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.'