John Betjeman |
Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun.
All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes .
it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house,
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.
Emanuel Xavier |
knows the condom wrapped penetration
of strangers and lovers, deep inside
only a tear away from risk
knows bare minimum t-cell level counts,
replacing intoxicating cocktails
with jagged little pills
knows how to avoid a cure thanks to war
how to keep pharmaceutical corporations
and doctors in business
knows the weight loss desired
knows the fearless meaning of a friends genuine kiss or hug
converts non-believers to religion
values the support of luminaries
smiles at the solidarity
of single red ribbons
knows to dim the lights
to elude detection
how to shame someone into hiding
from the rest of the world
to be grateful for the gift of clothing
to remain silent, holding back the anger and frustration
knows that time on earth
is limited for all of us
that using lemons to make lemonade is better than drinking the Kool-Aid
but no matter how much you drink
you are always left dehydrated
knows working extensive hours
to pay hospital bills,
the choice of survival
or taking pleasure in what is left of life
knows the solid white walls
you want to crash through
and tear down
the thoughts of suicide
in the back of your head
knows the prosperous could be doing more with their wealth
and that everyone still thinks it is a deserving fate- for gays,
drug addicts, prostitutes,
and the unfortunate children of such
born into a merciless world of posh handbags and designer jewelry
knows how to be used as another percentage to profit politicians
knows it doesn’t only affect humans
but animals too, without bias
-providing fodder for art and something to be left behind
if there is a God
he has disregarded our prayers
left his angels behind to journey along with us
-none of us knowing exactly
where we are headed
Philip Larkin |
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare.
Not in remorse
-- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused -- nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always.
Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels.
Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear -- no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink.
Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others.
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept.
One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
More great poems below...
David Lehman |
There comes a time in every man's life
when he thinks: I have never had a single
original thought in my life
including this one & therefore I shall
eliminate all ideas from my poems
which shall consist of cats, rice, rain
baseball cards, fire escapes, hanging plants
red brick houses where I shall give up booze
and organized religion even if it means
despair is a logical possibility that can't
be disproved I shall concentrate on the five
senses and what they half perceive and half
create, the green street signs with white
letters on them the body next to mine
asleep while I think these thoughts
that I want to eliminate like nostalgia
0 was there ever a man who felt as I do
like a pronoun out of step with all the other
floating signifiers no things but in words
an orange T-shirt a lime green awning
A R Ammons |
I don't know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:
for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:
the swamp's slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:
holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars' gothic-clustered
spires could make
green religion in winter bones:
so I look and reflect, but the air's glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:
no use to make any philosophies here:
I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.
Jane Taylor |
In tears to her mother poor Harriet came,
Let us listen to hear what she says:
"O see, dear mamma, it is pouring with rain,
We cannot go out in the chaise.
"All the week I have long'd for this holiday so,
And fancied the minutes were hours;
And now that I'm dress'd and all ready to go,
Do look at those terrible showers! "
"I'm sorry, my dear, " her kind mother replied,
The rain disappoints us to-day;
But sorrow still more that you fret for a ride,
In such an extravagant way.
"These slight disappointments are sent to prepare
For what may hereafter befall;
For seasons of real disappointment and care,
Which commonly happen to all.
"For just like to-day with its holiday lost,
Is life and its comforts at best:
Our pleasures are blighted, our purposes cross'd,
To teach us it is not our rest.
"And when those distresses and crosses appear,
With which you may shortly be tried,
You'll wonder that ever you wasted a tear
On merely the loss of a ride.
"But though the world's pleasures are fleeting and vain,
Religion is lasting and true;
Real pleasure and peace in her paths you may gain,
Nor will disappointment ensue.
Allama Iqbal |
The soul of both of them is impatient and restless,
Both of them know not God, and deceive mankind.
One lives by production, the other by taxation,
And man is a glass caught between two stones.
The one puts to rout science, religion, art,
The other robs the body of soul, the hand of bread.
I have perceived both drowned in water and clay,
Both bodily burnished, but utterly dark of heart.
Life means a passionate burning, an urge to make,
To cast in the dead clay the seed of heart.
Chris Mansell |
we are succulents
our cool jade arms open
over clean tables our fine bone
china minds pull the strings
of our tongues together we plait
our thoughts with the television
back through the aerials and
transmission towers prodding
through the literal fog
the mechanics of which distance
does not startle us or the ears
pretend to hear the telephone
the page also wearies
us we have taken the meaning
out of things by laying them face to
face in our dictionary of emotions
we are so entirely alone that we
are unaware of it
and we enjoy the religion of solitude
because religions are at base
meaningless and we can turn
from them to a new hobby
to clean ashtrays or emptier
whiskey glasses we the women
of our building Margaret Gladys
Cecily Ida Eileen and I have
the cleanest washing on our block
we are proud and air our sheets
although it's a long time since
any serious stain or passionate figment
seeped through that censorious cloth
we have plants one of us has a budgie
and I have three fish the details
are unimportant God does not come here often
we would be suspicious if he
did without an identity card
we collect each others' mail
remind each other of garbage
days and are frightened
of the louts from the skating rink
but in the night I leave
my curtains open and air
my pendant tremulous breasts
G K Chesterton |
Isaiah Bunter has disappeared into the interior of the Solomon Islands, and it is feared that he may have been devoured by the natives, as there has been a considerable revival of religious customs among the Polynesians.
--A real paragraph from a real Paper; only the names altered.
It was Isaiah Bunter
Who sailed to the world's end,
And spread religion in a way
That he did not intend.
He gave, if not the gospel-feast,
At least a ritual meal;
And in a highly painful sense
He was devoured with zeal.
And who are we (as Henson says)
That we should close the door?
And should not Evangelicals
All jump at shedding Gore?
And many a man will melt in man,
Becoming one, not two,
When smacks across the startled earth
The Kiss of Kikuyu.
When Man is the Turk, and the Atheist,
Essene, Erastian, Whig,
And the Thug and the Druse and the Catholic
And the crew of the Captain's gig.
Billy Collins |
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.
Katherine Philips |
Come, my Lucasia, since we see
That miracles Men's Faith do move,
By wonder and by prodigy
To the dull angry World let's prove
There's a Religion in our Love.
For Though we were design'd t'agree,
That Fate no liberty destroys,
But our Election is as free
As Angels, who with greedy choice
Are yet determin'd to their joys.
Our hearts are doubled by the loss,
Here Mixture is Addition grown;
We both diffuse, and both ingross:
And we whose minds are so much one,
Never, yet ever are alone.
We court our own Captivity
Than Thrones more great and innocent:
`Twere banishment to be set free,
Since we wear fetters whose intent
Not Bondage is but Ornament
Divided joys are tedious found,
And griefs united easier grow:
We are our selves but by rebound,
And all our Titles shuffled so,
Both Princes, and both Subjects too.
Our Hearts are mutual Victims laid,
While they (such power in Friendship lies)
Are Altars, Priests, and Off'rings made:
And each Heart which thus kindly dies,
Grows deathless by the Sacrifice.
D A Levy |
When i was a little kid
my parents never told me
i didn't find out until
i got out of high school
then when people asked me,
I ASKED THEM,
"Nationality or Religion?"
When i was a little kid
my parents brought me up as a christian
that when i discovered,
i was different
i wasnt THAT sick!
so at sixteen
still being a virgin forest
i must be a buddhist monk,
Then when people asked me
I TOLD THEM, i told them
"Not me, man, i don't belong to No-thing
In the navy
a swabby once asked me,
if i wanted to go to the
temple with him,
i told him
"NOt me, man, im the last
of the full blooded american indians.
it became confusing
so after a while
when people inquired
you arnt……are you?"
"with a name like levy,
what the hell do you think i am?"
A Ritz Cracker? A flying bathtub?
An arab? etc.
But now its getting pretty hip
to be a jew
and some of my best friend are
becoming converted to halavah,
even the crones who suddenly
became World War 2 catholics are
now praising bagels & lox
i still dont feel on ethnic things like
"Ok, we all niggers so lets hold hands.
"OK, we're all wops so lets support the
"Ok, we're all jews so lets weep on each
so now when people smile and say,
"Hey, you're one of us,"
i smile and say,
"Fuck you, man,
im still alive.
Les Murray |
Religions are poems.
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture
into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.
A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by.
But that is a small religion.
Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?
You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either.
It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,
fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned.
Caught as in a mirror
that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry
or a lack of it.
Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.
John Donne |
In what torn ship soever I embark,
That ship shall be my emblem of thy Ark;
What sea soever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood;
Though thou with clouds of anger do disguise
Thy face, yet through that mask I know those eyes,
Which, though they turn away sometimes,
They never will despise.
I sacrifice this Island unto thee,
And all whom I loved there, and who loved me;
When I have put our seas 'twixt them and me,
Put thou thy sea betwixt my sins and thee.
As the tree's sap doth seek the root below
In winter, in my winter now I go,
Where none but thee, th' Eternal root
Of true Love, I may know.
Nor thou nor thy religion dost control
The amorousness of an harmonious Soul,
But thou wouldst have that love thyself: as thou
Art jealous, Lord, so I am jealous now,
Thou lov'st not, till from loving more, Thou free
My soul: who ever gives, takes liberty:
O, if thou car'st not whom I love
Alas, thou lov'st not me.
Seal then this bill of my Divorce to All,
On whom those fainter beams of love did fall;
Marry those loves, which in youth scattered be
On Fame, Wit, Hopes (false mistresses) to thee.
Churches are best for Prayer, that have least light:
To see God only, I go out of sight:
And to 'scape stormy days, I choose
An Everlasting night.
Anne Sexton |
That does not keep me from having a terrible need of -- shall I say the word -- religion.
I go out at night to paint the stars.
--Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother
The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent.
The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.
They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:
into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,