National Poetry Month, James Weldon Johnson’s, The Creation (1927)

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I inherited my grandparent’s library. Many of the books have their signatures and a date and in a few volumes one has gifted it to the other with “Love, Eli” or “Love, Lorraine.” I cherish these.

Every once in a while when I am looking for something to read or rearranging shelves aIMG_5087 title strikes me that I missed or hadn’t felt a pull to in the past. As I looked for something to end National Poetry Month I found this book and a piece that made me pause. I read it all the way through and frankly was sobbing at the end.

In the Hebrew Bible, I love the first chapter of Genesis and the way God is described making the world. Johnson takes those first verses and amplifies the personification of God, of God’s love for his Creation and the care and consideration of what he made and how he exclaimed, “That’s good!”

Johnson’s words affect me specifically because I have always seen Nature as God Incarnate. And in modern America we are killing off Nature, God’s Creation,…well, that’s a post for another time…I am sure these feelings of mine contributed to my reaction.

When you find someone else’s words that speak so deeply and directly to you it is a joy. This is long. Skim if you want, but it’s worth reading all the way through.

 
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The Creation

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen.      Amen.

jwjohnson

To learn more about James Weldon Johnson, you can read his biography at the Poetry Foundation website.

 

______________________
The Book of American Negro Poetry. Edited by James Weldon Johnson. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922, 117.

#BloggingTheSpirit

Gabriela Mistral: Chilean Poet, Educator, Diplomat and Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

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April is National Poetry Month and I want to share a few works of a poet I just discovered, Gabriela Mistral (April 7, 1889—January 10, 1957). She is the first South American author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature (1945) and I hope I am in the minority of those who have never heard of her!

Pure luck brought her to my attention when a character in a telenovela I am watching that is presently airing on Chilean television quoted her. (“The universe changes in an instant and we are born in a day”). I found this profound and wanted to find out more about her.

Born in a small village in the Andes Mountains of Chile, Mistral had an extensive career as an educator, poet, and diplomat; her diplomatic assignments included posts in Madrid, Lisbon, Genoa, and Nice.

She is an emotional and lyrical poet and her poetry is characterized by a persistent and mystical search for union with divinity and all of creation.

I think it is for this reason these three poems particularly draw me. All three speak of spirituality, Nature and a person at ease in conversation with the Divine.

A note on translation: I do not know Spanish, the language of Gabriela Mistral’s work, but these translations are by Doris Dana, her friend and heir to her papers and estate. I am sure they do Mistral justice.*

 

“Serenity”/”Suavidades”

When I am singing to you,
on earth all evil ends:
as smooth as your forehead
are the gulch and the bramble.

When I am singing to you,
for me all cruel things end:
as gentle as your eyelids,
the lion with the jackal.


“Time”/”Tiempo”

DAYBREAK

My heart swells that the Universe
like a fiery cascade may enter.
The new day comes. Its coming
leaves me breathless.
I sing. Like a cavern brimming
I sing my new day.

For grace lost and recovered
I stand humble. Not giving. Receiving.
Until the Gorgon night,
vanquished, flees.


“Eight Puppies”/”Ocho Perritos

Between the thirteenth and the fifteenth day
the puppies opened their eyes.
Suddenly they saw the world,
anxious with terror and joy.
They saw the belly of their mother,
saw the door of their house,
saw a deluge of light,
saw flowering azaleas.

They saw more, they saw all,
the red, the black, the ash.
Scrambling up, pawing and clawing
more lively than squirrels,
they saw the eyes of their mother,
heard my rasping cry and my laugh.

And I wished I were born with them.
Could it not be so another time?
To leap from a clump of banana plants
one morning of wonders—
a dog, a coyote, a deer;
to gaze with wide pupils
to run, to stop, to run, to fall,
to whimper and whine and jump with joy,
riddled with sun and with barking,
a hallowed child of God, his secret, divine servant.

I don’t pretend at this time to know more than a scant few details about Mistral, since in discovering her, I have mostly concentrated on reading her poems. I know that while she had fulfilling and important career successes in education and political diplomacy, she had many personal loses and sorrows, including the death of a nephew she raised as a son. Her poems reflect this.

Since today is her date of birth, I am hoping the Internet will point me to others who know more. If she is new to you, maybe you’ll want to search around as well.

For a nicely detailed biography of her life, including excerpts from her work, I found her entry at The Poetry Foundation to be quite meaningful.

___________

Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral, translated and edited by Doris Dana. Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore, 1971.

“I thank You God for most this amazing day…” e e cummings

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

ee cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), the man of lower case letters and eccentric punctuation. The word order in his poems, too, is different: personal, idiosyncratic, experimental.

This poem sings the spirit of nature for me, although I didn’t understand it all until I came across a recording of the man himself reading it. His intonation, the breaks and pauses…How many times does it happen that one can hear a classic poem read by the poet long dead in his own voice?

 

 

#BloggingtheSpirit

The First Sunday of the Month: Blogging the Spirit

Blogging the Spirit: Adventures in Spirituality on the First Sunday of the Month

 

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How do you connect to God? Are there practices or pieces of art or music or liturgy that evoke this relationship?

Is there a book or poem that ‘gets you’ every time, or a writer who sparks you in those hard moments?

Do you find this connection through trees, the changing of seasons, the cycle of the moon?

In my desire to expand my mostly classic literature blog to reflect the variety of books I read, a brief exchange with fellow bloggers regarding religion and spirituality has prompted me to create an informal monthly event shared across social media.


Books, Art, Photography, Music, Poetry, Liturgy, Creativity

Some suggestions: a book review, a personal post on a particular practice, share a photo or piece of art. Is there a word or phrase or passage from your liturgy or spiritual books that you find beautiful? Does a particular melody or a song connect you to God every time you hear it?

If you don’t believe in God or religion but you are inspired by life share, too.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Pagans, Heathens, Druids, Wiccans, Tree-Huggers, Mother Nature Lovers, Those-Inspired-by-Life. Everyone is welcome!

The Mechanics

We can find each other with the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit to use on Twitter and Instagram and other social media. And you can put a link to your post in the comments of my first Sunday post.

Thank you for contributing!
~Laurie

Questions: therelevantobscurity@gmail.com

Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by the Message, Susan Bailey (2016)

My Edition:lmaliiuminated
Title: Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by the Message
Author: Compiled and Introduced by Susan Bailey
Publisher: Acta Publications
Device: Paper book
Year: 2016
Pages: 121

“That’s the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it’s not very easy to give it sometimes,” said her mother with the air one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere?

 

Literary Portals to Prayer is a series of books by Acta Publications that takes passages from the works of a classic author and pairs them with excerpts from the Message translation of the Bible.

Louisa May Alcott, Illuminated by the Message is one of the latest offerings. It is compiled by Susan Bailey, whose research on the Alcott family is well-known. The book is laid out with a selection from one of  Alcott’s works on the left side and a passage from the Message Bible on the right. Like a devotional or book of prayer, it can be used as a means for contemplation or meditation. The modern English translation of the Message is a perfect complement to Alcott’s down to earth writing style.

My particular spirituality is an eclectic mix and my heart is always open to sources that give me a glimpse of God. Many of the passages in this small, yet powerful book touched me. Of the many, I chose two:

CONCORD, Thursday,—I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass. The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful. I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide “Virginia meadows.”

It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond. A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone. It seemed as if I felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life. Louisa May Alcott, chapter 3, Fruitlands

But even there, if you seek GOD, your God, you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul. When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to GOD, your God, and listen obediently to what he says. GOD, your God, is above all a compassionate God. In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin, he won’t forget the covenant with your ancestors which he swore to them. Deuteronomy 4:29-31

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It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as preparation for the sad hours to come; for by-and-by, Beth said the needle was “so heavy,” and put it down forever; talking wearied her, faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble flesh….With the wreck of her frail body, Beth’s soul grew strong; and though she said little, those about her felt that she was ready, saw that the first pilgrim called was likewise the fittest, and waited with her on the shore, trying to see the Shining ones coming to receive her when she crossed the river. Little Women, chapter 40, The Valley of the Shadow

Bless our God, O peoples!
Give him a thunderous welcome!
Didn’t he set us on the road to life?
Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch?
He trained us first,
passed us like silver through refining fires,
Brought us into hardscabble country,
pushed us to our very limit,
Road-tested us inside and out,
took us to hell and back;
Finally he brought us
to this well-watered place.

Psalm 66:8-12

 

I was given this copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

That Famous Tree Poem is not What I Thought

On my walk this morning, I noticed that all the trees in my neighborhood are full of leaves now. I don’t know the names of all of them, but my crepe myrtle’s spindly branches are now fully covered.

 

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I don’t know if it is my imagination, but if trees really do help with oxygenating the air, then I got a good dose this morning. Maybe it is the drenching we’ve received from the El Niño rains, because from the thickness of leaves on branches, summer is near. Breathe deep their gift of clean air, O Southern California!

In thinking about all the trees I pass by and walk under in my neighborhood, I remembered the first line of this well-known poem:“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…” But I could not go on, so I looked it up. I was very surprised by the rest of it, part prayer/part tree as source of life. And I don’t think I realized it was so old. It is very touching.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918