“Praise” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I searched all evening for a poem with which to celebrate the Ascension. I found nothing worth publishing. But deep into the last chapter of a book I am writing about Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (which is making my posts here both few and far between), I find myself thinking every day about science and faith, about intelligent design, and even about the AIDS virus. And so, wouldn’t you know it, I came across a poem that blends all of these themes. It is by R.S. Thomas (1913–2000) (left), and it is called simply “Praise.”

A Welshman like Dylan Thomas, he was also an Anglican, like John Henry Newman before conversion. A pretty good combination and, I think you’ll agree, a pretty good poet too. 

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

Meanwhile, can anyone come up with a good Ascension-themed poem?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    Webster: This comes close.Look at the StarsLook at the stars! look, look up at the skies! O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air! The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there! Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes! The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies! Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare! Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!— Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize. Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, aims, vows. Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs! Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows! These are indeed the barn; withindoors house The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.- Gerard Manley Hopkins

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Ascension Day by John Keble(1792-1866)Soft cloud, that while the breeze of MayChants her glad matins in the leafy arch,Draw'st thy bright veil across the heavenly wayMeet pavement for an angel's glorious march:My soul is envious of mine eye,That it should soar and glide with thee so fast,The while my grovelling thoughts half buried lie,Or lawless roam around this earthly waste.Chains of my heart, avaunt I say -I will arise, and in the strength of lovePursue the bright track ere it fade away,My Saviour's pathway to His home above.Sure, when I reach the point where earthMelts into nothing from th' uncumbered sight,Heaven will o'ercome th' attraction of my birth.And I shall sink in yonder sea of light:Till resting by th' incarnate LORD,Once bleeding, now triumphant for my sake,I mark Him, how by seraph hosts adored,He to earth's lowest cares is still awake.The sun and every vassal star,All space, beyond the soar of angel wings,Wait on His word: and yet He stays His carFor every sigh a contrite suppliant brings.He listens to the silent tearFor all the anthems of the boundless sky -And shall our dreams of music bar our earTo His soul-piercing voice for ever nigh?Nay, gracious Saviour–but as nowOur thoughts have traced Thee to Thy glory-throneSo help us evermore with thee to bowWhere human sorrow breathes her lowly moan.We must not stand to gaze too long,Though on unfolding Heaven our gaze we bendWhere lost behind the bright angelic throngWe see CHRIST'S entering triumph slow ascend.No fear but we shall soon behold,Faster than now it fades, that gleam revive,When issuing from his cloud of fiery goldOur wasted frames feel the true sun, and live.Then shall we see Thee as Thou art,For ever fixed in no unfruitful gaze,But such as lifts the new-created heart,Age after age, in worthier love and praise.

  • Webster Bull

    You had to know that Frank (Mr. Google, to us) would find that poem! Bravo Zulu, partner!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Ascension by John DonneSalute the last and everlasting day, Joy at th' uprising of this Sun, and Son, Ye whose true tears, or tribulation Have purely wash'd, or burnt your drossy clay. Behold, the Highest, parting hence away, Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon ; Nor doth He by ascending show alone, But first He, and He first enters the way. O strong Ram, which hast batter'd heaven for me ! Mild Lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark'd the path ! Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see ! O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath ; And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise, Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise. John Donne

  • Anonymous

    While the Ascension poems are great… Webster, I LOVED the poem you posted. It is so simple and yet so profound. Lovely. Rose

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Rose. I like simple.

  • Anonymous

    Me too :)Rose

  • Patricia

    Webster, I don't have a poem but found some beautiful images of the Ascension on the Radiant Light website of artist Elizabeth Wang. I'm not very computer savy,but if you would like to view those images, go to her website and click on List All Key Subjects and then Ascension.