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A Canticle to Creatureliness

A Canticle to Creatureliness

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This piece was recorded in the height of summer in Assisi. I read that when Francis of Assisi was coming towards the end of his life he sat at the window of San Damiano, on the outskirts of the town looking over the plain and penned what was to be the first poem to be written in Italian rather than Latin. It is is in his own dialect and a hymn to the natural world as he experienced it. It also covers illness and death as he was in the midst of both at the time. He very much sees himself as a creature addressing both other creatures and the creator that he saw as the source of all. He was, by this time, almost blind and extremely ill. 


A Bronze Statue of Francis in the grounds of the St Mary and the Angels

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
all praise is yours, all glory, all honor,
and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all you have made, and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, bright, and precious, and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night. How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through those who grant pardon for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy are those who endure in peace,
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!

Happy those she finds doing your will! The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
And serve him with great humility. +

Dusk over the Rivelin Valley near my home

In my latest poetry collection I have a cycle of poems dedicated to the night sea journey that Francis went on. I wanted to honour his canticle with one of my own by taking my experience of the natural world and my body, using his template. This is the result. 

A Canticle to Creatureliness
Out of the lowest depths of illness, misery and rejection, the man
who had so loved to sing … recognized everything in creation as
his sister and brother and friend.

—Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi

To find myself in the wonder of it all,
caught unawares, or just unhurriedly
attending to the world around me.

To be dwarfed by a galaxied sky,
doming, arcing, and revolving over
the little space I briefly occupy.

There is no gratitude like the one
that breathes its first gasp
when the shafts of the smoky sun
tap out a spring rhythm on the new buds.

That sun who is regal, inducing fealty,
I want to bow down to in the radiance
that warms my wintered yet wakening plot.

The night sky has called to me through
the dark months, bending my gaze up
to the jewellery of the firmament and the moon,
sometimes so bright I have her shadow.

The sure power of the wind in the trees
around my house whose resilience
is most apparent when they sway and bend.

And the buffeted birds making raids
on the feeders, break-stick feet clinging
to life and flourishing in my provision.

Down to the river in my valley—tannined,
tea-like, beery waters a constant commentary
on the futility of the ephemeral and panicky.

And the water in my white bath a soak away
for my tensing-against-life body, worn down
by my ill use, finding liquid easement.

Oh, and the blaze that illuminates my nightness,
jubilantly sparking into the winter cold
with memories of bonfires with my grandma
and with the promise of brightened circles.
Making a fire can be such an act of hope.

Then there is the mothering in many guises
that the more-than-human world graces,
bounty unfathomable but not inexhaustible,
pushed to the end of its tether by us,
yet renewing her covenant in every spring.

Her forgiveness of our abuse is a call to me
to take stock of the blows I have received
and to absolve my way to amnesty and release.

The acceptance of aging and brokenness
in praise of robust vulnerability beckons
in the pains my body aches and grieves with.

And the dying of it all, the end of every beginning,
I find no wisdom or solace in avoiding it.
Better to grasp its ardent hand in mine
And hope for buds beyond the leaf fall.

 The green world has such curative and palliative power, as we are not separate from it, but actually creatures and in need of a deep relationship with other creatures. This is so important if we are to nurture the earth and not destroy it. Francis was a prophet in this respect and it is his invitation to each of us to find a way to honour our physicality and our fragility as creatures on a fragile planet. 

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