Today marks yet another important date: it is the 100th birthday of Sheldon Vanauken, author of my favorite book of all time, A Severe Mercy. Having honored dear Davy with a sonnet on her illustrious centennial, I could not bear to let this day pass without acknowledging our great chum Van in like manner (though his gift is in the form of a bit of free verse). Reading A Severe Mercy not only incited an absolute volcanic eruption of latent longing and desire in my life, it breathed a loving affirmation that at once broke my heart and healed it. And though our copy has been nearly read to pieces over the years, I cannot so much as crack the cover without a burning rush of that original joy. This poem refers to Van’s final and ultimate surrender to Christ, some twenty years after Davy’s death, a “return to the Obedience” which led to the writing of this immortal book.
Happy Birthday, Van. We owe you the greatest debt. Look forward to telling you all about it over a heavenly pint someday.
When once that gallant head went down
In fealty unforsworn,
And rebel heart consigned to Mercy’s cause,
Love’s triumph shook the earth for such proud prize
And heaven stooped to smile.
Knighted with a poet’s sword,
Branded by a lover’s seal,
The beauty of your breaking pierced the world.