Songs from the Welsh Hills

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Poetry

Before

Prayer

Holy God
holy and true
have mercy on me
 
Oh Thou eternal beauty
Oh thou love without limits
Oh thou breath of the spacious universe
have mercy on me
 
Father God
Mother Spirit
Brother Christ
have mercy on me
 
Oh thou strength of the morning
Oh thou heat of the sun
Oh thou cool of the evening rain
have mercy on me…
a sinner

 

The Bountiful Tree

God
who is the scene of light
and the breathing of breath
and the touching of truth
 
Come in your strangeness
Come in your strongness
Come in your closeness
 
And plant in my anxious heart
your quiet
your stillness
your loving kindness
 
And cause it to grow a tough and bountiful tree
branch-spread
root-thick
bark-bound
twig-sprung
leaf-deep
fruit-rich
bird-nested
insect-hummed:
A permanent investment in my soul

 

During

I wait

I wait
Here in the wet hills
Bathed in the relentless mist of rain.
Occasionally dazzling light.
Always the earth: sodden and fertile.
 
I gather hazel nuts
Inspect fungi: abundant bolete
They're cracked caps heavy and wet
Buzzards mew
A kite slides over the hill.
 
I read I wait
Struggle with words that are not quite ready
Listen
Cook food carefully planned
And watch my body.
 
I wait for Spirit
God within
But he is always here in silence
Waiting
Quiet and unnoticed.

 

I did not see

I did not see them at first
 
The cloud was low
Fog emerging out of the fading night
 
Then as days cleared
and my eyes grew accustomed
to the rural light
 
They were there
Commanding the sky lanes of the valley
 
A Kite encroached briefly
A Kestrel hovered
Crows juggled the wind
 
But now my ears hear
And my sole companion
Keen as light
Is the buzzard's cry

 

Be Still

Be still with the pain
Wait
Act
 
That is the only language the pain understands
Wait with the pain
Hear it
The full extent of it
And gently
Slowly
Touch the feeling of it
Only then
And not quite now
Are you ready to act
 
And now is the time
For the kiss
Slow on the nub of the pain
 

The Buzzard Calls

The buzzard calls to me
That haunted mew
Shrieked over the valley
 
It becomes
In my imagination
The word of death
 
Die!
Die!
Die!
 
But of which death
Does the buzzard cry?
 
The decay of flesh
The stripping of bones
Or is it the death of my fear?

Sunshine

Today: Sunshine
 
The yellow rays waking out of Shropshire
and lighting all day
that heavenly blue sky which beckons human joy
 
In dim depths of the early morning
a cackle of crows, black in a ragged line
beat over the valley
 
And as sun grew
gossamer threads sailed down in mysterious silence
as flights of insects hummed to life
 
In the height of the day
the valley snoozed,
but for the buzzing of flies on whitewashed walls
 
And now, in evening
the sky fades violet and the sun sinks
burning
into the black depths of the Cambrian hills
 

Meditation

In this body is my salvation
 
Not outside in medicine, or rules or dogma or good advice but inside
Not another, a hoped-for, a longed for, an if only, but this one; here; now
Not mind or spirit or intellect or will but flesh.  Self being muscle and tissue and bone
Not was, not will be, not might be but is.  Always now, this very time
Not yours, not ours, not his or hers.  My narrow way, my steep path
Not improvement, not health, not happiness.  Here in this body, right now, my salvation

On reading Thomas Merton

I have given up with plans
I am abstaining from programmes
I have become a monk in regard to all solutions
 
I suppose there must be civil servants
And well-paid planners:
The implementers of the human race
 
And power must reside somewhere,
Awful temptation that it is,
But I take no pleasure in such scheming
 
I prefer to sketch,
In my stumbling, shambling way
Some little tracing of the human heart
 
The outlines of lust
The abyss of fear
The small possibilities for love
 
And that is enough

 

The Retreat

The purpose of a retreat is simple: to be quiet and watch
 
Watch the sky and the earth.  The circling of buzzards, the grazing of sheep
Watch the heart.  The waxing and waning of lust, the eruptions of anger, the tremors of fear.  The creep of the restless mind
Watch the body.  Identify pain and its cause.  Be slow to take action
Watch thoughts carefully.  The emergence of ideas, the glimmer of insights.  The quiet acceptance of failings
 
And slowly awareness comes.  God is watching 

 

The Hill

The hill is a gentle place, not steep or treacherous
A corner is cut by a sweeping hedge into a paddock
And it is split from the valley by another.
At its base three great ash trees stand, like waiting giants.
 
Over the hill piratical kites swoop and ravens,
Black as brigands, beat and dive in the big wind
More often, in sweeping glides, buzzards patrol
The clear skies looking for the flash of rabbit.
 
And in that quiet valley, green and lush in the misty rain
Sheep graze in settled flocks, shifting in fathomless ebb
Now up to the cover of the thorny hedge, now gathered,
Now spread in each field down through the valley.
 
And I watch.  Stand in the cloud blowing wind.  And watch
Watch for the coming and going of buzzards, for the mobbing of crows
And the migration of redwings -- 'down through the valley',
'Over the hill': I stand and I wait.  I wait and I watch.

 

After

Spirit

The Spirit descended out of the sky
Direct
With the rushing of wind
Black wings splicing the air
For this Spirit
Was no dove, gentle and meek
But the Raven
Strong of beak
And quicker of eye.

Fasting

The body needs training in salvation.  Emotions need training in order to achieve happiness.  True fasting is not grand gestures of 40 days but the ability to resist greed on a daily basis.  Small gestures if done with the right attitude can build spiritual strength.  As well as fasting from food we also need fasting from words and fasting for silence, patience and reflection.  But all fasting can easily be about pride -- reinforcing our fearful sense of identity.  True fasting helps us unlock our God-given potential as spiritual beings.

What We All Need (a poem about love)

A simple love
Keen edged
Warm centred
Unaffected
Without deceit
Not secret
But quietly vibrant
Humble
and Gentle
and Valiant
A love for a world wheezing
and Sneezing
Struggling
For breath
Addicted to death
Looking
Seeking
Peeking
Into every strange corner
For an answer
To questions complex
Heterodox
Perplexing
But needing
Something
Simple
Gentle
Humble
Reasonable
but daring
A love
From above
Reaching below
Low
To the ground
Of our being:
Earth round
but also
Heaven bound
A simple sharp love.

Freedom

If you wish to find freedom you must withdraw from the world: disciplining the body, controlling the tongue and letting go of all possessions.  In this way you will escape anger, fear and greed and so become completely free.
 
Most of us, however, do not so strongly desire freedom and our way is the way of service to humanity.  In this way we experience the giving and receiving of love and this will suffice if we do not in so doing demand recognition and reward.
 
For some, sadly, suffering must suffice.  When we suffer we are tempted to despair but we can experience liberation in the midst of our suffering if we remain thankful for life.  By this, as it were, we find a backdoor to freedom and an alternative pathway to love.

Stuffed

And now, there are too many words
my crop is stuffed with them
my heart choked with them
I suffocate in their abundance
 
They are not the holy words:
that brief breath of the wise
which sits lightly upon the earth
easing our passage to death
 
But the heavy words of judgment
and opinion and noise
the half lives and the dead truths
which make men great and God small.

Desert Fathers

What they wanted was freedom
They desired nothing else
For in freedom they could feel their God
Entire and unadulterated
 
But it was not freedom from hunger
That they craved
It was not a liberation political and angry
That they longed for
 
Hunger was not an enemy to conquer
But a friend to embrace
Anger was not an ally in the struggle
But a doorway to death
 
For the freedom they sought
Was the only one worthy of the name
It grew with its roots in the human heart
And blossomed in the bloom of perfect awareness

Body

I live in this body
I breathe here
Here I smell and see;
Hear and touch and taste
Life sweetness
 
I die in this body
I will expire here
Here I feel the sweat of my decay
Know pain and grief and death:
Life's shortness
 
I suffer in this body
I sigh here
Here I struggle and groan and sweat
That in the midst I might give thanks
for Life's holiness

Morning Prayer

It must be in bodies
 
Struggling to wake, bring flesh to life
Uncoil my mind from spiralled dreams:
That lifting of body which is the first prayer
 
Second prayer seeks to untwist the sinews
Of my body grown heavy and stiff:
Letting the healing blood flow
 
And eating is the third prayer
That holy thankfulness of food
Replenishing the life gift with Earth's abundance
 
Then let mind still
Let body rest
Silent in the contemplation of fleshy prayer

Geufron

I have withdrawn from the world,
it is not exactly a choice,
in fact choice hardly comes into it at all
except for this one act:
to let the heart follow where the body leads...
 
Into that curious wilderness of the self
that illness constructs
Into that strange isolation of me
that the healthfulness of others creates
Into that peculiar solitude
that is God, pain and the human being
 
It comes and I know that I am at home here.
Perhaps my world created this wilderness
wanting to isolate myself from the world's noise,
have an excuse for loneliness:
That sweetness of the self alone before God
 
But now I am here
and it is time to weave a basket or two
Go fifteen rounds with the demons
Find a father to guide my stumbling steps
and learn the patience of the long silence.