St. Agnes: A Responsory
Sol et luna mirantur. . .
Hear with joy this child of God
Plays in the perfect garden of her martyrdom,
Ipsi soli servo fidem.
Spending the silver of her little life
To bring her Bridegroom these bright flowers
Of which her arms are full.
Cujus pulchritudinem. . .
With what white smiles
She buys the Popes their palliums,
And lavishes upon our souls the lambs of her confession!
Sol et luna mirantur,
Ipsi soli servo fidem.
Her virtues, with their simple strings,
Play to the Lover hidden in the universe,
Cujus pulchritudinem. . .
Who smiles into the sun His looking-glass,
And fills it with his glorious face:
Who utters the round moon’s recurring O
And drowns our dusks in peace.
Ipsi soli servo fidem!
The Roman captain’s work is done:
Now he may tear his temples down—
Her charity has flown to four horizons, like the swiftest doves,
Where all towns sing like springtime, with their newborn bells
Pouring her golden name out of their crucibles.
When your loud axe’s echo on the ponds, at early morning,
Scared the shy mallard from the shallows grey as tin,
The glades gave back your hammers’ antiphons—
The din of nails that shamed the lazy spring.
Striving, like Adam, with the barren wildwood,
And with the desolation of the brake,
You builded, in a reedy place
A cloister and a Ladychurch
But when the stones and clean-hewn beams
Heard no more sounds but of the bees, your thoughtful eyes
Were always full of exile,
Though peaceful with the peace of pilgrims, and with happiness
That shamed, in the deep wood, the sentimental doves.
When in the church your canticles were done,
Even your silences were better than the birds, whose song
Still fell, like fountains, from the forest to your sunny cloister.
And when, in the high-noon of contemplation, reason died by blindness,
Your faith escaped, and found the flowering Cross—
Loving, in Christ, the agony of Adam:
Body and Spirit tilled and gardened with our penances and death.
And from the flowers of that frightful Paradise,
(The wounds that heal the loving mind)
Your diligence could draw such excellence
As shamed the bees at work in the wild rock.
Then did you fill the cloisters of your intellect,
The tabernacles in the secret churches of your will.
Slowly you built sweet counsel, like a honeycomb,
And fed your life with living Wisdom, Heaven’s essence.
This is the night of false Saint Jason
Wakes in fear from his cannibal sleep,
And drenches the edges of his eyes
With his tears’ iron overflow;
For the flying scream of his dead woman
Opened the stitches of his skin,
And Jason bounced in the burly wind
Like a man of sack and string.
“What do you want, in the windows of your wound
Where Judas’ money shines
By daggers’ waterlight?”
“—I want the martyr’s eyes, as tight as shells,
In death’s pretended sleep.
“What does it mean sunlight weeps in your door
Like an abandoned child?”
“—It means the heavyhanded storm,
Whirling and ploughing the wet woods,
Has filled with terrible speech
The stone doors of my feast:
The feast of the false Saint Jason’s first communion.”
(Fragment of an Ikon)
Maedoc of the gloating stone
Of the fresh hazel
Son of a star
Bells will ring where
The wolves were
Of the green shore
Like sunlight in spring rain
Maedoc and his monks
Come through the wood
To the King’s rock
Water and Spirit
Bright wave and flame
At the wood’s edge
At Druim Lethan:
The chosen cell
The house of blessing
When Maedoc’s sign
Halted an army
The King turned back:
“No fighting the saints
The Blessed Trinity
Or Maedoc’s wonders.”
Aed Dub son of Fergus
With a face like a board
Prayed and slept
In Maedoc’s cowl
For a hideous man
A new fair form
A new name
In November, in the days to remember the dead
When air smells cold as earth,
St. Malachy, who is very old, gets up,
Parts the thin curtain of trees and dawns upon our land.
His coat is filled with drops of rain, and he is bearded
With all the seas of Poseidon.
(Is it a crozier, or a trident in his hand?)
He weeps against the gothic window, and the empty cloister
Mourns like an ocean shell.
Two bells in the steeple
Talk faintly to the old stranger
And the tower considers his waters.
“I have been sent to see my festival,” (his cavern speaks!)
Shall I shake the drops from my locks and stand in your transept,
Or, leaving you, rest in the silence of my history?”
So the bells rang and we opened the antiphoners
And the wrens and larks flew up out of the pages.
Our thoughts became lambs. Our hearts swam like seas.
One monk believed that we should sing to him
Some stone-age hymn
Or something in the giant language.
So we played to him in the plainsong of the giant Gregory:
Oceans of Scripture sang upon bony Eire.
Then the last salvage of flowers
(Fostered under glass after the gardens foundered)
Held up their little lamps on Malchy’s altar
To peer into his wooden eyes before the Mass began.
Rain sighed down the sides of the stone church.
Storms sailed by all day in battle fleets.
At five o’clock, when we tried to see the sun, the speechless visitor
Sighed and arose and shook the humus from his feet
And with his trident stirred our trees
And left down-wood, shaking some drops upon the ground.
Thus copper flames fall, tongues of fire fall
The leaves in hundreds fall upon his passing
While night sends down her dreadnought darkness
Upon this spurious Pentecost.
And the Melchisedec of our year’s end
Who came without a parent, leaves without a trace,
And rain comes rattling down upon our forest
Like the doors of a country jail.
When I was Saul, and sat among the cloaks,
My eyes were stones, I saw no sight of heaven,
Open to take the spirit of the twisting Stephen.
When I was Saul, and sat among the rocks,
I locked my eyes, and made my brain my tomb,
Sealed with what boulders rolled across my reason!
When I was Saul and walked upon the blazing desert
My road was quiet as a trap.
I feared what word would split high noon with light
And lock my life, and try to drive me mad:
And thus I saw the Voice that struck me dead.
Tie up my breath, and wind me in white sheets of anguish,
And lay me in my three days’ sepulchre
Until I find my Easter in a vision.
Oh Christ! Give back my life, go, cross Damascus,
Find out my Ananias in that other room:
Command him, as you do, in this my dream;
He knows my locks, and owns my ransom,
Waits for Your word to take his keys and come.
An Invocation to St. Lucy
Lucy, whose day is in our darkest season,
(Although your name is full of light,)
We walkers in the murk and rain of flesh and sense,
Lost in the midnight of our dead world’s winter solstice
Look for the fogs to open on your friendly star.
We have long since cut down the summer of our history;
Our cheerful towns have all gone out like fireflies in October.
The fields are flooded and the vine is bare:
How have our long days dwindled, now the world is frozen!
Locked in the cold jails of our stubborn will,
Oh hear the shovels growling in the gravel.
This is the way they’ll make our beds for ever,
Ours, whose Decembers have put out the sun:
Doors of whose souls are shut against the summertime!
Martyr, whose short day sees our winter and our Calvary,
Show us some light, who seem forsaken by the sky:
We have so dwelt in darkness that our eyes are screened and dim,
And all but blinded by the weakest ray.
Hallow the vespers and December of our life, O martyred Lucy:
Console our solstice with your friendly day.
St. Thomas Aquinas
The stars put out their pale opinions, one by one,
While the black-friar breaks the Truth, his Host,
Among his friends the simple Substances:
For thus he fathered minds to reason’s peace,
And fed the children of the Kingdom
With the Person in the intellectual Bread.
His mind had never smarted with the bitter reek
Of the world’s night, the flesh’s smoke:
His eyes were always cradles for the Word of God:
His intellect His Bethlehem.
Better than Jacob’s dream,
He saw how all created essences go up and down
Upon their Jacob’s ladder,
Finding their own degree of likeness
To the Pure Act and Perfect Essence.
When matter lay as light as snow
On the strong Apennine of form,
And morning rose upon the church of Fossanova,
All creation lay transparent, as serene as water,
Full of the Child Who consecrates the universe,
Informing all with power and meaning, like a Sacrament.
But oh, the day that sings upon the ridge
Steals from the stars the brittle fire of their analogies:
They vanish in the single intuition
Of the rising sun:
And the grey monks’ Cistercian “Subvenite”
Follows Aquinas in his ransomed flight,
And loses him amid the cheering cherubim.