Sunday, 13 December 2009

Rowan Williams - poetry, icons; pacifism and resistance

As daylight fades to the darkest day of the year I've been turning to my poetry shelves and in recent days reading in the poems of Rowan Williams. Inspiring and enriching. I started at the back of the book with some of the poetry he has translated. I particularly like those from the Welsh poet and pacifist Waldo Williams.
Rowan Williams quoted the Welsh poet in a sermon he preached on "What is life" saying that Waldo was as close as any to a definition in his poem Pa Beth Yw Dyn (What Is Man), when he wrote ‘Cael neuadd fawr/Rhwng cyfyng furiau’ “Inhabiting a great hall/between narrow walls".
Unfortunately an English version of that poem is not in this 2002 collection. Let's hope that the Archbishop will have time soon to translate some more. In the meantime,
I was particularly moved by one titled Die Bibelforscher (for the Protestant martyrs of the Third Reich). Here's an extract:

Earth is a hard text to read; but the king
has put his message in our hands, for us to carry
sweating, whether the trumpets of his court
sound near or far. So for these men:
they were the bearers of the royal writ,
clinging to it through spite and hurts and wounding.

However I've turned again and again this week to Williams poem meditating on Rublev's icon, pictured here, the first line just hooks me in time and again. Not sure I can say much more than it speaks to me and moves me. That's poetry.


One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,
slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,
said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.

I said Here is the blood of all our people,
these are their bruises, blue and purple,
gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.

These (god) are chromatic pains of flesh.
I said, I trust I make you blush,
O I shall stain you with the scars of birth

For ever. I shall root you in the wood,
under the sun shall bake you bread
of beechmast, never let you forth

to the white desert, to the starving sand.
But we shall sit and speak around
one table, share one food, one earth.

copyright (c) Rowan Williams


J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Jane, for these lines! They remind profoundly of our agency in effecting change in our world, God given agency.

Jane said...

There are two extraordinary poems in this collection on dreams ... wonderful, challenging ... desperate