The Lord is my champion!
Goldplated bridles found void of integrity,
Chariots jackknife impetuously.
Warhorses buckle, disordered and bloodeyed,
Foam of the mouth meeting foam of the sea.
[Their conduct comprises (to me) an example;
Where not to run when I find myself free.]
The Lord is a warrior!
His fight is creating – His foe the destroyer;
He grips him and
whirls him round and round round and
[Hurling oneself from the fountain of life
Only the grave in an alien land;
Carnival balls into prizewinning pockets have
Rarely the accuracy of His hand!]
The Lord is my trumpet!
His is a fierce and a beautiful music,
The rhythm of history sings it unsolemnly.
Shoreline parabolas change over centuries
Still His consistency never concedes.
[Remote Roman outposts are easy to come by,
Moral authorities not in demand;
The miracle is that it's me that this happens
Moments there are when I know the same hand,
That split chunks of water for Moses's feet's
That split in the middle, from nails, on a
One song that applies to our own generation,
As Scotland, as Palestine, as the Red Sea...]
thoughts on the identity of the Christian poet
“Tradition and the Individual Talent”, T.S. Eliot writes about how poetry
should be accumulative;
historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation
in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe
from Homer and within it the whole literature of his own country has a
simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical
sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and
of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional.
And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of
his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.(1)
idea is convincingly sensible. What intrigued me was applying it to devotional
or religious (or religiously concerned) poetry. If a Christian is to believe,
as Wordsworth does, that poetry is the first and last of all knowledge
and that it is as immortal as the heart of man, then it exists coincidentally
with that thing in Man, which is expressed as being made “in the image
of God”(2) - an essence
we share with Him, and the accompanying struggle to realise this essence
as matter-spirit hybrids, and ultimately be made like Him. Poetry is consistent
and is written the same through history, like Brighton on a stick of rock.
the Old Testament, the first real hymn or poem that glorifies and attempts
somehow to describe God is Moses' canticle in Exodus 15, known as the Song
of the Sea, that follows escape from the Egyptians by the miraculous parting
of the Red Sea. The story of Exodus is traditionally read within the Church
as a “type” of Christian salvation, prefiguratively symbolising humanity's
slavery to sin and the liberation offered through Christ; in Lent the Catholic
liturgy follows the story of the Israelites being led out of Egypt and
at the climactic Easter Vigil mass the Exodus 15 canticle is sung. It is
the first hymn in the Eastern Orthodox canon and is recited daily in Jewish
morning shacharit services. In some sense, at least theoretically, according
to Eliot, all Abramic devotional poetry - poetry of and to the One God,
Yahweh, Allah - springs from the Song of the Sea.
is what Exodus Fifteen is about. I tried to use language and images that
bridged the contemporary and the ancient, trying not to alienate the two
from each other; jackknifing is usually used in reference to motor accidents
involving articulated lorries, but there is no reason not to apply the
same term to a chariot accident. Just as the poem is reinvented,
made new in the Poundian sense, while still maintaining its essence, the
same God-to-man relationship is in some way experienced today as three
and a half thousand years ago, even while it is a deeply unique and individual
1. Eliot, T.S. 'Tradition and the
Individual Talent' in Abrams, M.H. ed., The Norton Anthology of English
Literature, Vol. 2 (London: W. W. Norton, 2000) (p. 2396)
2. “So God created man in his own
image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”