Robert Siegel (1939—2012) is the latest poet to have a volume published in the Poiema Poetry Series. His new book, Within This Tree of Bones, is a career retrospective, which emphasizes the spiritual in his work. The four sections demonstrate: the human condition, the disclosure of God through nature, the revelation of God in scripture, and then culminates with celebration.
Dana Gioia wrote in Poetry that “Siegel’s imagination is excited by the nonhuman world, and he writes about plants and animals with surprising immediacy…A compassionate observer…he looks at them as mysterious and wonderful signs of a greater order.”
For 23 years he taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and has also taught at Dartmouth, Princeton, and at Goethe University in Frankfurt.
When I last spoke with Bob, on December 10, he entrusted to me the approving of the final proofs for his new book. He died ten days later. I am honoured to have worked with Robert Siegel to edit this excellent collection for publication. He had not mentioned his battle with cancer to me, until that final phone call. I am sad to know he never held it in his hands, but am pleased that I encouraged him to add many new poems to the collection. The following is the first poem in his new book, and is the source for its title.
It is morning. A finch startles
the maple leaves. Everything’s clear
in this first light before all thins
to a locust harping on the heat.
While day clutches at my pulse
to inject the usual anesthetic,
now, Christ, stimulate my heart,
transfuse your blood to fortify my own.
Let no light upon these sheets
diminish, Lord, before I feel you
burst inward like a finch
to nest and sing within this tree of bones.
“Matins” from Within This Tree of Bones: New and Selected Poems, Wipf & Stock, Publishers. Copyright 2012 by Robert Siegel. This poem was posted with the poet’s permission. The other titles in the Poiema Poetry Series are Six Sundays Toward a Seventh by Sydney Lea, and Epitaphs for the Journey by Paul Mariani — both published in 2012.
This poem is beautiful. Thanks, D.S. Martin, for continuing to draw our attention to these stewards of words. –The Proprietor
Jūkichi Yagi (1898–1927) is a Japanese poet. He became a devout Christian as a high school student through reading the Bible. At age 23 he became a teacher of English and began writing poetry as an expression of his Christian faith. In 1923, he and his wife, Tomiko, were married. His first book of poems Autumn’s Eye appeared in 1925. During the following year he developed tuberculosis, and remained bed-ridden until he died. During this time he wrote extensively about God and death. It was not until after the posthumous publication of his further poetry that he gained widespread popularity. In 1959 his widow arranged for the publication of The Complete Poems of Jūkichi Yagi.
From “Soliloquy in Bed”:
They flow naturally.
What should I do with these tears?
I’d like to recover soon
and spread the names of God and Jesus.
There are nights when I fall asleep
to the sound of the waves meshing with my thoughts.
There are times when I can’t sleep at all.
I don’t mean that.
I mean that if I must die anyway
then please let me die with a beautiful heart.
when we knew happiness together,
those times when I was to blame for things,
I can now see very clearly.
Seen through the window, the sky and flowing clouds—
I turn away from their excessive seriousness.
I can’t stand being in bed alone.
O Heavenly Father,
please save this feeble body and soul
and let me work on behalf of the light of God and Christ.
when not calling God’s name
I’m calling yours.
I will be together with the heart of God.
Momoko and Yooji,
it’s painful that I can’t see you.
I’m happiest at having been your father
and not anyone else’s.
Ah, how wonderful the sound of those waves.
I’d love to go to the beach.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They’re both available here.
“Jack” Lewis (1898-1963) wanted most of all to be known as a poet. Today we know C.S. Lewis as a great literary scholar, for works such as The Allegory of Love and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, including his scholarship on such poets as John Milton and Edmund Spenser—as a Christian apologist for dozens of titles including Mere Christianity and Miracles—for his fiction, including the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia, and his critical success, Till We Have Faces. He was also famous for his Oxford lectures, and for his skilful debates against prominent atheists—but he is not well known for his poetry.
Too often Lewis is trying to win an argument—something that just doesn’t work in a poem. He had developed such a love for the form and subject matter of medieval narrative verse, that he could not relate to the poetic techniques of the twentieth century.
Alan Paton (1903–1988) is a South African writer who saw himself as a poet who wrote novels. He is best known for Cry, The Beloved Country (1948). It is the story of a Zulu pastor’s search for his missing son, in a land where racial injustice had become the norm.
As the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for young black offenders, from 1935 to 1949, Alan Paton was able to introduce significant reforms–enabling inmates, who had proven themselves responsible, freedom to work and often live away from the reformatory. He was so opposed to his country’s apartheid policy, that in 1953 he founded the Liberal Party of South Africa.
The international success of Cry, The Beloved Country, kept him financially independent and protected him from government prosecution, although his passport was confiscated in 1960 for about ten years. The following poems are from his collected poems, Songs of Africa.
Sydney Lea is the author of ten collections of poetry including Pursuit Of A Wound (2001) which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He has also published a novel, A Place In Mind (1989), and two collections of essays. Lea is the founding editor of New England Review, where he served from 1977 until 1989. He has taught at several colleges, in Europe and the United States, including Yale, Wesleyan, and Dartmouth. He is the new poet laureate of Vermont.
Jeanne Murray Walker wrote of his new collection, Six Sundays Toward a Seventh, “In this book Sydney Lea invites us to take a spiritual journey . . . By the end of Six Sundays, the narrator and the reader step together into radiant light. What is so moving about Six Sundays is not only its wrestling with spiritual questions, but also Lea’s affirmation that life is a spiritual journey and that this journey is of paramount importance.”
T.S. Eliot is the only poet to be both featured in my copy of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, and its American counterpart. He was born in St. Louis in 1888, but moved to London — becoming a British citizen in 1927. He is such a significant figure that both nations claim him as their own.
Perhaps Eliot’s greatest accomplishment is Four Quartets — four related, but separate poems published over a six-year period. They deal with the connection of time and eternity — of Chronos (linear time) and Kairos (“the timeless moment”). Like in Eliot’s early works, the poem connects to numerous earlier writings — such as, in this case, to the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the scriptural account of Pentecost, a Hindu text, and the Christian mystics John of The Cross and Julian of Norwich. He also makes allusions to both Milton and Dante.
Luci Shaw is one of the most significant Christian poets of our time. She takes on topics of significance to people of faith, yet refuses to undermine her art with preconceived, didactic ways of thinking, or sentimentality. One important topic for Shaw is the incarnation.
Since childhood, Luci Shaw has annually written Christmas poems; originally the practice was simply for inclusion with her Christmas correspondence. As her poetic skills grew, so did the quality and quantity of these poems. In 1996, she and her friend Madeleine L’Engle released the book Wintersong — a joint collection of Christmas readings. Ten years later Eerdmans published Accompanied By Angels, a book of Shaw’s incarnation poems, many of which had appeared in her earlier books.
Since then, this tradition continues to result in fine Christmas poetry. In 2004 Luci Shaw sent me an early version of the following poem…
Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) was an English priest known for such novels as Westward Ho!, for his political essays, for his poetry, and for his collections of sermons. Kingsley was involved in the Christian Socialist movement, and often wrote his novels to expose injustice.
Kingsley is best known for his children’s novel, The Water-Babies (1863), which he wrote to teach Christian values. The main character is a ten-year-old chimneysweep named Tom. Due to mistreatment, Tom is chased out of town where he drowns in a river. Fairies turn him into a creature called a water-baby, and assign him a task. This book helped lead to an act of Parliament which prevented children being forced to climb chimneys.
The Dream of the Rood (the Cross) is, according to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, “the finest of a rather large number of religious poems in Old English.” It is one of the oldest works of Old English surviving today. It was preserved in the “Vercelli Book” found in northern Italy in the 10th century, but may be much older. Its author is unknown, although scholars have often suggested either of two Anglo Saxon Christian poets: Cynewulf or Cædmon.
The entire poem is about 1200 words, and was written in the alliterative style of Old English. The poem begins and ends with the story told by the dreamer; the central section is from the point-of-view of the Cross itself.
[For a while now I've been following a blog called Kingdom Poets, written by a Canadian poet named D.S. Martin, whose writings have appeared in a number of publications including Ruminate, Books & Culture, and Image Journal. He's the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They're both available at: www.dsmartin.ca. He tells me his next book will feature poems inspired by the life and works of C.S. Lewis.
Mr. Martin agreed to let us re-post occasional entries from his blog, which he describes this way: "The Kingdom Poets blog is a resource of poets of the Christian faith, regardless of background; there is no attempt made to assess orthodoxy, but simply to present poets who speak profoundly of faith in God." This poem by Betjeman does just that. --The Proprietor]