Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Poetry Readings

Triduum Poems

written and recorded by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

Triduum Poems

written and recorded by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
For the past three years as the Easter Triduum draws near I’ve written a few poems in the spirit of these holy days. I hesitate to say that the poems are about these days—either by retelling the story of that saving event, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, or by referencing the liturgies with which we reenact this saving event, receiving it anew as truth, beauty, mercy, and love.
Yet the poems are, in their own way, about the paschal mystery—sometimes through allusion and direct or indirect reference, and sometimes through imagery and symbol. This style will make these poems hard to follow at times. Our culture doesn’t train us very well to find truth in symbolic expression, a fact that shows itself in how we as a society, and even as a church, read scripture. For us Carmelites it also manifests itself in how we read mystical texts and the language of mystical experience. In a word, we tend to presume the truth of language—even when narrative, mystical, mythic, poetic, symbolic—to lie in a more or less literalistic reading.
I’m tempted to offer interpretive comments on each of the poems, and maybe someday I will. For now, though, I’ll let the poetry speak for itself. There are passages in them where the meaning is pretty obvious. I’m trying to describe, for example, the anguish of Jesus on the cross or his joy in the company of his disciples at the Last Supper. There are also references to our liturgies.
But the poems also simply seek to conjure up and evoke feelings, moods, memories, spiritual moments, rumblings of the soul, meanings that are sensed more than spoken. This use of poetic imagery grounds the death and resurrection of Jesus in human, subjective experience—although, having said that, it sounds a bit too grand a claim. Anyway, enjoy the poetry, and let the Spirit breathe.
Under Cover of Night
Holy Thursday
~
a first version

I sob like five magpies, once for each finger;
Yet You have loved me, and still do.

*

Night arches its back of black fur, claws extended,
While I look up lovingly,
Gazing past into its enduring soul. There I see
Stars perched in treetops like sparrows spun of glass.

*

I am neither more nor less than you, Wide Night,
Earth's sad shadow, brother.

*

“Though noonday tomorrow may shatter us,
Tonight the sky upholds us.” Under its wings
Vines magically blossom; its vast might
Shelters the swollen sorrow of this Hour.

***


The Least of These
Holy Thursday
~a second version

Judas speaks:

(1) My voice like six magpies, Evening Star,
And yet You have loved me.

(2) I’m out walking night’s pets—an old Doberman
And a witch’s familiar, defanged, defenseless—

While You, light-hearted with Your friends,
Gaze with loving, starry eyes into their half-lit souls.

I see Your silhouette high above, fashioning a flock
For Yourself—a pie of angels emptied into the air.

(3)
Would You have me be the least of these—
My brothers eleven, their oaken shadows?

(4) Jesus answers:

When noon comes tomorrow, and I’ve crumbled
Away to dust, then God will, on the third day,

Sweep me up into His dustpan. But tonight let’s
Ride the wings of vision, let our supper stretch

Far beyond sorrow; mightily the Father upholds
Our oneness—your fidgety eye, my fleeting Hour.

***


Holy Thursday

Take this, He said—this tear-swollen ocean. This sky
The size of a receding star and the darkness around it.
This field of dandelions, their countless fists raised

In imitation of the sun, worshipping its warmth.
This whiskey-colored forest floor distilled from tons
Of pinecones. This poem that St. John of the Cross

Used to called his
Eine kleine Nachtmusik—“good
For fanning cedars and little else.” This thing
That happened two thousand years ago

And has just now found its way to our shores. In
Wave after wave we welcome it, an
Amen on our lips.

*

Once we’d left the table I thought, Well, that’s over.
But nothing ends where everything begins—be it piecemeal
Or all at once—and then goes rushing on ahead.
I’m not sure why it decided to include
me. Perhaps

By mistake, I figured, until I learned to figure otherwise.
Wind pushes me from behind—I am a tumbleweed leaping fences,
Hurriedly threading a path through traffic, rolling up
To the front door of a castle made of glass, inside and out.

*

If only I understood how names get attached to things,
Then I could boast of being a free spirit, with the emphasis
On free. As it is, names control
me, not me them.

But “bread” rolls smoothly off the tongue, as does “loaf,”
Since Holy Leisure is something I commonly crusade about.
As for “cup,” that’s fine, too—but not “chalice,”

Which is the word they’ve foisted on us, like “spouse”
For “husband.” Someday I’ll learn how to squawk
And caw and spread my wings like an eagle.

***
For the past three years as the Easter Triduum draws near I’ve written a few poems in the spirit of these holy days. I hesitate to say that the poems are about these days—either by retelling the story of that saving event, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, or by referencing the liturgies with which we reenact this saving event, receiving it anew as truth, beauty, mercy, and love.
Yet the poems are, in their own way, about the paschal mystery—sometimes through allusion and direct or indirect reference, and sometimes through imagery and symbol. This style will make these poems hard to follow at times. Our culture doesn’t train us very well to find truth in symbolic expression, a fact that shows itself in how we as a society, and even as a church, read scripture. For us Carmelites it also manifests itself in how we read mystical texts and the language of mystical experience. In a word, we tend to presume the truth of language—even when narrative, mystical, mythic, poetic, symbolic—to lie in a more or less literalistic reading.
I’m tempted to offer interpretive comments on each of the poems, and maybe someday I will. For now, though, I’ll let the poetry speak for itself. There are passages in them where the meaning is pretty obvious. I’m trying to describe, for example, the anguish of Jesus on the cross or his joy in the company of his disciples at the Last Supper. There are also references to our liturgies.
But the poems also simply seek to conjure up and evoke feelings, moods, memories, spiritual moments, rumblings of the soul, meanings that are sensed more than spoken. This use of poetic imagery grounds the death and resurrection of Jesus in human, subjective experience—although, having said that, it sounds a bit too grand a claim. Anyway, enjoy the poetry, and let the Spirit breathe.
Under Cover of Night
Holy Thursday
~
a first version

I sob like five magpies, once for each finger;
Yet You have loved me, and still do.

*

Night arches its back of black fur, claws extended,
While I look up lovingly,
Gazing past into its enduring soul. There I see
Stars perched in treetops like sparrows spun of glass.

*

I am neither more nor less than you, Wide Night,
Earth's sad shadow, brother.

*

“Though noonday tomorrow may shatter us,
Tonight the sky upholds us.” Under its wings
Vines magically blossom; its vast might
Shelters the swollen sorrow of this Hour.

***


The Least of These
Holy Thursday
~a second version

Judas speaks:

(1) My voice like six magpies, Evening Star,
And yet You have loved me.

(2) I’m out walking night’s pets—an old Doberman
And a witch’s familiar, defanged, defenseless—

While You, light-hearted with Your friends,
Gaze with loving, starry eyes into their half-lit souls.

I see Your silhouette high above, fashioning a flock
For Yourself—a pie of angels emptied into the air.

(3)
Would You have me be the least of these—
My brothers eleven, their oaken shadows?

(4) Jesus answers:

When noon comes tomorrow, and I’ve crumbled
Away to dust, then God will, on the third day,

Sweep me up into His dustpan. But tonight let’s
Ride the wings of vision, let our supper stretch

Far beyond sorrow; mightily the Father upholds
Our oneness—your fidgety eye, my fleeting Hour.

***


Holy Thursday

Take this, He said—this tear-swollen ocean. This sky
The size of a receding star and the darkness around it.
This field of dandelions, their countless fists raised

In imitation of the sun, worshipping its warmth.
This whiskey-colored forest floor distilled from tons
Of pinecones. This poem that St. John of the Cross

Used to called his
Eine kleine Nachtmusik—“good
For fanning cedars and little else.” This thing
That happened two thousand years ago

And has just now found its way to our shores. In
Wave after wave we welcome it, an
Amen on our lips.

*

Once we’d left the table I thought, Well, that’s over.
But nothing ends where everything begins—be it piecemeal
Or all at once—and then goes rushing on ahead.
I’m not sure why it decided to include
me. Perhaps

By mistake, I figured, until I learned to figure otherwise.
Wind pushes me from behind—I am a tumbleweed leaping fences,
Hurriedly threading a path through traffic, rolling up
To the front door of a castle made of glass, inside and out.

*

If only I understood how names get attached to things,
Then I could boast of being a free spirit, with the emphasis
On free. As it is, names control
me, not me them.

But “bread” rolls smoothly off the tongue, as does “loaf,”
Since Holy Leisure is something I commonly crusade about.
As for “cup,” that’s fine, too—but not “chalice,”

Which is the word they’ve foisted on us, like “spouse”
For “husband.” Someday I’ll learn how to squawk
And caw and spread my wings like an eagle.

***