Then Mary took a pint of nard
in an Egyptian alabaster jar;
she snapped its slender neck, and poured
its oily sweetness on Thy head
and on Thy feet, and wiped them with her hair;
the scent o’erpowered all the feasters there.
Mary was rich; a rich gift she could bring
as if Thou wert a dead man or a king.
And rich, too, was Thy friendship to her kin:
the hours she spent drinking Thy kind voice in,
Thy visits to their house in Bethany,
sweetness of knowing Thee.
Most recently, Thou raised her brother too –
and so she searched for something she could do.
She smears Thy head with pure and fragrant nard;
it is no purer than Thy head.
She hears, not heeding, tongues wag in the gloom;
Thou’st told her priests are plotting for Thy doom,
and she believes.
But at this feast
the oil of gladness she’s released
caring only to see Thou smilest at it
and hearing Thy pronouncement that ‘tis fit
for this dark week, when off to death Thou ride …
And when they pierce Thy hands, and feet, and side,
to high priest, Herod, Pilate, Calvary
her fragrant gratitude shall go with Thee
and powerful though silent witness bring
that Thou art a dead man and a king.
My boys and I have been memorizing the book of James. The whole second half of chapter 2 is taken up with a blistering discussion about how “faith” means nothing if it doesn’t express itself in actions.
Here is the beginning of it:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and in need of daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.James 2:14 -18
Now, here it is translated into modern parlance by the musical genius Rich Mullins:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.A.E. Housman, (1859 – 1936)
The following is a poem by Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet. Bradstreet was a poet and a mom. This poem compares publishing a book to sending your child out into the world: you dress the kid as best you can, attempt to wipe his or her face, and just pray that he or she doesn’t embarrass you out there.
I was introduced to this poem in an American Lit class in college, and even then I thought it was clever. At the time, of course, I had no children and had not published anything.
In the years since, I’ve thought of this poem once or twice whenever I do manage to publish something and find that it can look very different staring up at you from a newspaper than it looked on my laptop. Truly, works of literature, like children, when we turn them loose on the world do not always behave the way we hoped they would.
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam.
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.The Author to Her Book, by Anne Bradstreet, via poetryfoundation.org
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Should’st rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should if you please refuse
Till the Conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For lady you deserve this state;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wing-ed chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity:
And your quaint honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
And every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife,
Through the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.“To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)
Did any of you fellas talk like this when you were dating your lady?
Perhaps you did. This is, after all, just a better-expressed version of the old line, “Do you want to die a virgin?”
That’s why I call it complete nonsense. Come on, Andrew Marvell. Was this girl really expecting you to wait centuries for her? Or was she just hesitating for a few weeks? I’m guessing probably the latter. And you decided to bring the specter of mortality before her in order to guilt her in to your bed immediately.
But I honestly can’t dismiss this poem because, oh my gosh, it is so well expressed! I hope you laughed several times while reading it, because so many of the lines are funny and clever. The AA BB CC rhyme scheme is flawless, and the rhymes, together with the four feet instead of five per line, run through the middle of sentences in order to hurry us along through the poem. We want to get to the next rhyme, just as Marvell wants to get to the next … thing. And many of these images are so evocative that they get quoted frequently: “deserts of vast eternity” … “time’s slow-chapped power” … “all our strength and all our sweetness.”
I think the content of this poem is a huge piece of eye-roll worthy male manipulation. But the form is so terrific that I love the thing despite myself. I almost have it memorized. It’s a 17th century ear worm.
Marvell has taken a quintessential line, and he has elevated it, through the magic of poetry, into something else entirely.
A poem by me.
The season for fruit is suddenly through.
The only regret is that is left to you,
you didn’t go out and gather more limes
but left them there for another time.
The lime tree’s thorns are painful, yes,
but they should not deter the determined guest.
And the lime itself may be far from sweet
but in soup it rewards those who dare to eat.
And so with love: we often find
regrets at what we’ve left behind,
repulsed by a thorn, a pucker or two,
that would not mean much if we’d pushed on through.
Fun fact: during the month or so at a time that I used to stay with a host family in a remote village in Borneo, they actually had a small lime tree. And it actually had thorns. To pick the limes, I had to climb through the brush, balance on the bank of the little creek that ran behind their house, and avoid the thorns. Most of the limes were small, dry and pulpy … but so worth it.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his plans beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory for ever!
Amen.Romans 11:33 – 36, NIV
Be Kind to Yourself
Because you’ve gotta learn to love your enemies too.
I’d like to say that everything will be all right
from the time you’re startin’ out in the mornin’
to the time you fall asleep in the sweet moonlight.
I’d like to say that the world is fair,
that you can face it from an easy chair.
I’d like to say it, but it’s just not true.
You do your best, but it’s not always up to you.
So hand it over to hands that are stronger.
His hand is on you if you’ll hand it over.