christ-a-poem-by-william-dunbar-court-poet-james-4th-iv-scotland/
[2] “Veni Creator Spiritus” by John Dryden. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://www.bartleby.com/337/580.html
[3] “10 Most Famous Adoration of the Shepherds Paintings” by Zuzanna Stanska, December 25, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/famous-adoration-of-the-shepherds-paintings/
[4] From John Milton’s poem: “At last surrounds their sight/A globe of circular light,/That with long beams the shame-fac’d Night array’d;/The helmed Cherubim/And sworded Seraphim/Are seen in glittering ranks with wings display’d,…” “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” by John Milton. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44735/on-the-morning-of-christs-nativity
[5] Illustration 2 to Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”: The Annunciation to the Shepherds from the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://emuseum.huntington.org/objects/64/illustration-2-to-miltons-on-the-morning-of-christs-nativ

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