Tag Archives: Poetry

Review: The Diary of an Old Soul

Rating: ★★★★

Full Title: A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul.

Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.

Overview: MacDonald arranged this book into 366 daily readings, most of which are devotional and meditative. Each day has a seven-line stanza, many of which are addressed as prayers. (John Keble, an Anglican, had produced the much more popular “Christian Year” about 50 years earlier.)

This is probably MacDonald’s best book of poetry, though he has many. His poetry is a mix of the sentimental (very accessible) and more classical attempts (very inaccessible).

Meat: The stanzas here are simple, devotional thoughts and prayers, many of which can help to express a longing for God. Like the Epistle of James, MacDonald is always stirring his readers to be “doers, and not hearers only.” He speaks from the heart and speaks to the root of the spiritual life.

Bones: MacDonald’s poetry here is simple, and occasionally simplistic. My only other criticism is that MacDonald is so introspective. It can be rather angsty at times.

Quotes:

“When I no more can stir my soul to move,
And life is but the ashes of a fire;
When I can but remember that my heart
Once used to live and love, long and aspire,—
Oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art;
Be thou the calling, before all answering love,
And in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.”
(January 10)

This book is free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, and on LibriVox.

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The Human Tree

Source: G. K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight & Other Poems

Many have Earth’s lovers been,
Tried in seas and wars, I ween;
Yet the mightiest have I seen:
Yea, the best saw I.
One that in a field alone
Stood up stiller than a stone
Lest a moth should fly.

Birds had nested in his hair,
On his shoon were mosses rare,
Insect empires flourished there,
Worms in ancient wars;
But his eyes burn like a glass,
Hearing a great sea of grass
Roar towards the stars.

From them to the human tree
Rose a cry continually:
‘Thou art still, our Father, we
Fain would have thee nod.
Make the skies as blood below thee,
Though thou slay us, we shall know thee.
Answer us, O God!

‘Show thine ancient fame and thunder,
Split the stillness once asunder,
Lest we whisper, lest we wonder
Art thou there at all?’
But I saw him there alone,
Standing stiller than a stone
Lest a moth should fall.

Joy and Peace in Believing

Source: William Cowper, Olney Hymns.

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in his wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation,
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new:
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
E’en let th’ unknown to-morrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
But he will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe his people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And he who feeds the ravens,
Will give his children bread.

Though vine nor fig-tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

The Cross of Bethlehem

Shrouded in mist, behold the scene:
The Tale-teller is entering—
The man we name Immannuel,
Who didn’t blink when Satan fell.
But sweeter motives sent him here,
Like starlight to our atmosphere,
To take back what that serpent took.
He spurned man’s fig leaf and forsook
Immortal crowns a babe to be—
Clothed only with humility.
Becoming flesh he left heaven
And saw the cross at Bethlehem.
He lived as dead. He took no thought
For rights or power though being God.
Misunderstood, betrayed, tortured,
God gave no curse—nay, spoke no word—
Then ending what birth had begun,
Was hung shame, and hid the sun.
Naked he came; naked returned.
By blood his own perfection learned,
He offered up humanity—
Heard no reply. Surrend’ring, he
Went lower still, to deepest earth,
And changed the grave from dread to mirth.
Now—thought of thoughts—sin’s blindness cured,
Our man of sorrows has secured
The highest throne, the noblest name,
The purest bride for which he came,
And crowning all rewards of grace,
The smile upon his Father’s face.

I Would I Were a Child

I would I were a child,
That I might look, and laugh, and say, My Father!
And follow Thee with running feet, or rather
Be led thus through the wild.

How I would hold thy hand!
My glad eyes often to thy glory lifting,
Which casts all beauteous shadows, ever shifting,
Over this sea and land.

If a dark thing came near,
I would but creep within thy mantle’s folding,
Shut my eyes close, thy hand yet faster holding,
And so forget my fear.

O soul, O soul, rejoice!
Thou art God’s child indeed, for all thy sinning;
A trembling child, yet his, and worth the winning
With gentle eyes and voice.

The words like echoes flow.
They are too good; mine I can call them never;
Such water drinking once, I should feel ever
As I had drunk but now.

And yet He said it so;
‘Twas He who taught our child-lips to say, Father!
Like the poor youth He told of, that did gather
His goods to him, and go.

Ah! Thou dost lead me, God;
But it is dark; no stars; the way is dreary;
Almost I sleep, I am so very weary
Upon this rough hill-road.

Almost! Nay, I do sleep.
There is no darkness save in this my dreaming;
Thy Fatherhood above, around, is beaming;
Thy hand my hand doth keep.

This torpor one sun-gleam
Would break. My soul hath wandered into sleeping;
Dream-shades oppress; I call to Thee with weeping,
Wake me from this my dream.

And as a man doth say,
Lo! I do dream, yet trembleth as he dreameth;
While dim and dream-like his true history seemeth,
Lost in the perished day;

(For heavy, heavy night
Long hours denies the day) so this dull sorrow
Upon my heart, but half believes a morrow
Will ever bring thy light.

God, art Thou in the room?
Come near my bed; oh! draw aside the curtain;
A child’s heart would say Father, were it certain
That it did not presume.

But if this dreary bond
I may not break, help Thou thy helpless sleeper;
Resting in Thee, my sleep will sink the deeper,
All evil dreams beyond.

Father! I dare at length.
My childhood, thy gift, all my claim in speaking;
Sinful, yet hoping, I to Thee come, seeking
Thy tenderness, my strength.

George MacDonald.

On the Death of a Young Gentleman

Who taught thee conflict with the pow’rs of night,
To vanquish satan in the fields of light?
Who strung thy feeble arms with might unknown,
How great thy conquest, and how bright thy crown!
War with each princedom, throne, and pow’r is o’er,
The scene is ended to return no more.
O could my muse thy seat on high behold,
How deckt with laurel, how enrich’d with gold!
O could she hear what praise thine harp employs,
How sweet thine anthems, how divine thy joys!
What heav’nly grandeur should exalt her strain!
What holy raptures in her numbers reign!
To sooth the troubles of the mind to peace,
To still the tumult of life’s tossing seas,
To ease the anguish of the parents heart,
What shall my sympathizing verse impart?
Where is the balm to heal so deep a wound?
Where shall a sov’reign remedy be found?
Look, gracious Spirit, from thine heav’nly bow’r,
And thy full joys into their bosoms pour;
The raging tempest of their grief control,
And spread the dawn of glory through the soul,
To eye the path the saint departed trod,
And trace him to the bosom of his God.

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, 1773.