George A. Blair
Copyright © 2001
George A. Blair
These actually are sonnets for the hours. What happened was that when I decided to recite the breviary after retirement, I got disgusted with the jargon that the psalms, readings, and prayers were translated into, and I edited them into an English that people actually speak, so that I could read the hours without being distracted by the annoyance of how I was being forced to listen to the Master.
But the hymns at the beginning of each hour were a distinct problem. They were not, of course, divinely inspired, and so I had no problem on that score with changing them drastically or even substituting something else. And hymns in general receive a good deal of their aesthetic meaning from the music, with the words a secondary reinforcement; it is very, very rare for the words to rise to the level of poetry in their own right. But I had no intention of bursting into song as I began each hour. True, St. Benedict (I think it was) said, "He who sings prays twice," but my take on that is "He who sings well prays twice; he who sings badly blasphemes."
So I had to find an alternative that was some kind of poetry which would remind me of things I had to keep being reminded of. Finding none (or nowhere near enough), I decided I would write my own; and since my mind operates in a mode that lends itself to the sonnet form, they came out as sonnets, connected (sometimes very loosely) with the spirit of the hour and the day of the week.
Here they are, then, if you want to use them, such as they are, for your own benefit.
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
First VespersI have no fear of death as just an end;
ComplineThe world is still in Saturday--but not
MatinsWe once again begin existing, now
LaudsReversing sunset, now the dawn reveals
TerceWarmth, and youth, and vigor, strength, and joy
SextThe shadows cringe and hide beneath the light
NoneFatigue sets in. It is too much; we plod
Second VespersThe day expires in orange light, which makes
ComplineThe day, born but a breath ago, is now
Monday Matins Lauds Terce Sext None Vespers Compline
Not ceased; the past is dead, but still it's there;
My waking births a thousand births; my hair
Is gray with them; yet I am still the lad
I am no more; and every day I add
Onto this self I drag through time. I wear
My years like clothes--except I cannot tear
Them off; the eyesore of it drives me mad.
How to escape this self-made wreck? I fear
There is no hope; it is beyond my strength.
But there's a different birth outside of time
Where Presence swallows past; and in sublime
Totality my soul will learn at length
That He knows how to wipe off every tear.
Again we see arise the Lamp of God
Who takes away the darkness of the world.
He visits all the things that have been curled
In quiet sleep, and with a gentle prod
Of light revives them. Rising from the sod,
They start their work of praise to him; now hurled
Into survival's battleground, or whirled
About in play beneath his holy rod.
He moves us, true; and yet we move ourselves.
Directed directors; but can this be so?
Aren't we just puppets, hanging on his whim,
With all our psyches simply asking him
What we must do? Sin gives the answer "No";
So faith unearths that for which reason delves.
Transfigured from the customary round
Of boring toil distracted by the sound
Of rain and hail from leaden skies: the lean
And hungry look of heaven. Now the sheen
Of blue above, the crisp spring air, the mound
Of sand from busy ants, the baying hound
Off in the distance, is what life should mean--
We think. But just as once on Tabor, they
Were lost in ecstasy, and then came down
To hear about the cross, we need the strength
Of sapphire moments, or the plodding length
And sometimes agony of life will drown
Our souls before we reach eternal day.
I'm no Walt Whitman; my ideas arise
Out of the limits of the rhymes. The size
And shape of what I do just seems to be
What's there in these seeds' possibility.
I'm just the dirt; they grow before my eyes;
And what I see sometimes, to my surprise,
Is that the limits are what sets them free.
But isn't that the way with all we seek?
To ride in all directions is absurd.
With too much freedom, we become all thumbs,
And nothing good gets done--and when it comes
To that, why even God's almighty Word
Himself became a sonnet, so to speak.
Ago, and still I beg forgiveness for the same
Sad, dreary, sordid sins. It's not a game,
I swear. I'm really sorry. I'm not strong,
That's all it is; whenever I do wrong
I hate myself--still more when I'm to blame
For what I gave up yesterday. I came
Into a world in which I don't belong.
My child I know. How can you ask me why
I love you if in fact there's nothing there
To love? I love because I love; I make
You lovable by loving you; I take
No umbrage at your sins; I just don't care.
I don't ask for success, but that you try.
Half of the time. I pray to empty space
And have no words, and sometimes not a trace
Of thought, except distractions. Then I try to twist
My mind to--what? Yet something does insist
That it's all right; this blank is not a waste
Of time, and it's not wrong to have me placed
Just here, without strength even to resist.
Come now; what is it you expect of me?
I don't speak words; I spoke a Word, who said
All that there ever was to say. A friend
Who really loves brings language to an end.
Don't be afraid that our embrace is dead;
"Just here" is where you are supposed to be.
And not be brown, but soft and tall and green.
You say I yearn for what no seed has seen.
How can I yearn that all I know so well
Will die, rot in the ground? No, no, don't tell
Me tales, that what it is to be a bean
Has roots and leaves and fruit; you cannot mean
I'm not myself. Such stories do not sell.
And yet I feel it. Does the butterfly
Recall the caterpillar's ache, and say,
"It was worth while. How ignorant I was!"?
Will I look back, as wisdom always does
At fears unfounded, thinking of this day,
And ponder, "Yes, that once was I."?
MatinsAgain my life begins, although it had
TerceAt times, the face of life is smiling, clean,
SextWhy such a stilted verse-form? Don't ask me.
NoneFour hundred ninety must have passed long, long
VespersHow can I pray? I don't know you exist
ComplineYou say that one day I will lose this shell
MatinsI woke just now, a tear still in my eye
Lauds"Begin again!" The call comes from the sky
TerceHow strange that every day I feel so young
SextNo longer young, but not yet old and weak,
NoneHow can a desert be without the sun?
VespersMy Master, please! This collar is too tight.
ComplineDo grubs inside their chrysalis feel fear
MatinsWhose is that face that looks back from the glass?
LaudsHe said he would wipe every tear away.
TerceWhy bother with this nonsense? Live the day!
SextI see why it's a blessing to be poor.
NoneAnd still the day is with us, though the light
VespersHow is it, Master, right can feel so wrong?
ComplineWhy does our Master take our light away?
Thursday Matins Lauds Terce Sext None Vespers Compline
We live through, even though (when once awake
Again) we know they're lies? Why should we slake
Our thirst at non-existent streams? What grails
Are those we chase with nothing in our sails
But phantom wind? I know; it's for the sake
Of clearing out our brains. But should this take
A pattern so grotesque that reason quails?
Well, but there's more than this. When dreams arise
And in them we are fooled into the thought
That they are real, and then awake and see
The different world around us, we can be
Accepting of the next life, as we ought.
We need reminding where our true life lies.
You had to choose to bring the world its light.
What were you thinking, at that awesome sight
That greeted you and told you of the birth
You knew God closed to you? Yet from your dearth
Of understanding, you chose what was right,
And kept the world from everlasting night.
By choosing to submit you proved your worth.
You teach us that we need not know; that we
Are always ignorant, and make our choice
In blindness of the consequence. Then how
Can we discover what we should do now?
Submit, in hope that later we'll rejoice.
It is the unknown truth that sets us free.
Could turn aside and build the golden calf
In spite of all they'd seen in Egypt--half
Of which some sorcerer of Egypt's spell
Could duplicate. I would have thought as well
It must have been a trick; how could a staff
Become a snake? And why? It is to laugh.
And here we are trapped in this desert hell!
We don't believe our eyes because it's all
Too good to be what happens in this world.
If he loves us so much, why all this pain?
It is because we turn our backs, and feign
To rule our lives ourselves, with flags unfurled.
We close our ears, and so can't hear his call.
It seems my face gets slapped the whole day through.
I know if I looked deep, I'd see that you
Had blessed my life more than most other men
With health, enough to eat, and leisure; then
Why do I fret? Because I try to do
Your work, and every day I get a new
Rebuff; I start once more--and fail again.
I understand, so do not waste your breath
Apologizing; just do not forget
That you once asked me to create a saint
Of that dung that you are. Well, do not faint
When I fulfill your wishes, and just let
Me work. With you, success comes after death.
I melodramatize these tiny sores
I feel inside whenever I find doors
I wanted to go through slam shut. And rain
Falls now and then. Well, gee! It's not the bane
Of all existence, is it? Not when scores
Of people almost cannot breathe, with pores
All clogged with pus. And I dare to complain?
But that's not all there is to it, you see.
Your pain is really longing. I know you.
I call it "hope," the fact you're not at home
And always restless under heaven's dome.
This pain is what you feel when you are true;
It is your sign you still belong to me.
Could you still have for me to do? I know,
I asked to finish one task still to go
Before I leave. Is that the only chore
That keeps me here? Or do I have in store
Some other work to fail at, some new woe,
Some new frustration I must undergo
Before I set off for the other shore?
Now, now, my child, I do not make you wait
To torture you, and nail you to my cross
As if that were a virtue. No, what I
Am doing will ensure that when you die
You'll do enough to not say, to your loss,
"I should have thought of that! And it's too late!"
Of dread and unseen menace, even when
We know the day has all but come again.
And so we wait and quake, and strain our sight
At thicker shades, and curse the lack of light
That turned our broad-backed earth into a fen
Of quicksand, making us, instead of men,
Gibbering cowards, robbed of all our fight.
And so you think your eyes are what you use
To give you strength? You have no strength, you fool.
Your present blindness lets you see the facts
About your life and God; it's he who acts
By wrapping you in sightless peace. Be cool;
If he is here what do you have to lose?
MatinsWhat is the point of dreams, these crazy tales
LaudsThe day, my Lady, dawn came on the earth,
TerceI think I understand why Israel
SextI'm sorry, but it's hard to thank you when
NoneI know; I make too much of all my "pain."
VespersPlease, Master, when can I go home? What more
ComplineIt seems like such an evil time, this night
Friday Matins Lauds Terce Sext None Vespers Compline
There might be hope that we could do your will.
It's true, you've spelled out your displeasure; still
What of those crossroads where the prospects taunt
Us with two goods, which even a savant
Would hesitate to choose between, until
He'd seen the outcome? Should I climb that hill,
Or stay down in this valley? It would daunt
St. Benedict to fathom what to do--
But you are silent. What do you want done?
My little fool; I have no preference.
I made you free, and if you've any sense,
You'll know that I want you to choose; the one
Who fashions my eternal plan is you.
Was so remarkable? There's not a trace
Of furniture you made; and let us face
The fact, the child you reared was not a brat
To balk at orders--though to his fiat
The universe began to be. What place
Could you expect with heroes, then, who grace
Our calendar? Your life was pretty flat.
Yet there you are, next only to your wife,
On whose decision everything depends.
But isn't that the point? The deeds don't count;
It's purity of heart that will amount
To something in God's world, and win us friends.
We need not fear obscurity of life.
You think I'm just like every other sheep?
Now put me down! I know the cliffs are steep,
But I can scale them. I won't be controlled
And only do whatever I am told.
I need to be myself, so I can leap
And frolic and explore my world. Just keep
My place for me; I'll come back when I'm old.
You think you'll be old, going on like this?
Relax. There are such things as wolves, you know.
Besides, my shoulders and the pen are not
Forever; they're to help you learn just what
You can and cannot do, until you grow.
I'll set you free when you arrive in bliss.
The torment that I suffer every day--
Each minute!--how I fight in every way
To break free of this "easy yoke"? That's peace?
The pain I cause to all my friends? What peace?
There's nothing there to speak to when I pray,
It seems; I fail in all I do or say.
And don't tell me this turmoil is the peace!
Well, isn't it? You see, I don't give peace
The way the world gives peace--because its peace
Is merely rest. My peace is active peace;
It is the peace of hope, of faith; the peace
Of being loved--that peace. You ask for peace;
You are at peace: true peace, real peace--my peace.
Have saved us all. One drop of blood, if blood
Was even needed. But then why this flood
Of agony extended, when he could
Have spared himself? What earthly good
Could come from slipping through the mud
Of degradation, bearing with the thud
Of kicks and nails, the hatred? Should
He not have overwhelming reason? Yes.
It is that else we can't believe that God
So lavishly forgives; and in our sins
Repeated all too often, Satan wins
Our souls to think that finally his rod
Is raised to damn us, when it's still to bless.
It's worth, was over years ago, and though
I try and try, no one will ever know
What I have done, it seems. The doors clang shut
At every knock. True, I continue, but
Without real hope. And yet, it's his work, so
Where is his help? I cannot make it grow
Myself, stuck here in this eternal rut.
Eternal? No. You do not understand.
Consider what he did on that last day:
He could not carry it himself, and still
He fell. Three times! He tells you, if you will
Come after him, it must be done his way;
Success must wait until the Promised Land.
It's not against myself that I wage war;
It's you; my being, right down to the core
Can't stand this hand upon me every day,
That prods and blocks--and guides, as you would say.
And even though you're right, I still abhor
Not doing what I'd like forevermore
Without a chance to ever go astray.
You also can't obey what you can't see,
You tell yourself--and yet you do. But why?
Is it just fear? Or can it be you care,
And long to reach the life that we will share
When we have stopped this war? Relax, and try
To have some trust, beloved enemy.
MatinsIf only you would tell us what you want,
LaudsWhat was it that you did, St. Joseph, that
TerceBut I don't want to go back to the fold!
SextYou say, "I leave you peace." Where is your peace?
NoneThree hours! When just one single moment would
VespersHow long must this go on? My work, for what
ComplineHow is it I keep fighting you this way?
Saturday Matins Lauds Terce Sext None
To be quite frank, I've heard the arguments
And know this much: that nothing else makes sense
Of everything. But then, I'd be remiss
To say that settles it, since voices hiss,
"Look at your life, you fool, and don't be dense;
To say it's rational is an offense!
You really feel you're on the road to bliss?"
Well, yes, I do--I think. It all depends
On what went on in that great Sabbath pause.
If on that night, the tombstone rolled away
From nothing but a useless shroud that lay
Upon the floor, then it's all right--because
In spite of everything, he called us friends.
"Put it like this." --And then I smile, and say,
"You may be right, but I'll just go my way."
It isn't that I think that they're not nice
To criticize; it's just that it's the price
For listening to another voice that may
Be speaking softly. At least that's what I pray
It is; I hope it's not some kind of vice.
You have to hear the matter to create,
That's what speaks soft. You've got your purpose, but
You have to do what it wants: lead it on
To be itself, and let its own light dawn--
And then it's what it is, no matter what
They'd like. You must submit to dominate.
And think that I have taken up his cross
By sabotaging what I do. The loss
Is not the value; it's of no avail
Without the effort to succeed. The grail
We look for has to have the sheen and gloss
Of deeds good in the doing, with the dross
Of outcomes burnt away like so much scale.
No, you don't see what this is all about.
Results are good, and not to be divorced
From acts. It's just that for results to be
Significant, they need eternity.
And sometimes that means failure here. They forced
The cross on me; I didn't seek it out.
And then what? There's the perfect job you did--
There in the past. It's gone. It gleamed and slid
Into oblivion. Its termination sends
The message that time never stops or bends
Back on itself to live again. It's rid
Of that. Success is failure. So long, kid;
You can't retrieve the gold your glory spends.
But if success is failure, failure is
Success in this perverted world. You see,
The failure's effort throws itself beyond
The grave, where it is treasured by a fond
Redeemer, who transforms it mightily.
You want the same success that once was his.
This has to be creation's afternoon.
Our "progress" shatters sanity, and soon
Will push the world right back into the slime
It once emerged from. Look at all the grime
Upon our souls, how filth and muck is strewn
Onto our every thought; how good is hewn
Away and left to die. It's such a crime!
I wouldn't be too sure, if I were you.
In every age, the evil is appalling.
But that's not what I'm waiting for. You see,
The evil doesn't matter much to me.
There always is a remnant that I'm calling;
The good must be complete before I'm through.
MatinsBe honest now; do you believe all this?
LaudsThey claim I never listen to advice.
TerceI must be careful not to try to fail
SextThe trouble with success is that it ends.
NoneIt doesn't look as if we have much time;