Osip Mandelstam, “Consider the River” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Osip Mandelstam’s poem “Consider the River” from Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam translated by Christian Wiman. Osip Mandelstam was one of the most important 20th century Russian poets. Writing poetry during the Bolshevik revolution and suffering much difficulty during that time, Mandelstam eventually died from hardships he endured after being imprisoned in Soviet work camps.


Like a late gift long awaited, winter:
Personal, palpable stirrings.

I love the early animal of her,
These woozy, easy swings.

Soft atrocity, sweet fright,
As if for ravishment on first bowed and gave thanks . . .

And yet, before the forest’s clean, hewn circle of light,
Even the raven banks.

Power more powerful for its precariousness,
Blue more blue for its ghost of white:

Consider the river, its constancy, its skin of almost ice,
Like a lullaby nullified by wakefulness . . .


Previous poems in this series:

Mary Oliver, “The Kingfisher” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Mary Oliver’s poem “The Kingfisher” from House of Light. Mary Oliver was an American poet in the 20th and 21st century. Her poetry won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and a Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement.


The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world—so long as you don’t mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn’t have its splash of happiness?
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn’t born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water—hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don’t say he’s right. Neither
do I say he’s wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn’t rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.


Previous poems in this series:

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty” from Poems. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest of the Victorian era whose poetry was published after his death and had a significant influence on the modernist movement of poetry in the 20th-century.


Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.


Previous poems in this series:

The Weekend Wanderer: 26 June 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Wang Yi“Concerns Grow Over the Health of Imprisoned ERCC Pastor” – From International Christian Concern: “Concerns over the health of the imprisoned pastor of the banned Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) are growing. Pastor Wang Yi has been in police custody since December 14, 2018. Wang Yi, the pastor and founder of ERCC, was detained by the police in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, the southwestern Chinese province where ERCC is located. He was arrested alongside dozens of members of his church on suspicion of ‘incitement to subvert state power.’ Pastor Wang was found guilty of this charge by the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. In December of 2019, he was sentenced to nine years in jail. In addition, authorities placed his family and the other members of his church who were detained under house arrest.”


AAPI mental health Verma“Churches Should Help Normalize Mental Health for Asian Americans” –  Prasanta Verma in Sojourners: “Last month, Chicago-based writer Liuan Huska tweeted that she “can’t write or talk about getting a massage without feeling retraumatized” by the Atlanta spa murders in March that left eight people dead — six of them Asian women. Huska is Chinese American and her mother is a massage therapist. With the documented rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, fueled at least in part by racist rhetoric blaming Chinese people for the COVID-19 pandemic, Huska is not alone in feeling race-based trauma. Recent polling found that one-third of Asian adults in the U.S. fear physical attacks and threats, and more than half the Asian American women interviewed in a separate poll conducted by National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, reported experiencing incidents of hate in the past two years. A recent report by Stop AAPI Hate, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Asian American Psychological Association found that Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the pandemic. Further, it found that 1 in 5 Asian Americans who have experienced racism show signs of racial trauma. But unlike Huska, who has been able to process her grief with friends, family, and a professional, many Asian Americans have been unable to share the trauma they are feeling. While 18 percent of the general U.S. population seeks mental health services only 8.6 percent of Asian Americans do so. This discrepancy is especially stark when compared to white U.S. citizens, who access mental health services at three times the rate of Asian Americans.”


Eternity in Our HeartsEternity in Our Heart: How Art Makes Us Long for Home” – Kelly Kruse in Ekstasis Magazine: “As a child and young adult, I thought that I was homesick for beauty itself. Like many artists, I was aware of a sort of insatiable hunger in me for the beautiful at an early age. I grew up in northwest Iowa, near a place called the Loess Hills, named for its glacially deposited bluffs of humus-rich yellow soil. The sunsets in those bluffs brought about some of my first experiences of transient beauty, too rich to savor all at once, a feast that disappears before it can be finished….Sehnsucht is a German word for a particular kind of longing that I have heard described as a homesickness for a place you’ve never been. You may ask, but how could we be homesick if we haven ’t been there? This is a good question, and it’s also part of the secret.”


OBS-Trees“Practices of Place” – Matt Busby in The Intersection Journal: “Onion Bottom is a place in Chattanooga. Most people who live in Chattanooga have never heard of it, and those who have would argue that it isn’t much of a place. To be honest, there is probably at least some truth to that. There aren’t any houses in Onion Bottom, and most of the lots are vacant industrial land bisected by railroads….Onion Bottom is also the home of our church, Mission Chattanooga. I wanted to begin with a rich description of our neighborhood because I believe that one of the only ways to overcome this gap between mission as evangelism and mission as social action is in the embodied presence of the church in a place.”


Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image

“Social Media, Identity, and the Church” – Tim Keller in Life in the Gospel: “Recently I was in a Zoom forum of journalists and academics who were discussing the increasing polarization of American culture. At one point a male speaker said, ‘If I wanted to invent a public forum that would undermine civil discourse and lead to social division, I couldn’t do a better job than to create Twitter.’ A respected woman journalist, who had been working for nearly a year to understand how social media worked, agreed with him. I believe they are right. But I don’t see social media going away, either, because it has enormous benefits, too. It is also deeply embedded in the psyches especially of the young. So Christians can’t ignore it, and most of all we need to begin to understand it. One book that will be useful for that purpose is Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail (Princeton, 2021). This is not a religious book—it is a work of social science. (Bail is professor of sociology at Duke University.) But its findings can be significant for how Christians conduct themselves and consume social media. And, indeed, many of his final principles for “a way forward” align with Christian ethics. Here’s what we can learn from the book.”


CROP_a and b“From Here to Utopia: What religion can teach the Left” – David Albertson and Jason Blakely in Commonweal: “Utopian thinkers have often been motivated by Christian faith. The last century alone includes William Morris, G. K. Chesterton, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, and Cornel West…But too often Catholic political identity is limited to issues, ideology, and religious affiliation in survey polls. Equally important is the slow ethical formation of the self through the various practices of the Catholic faith, especially liturgies and other rituals that actually do the labor of constituting social belonging between individuals….The Left needs to learn how to introduce what James K. A. Smith has termed ‘cultural liturgies.’ Liturgies in this sense are cultural practices that shape our desires toward a highest good. Smith is ultimately concerned with Christian sacraments, readings, prayers, ascetic acts, charitable works, celebrations, and holy days. But he also draws attention to the way that other liturgies are offered to us by consumer capitalism that condition the heart to seek a rival highest good.”


Music: Jpk. (feat. Dominik Ray), “life thoughts.”

Tomas Tranströmer, “Open and Closed Spaces” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Tomas Tranströmer’s poem “Open and Closed Spaces.” Tranströmer is a Swedish poet, who also worked as a psychologist, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011. This poem is taken from New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe Books, 1997/2011).


A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
There they suddenly grow, spread
and black-out the whole house from inside.

The blacked-out house is away out among the winds of spring.
‘Amnesty,’ runs the whisper in the grass: ‘amnesty.’
A boy sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild dream of the future flies like a kite bigger than the
suburb.

Further north you can see from a summit the blue endless carpet of
pine forest
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
No, are flying.