Posted by: John Looker | 4 October, 2013

Ancient and Modern

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Ancient and Modern

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                                  I.

Once, in this ancient grove,
sunlight would skitter amongst the oaks and mistletoe
and the eye would almost catch
a vanishing heel or the flutter of diaphanous robe.

                                 II.

Later, the genie of the place was cornered, and clothed
in stone with columns and arches, altar and font;
the note of a bell would soar
on Sundays over meadows and timber homes.

                                III.

Now the roof has fallen and where the walls are standing
their stained glass testaments are missing;
there’s a thwack of wings as pigeons
clatter up from the brambles in the apse.

                                IV.

But walkers linger here, with cameras ready; children
hide in the ruins knowing they’ll be found;
and lovers, having found what they think they came for,
stay for something more.

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© John Stevens 2013

The photo is the copyright of Tom Stevens and has been reproduced from his photography blog – see:

http://shutttertom.com/2012/08/27/church-succumbs-to-nature/

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Responses

  1. Fine observations, balanced as beautifully as they are stated.

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  2. John, this is truly beautiful. Stately, philosophical—in the old sense—it really does combine the ancient and the modern. One of my favorite lines—just a phrase really—is from Shakespeare’s 79th sonnet:
    That time of year thou mayst in me behold
    When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
    Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
    …‘stained glass testaments’ reminds me of ‘Bare ruined choirs’. Both ring bells in the mouth and mind. Both have echoes that will last. Both suggest decay and stability. The passing of time and its eternity. Need one mention the parallel between ‘the thwack of wings’ and those ‘sweet birds’?
    Of course any thing will suffer in comparison with those sonnets—but still, you’ve found the grove, built and let decay an ancient church, and left it alone to stand for something more than what we all came for. This is one of your best.

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    • You are extremely generous, Jim. (I think Shakespeare wins by more than a head, don’t you? But even to evoke a reference is a privilege).

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  3. In just sixteen lines I am transported from pagan times to the height of Christianity to their mutual feeding off of each other as they become what is referred to these days as our own “post christian” era—all in four beautifully crafted little chapters of sound and image…what magic of words…..Congratulations, John

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  4. Thank you Cynthia – I hope it is worth the reading.

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  5. Poignant, and thrumming with the sacred, John…and what a delight to read the comments. This poem touches the universal Heart.

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    • That really is most kind Elaine. Thank you.

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  6. I don’t even know where to start – this piece is gorgeous across the board, John! I have to say I think this is one of your finest! So glad I stopped by today 🙂

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    • I feel very honoured that you did. Thank you Sarah.

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  7. I like how the fourth stanza brings me back to the first one and I read it over again. A very sensual and beautiful poem. And the photograph adds depth, too.

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    • Thank you Anna. I found myself thinking about that photo from Tom Stevens for months. There are some very atmospheric pictures on his blog.

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  8. A very good poem! The ongoing history of the place, it’s eternity really. And beautiful photo. 🙂 What a nice place to dwell.

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    • Hello Ina – yes, the photo is beautiful, and inspiring I think.

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  9. John: I have tried several poems on the interplay between cathedral and forest. I haven’t succeeded yet to my satisfaction, but see you have beat me to the punch. Nice poem, indeed.

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    • Thanks a lot Chucky – I shall keep an eye out for your own.

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  10. beautiful John! the first stanza really got me, it drew me right in. Fine fine work!

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  11. This is really superb, echoes of Poe and Larkin, but better than either by not giving in to enchantments of either kind. May you find a string quartet willing to give it a go!

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    • You are very kind Tom. I like the juxtaposition of Poe and Larkin – I hadn’t thought of them in that way but I certainly see what you mean.

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  12. Your poem John, rather more than the picture, took me straight to Kirkstall Abbey – a place I often go when I want to seek solace, inspiration and peace.

    Perhaps I should take a lover the next time 🙂

    David

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    • Ha ha! Yes you should David – or at least your camera!

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  13. Nice poem, John. I thought of Friedrich’s Abbey in the Oakwood, though your church or Abbey is less sinister.

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    • I had not made that connection but it is stunningly appropriate! Thank you.

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  14. This poem is a joy! I am glad to have found your site. I suspected that the grove would go full circle but liked the concluding lines:
    “and lovers, having found what they think they came for,
    stay for something more.”
    I’ll be back for more!
    Cheerio,
    Jane

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    • Thank you Jane – it’s nice to meet you!

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  15. John, Dick Carney was one of the original members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship and a longtime head of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Not long before his death we had a conversation that has haunted me about the old farms you see in the Wisconsin countryside that are vibrant for long decades of time, then lose their human inhabitants, and then, slowly, revert back to nature as walls fall and vegetation and trees creep back to reclaim their own. This poem reminds me of that conversation with a man who was ill at the time. While at Taliesin West in Arizona, while Dick was in the hospital in his final days, I wrote a poem about both him and his idea, which gave him the idea that in the end there was long-term hope for the world, but lost the poem decades ago.
    This poem reminds me of that conversation with a truly great man who strode large upon the culture of the United States for awhile. I cannot tell you how well you have done with it or how wonderful the poem is. If you have not achieved Shakespeare you have, at the very least, achieved your own place in the British canon. What I get out of the poem is the sense of the human place in a world we have overpopulated with our own kind: From wilderness to vigorous human working out of the land into a comfortable civilization back to wilderness, but marked with the remnants humans leave behind. These remnants, in turn, contain not only the past, both wilderness and human civilization, but also the return of wilderness as it slowly overcomes civilization’s mark. It is inside this great wheel of time and consequence that visitors enter memories slowly decaying and lovers renew humanity’s renewal of itself, sensing the flow of what was and what might become of their love.
    What a magnificent effort!

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    • Thank you for bringing this reminiscence to add to the poem, Thomas. You are too complimentary, but I am greatly touched by your remarks, and the story you tell opens up a whole new landscape for thinking about. All the best.

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  16. I try to read here at least once a week ; ) This is a beauty of a poem!

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    • Thank you Anna. I have a new batch almost ready.

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