The Answer

A poem for the Annunciation

 

Time awaits with bated breath

What eternity hath known.

Nature quakes, and struck is death

Where the Angel’s word is flown.

Earth knows not, may not regard,

Only she who is addressed

By the message strange and hard,

By all generations blest.

Only she is witness here

Troubled with a change of life,

Troubled with a bitter fear,

Set in midst of deadly strife.

She who sees the Angel now;

She the living babe will view,

See the nations to Him bow,

Ponder all things old and new.

She will hear her son command

Death and sickness, hell and sea,

Hear the crowd His life demand,

And his tortured corpse shall see.

She shall know His risen face,

Be the Spirit on her poured,

Enter into heavenly grace,

Be for ever with her Lord.

“Yes” is spoke!  Nor turning back,

What she knows, and what’s unknown,

Glory, puzzlement and lack,

Cast alike before God’s throne.

 

Cherry Foster

Afar Off

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child!

My father, I have sinned, I pray you hear…

My dearest, thou dost live that wast defiled!

 

Rejoice, mine own returns from what was vile!

I am not worthy, scarce dare I draw near…

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child!

 

Prepare the calf, high let the feast be piled!

I have done that which must your spirit sear…

My dearest, thou dost live that wast defiled!

 

How hast thou suffered in the lonely wild…

For nothing I have done could be held clear…

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child!

 

Thou has come home no more to be beguiled.

Thy love o’erwhelms me… Oh, my father dear!

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child,

My dearest, thou dost live that wast defiled.

 

Cherry Foster

 

Prodigal_Son wikimedia commons, copyright to attribution
Stained Glass CHS Cathedral. Source: Wikimedia Commons; (Photo credit unclear).

Christmas Night

On that night,

The shaman looked out at the endless grass,

To frosty stars; wondering in heart, he said:

“The spirits are still and silent tonight,

For good and not for hurt.”

 

On that night,

A maid in red and gold and henna decked

Leapt up in joy as music sounded near,

Her sister calling with a trembling voice:

“At last, your bridegroom comes!”

 

On that night,

The teenage shepherdess, in fragrant fields

Of mountain pastures, caught a labouring ewe,

And she delivered into warm soft hay,

A single, spotless lamb.

 

In that dawn,

The watchman of an Oriental town,

A town beleaguered beyond help or hope,

Cried out in joy at the far distant sight,

“Our King is come to save!”

 

Cherry Foster

 

Angus Dei, wikipedia commons photo credit Victoria Edwards, copyright to attribution
Angus Dei. Source: Wikipedia Commons; Photo Credit: Victoria Edwards.

Daughter of Zion

A poem for Advent

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Behold thy Bridegroom come,

Bourne on the ass’s colt,

Bourne in thy maiden’s womb.

          He comes, the wisdom from above,

          He comes, who orders all in love.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

He comes thy siege to lift.

No more to mourn or grieve,

He comes who is God’s gift.

        He who to Moses from the flame

        Spake, comes now to redeem thy fame.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Shake off the clinging dust,

Cast away idol forms,

Place in Him all your trust,

          The root of Jesse, silent now,

          Before Him speechless kings shall bow.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Thy widowhood is o’er,

Restored thou art to Him,

Who is for evermore.

          Unto the lock put out thy hand,

          The key is turned that naught withstands.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

From grief and dark arise,

Thy labour pains are o’er,

Shake sleep off from thine eyes.

          The Light arises on thy death,

          The dry bones waken with His breath.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Thy nakedness is gone,

Thy time for love is near,

Clothed with the stars and sun,

        The King is come of thy desire

        Who shall save thee by blood and fire.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Laugh at thy raging foes,

Trample with hooves of brass,

Break them with many blows.

          Emmanuel, thy God, is near,

          Thy hope, thy love, the end of fear.

                           ***

Daughter of Zion, rejoice,

He that seeks truth is come,

In whom all pardoned are,

Thy dear, most glorious Son.

          ‘O Virgin, how can all this be?’

          ‘It is Love’s utmost mystery.’

 

Cherry Foster

In that hour

For our Lady of Sorrows

The Father for their joint purpose here the Son forsaken leaves,

To the utter death which is our sin and at which heaven can but grieve.

But for the one drop of water that is all within Hell’s bitter flame

He left the mother by the cross for tenderness in that pain.

 

Cherry Foster

Magnificat

The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_Mary source wikimedia commons, photo credit and author unknown, no copyright
The Visitation, St. George Church, Kurbinovo, North Macedonia. Source, Wikimedia Commons, author and photo credit unknown.

 

My soul gives glory to the Lord; my spirit delights in God who saves me,

For he has chosen to honour me despite my insignificance.

Look, look!  For now, all people shall for ever call me blessed!

He, the all powerful, has lent me glory, and HOLY is his Name.

His mercy is with them that adore him, throughout all ages of history.

 

He is showing strength and power,

He brings the desire of those who boast of themselves to nothing at all.

He has overturned presidents and prime ministers,

Exulting the underprivileged to power and wealth.

He is filling those in need with all they could want,

While those stuffed full of luxury are turned away with nothing.

 

He remembering his kindness has come to help his servant Israel,

As he promised to our ancestors from time immemorial,

Promised to Abraham’s family for ever and ever.

Cherry Foster

 

P.S. An academic note: I have called this “Magnificat”, and in a sense it is, but I know almost no Greek, so ultimately it is my own linguistic impression of the English versions (all however many ><) that I know, and my interpretation of the poetry, not an actual translation.  There is no avoiding, for instance, choosing between “he has exulted me because I was humble,” “he has exulted me because of my low social status,” and “he has exulted me despite my low social status”, and I’ve had to do that without any reference to the original language, according to what I think is most coherent with the poem as a whole and with my opinion on the theology of poverty.  It is a devotional poem rather than a scriptural translation.

Also, I partly wrote this as an exercise in exploring the problems with trying to put liturgy in truly modern language, being annoyed by the notion it was worth swapping the beautiful prayer book Magnificat for a version which referred to the “lowly” apparently on the grounds that the second version was more “modern” (I’m not sure I’ve ever referred to the “lowly” in any serious way – it is just as dated, if not more so, than “humble and meek”).  I’m also intrigued by the problems the limitations of word choice that would be caused by being truly idiomatic create when writing to be read aloud (stylistically, it should really be “on them who” not “on them that“, but the “e-o-or-i” sequence there sounds excruciating; similarly, “unimportance” would have been more idiomatic than “insignificance”, but it has a clumsy rhythm, and poor, clumsy, bad-sounding language doesn’t communicate the beauty and majesty of God).  Another problem that intrigues me is that society has changed in ways that mean there simply isn’t a modern equivalent to some things – it isn’t possible to communicate the relationship between master and servant by talking of an employee – and I think this is even more problematic when it comes to theological concepts like “blessed”, “holy”, and “mercy”.   Besides, trying to make it sound like an excited teenager talking for the first time about something utterly momentous to her in the confused context of greeting a relative whom she hasn’t seen for some time and who has also had her life turned upside down is quite complicated in terms of choice of technique.

Anyway, it was very interesting, and I have a bit more sympathy now with the people who have to write liturgy and make compromises between all the different considerations.

Transfiguration

Of old upon the mountain paths

The unnamed God revealed

In unconsuming flame his call,

Yet with his face concealed.

 

Of old upon the mountain side

The wind and fire did rage,

But God unseen in silence there,

Spake to his lonely sage.

 

But now upon the mountain top,

In glory old and new,

The Son the Father showeth forth,

To God’s full image true.

 

Cherry Foster

 

Transfiguration by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov source wikimedia commons no copyright
Transfiguration by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. Source: Wikimedia Commons.