Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) - three short poems

 Three short poems by the English Catholic writer, artist, and mystic, Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) 
 The Parish First Communion
In the church,
there is a smell of flowers,
there are white veils,
and the banners and the vestments are white.
Why are there tears
 in the eyes of the grown-up people?              
Children receiving 1st Holy Communion at Bethlehem (2013)

Had we forgotten
the fragrance of Christ’s first coming?
or the stainless hearts
of our little sons and daughters?
Or is it that we remember,
that we too were young,
and once had a secret with him?
I am back again in the French convent
and the austere lovely morning,
thrilled with the mute mystery
of the day of the First Communions.
The touch of cold water,
the curtains around the beds,
and the clean bare boards
of the floor in the dormitory.

Madonna with Sleeping Child (1465-70) by Andrea Mantegna

I know that sin is something
to be resisted strongly,
with all my heart.
I have the knowledge of innocence,
learned by watching the flame
in the pale-faced nun,
who taught me
the lesson of sacrifice.
She smells of lemon and soap, and linen,
her smile is an inward smile,
and her eyes of radiance,
teach the innocent heart,
beating with austere joy,
that sin is a terrible thing,
redeemed by a passion of love.

1935, Joseph Ratzinger (8 years old) -6th from left front row, with other children during 1st Holy Communion at Aschau Im Bavaria, where he went to school.

There is a smell of flowers                        
filling the cloister.
We are moving slowly in ranks.
We are wearing long white veils,
And  brides’ dresses, down to our feet.
The thin melodious singing,
is the singing of angels,
in the green Paradise
of children in love.
Afterwards there is breakfast,
the breakfast for feasts,
with roses on the table,
and the crimson may outside,
and a bird whose singing
fills my heart.
I think my heart would break,
for joy of that bird singing,
right inside it
were it not that the nun,
restrains it with recollection,
and we must have perfect manners,
and sit up straight at table.
There is a smell of coffee,
and warm new rolls,
and each of us will have a banana,
because of the feast.
I am back again in the French convent,
and the austere lovely morning,
thrilled with the mute mystery
of the day of the First Communions.


The Old Woman
The old woman, who nods by the Altar,
Is plain and ill shapen
and her clothes musty.
She thinks her life useless.
She has scrubbed many floors,
And always she did it, mostly
for God’s glory;
but never with the vision                                                   
that makes the work easy.
Old Woman Praying by Mathias Stom (1600-1649)
                  She is changed to dull copper              
by the light of the candles,
lit at the feet of the saints
by the children.
She is twisted and ugly,
like an old apple tree
that long has forgotten
the sweetness of blossom,
and fruit in the sunlight.
Old black bark
of a tree that is leafless.
She knows that the priest,
with eyes averted,
thinks her a nuisance;
garrulous, tedious,
talking of rheumatics.
The middle-aged mystics pass her with pity.
She fumbles her Rosary and mumbles “Hail Marys”
with tongue that is garrulous
and mind that is drowsy.
“What shall I do?”
She thinks very dully,
“When my rheumatics keep me indoors?
never any more in the kind courts of Heaven
to sit in a corner, content to be nothing.”
Old Woman Praying by Aert de Gelder (1645-1727)
And Christ, in the silence
in the silence of twilight,
with still voice of silver
unheeded answers:
“I will find my Beloved,
the whiteness of blossom,
 the young boughs laden.                                 
Sap in the branches,
The azure above her.

I will find my beloved
when all the leaves singing,
are voices of birds
In my Father’s keeping.

The sap in the branches,
the young boughs laden,
and my hand beneath her,
and my heart above her.”

Oh, my Beloved!
Nest of the Pelican.
Basilica of the Most Precious Blood, Bruges
Here are still waters,
And bells
Weaving my thoughts
With the solemn joy
Of the carrilon.
Here are birds
In dark orderly flocks
Crossing the steeple,
                                  Here is The Host,                                              
Nourishing Bread,
Of a devout people

Steeple of Our Lady's Church, Bruges

All-mothering Christ,
Patient Love!
Water and birds and bells,
And flowering steeple,
Shrine of the Gentle God,
Intimate here with man.
Oh, Bruges!
Oh, my Beloved,
Nest of the Pelican!
When I am far from here,
Little city of bells,
Keep my heart
In the shrine
With the Sacrament.
When I have gone,
Keep my heart,
In the peace of the still water.
And my desire Heavenward,
Growing up from the Altar,
With your flowering spires.
Relic of the Precious Blood, housed in the Basilica.
When I am far from here
                                    Little city of love,                                           
Keep my heart
In the measured beauty
Of bells,
Ringing their carillon
In the grey steeple.
Keep my heart in the shrine
With the Sacrament.
In communion
With your gentle,
Devout people.

Ack. 'The Flowering Tree' -selected poems of Caryll Houselander, published by Sheed and Ward.

For a fuller account of the life of Caryll Houselander please see here:-      http://umblepie-northernterritory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/rosary-by-frances-caryll-houselander.html

"How important is the last moment, the last closing of the scene! St Bernadine of Siena relates that at death a certain prince exclaimed, with trembling and dismay: "Behold, I have so many kingdoms and palaces in this world; but if I die this night I know not what lodging will be assigned to me."  (July 21)

'Thoughts from St Alphonsus for every day of the year'


'Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy, pray for us and for all the faithful departed, and guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Amen.'

Monday, 16 June 2014

'whitesmokeahoy' - variations on a theme!

On 7th September 2008, 'whitesmokeahoy' was born. I take this opportunity to reproduce a copy of the first post on that date, which is good for me as it reminds me of the original purpose of this site, and shows me how I may have  wandered off course over the years, although I hope by not too far. 'whitesmokeahoy' was set up in support of the blog-site 'Pro Papa Flagship', which was dedicated to the loyal and prayerful support of the reigning Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI.

Sunday 7th September 2008
Thoughts from St Alphonsus
'Whitesmokeahoy' is humbly dedicated to the aims of 'Pro Papa Flagship', which site is strongly recommended. In this 'spiritual armada', it seems fitting to arm ourselves with appropriate 'holy' armour. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' is a collection of short writings by the Saint, whose work was particularly recommended to the faithful by Pope Pius IXth and Pope Benedict XVth, compiled by the Rev C McNeiry CSSR, and published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne in 1927. I hope to post two extracts from this book, on an occasional basis. In the book each extract is allocated to a particular day of the year, and most are quite short.

"If our confidence in God is great, great too will be our graces. St Bernard writes that the divine mercy is an inexhaustible fountain, and that he who brings to it the largest vessel of confidence, will take from it the largest measure of gifts." (16th February)

"If we are true servants of Mary, and obtain her protection, we most certainly shall be inscribed in the Book of Life." (30th May)

Our Blessed Lady, Star of the Sea - pray for us, and protect our Holy Father from all evil.
The name 'whitesmokeahoy' was originally chosen as particularly relevant for a blogsite whose 'raison d'etre' was to support the Pope. As we know, white smoke rising from the Vatican when cardinals are assembled to choose a new Pope, indicates that a Pope has been chosen and is a time of great excitement and rejoicing.
On a rather less important, more worldly, but nevertheless interesting and enjoyable note, you will find  below, numerous photographs which with a little artistic licence, could collectively be summarised as 'whitesmokeahoy - variations on a theme'.
These photographs were all taken by our son Michael, who is both an enthusiastic railway 'boffin' - not sure that is the right word, but you know what I mean, and an accomplished professional photographer. All the photographs were taken in Cornwall and Devon, in which area Michael lives.
Class 52 Diesel Hydraulic D1015 'Western Champion' at Newton Abbot Station. It may be the colour, but what an impressive locomotive!

 Old GWR rail-motor working the Liskeard to Looe branch line in Cornwall. This locomotive is all-timber construction, and apparently is the last surviving working model.

ex SR class M7 4.4.0 tank engine, painted here in BR black. This image was taken at Buckfastleigh during the South Devon Railway (SDR) Spring Gala this year. It's normally based on the Swanage Preserved Railway and was on loan for the Gala


The same M7 loco running into the shed area at Buckfastleigh

GWR Collett Class 2251 0-6-0 tender loco, seen here at Buckfastleigh departing with a short local working, including milk tanks, bound for Shinners Bridge, near Staverton. The loco is resident on the SDR and is currently painted in late BR green livery.

ex GWR class loco no. 5786, currently painted in London Transport maroon livery, and re-numbered  92 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the London Underground. This loco was based at Neasden on the underground system for the latter part of its mainline service, used as an engineers train, and was purchased by the South Devon Railway (SDR) in 1971 for preservation. The above photo taken this year during the SDR Spring Gala, shows it approaching Buckfastleigh. 

Another view of the class M7 tank-engine, waiting to depart Buckfastleigh with the last train of the day - very atmospheric, I can almost smell the smoke and steam!

The SDR resident class 122 'Bubble Car' diesel unit. It's in early BR livery with 'cat's whiskers', the fore-runner of yellow end panels.

(1)   'Double-header diesel, class 675, no 67006 (EWS grey livery) and 67024 (EWS red/gold livery)  at Newton Abbot.   (see further photos below)

                           Pullman carriage 'GWEN'  at Newton Abbot

 Two very important gentlemen!

(2) 'Double-header diesel class 675 no 67024 (EWS red/gold livery) and 67006 ' (EWS grey livery) at Newton Abbot (see photo above and below)

(3)Double-header Diesel 'class 675' no.67024 (EWS red/gold livery) and 67006 (EWS grey livery) at Newton Abbot (see photos above)

GWR 4.6.0 no.5029 Nunney Castle, heading-up (leading locomotive of two conjoined locomotives) SR West Country class no. 34046 'Braunton', at Devonport  (see also below)

GWR 4.6.0 no.5029 Nunney Castle, heading-up SR West Country class no. 34046 'Braunton ', at Tavistock Junction, starting the long climb towards Totnes (see also above)

'First Great Western' class 125 high-speed train departing Totnes

Approaching Totnes - EWS double-header returning from Cornwall - in the rain! Yes, this is the same train as shown in the earlier photographs, but taken the following day! What enthusiasm, and what a great photo!

All the above photographs courtesy of, and copyright of,  'Michael Crowe Photography',  www.mcrowe.co.uk   -  many thanks  Michael. Thank you also for the technical details.

                                     And now for something a little different:-

The Vatican 'papal' carriage, built for Pope Pius IX, who promoted the extension of the railway system  throughout the Papal States.  The above railroad-car (circa 1859) was for his personal use on frequent trips through the Papal States. Today, the car remains on exhibition in the Museum of Rome. (ack J Paul Getty Museum)

Finally back on track -
"Perfection consists in conforming ourselves to the will of God in those things which are disagreeable to us.  The Ven Father Avila says, "It is of more use to say once, 'Blessed be God', in any contradiction, than to thank him six thousand times when we are pleased."

ack. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' edited by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R.
 "Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy, pray for
        us and for all the faithful departed, and guide and protect
        our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Amen."

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The 'Raphael Cartoons' - magnificent art to the glory of God.

It is said that we learn something every day, and certainly this applies to me. I have only recently discovered the existence of the Raphael Cartoons, and am absolutely flabergasted at the beauty and magnificence of these superlative works of art.   

   Self portrait of  'Raphael with friend' -  by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino  (Raphael 1483-1520)

The Raphael Cartoons are seven large cartoons for tapestries, belonging to the British  Royal Collection  but since 1865 on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, designed by the High Renaissance painter Raphael in 1515–16, and showing scenes from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. They are the only surviving members of a set of ten cartoons commissioned by Pope Leo X for tapestries for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace, which are still (on special occasions) hung below Michelangelo's famous ceiling.
The Raphael Cartoons represent scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. The series emphasise a number of points relevant to contemporary controversies in the period just before the Protestant Reformation, but especially the entrusting of the Church to Saint Peter. There were relatively few precedents for these subjects, so Raphael was less constrained by traditional iconographic expectations than he would have been with a series on the life of Christ or Mary.

The scenes from the Life of Peter were designed to hang below the fresco of the Life of Christ by Perugino and others in the middle register of the Chapel; opposite them, the Life of Saint Paul was to hang below the Life of Moses in fresco. An intervening small frieze showed subjects from the life of Leo, also designed to complement the other series. Each sequence begins at the altar wall, with the Life of Peter on the right side of the Chapel and Life of Paul on the left, including the three subjects with no surviving cartoons.

The cartoons are painted in a glue distemper medium on many sheets of paper glued together (as can be seen in the full-size illustrations); they are now mounted on a canvas backing. They are all slightly over 3 m  tall, and from 3 to 5 m  wide; the figures are therefore over-lifesize. Although some colours have faded, they are in general in very good condition. The tapestries are mirror-images of the cartoons, as they were worked from behind. Raphael's workshop would have assisted in their completion; they were finished with great care, and actually show a much more subtle range of colouring than was capable of being reproduced in a tapestry.

The seven cartoons were probably completed in 1516 and were then sent to Brussels, where the Vatican tapestries were woven by the workshop of Pieter van Aelst the Elder. Various other sets were made later, including one acquired by Henry VIII of England in 1542; King Francis I of France had another of similar date. Cartoons were sometimes returned with tapestries to the commissioner, but this clearly did not happen here. The tapestries had very wide and elaborate borders, also designed by Raphael, which these cartoons omit; presumably they had their own cartoons. The borders included ornamentation in an imitation of Ancient Roman relief sculpture and carved porphyry. The tapestries were made with both gold and silver thread; some were later burnt by soldiers in the Sack of Rome in 1527 to extract the precious metals. The first delivery was in 1517, and seven were displayed in the Chapel for Christmas Day in 1519 (then as now, their display was reserved for special occasions).

(The above information and details courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Life of Peter

Christ's Charge to Peter (Matthew 16:16-19) The key moment in the Gospels for the claims of the  Papacy.
The Healing of the Lame Man (Acts 3:1-8)
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (John 21: 1-14)
The Death of Ananius (Acts 5:1-10).

                                 Christ's Charge to Peter (Matthew 16:16-19)

Jesus asked his disciples,"Who do men say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say, John the Baptist; and others, Elias;and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter answered and said,"Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then Jesus answered and said, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

                                     The healing of the lame man (Acts 3: 1-8)

Peter and John were going up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer, and passed a lame man at the gate who daily laid there  to beg alms. On asking Peter and John for alms, John said, 'Look at us.' Peter then said, 'Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk'. And taking him by the right hand, he raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles became strong, and he began to walk.

                              The Miraculous Draft of Fishes (John 21: 1-14)

This incident occurred after Christ's resurrection from the dead. Seven of the Apostles had spent the night fishing in the sea of Tiberias, and had caught nothing. As they were about to give up, Jesus, whom they did not at first recognise, appeared on the shore and told them to cast their nets again, whereupon they caught so many fish that the nets were filled. John was the first to recognise Jesus, and Peter immediately wrapped his tunic around himself, jumped into the sea, and swam ashore to greet Him; the others followed in the boats. A fire was already lit, and Jesus invited the apostles to breakfast with Him, cooking the fish just taken and sharing bread. 'This is now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after He had risen from the dead'.

                                      The death of Ananius  (Acts 5: 1-10)

'Now the multitude of the believers were of one heart and soul, and not one of them said that anything he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. Nor was there anyone among them in want. For those who owned lands or houses would sell them and bring the price of what they sold and lay it at the feet of the apostles, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need'.
 Ananias and his wife Sapphira, sold their land but withheld a portion of the profit. Ananias presented his donation to Peter, who replied, "Why is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?" Peter pointed out that Ananias was in control of the money and could give or keep it as he saw fit but had withheld it from Peter and lied about it. Peter stated that Ananias had lied not only to him but also to God. Ananias died on the spot and was carried out. Everyone who heard about the incident feared the Lord. Three hours after Ananias' death his wife arrived, unaware of what had happened. Peter asked her the price of the land that she and Ananias had sold, and she stated the same untruthful price that Ananias had given. She also fell dead, apparently a punishment for deceiving God.               
Life of Paul

St Paul Preaching in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).
The Conversion of the Proconsul or The Blinding of Elymas (Acts 13:6-12).
The Sacrifice at Lystra (Acts 14:8).

                                  St Paul Preaching in Athens (Acts 17:16-34)

The figure standing at the left in a red cap is a portrait of Leo; next to him is Janus Lascaris, a Greek scholar in Rome. The kneeling couple at the right were probably added by Giulio Romano, then an assistant to Raphael.

The Conversion of the Proconsul or The Blinding of Elymas (Acts 13:6-12).

Paul had been invited to preach to the Roman proconsul of Paphos, Sergius Paulus, but is heckled by Elymas, a "magus", whom Paul miraculously causes to go temporarily blind, thus converting the proconsul.

                                                 The Sacrifice at Lystra (Acts 14:8).
After Paul miraculously cures a cripple, the people of Lystra see him and his companion Barnabas (both standing left) as gods, and want to make a sacrifice to them. Paul tears his garments in disgust, whilst Barnabas speaks to the crowd, persuading the young man at centre to restrain the man with the sacrificial axe.

(all images in this post courtesy of Wikipedia)


And still before mine eyes
   My mortal fall they lay;
Whom grace and virtue once advanced
   Now sin hath cast away.

Oh thoughts! No thoughts but wounds,
   Sometime the seat of joy,
Sometimes the store of quiet rest,
   But now of all annoy.

I sow’d the soil of peace,
   My bliss was in the spring;
And day by day the fruit I eat
   That virtue’s tree did bring.

To nettles now my corn,
   My field is turned to flint,
Where I a heavy harvest reap
   Of cares that never stint.

The peace, the rest, the life,
   That I enjoyed of yore,
Were happy lot, but by their loss
   My smart doth sting the more.

So to unhappy men,
   The best frames to the worst;
Oh time! oh place! where thus I fell;
   Dear then, but now accurst.
St Robert Southwell S.J. (Poetical works)



Let me tell you how I made His acquaintance.
    I had heard much of Him, but took no heed.
    He sent daily gifts and presents, but I never thanked Him.
    He often seemed to want my friendship, but I remained
    I was homeless, and wretched, and starving and in peril
        Every hour; and He offered me shelter and comfort and
        Food and safety; but I was ungrateful still.
    At last He crossed my path and with tears in His eyes
        He besought me saying, Come and abide with Me.

Let me tell you how He treats me now.
    He supplies all my wants.
    He gives me more than I dare ask.
    He anticipates my every need.
    He begs me to ask for more.
    He never reminds me of my past ingratitude.
    He never rebukes me for my past follies.

Let me tell you further what I think of Him.
    He is as good as He is great.
    His love is as ardent as it is true.
    He is as lavish of His promises as He is faithful in
        keeping them.
    He is as jealous of my love as He is deserving of it.
    I am in all things His debtor, but He bids me call Him
• ‘From an old manuscript’
ack   ‘The friendship of Christ’ by Robert Hugh Benson.


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