Guest poem sent in by Eloise Wright I came across this poem yesterday and though it was an appropriate one to share, given recent events:
(Poem #1673) Ode On the Death of Pius the Twelfth
To every season its proper act of joy, To every age its natural mode of grace, Each vision its hour, each talent we employ Its destined time and place. I was at Amherst when this great pope died; The northern year was wearing towards the cold; The ancient trees were in their autumn pride Of russet, flame and gold. Amherst in Massachusetts in the Fall: I ranged the college campus to admire Maple and beech, poplar and ash in all Their panoply of fire. Something that since a child I longed to see, This miracle of the other hemisphere: Whole forests in their annual ecstasty Waked by the dying year. Not budding Spring, not Summer's green parade Clothed in such glory these resplendant trees; The lilies of the field were not arrayed In riches such as these. Nature evolves their colours as a call, A lure which serves to fertilise the seed; How strange then that the splendour of the Fall Should serve no natural need And, having no end in nature, yet can yield Such exquisite natural pleasure to the eye! Who could have guessed in summer's green concealed The leaf's resolve to die? Yet from the first spring shoots through all the year, Masked in the chlorophyll's intenser green, The feast of crimson was already there, These yellows blazed unseen. Now in the bright October sun the clear Translucent colours trembled overhead And as I walked, a voice I chanced to hear Announced: The Pope is dead! A human voice, yet there the place became Bethel: each bough with pentecost was crowned; The great trunks rapt in unconusming flame Stood as on holy ground. I thought of this old man whose life was past, Who in himself and his great office stood Against the secular tempest as a vast Oak spans the underwood; Who in the age of Armageddon found A voice that caused all men to hear it plain, The blood of Abel crying from the ground To stay the hand of Cain; Who found from that great task small time to spare: - For him and for mankind the hour was late - So much to snatch, to save, so much to bear That Mary's part must wait, Until in his last years the change began: A strange illumination of the heart, Voices and visions such as mark the man Chosen and set apart. His death, they said, was slow, grotesque and hard, Yet in that gross decay, until the end Untroubled in his joy, he saw the Word Made spirit and ascend. Those glorious woods and that triumphant death Prompted me there to join their mysteries: This Brother Albert, this great oak of faith, Those fire-enchanted trees. Seven years have passed, and still, at times I ask Whether in man, as in those plants, may be A splendour, which his human virtues mask, Not given to us to see? If to some lives at least comes a stage When, all active man now left behind, They enter on the treasure of old age, This autumn of the mind. Then, while the heart stands still, beyond desire The dying animal knows a strange serene: Emerging in its ecstasy of fire The burning soul is seen. Who sees it? Since old age appears to men Senility, decreptitude, disease, What Spririt walks among us, past our ken, As we among these trees, Whose unknown nature, blessed with keener sense Catches its breath in wonder at the sight And feels its being flood with that immense Epiphany of light?
It is autumn in the southern hemisphere at the moment, and here in Canberra (where Hope spent much of his life) the autumn leaves are out in force. The similarity of the careers of Pius XII and John Paul II - a long and highly active reign followed by a gradual decline into ill-health - completes the parallel. Two things I wanted to pull out: the Mary in stanza 13 is, I think, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (whose 'part' was contemplation rather than Martha's activity). I was also wondering whether the use of 'Fall' for autumn, which seems odd to me, given Hope's nationality, might be a reference to the biblical Fall, said to have introduced death into the world. I found this poem a nice contrast to the media merry-go-round which has seemed almost unavoidable these past days. Eloise. [Links] Bio of A. D. Hope: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._D._Hope Bio of Pope Pius XII: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pius_XII