I wrote this poem 15 years ago after a Maundy Thursday experience of what C.S. Lewis would have called Joy, or Sehnsucht.
I was blissfully unemployed at the time, and was walking home through the park from giving a guitar lesson to a friend (well, attempting to give – teaching’s never been my strong point). Suddenly, and for no apparent reason apart perhaps from the unlooked-for loveliness of my surroundings, I was caught up in this moment of Joy, of something that seemed to come from beyond the walls of this world. The familiar park opened up into a space where heaven met earth.
I’m aware it’s a little unusual to associate heavenly light and joy with Maundy Thursday – a day originally and traditionally associated with darkness and despair, agony and abandonment. But there you go – I’m just recounting what happened this particular Maundy Thursday, and I think that in a strange way joy too can now be appropriate to the day, now that Easter’s happened.
As an aside, I’d recently been to see Wagner’s opera Parsifal, which contains strong (if strange) Good Friday themes; and I think the music and atmosphere of the piece was still in my mind that day. It’s an odd tale which weaves religious and mythical elements with Wagner’s own weird and in places warped worldview. At the end of the opera, the legendary Grail which caught Christ’s blood and the spear which pierced his side are brought out, healing a mortally wounded man and freeing a cursed woman.
Whatever you think of the story (or of Wagner), Parsifal arguably contains some of the most sublime music ever written. The opening and closing sections in particular seem to lift the listener out of time into another realm – not unlike my experience on that Maundy Thursday morning.
I’ve polished up the poem a little for presentation, but I’m secretly relieved that I haven’t really had to change any of its content. Though superficial elements of my theology have changed greatly over the last 15 years, it seems that the deeper, more real underlying theology of my heart always tended to the mystical rather than the evangelical.
I don’t think poems usually benefit from the author’s explanations, but if there’s anything you’d like me to try and shed light on I’d be willing to try. 🙂
Anyway, after all that, here it is, for what it’s worth.
Good Friday Waiting
Come unsuspectingly upon
This particular Thursday morning,
The usual stone-built solid bridge becomes
A secret bridge to some bright otherness,
Not of this normal, local, mundane daily park.
The heart-stop shock-delight of river-glitter,
Duck’s white tail-shake,
Tiny bird pecking the shining grass –
The huge still park alive,
The miracle of familiar refound – remade –
The hidden magic in the normal –
Sudden wonder glimpsed within the known-become-unknown.
Water-light ripples silent-musically
Like a vision of God on a rough-trunked tree;
The unexpected heron takes off, graceful-gangly
As an adolescent ballet-dancer;
The whole great space’s sun-transfigured stillness –
As wide, as open, vast, as freeing-free
(Arms open to the endless sky)
As talking with the closest friend could be;
And though I am alone here to experience this miracle,
God is the everything breathing it, the Sun –
And bending lowly down the kingly-tender sun (o, god)
(before whose blazing blinding heaven-bleaching majesty
I bow and cannot raise my eyes to meet that gaze)
Lifts high each greenest lowly tuft of grass
Sharply defining each (of countless) brightest blade to be
The jewel-dew-gemmed holy miracle
Of its unique and green amazing self.
The Maundy Thursday magic shining air –
Good Friday’s coming light, and Easter, breathing –
The impossibly tall and slender trees,
A frieze in flawless freeze-frame
(Although a crow moves, high among the breezeless branches)
– So magic-still, a trance, a dream of waking beauty
– All one breath-held moment,
All this held as in the gaze of lovers –