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Poem and Prayer #6: Michele Wolf January 19, 2011

Posted by The Virtual Abbey in Michele Wolf, poem and prayer, sacred art.
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Editor’s Note: One final and glorious installment from poet and Virtual Abbey participant, Martin Dickinson (@dickinsonpoet). We’ve been blessed to have him connect poem and prayer so beautifully.

“Let the field be joyful, and all that [is] therein:
then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice”
Psalm 96:12

Powerful poetry, like prayer, compresses sensuous detail, strong emotion and great insight into one small package. It transports readers to a different space and time. That’s exactly what the Psalms do — probably the best poems and prayers ever inscribed.

Remember what I said about the similarity between poem and prayer? There’s a voice within each of us. Both poem and prayer are about listening to that voice — listening and shaping.

For this last installment of Poem and Prayer, I’ve chosen a wonderful example from a poet who uses sensuous detail and emotion to transport us to another world from where we can look back and reflect upon our own.

Michele Wolf’s “Trees” is from her award-winning collection, Conversations During Sleep. Her poems appear in the best journals: Poetry, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, North American Review and more. Her new book, Immersion, will come out in February.

When we read “Trees” our hands get into the dirt with the narrator. In commemoration of her father and sister, we become stones, we breathe in the oxygen exhaled by seedlings that have grown to become mighty cypresses. We are transported to a world very much like the landscape of the Psalms. Subtly, together with the poet, her father and her sister, we become the “us” of the final line of the poem. As we do so, we catch ourselves grieving and dancing at the same time.



The spade hits a stone. And the stone, asleep
In this spot for centuries, will not be moved.

So I carry the two baby shoots, cupping

Each by its bundle of roots, a few feet away,

Then dig in a softer place, where the dirt

And smaller stones give easily. Gathering

The graveled soil with my hands, tamping it down,

I set these trees into the earth, the home

Where I put you, father, and put you,

Sister. I plant two foot-high cypresses

In your name, gardening a barren

Hill in the family plot, the land of Abraham.

They join acres of forests planted tree by tree,
Until 200 million were planted, and a people

Who reclaimed a desert, their hands in the soil.

How much wandering, and how many stones

In the path, before we can stand on the land

We were promised, before we succumb to the land

As stones ourselves. Yet stands of our trees,

Limbs shifting in the breeze, keep on breathing.

I plant trees among stones, and after I leave,

Each raises its dusty face to feed on the sunlight,

To exhale what’s unseen, the element that gives

Us the chance to wake and dance, and grieve.

© Michele Wolf, with permission of the author

Poem and Prayer #5: Stanley Kunitz and Gerard Manley Hopkins (Part III) December 18, 2010

Posted by The Virtual Abbey in poem and prayer, prayer practices, sacred art.

Editor’s Note: I’m tempted to simply write, “Ta-da!” Wow, I just did! Behold the final post that includes “God’s Grandeur” all written out on the screen. Many thanks to Martin Dickinson (@dickinsonpoet) for putting this together, especially during the season of Advent.

This inspiring poem was written in February and March of 1877. In his sermons and devotional writings Hopkins observes: “all things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God and if we know how to touch them give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him.”

And here, in all its glory, is the poem by Hopkins that inspired Stanley Kunitz:

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

─ Gerard Manley Hopkins

Icon of Gerard Manley Hopkins by William Hart McNichols


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