Thursday, October 20, 2011

"And turn once more our water into wine"

A poem about the forms religion may take in our world… both for divine and destructive purposes. Vaughan had lived through a period of religious bigotry, warfare, and growing atheism, but refused either to join in the distortion of faith or to turn his back on what gave him life, joy, and hope. This is a poem with great validity in our own day.

by Henry Vaughan, from Silex Scintillans

My God, when I walk in those groves
And leaves thy spirit doth still fan,
I see in each shade that there grows
An angel talking with a man.

Under a juniper, some house,
Or the cool myrtle’s canopy,
Others beneath an oak’s green boughs,
Or at some fountain’s bubbling eye;

Here Jacob dreams, and wrestles; there
Elias by a raven is fed,
Another time by th’ angel, where
He brings him water with his bread;

In Abr’ham’s tent the wingèd guests
(O how familiar then was heaven!)
Eat, drink, discourse, sit down, and rest
Until the cool and shady even;

Nay thou thyself, my God, in fire
Whirlwinds, and clouds, and the soft voice
Speak’st there so much, that I admire
We have no conference in these days;

Is the truce broke? Or ‘cause we have
A mediator now with thee,
Dost thou therefore old treaties waive
And by appeals from him decree?

Or is’t so, as some green heads say
That now all miracles must cease?
Though thou hast promised they should stay
The tokens of the Church, and peace;

No, no; Religion is a spring
That from some secret, golden mine
Derives her birth, and thence doth bring
Cordials in every drop, and wine;

But in her long and hidden course
Passing through the earth’s dark veins,
Grows still from better unto worse,
And both her taste and colour stains,

Then drilling on, learns to increase
False echoes and confused sounds,
And unawares doth often seize
On veins of sulphur under ground;

So poisoned, breaks forth in some clime,
And at first sight doth many please,
But drunk, is puddle, or mere slime
And ‘stead of physic, a disease;

Just such a tainted sink we have
Like that Samaritan’s dead well,
Nor must we for the kernel crave
Because most voices like the shell.

Heal then these waters, Lord; or bring thy flock,
Since these are troubled, to the springing rock,
Look down great Master of the feast; O shine,
And turn once more our water into wine!

Song of Solomon: Chapter 4, Verse 12
My sister, my spouse is as a garden inclosed, as a spring shut up, and a fountain sealed up.

Notes & References:

juniper: 1 Kings 19:5
myrtle’s: Zechariah 1:8-11
oak’s: Judges 6:11
fountain’s: Genesis 16:7
Jacob dreams and wrestles: Genesis 28; Genesis 32:24-30
Elias by a raven fed: 1 Kings 17:6
Another time by th’Angel: 1 Kings 19:6
In Abr’ham’s test…shady even: Genesis 18:1-8
In fire: Exodus 3:2
Whirlwinds: Numbers 11:25
Admire: am amazed, wonder at
Conference: conversation, discourse
Cordials: enlivening drinks
Drilling: flowing in a small stream, dripping
Puddle: foul, stagnant water
Physic: medicine
Sink: cesspool
Samaritan’s dead well: John 4:5-15 (Jacob’s Well is “dead” water compared to the “living water” Christ promises)
The springing rock: Exodus 17:6
Water into wine: John 2:1-10

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