Tag: poetry

The Nativity

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“The Nativity” from St. Dennis Basilica, Paris

Here is a poem that I wrote for Christmas. It’s in the Terza Rima style, and in it, I tried to depict something of what the Birth of Christ means to me.

 

 

 

I.

The agéd world is buried in the dust
The dust, the dust, blowing hither and yon
All of Man’s many works are draped in rust

Long have the dry winds blown, here and then gone
Scouring the high mountains, the plains, the sea
And the strong Men’s faces grow pale and wan

Many ages have wandered past, weary
Crumbling stones and temples to shards, to shards
The wonder in Man’s eyes begins to flee

Wars have come, all uncounted by the bards
Watering the Earth with blood, young men’s blood
Ah! So many dead gone past Hades’ guards

The Earth is grinding down, down to the mud
Where shadows dwell and shimm’ring mystery
Binds men in tired old ways, crushed ‘neath Time’s flood

In this aged world, at the edge of hist’ry
In a desert, the apex of all lands
Was a man and woman, going swiftly

II.

Tall and strong was that man, with gentle hands
And veins filled with the blood of lords and kings
But small in station and small in his plans

He worked with wood and made such wondrous things
Clear-eyed, swift-loving, full of all virtue
He loved the woman as hawks love their wings

Helped by angels, blessed with wisdom most true
Ordained guardian from before Time flowed
Guarding the holy and most precious Two

Little he spoke, few words, as on they rode
Harrowed by doubts, but then by God ensured
That all would be well, that grace was bestowed

III.

The woman held life in her womb secured
Placed there by the shadow of Divine Grace
For from all stain of sin she had been cured

She bore that light merrily in her face
In her face, the light of the Son come down
From the Heavens to her womb’s sweet embrace

How fine that brow, so soon to bear a crown!
Made the chariot of the Holy Son
Bearing Mercy, Woman of great renown

T’was her “yes” that brought the Heavenly One
She who had been foretold since ancient days
That dear Woman, clothed with the sun

Veins filled with king’s blood, walking in God’s ways
The old Serpent lay crushed beneath her heel
And divine love set her pure heart ablaze

IV.

Through the desert they go, the world to heal
By the Power in the woman’s sweet womb
That is stories come to life, myth made real

Angels sing above; Earth is in full bloom
All the seas rejoice, and all the winds dance
The age-old stars weave wonder on their looms

And now they reach the man’s ancestral manse
A little village, Bethlehem its name
Where kings have been born through hist’ry’s advance

And many others have come just the same
Summoned by an old emperor’s decree
To number their heads, to ensure his claim

So full the town, that not a room was free
And the man and woman went to a stable
An old stable, to birth the great baby

With beasts watching, as if t’were a fable
The Word stepped into the stream of the world
The Word made flesh, beneath a cave’s gable

Almighty, ageless God, His plan unfurled
The Eternal Spirit made incarnate
While overhead the angels joyous whirled

Now in a field, some shepherds lay in wait
Men lowborn but kindly, guarding their flocks
And Heaven broke open, to tell their fate

The angels sang, in the air with the hawks
“Glory, glory, glory! Peace on the Earth
The wolf will lay down with the ox

For now, unto you is the good God’s birth
The foretold Savior given to all men
The prophesied Child, the font of all mirth!”

So the shepherds hastened to the horse-pen
There to see the apex of the ages
The great light shone into the world’s dark den

Angels danced, despite the Serpent’s rages
Man and woman, shepherds and creatures all
Joined with the whole world, and sung His praises

V.

The newborn world shimmers in the dust-fall
The dust-fall, the dust-fall, glimmering bright
And wondering Man must no longer crawl

Long the dry winds blow, capering and light
Dancing o’er the mountains, the plains, the sea
And poor Men smile, blessed in the good God’s sight

The ages are bounding past, happily
For many Men have become God’s children
Adopted in the Son’s Nativity

Peace!

– Jared

“The Nativity” © Jared Schmitz 2015

The Canticle of the Sun

saint-francis-of-assisi-detail.jpg!BlogOne of the works of literature which has had a more profound influence on me–my thinking, my spiritual life, my way of looking at the world–is G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis of Assisi. In this book, he presents a sketch of the saint, somewhat light on biographical details, but full of insights on Francis’ character. It was in the pages of this biography that I was first exposed to St. Francis’ powerful, beautiful poem, The Canticle of the Sun–another work of literature that has had a profound influence on me. Here is an English translation of the text, which was originally written in 1224 in the Umbrian dialect of Italian (in fact, this poem is thought to be one of the very first poems written in the Italian vernacular).

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

And here is a version of the poem set to music by Leo Sowerby in 1945: Canticle of the Sun

There are a lot of things that could be said about the Canticle of the Sun, but I’m going to focus on how it’s affected me, personally. When I first read the poem, I didn’t know what to think about it. I wasn’t sure if I even liked it. I found it strange, the imagery delightful yet not what I was used to. The concept was not something that I had thought of much before, or had been exposed to very often. The idea of viewing the natural world as a brother was relatively new to me, though I had already come to believe that God shows forth His majesty in Nature. I’ve always been something of a nature-lover, but I did not look at the natural world with the same kind of familial affection expressed in the Canticle.

But then the words off St. Francis began to work their way into my heart. They filled me with a mysterious longing and worked on my soul. As time went by, I went continuously back to The Canticle of the Sun, re-reading it because it seemed an expression of some deep truth. These words, from the mouth of one of the most astonishing of Medieval saints, have stayed with me even when I forget so much else that I read.

From St. Francis, as expressed in the Canticle, I have learned to see the hidden ways in which all of God’s creation cries out His praises. I have found hints of the way Man is meant to have dominion over Creation–as a kindly elder brother, a gentle steward, tilling and keeping and singing of the beauty of all his little siblings, fellow creatures made, like him, to offer unending praise to God. I have seen how death is not always to be feared, can even be a gift. I have seen how to praise God for pain and suffering. The Canticle has been, to me, a truly enlightening look at pain, a marker showing that all things can work together for the good of those who love Him–that trials, properly embraced, can bring about good.

This poem has also brought a new light and joy into the natural world for me. I can look at the sun now and laugh because he is my little brother. I can join my voice with the voice of the moon, of the wind, of water, of the animals, all of us praising God; I can give thanks that all those things should be given as gifts to Man. I think, for me, this is the biggest impact of The Canticle of the Sun; the joy that it has enabled me to see and take part in.

saint-francis-of-assisi1Praise the Lord for Brother Francis! For the written word, so useful and humble and good, a vessel for all manner of meaning! Praise the Lord for song and poetry, lenses of truth, of pure feeling and of connection with deep and inexpressible things.

Peace,

-Jared

The Value of Writing Poetry

So I have kind of a funny relationship with poetry. I never really understood it as I was growing up, and because I didn’t understand it, I didn’t like it. I thought it was silly and worthless and couldn’t imagine why anyone would care to read or write it. (I was a very silly child and held that opinion about a lot of things) I did eventually grow out of that narrow view, but for years poetry still wasn’t really “on my radar”. Even after I started writing stories, I hardly thought about it. It wasn’t until I was about 20 that I made my first attempt at writing poetry, but ever since I’ve been in love with it. It’s a wonderful thing! Good poetry can express what nothing else can, not prose or a painting or anything. Poetry is, I think, the closest we can come to truly speaking our hearts. But, more than that, writing poetry is an extremely valuable exercise for writers and non-writers alike. I think I’ve said on this blog before that I think everyone ought to write. I’m going to amend that statement: I think everyone ought, not just to write, but also to write poetry.

Now, a lot of people might protest. They might say that their poetry is awful, that they have no talent for it and no one would ever want to read it. But that isn’t the point. Even if your poetry is truly awful, I think there can still be benefit in it for at least one person–for you, the writer. Of course, ultimately, we must strive to write poetry that can be enjoyed by many people, but to start with, entertaining yourself isn’t bad.

One of the most obvious benefits of writing poetry, for anyone, is that it can be a great help for working through tricky emotions. Writing about any difficult, emotional subject can be a helpful way to order your thoughts and feelings, and writing about it in poetic language can be extremely cathartic, because poetry is such a good way to express those emotions. Poetry also helps you to look at the world differently, to see more of the pattern and rhythm in it–and the attention that you have to pay to finding precise descriptions of things in your poems can bring out the beauty of the world around you in a whole new way, because you start to notice more.

For people who also write prose (and especially fiction), writing poetry has even more benefits. It will help you learn to be concise. It will help you learn to pick just the right images and descriptions to convey an emotion or meaning. The rigors of writing with rhyme and meter will not only help to give your prose a nicer flow and a more rhythmic sound, they will help you to get a better grasp of the language. The very tight restrictions of many forms of poetry (especially the more traditional forms) are probably the most useful thing I’ve found to help me learn to make better use of English, in addition to being a lot of fun in their own right. Almost as useful is poetry that eschews traditional forms and uses your own, self-imposed guidelines, because that teaches you to do on a small scale what you must do over the course of an entire novel, if you want to keep everything properly in line with itself.

In short, poetry, besides being beautiful and excellent all on its own, is also very useful for all kinds of people, I think that everyone ought to cultivate a habit of writing it–even they aren’t very good and never show their poetry to anyone. There are many more benefits besides what I’ve written down here. Try it yourself, and see!

~ Jared

Things I Would Like To Do

Lately, I’ve been thinking about stories, my own place as a storyteller, and what I’d like to do with my stories. These are very big questions to which the answers are often mutable and evanescent. There are so many things I could do with my stories; so many things I don’t want to do  or am not yet skilled enough to do. It used to be enough just to write stories because I enjoyed writing them. Is that always enough? I suppose that depends on who you are. There are people who love writing and telling stories but who never want that to be the focus of their lives. In that case, writing a story for any reason other than loving to write stories is probably  not a good idea. It would be silly to have what might be called “an agenda” for all of one’s hobbies and little enjoyments . I don’t play video games because I’m seeking enlightenment or higher truth or to change my world; I play them  because they’re fun. Likewise, the more casual writers–which here means writers who don’t write as their main point in life, as opposed to writers who simply don’t take writing seriously (a lot which shouldn’t really be writing)–write because writing is fun and often brings personal fulfillment. That isn’t to say that telling a story is not also very hard and at times very painful; but ultimately, it is a true joy.

 

But what about those who view creating stories to be the focus of their talents, their point in life, the thing that God has given them to do? Those sorts of people need more reasons than fun or joy; we need a goal, a purpose, a higher calling than story for story’s sake. So I’ve been asking myself what my stories mean and why I’m writing them. I feel as if I must have a noble goal; maybe this feeling is something that will fade, but at this time of my life, it is strong and I don’t think  I should ignore it. As an idealist, I care more about  how things should be than about how they are, and I firmly believe that storytelling  should have a noble purpose. Don’t misunderstand: I don’t think the lack of a purpose beyond the enjoyment of stories makes for a poor or false storyteller. But I do think that storytelling is not the best it can be without a higher purpose.

 

I don’t advocate preaching; I advocate having an ideal, some shining thing at which you grasp, the searching for which permeates every story you tell. It is something that goes far beyond a superficial message of the text or the words, and is in reality the depth and focus of the story.

 

And so, there are two things I would like to do with storytelling, though they are not the only things and I’m not sure of the reasons for why I would like to do them. The first thing is to revive the old-fashioned style of epic poetry, the style of works like Beowulf or The Illiad or Paradise Lost or any number of others, and make it popular once again in the present day. This  is a somewhat curious desire, as I have not read any of the great epic poems of old (a travesty which I am working to undo). I can’t entirely say why the idea fascinates me so, except that I put great value on old things and that I think the literary world has lost something by no longer creating poetry of that caliber. I would like  to write poetry of that style about subjects closer to the modern heart. Poetry is powerful and it moves the mind and heart in a way that prose can never quite achieve. Although I don’t fully understand this desire, I feel intrinsically that it is a worthy goal.

 

The other thing is a more recent thought and not one which I like quite so much. But it is the idea of  reviving old-fashioned oral storytelling, of bringing back the oral tradition of our ancestors. The art of telling a story out loud–not acting out a scene or reciting some dry anecdote, but telling a real, complicated story– is something which seems to have been largely lost in modern Western culture. Wouldn’t  it be wonderful if the village storyteller or the wandering bard became once more as important as he used to be? I think there is value in hearing a story from a person who lives and breathes right next to you. It’s so much more personal and powerful than the story told by a person in a movie  with no connection to yourself.

 

And so I’d like to start a dual movement of people reviving epic poetry and oral storytelling. I’m still trying to decide why, and to answer the greater question of why I want to tell any story. The answer is there, I’m sure, but I haven’t quite grasped it  yet.

 

~ Jared

Assorted Thoughts

It’s a few days late to be posting this, but I might as well–I’ve finished NaNoWriMo. (And yes, I did it on time even though this post isn’t arriving until three days later :P ) I write this post now only because I woke up early for no reason and am being very slow to get about my day in protest. I’ve already been lazing around for a couple of hours wishing to be asleep. But anyway, no reason to sit around complaining. NaNoWriMo. It was hard this year. Much, much harder than last year. Last year the story flowed out of my brain beautifully. I didn’t have any difficulties with it whatsoever until the last few days of the month, where I realized that I had no idea how to end the story despite how well it had been going to that point. But this year… well, I was at least a couple thousand words behind the par wordcount from the 10th of November all the way to the final day. That just gives you an idea. The story fought me at every turn and in the end I decided to give up on finishing it. The last 20,000 words or so of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo were not part of the original story I started, but extras–other scenes, story bits about the pasts of some of the main characters, even a fairy tale–that made reference to and interwove with the main story. Once I switched to writing those it went much better. Now I have a good deal of material to use when and if I ever decide to rewrite this, so I suppose it isn’t a wasted month. Still, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get a finished novel this year….

 

This month, December, I’m going to relax a bit where my writing is concerned. I’ve decided I want to get better at poetry, so I’m going to try to write at least one poem every day this month, but other than that I’m not doing any serious writing. I shall also be picking out and plotting my next novel. I’m going to take my time with this one, give it plenty of thought, and hopefully it will let me write it. I haven’t decided what it will be yet but I do have a few ideas floating around. Preparing to write a new story is always extremely exciting, so I am looking forward to seeing what develops over the rest of the month.

 

Christmas is approaching! I love Christmastime. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, but it occurs to me now that I’ve been so wrapped up in my own thoughts and problems that I’ve hardly taken time to think of it. When I have thought of it, the thoughts have often been concerned with how much I hate the way modern society has twisted the holiday. Whatever your beliefs, Christmas was never meant to be a celebration of commercialism and and mindless, empty sentiments. In the Christian tradition it’s a celebration of Christ’s birth, of salvation; in the Pagan tradition it’s meant to be a joyous festival (on cursory inspection I haven’t found information regarding what exactly was celebrated at Yule in various pagan traditions, and am too tired to do extensive research at the moment); in the secular tradition it’s supposed to be a celebration of love and togetherness. But the stench of modernity has twisted the whole thing and I hate the things this society does. There’s much talk about “the true spirit of Christmas” at this time of year but it seems that so many people don’t get it. Well, I suppose there isn’t much I can do, except try to act in accordance with the spirit of the season myself. Which, I suppose, means I should stop thinking about much I dislike western society’s modern interpretation of the holiday and just enjoy it, be at peace and celebrate salvation and love and joy. So that’s what I’ll do. I shan’t say anything else about how I hate the commercialism and other silly modern things surrounding Christmas anymore in the rest of the month. And what a lovely season it is! Giving gifts and celebrating with friends and family! The festive decorations and the many varieties of delicious food. Once again we are at my favorite time of year, the last vestiges of the sunset before the night of winter really sets in. So a Merry December to all of you!

 

On another note, I’ve been reading G.K. Chesterton lately. I think this has definitely fueled my extreme dislike for modern society. The things he wrote in the late 19th/early 20th centuries still ring true today, even truer even, as society gets worse and worse. Yet that makes the beauty stand out more starkly. The beauty of a kind act, the beauty of the sky and of old crumbled cement and of things working. The duality is astounding.

 

Now I feel a little pretentious and I’m tired and I really ought to get about my day. A shower sounds lovely. And breakfast. It’s too bad I’m all out of pumpkin pie… I made two of them for Thanksgiving and they lasted me a couple weeks… perhaps I will make some pumpkin bread.

 

~ Jared

Inadequate

This… is what I write when I don’t know what to say. It’s basically haiku, though I took some liberties with the format. My first poem in months….

 

There is so much to say

Not enough words on my tongue

Inadequate

 

Grasping at grandeur

A mole, understanding only

The darkened soil

 

What can this mouth utter?

Nothing, ‘tis true, only dust

Air, and ashes

 

A sparrow, wings broke

Striving for the cruel sun

Only to fall short

 

Words fail the expression

Of the heart, the soul, the mind

Inadequate

 

~ Jared