Poetry

Invictus

William Ernest Henley, a poet and literary critic, is well known for his wordsmithing skills but best-remembered for his poem Invictus. Echoing throughout the halls of time, this poem has inspired many, including among the many Nelson Mandela who recited it to other prisoners while incarcerated on Robben Island prison.

Henley suffered of tuberculosis since an early age and as a demonstration of resilience and an iron will, wrote this poem following the amputation of his left foot. He had looked at misfortune squarely in the face and defied it, deciding to never let temporary defeat become permanent failure. Very inspiring indeed.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the well-known and acclaimed author, also a friend of Henley, took notice of this and acknowledged the idea for his character Long John Silver(for his book Treasure Island) was taken from Henley. Stevenson later wrote him the following, “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.

Henley possessed a resilience that had to be reckoned with and this poem is a reflection of this. Will the same be said of us?

 

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

William Ernest Henley(1849 – 1903)

“For All Flesh Is As Grass”

“For All Flesh Is As Grass”

From Adam’s breath – of all the first
Till earth full spins its last
A bed awaits – below the ground
For all flesh is as grass.

Below the moon – to no avail
Sought identities are
No mass nor beauty intact remains
For all flesh is as grass.

The glory of man – endures not
Unlike the blood of the Lamb
Silver nor gold – their promises rot
For all flesh is as grass.

The market place – Where death awaits
Yes – there behind the stand
She trades your life but for a lie
For all flesh is as grass.

Castles, dreams and someone to love
Hope in things that won’t last
One day you will settle the score
For all flesh is as grass.

– Rodolfo Rosario

“Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne

Death, be not proud

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

 

– John Donne

 

“A Hymn To God The Father” by John Donne

A Hymn To God The Father

“Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.”

– John Donne

“For Whom The Bell Tolls” by John Donne

For Whom The Bell Tolls

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

The Hound of Heaven

Having lately, for the past 10 or so months, been really gripped by the Grace ( = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense) of God, I found Francis Thompson’s poem, and story as well, really interesting as it doesn’t fall short of describing and equally resembling in my life how by God’s grace He searched for me while I complacently hid in every dark alley where I unashamedly entertained petty idols in my heart that forever fall short of, at the very least, any one of the attributes of God, not to say infinitely falling short to God himself, and whose provisions and comforts are, not only non-existent, but undeniably not even deemed worthy of ever being compared to God’s love, forgiveness and amazing and scandalous GRACE.

His Life

Francis Thompson was an English poet who after first trying to become a priest and afterwards attending college to study medicine (although he never practiced medicine, took no real interest in his studies and probably only did it because his father was a doctor) later moved to London with dreams of becoming a writer. While in London, he was engaged in menial work selling matches and newspapers for a living, and started living on the streets of London and sleeping by the River Thames with the homeless and addicts. It was during this time when after developing neuralgia, to relieve the acute pain of this condition he first took laudanum, a concoction of opium and ethanol, as medicine for his ill health and became addicted to opium.

Homeless he was, but a genius nonetheless. He never stopped writing. He was so poverty-stricken he had to borrow paper on which to write his poems. Even as a homeless he would apply for Oxford University, and although he was more than qualified, he was turned down only because of his drug addiction. He would oftentimes pick up newspapers and send the editor letters. The editors would reply saying, “There is a genius greater than Milton among us.” Yes. THAT Milton. That great and beloved poet John Milton, author of the incredible masterpiece and epic poem “Paradise Lost”. Whenever he would write them these letters, the newspaper wanted to contact him, but Thompson, being homeless, would leave no return address and the newspaper couldn’t get a hold of him.

Thompson was unknown for about four years, from 1885 when he first arrived to London until 1888 when he then was ‘discovered’ by the editors of Merrie England, which after him sending poetry to their magazine and them recognizing the value of his work, sought him out and rescued him from homelessness and from the verge of starvation and self-destruction. The couple, Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, gave him a home and arranged for publication of his first book Poems in 1893. The book was later well received by critics.

He subsequently lived as an invalid and at his lowest point in life attempted suicide but was saved from completing the action by a vision.

After much fighting his drug habit, he later died of tuberculosis at the age of 48.

G. K. Chesterton, one of my favorite writers, said shortly after Thompson’s death, “With Francis Thompson we lost the greatest poetic energy since Browning.” J.R.R Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and another one of his devotees, said that he was an important influence on his own writing.

The Hound of Heaven, his most famous poem, is about man running from God in order to maintain the pleasures of his dissolute life and God’s pursuit of the human soul.  Thompson, being the real-life counterpart to the poem’s speaker, was in awe of God’s grace after noticing how, as he had run from God by pursuing the groggy pleasures of his opium habit, God’s relentless pursuit of him saw no end. He finally understood that while our sin reaches far, God’s GRACE reaches farther. –

The Hound of Heaven
By Francis Thompson (1859–1907)

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside).
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.’

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
‘Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me’ (said I) ‘your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
Banqueting
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me!’
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

“If”

“If”

By Rudyard Kipling(1865-1936)

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: (more…)

“The Crossing of the Bar”

“The Crossing of the Bar”

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home. (more…)