Thursday, September 3, 2015

I've already posted this on my personal Facebook page, but perhaps it will hold up to a little more exposure. The Latin at the beginning is from the last part of a hymn, "Pange Lingua Gloriosa," by St. Thomas Aquinas sung as part of the liturgy of Benediction; the italicized lines further down are my translation. (Here's a YoutTube video of the full hymn: )

Benediction: An Ode

Tantum ergo sacramentum
Veneremur cernui,
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.


While lightning bugs begin to spark the dusk
(As thick now as they were when we would pierce
The lids of rinsed-out jars in childish hope
That we could keep the cold enticing fire
Alive beyond the moment of its pulsed
Allure), and Deneb, Vega, Altair first
Appear against the gray blue of the sky,
A shadow on the trail in front of me
Becomes a doe, and stops, and stamps a hoof,
And snorts a warning, half to me and half
To near-invisible twin fawns who know
Enough to stay behind her, but not yet
Enough to be afraid of such as I.
One step: a flash of white, and they are gone.


Merton warned against the dream of
Reaching to the hearts of things--
God, he said, will let us touch them
Only long enough to feel
How the fire of being blazes
More than we can bear to hold.

Yet if all around us passes,
Fleeting, from our mortal grasp,
Still the stars above us circle
Where we would not think to reach,
Signs (despite their trepidations)
Showing sempiternity.

All our nostoi seek a fixed home,
Firm as that Odyssean bed
Built around the living olive:
Only God transcends all change,
In himself the unmoved center
Crucified in human flesh.

Swan of summer, Cygnus hovers
Stretched along the Milky Way,
Spreads imagined wings out, cross-like
Spanning all the galaxy.
Ambrose would have seen salvation
Figured in those distant lights.

I would think of some lost summer
When I knew our souls were one
Like the legs of Donne's twinned compass
Drawing one another home—
Some night when I gazed up wondering
Deep into the well of stars.

Here below, the gleaming monstrance,
Rayed to be both cross and star,
Holds enthroned the wholly other
Where the consecrated Host
Shows, still hid, that highest power
Veiled once in the Virgin's womb.

More than figure, unseen Presence
Calls, though silent, to the heart:
As an undamped string will tremble
When the master chord rings out,
So all being resonates with
This insistent source of song.

Love is strong as death, and many
Waters cannot quench it—yet
Love itself has shared our dying,
All the loss that you and I
Never then imagined feeling,
Never knew we ought to fear.

Such a sacrament we, therefore,
Prostrate worship and revere,
Where the sacrifice once ordered
Yields to this new ritual:
Faith comes forth to show in shadows
What the senses cannot know.


Before we must sleep through that one perduring night
The hungry shadows strive to wrap us in such gloom
As we cannot remove by memories of light.

Too young, we come to know the evanescent bloom
Of life, the once-played tune, escapes our hold:
That all we love or own is forfeit to the tomb.

With time, we learn to fear as well the growing old:
The dulling mind, the hopes outlived, the humbling need
For help, the pain we see in hearts where love's gone cold.

So living leaves its mark on us. Soon others read
The graying hair, the weakened eyes, the lines, the scars,
As if these were the chart of age: yet they mislead.

Beyond all life can do, all time destroys or mars,
Remains the love that moves the sun and other stars.

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