back on quarantine poetry/natural space project…state natural area poems #4

With the lifting of restrictions at Wisconsin state recreational sites, I’m back on my lockdown project of visiting my regional State Natural Areas with three-liners. Here’s the latest…

 

state natural area poems #4: kewaskum maple-oak woods

in early spring sun

frogs croak in chorus

bloodroot stands in lobed splendor

 

Located on the lands of the Northern Unit Kettle Moraine State Forest, Kewaskum Maple-Oak Woods is a set of two parcels east of the Milwaukee River in Washington County, Wisconsin.

bloodroot kewaskum sna

Gratitude to the Wisconsin DNR for preserving these lands.

Translation of the Old English “Ruin” in Presence–Audio

I’m delighted to (belatedly) announce that my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” appears in the newest issue of Presence, a great journal run by great people.

I read the poem in the audio file below, but here’s some basic context too:

“The Ruin” is a poem found in the tenth-century Exeter Book, which is the first anthology of English poems and a great treasure of English speakers’ literary inheritance. The poem is spoken by an Anglo-Saxon as he stands before what seems to be a Roman ruin in Britain, and he meditates on the transience of culture and human life as he marvels at what the ruin suggests about the creative energies that once existed where he stands. In my translation, I take this scene and “update” it to a Euro-American standing in front of a Middle Woodland burial mound in Milwaukee, WI’s Lake Park, with the same kind of brooding on transience etc.

The picture below shows the Lake Park mound (the green slope between trees with the stone marker on top) and the audio provides a reading of part of the original Old English and of the whole Modern English translation.

I hope you enjoy what was an immensely rewarding project for me.

lake park mound

 

 

state natural area poems #2a: warnimont bluff fens

[this first installment reflects that i was not permitted access to the actual site–for my own safety and the safety of the rare and delicate plant communities that inhabit the bluffs]

 

your calcareous fens too rare

the dnr won’t let us find you–

i respect the hell out of that

 

Warnimont Bluff Fens–home to a thriving community of state-threatened False Asphodel

warnimont bluffs

warn 2

Thanks again, Milwaukee County, for caring for this land for us.

Happy Birthday Dame Gertrude More!

The sisters at Stanbrook Abbey reminded me this morning that it’s Dame Gertrude More’s birthday today–March 25, 1606!

Though she was a totally enclosed, contemplative nun, her friends and her spiritual father all said that she was a very personable, energetic, and friendly woman. Always wanting to talk and joke–even with her great respect for silence in the Benedictine tradition too. Reminds me of many monastics I know!

If you’re on the hunt for down to earth but still intensely profound writing on the mystical life, Dame Gertrude is a good bet. Here‘s a link to my new book of her shorter works.

A “PSA for Catholics”: No Public Masses? Don’t Forget the Liturgy of the Hours

This is a sort of “PSA” for Catholics who are unable to attend Mass right now…

These are strange times indeed, and we’re all being affected. Not having the daily comforts of casual social interaction are trying on their own, but for Catholics the present inability all over the globe to attend Mass is surely an unprecedented sacrifice for so many of us. Especially in this holy season of Lent and the coming culmination of the Liturgical Year at Easter, the lack of public celebration is and will be difficult to say the least. While priests, deacons, and lay ministers are reaching out all over the land, one ready support I haven’t seen many Catholics publicly recommending is the daily praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a key way to participate actively in the common celebration of the Church’s public prayer.

Certainly, nothing takes the place of the Sacrifice of the Mass and Communion, but many don’t realize that the Liturgy of the Hours (the weekly and yearly rounds of prayers said at set times throughout the entire day and night) is also the Church’s liturgical action—the leitourgia or “work of the people” in Greek. The Liturgy of the Hours is a rich tapestry of meditations on the Scriptures and the whole drama of salvation history. Just as much as the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours is the public prayer of the Church.

For lay Catholics right now, the Liturgy of the Hours is a tremendously important resource. Not only is it the public prayer of the Church, but, more specific to our current situation, the Liturgy of the Hours can also be celebrated fully and efficaciously by all the faithful (no need for Holy Orders!). And it is a common act even when celebrated “alone.”

The “The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours” describes the essentially communal nature of this prayer: “In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church exercises the priestly office of its head and offers to God ‘unceasingly’ a sacrifice of praise . . . this prayer is ‘the voice of the bride herself as she addresses the bridegroom; indeed, it is also the prayer of Christ and his body to the Father.’ ‘All therefore who offer this prayer are fulfilling a duty of the Church, and also sharing in the highest honor given to Christ’s bride, because as they render praise to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of Mother Church'” (§15). In this way, the Liturgy of the Hours enables us all to perform the liturgy even in our present state.

Admittedly, for many the psalms and canticles can be hard to “make their own” prayer. What if the Hours present me with a psalm of exultation and I’m worried or depressed? What if they offer me one of the penitential psalms but I’m actually in a joyful mood?

Interestingly, this hurdle is one of its finest virtues in our socially distanced times. For, as the Instruction says, “The person who prays the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours prays not so much in his own person as in the name of the Church, and, in fact, in the person of Christ himself. If one bears this in mind difficulties disappear when one notices in prayer that the feelings of the heart in prayer are different from the emotions expressed in the psalm . . . [In the Liturgy of the Hours] the public cycle of psalms is gone through, not as a private exercise but in the name of the Church, even by someone saying an Hour by himself. The person who prays the psalms in the name of the Church can always find a reason for joy or sadness, for the saying of the Apostle applies in this case also: ‘Rejoice with the joyful and weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). In this way human frailty, wounded by self-love, is healed in that degree of love in which the mind and voice of one praying the psalms are in harmony” (§108). In being difficult to think of as exclusively “my” prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours opens us to the larger reality of the Church, to the common nature we all share in Christ, and the ways in which each individual member contributes to the Body of Christ and complements the other members.

In the season of Lent and into the season of Easter especially, the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours offer us much to chew on, to form minds and hearts as we enter more deeply into the holy seasons. If we know the Hours and have fallen away, maybe it’s time to come back. If we’ve never prayed them before, maybe we can use this strange time as a surprising invitation to a whole new way of prayer. In the absence of Mass, I can’t think of a better means to feel like a vital member of the Church, celebrating and offering up the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) even in these difficult circumstances.

If you don’t have a copy of the Liturgy of the Hours available, Universalis has an online version and Laudate makes an app.

New Project for the Pandemic Era…

To maintain sanity, encounter the natural world in my area, and keep the literary instincts moving if not honed, I’m going to start a new project here and on Twitter. (Yes, I’m on Twitter now at @riyeff–those who know me personally will be shocked, I’m sure!)

I’m going to visit the State Natural Areas of Milwaukee County and the four adjacent counties to practice social distancing but also maintain an intimate connection to the natural spaces around my neck of the woods. Then to try to forge some kind of virtual connection with anyone who’s interested, I’ll take a photo and make an impromptu three-line poem (not a haiku unless by accident), posting them here and on Twitter. Maybe other folks will share theirs from other natural areas?

That’s the idea; we’ll see where it goes…

Dame Gertrude More Book Now Available!

In this very strange time in the world, I’d like to offer at least a small bit of good news: my new book, an edition of the poems and shorter prose works on prayer and contemplation of Dame Gertrude More, is now available!

Dame Gertrude was a seventeenth-century Benedictine. A great-great-granddaughter of Saint Thomas More, she left home at 17 to co-found the Abbey of Our Lady of Comfort in what is today Cambrai, France. This monastery was part of a movement to revive monastic life among English Catholics after the Reformations and was so successful that the community continues today as Stanbrook Abbey back in England.

Dame Gertrude More was a strong, talkative, and likable woman who, under the tutelage of Dom Augustine Baker, also became a great lover of contemplation. She wrote poems, several shorter prose works, and a longer work sometimes called her “Confessions,” all of which were published in 1658, years after her early death. This book made her one of the earliest women published in the English language.

Her works celebrate and describe the nature of contemplation and divine union. With a plain style that was unconcerned with technicalities and intellectual hair-splitting, Dame Gertrude’s teachings on prayer and contemplation are beautiful testaments to the value of pursuing, as she puts it, “the one thing necessary” (experiential intimacy between the soul and its Maker).

She, Dom Augustine Baker, and the community at Cambrai more generally were instrumental in passing on the ancient and medieval teachings on contemplation in the Christian west, and I am delighted that both the community at Stanbrook Abbey and Gracewing have helped me to make Dame Gertrude’s works more readily accessible to a new generation.

I hope that in this uncertain time, we might find some solace in the kind of unwavering attention Dame Gertrude gives to what is most pressing and important in this earthly life.

You can find a copy on Gracewing’s website and on Amazon. I hope you enjoy!