Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Abraham Heschel
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“From the abundance of his spirit [the poet] pours out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanation” (Prologue, The Spiritual Canticle).

“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).

In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.

I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.

~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

The Hours ~ 4 Poems – Part 3


III.

Sunset:  Vespers
~For St. John of the Cross

       
Soaring on the wings of the dawn
to find shelter in the setting sun,
it would be Your hand that would carry me,
Your right hand holding me safe,
            (Ps 139:9-10)


    1.

He didn’t have to wait here long.  Sunset
Soon came, sliding down the distant alder trees
Like firemen dressed in their red and yellow jackets.

Away they went, hurrying to put out
The sudden conflagration that had exploded
From the sun's dropped hot potato, tossed

From hand to hand along the whole long arc of
Its flight.  “A taste for life once kissed me
On the cheek”—or so the sun’s now calm canticle,

Coaxing forth night’s darkness, reminded him.
“And in that moment,” he added, “life
Tugged at me, rapturously, just as a shoreline tugs

At the sea, until, in my mouth, a hint of
Sun-hewn, honeyed cider appeared,
All of its own, swishing about ever so sweetly.”

Of course, there was no helping such things,
He knew; indeed, everybody knew as much,
That there was nothing one could do about it.

But for him, what was more, there was nothing
He would ever even want to do about it.
“Oh, who can speak intelligibly,” he once said

To friendly ears alone, “of what self-forgetfulness

Has taught him?”—a topic discretely passed over
In polite company these days, among citizens

Of our more scientific age.  Yet daily it filled
His stomach; daily he quenched his thirst at its dark,
Soft-murmuring stream.  Often his eyes

Wandered upward to where eagles soar
High, high above, the sight leaving him speechless.
Yet, to this day, his words persist as if inscribed

On a piece of wooly, nut-brown cloth, cut
To the size of a single square inch, no more,
And hung from a string about his neck.

    2.

Now we have the sharp sliver of ice that is
The moon tonight, left from the fires of sunset;
We have this lolling haze, legacy of the day's

Last light, abiding as a milky balm
Distilled directly from nature's gentler ways
And come to offer us its consolations.

Thus God's word lingers on in the darkness,
Inserting images of love into our poems.
We have, for example, the Spirit, Who watches

Over us constantly, His kindly eyes like pearls
Fashioned from an unimagined brilliance
That’s been softened for us by wisdom

And great age.  He shows Himself tonight
In night’s many-stringed, starry necklace
Draping its satiny beads—each a pearl of

Great price—across the boundless black
Of the firmament.  Here below, though, I inhale
Exultation as I peer up at the marvel,


These numberless instances of a thing that glitters
Yet is not gold—a thing beautifully incarnate,
Genie-like, and full of luster.  If I could

Pick just one, chosen from among them all—
As if from a child's plastic pail, filled with
Sparkling white sand, I could choose

That single grain perfect in my imperfect
Estimation; or maybe if I scooped out by the
Shovelful the whole pail of sand till its contents

Lay piled before me—“Which of the two
Best suits You?” I wonder.  Neither would
Or even could show the world what it

Most longs to see, the very thing that has
Caught him up and whisked him away, off to where
Life endures in untangled sun and shade forever.



Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD
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