This Morning’s Poem

This mist on the Woolwich reach
And the glowing smoke of the clipper’s exhaust
Lie on the silver-silted wildfowl beach
Where every cold-shanked creature
From the dipper to the gull to the unemployed teacher
Treads in the silence the morning has enforced.

Silence in the world, frosted, stilled
But a spirit cry of sorrow melts inward ice.
I forgot. Meeting needs has filled
My day and been the building
I’ve been both brick-laying and gilding.
A melody makes me think twice.

It was a new song with a very old thought:
How far did they travel to give their treasure?
How many times wondered, how far the rest they sought?
And continued, purposed, refreshed with a water
Convincing star-seekers the way was getting shorter
And at last, in making a present, take pleasure.

You changed the reason that I should live
From managing to celebrating, from ‘enough’
To so much that I must learn to give
More frequently, more deeply, just to deliver
Others’ blessings, then, with a shiver,
Discover a smooth way that was rough.

I don’t yet do justice to the purpose you bring:
The world changed when you showed us real aid.
Guaranteed that all we do in honour should sing
With inner music, joy appear surprise-springing
Difficult days be the ones bells keep ringing
And I grasp it for a moment, weep, then act unafraid.

I was teaching a GCSE English Literature student about different sorts of rhyme yesterday, thinking about Browning and the Victorians – wanted to push myself to something a little more challenging.

The subject wanders from my window to the music I was listening to last night, my typical preoccupations with provision and purpose, and a very poor attempt to capture some of the joy I felt this morning, remembering that it is all new, that the story of Christmas is definitive, powerful, and that Jesus is the the point. It was as though I had forgotten for a while. Sorry, Lord.

A Life Purpose


The words of John Milton, Book XII of Paradise Lost, written in the 1660s-70s and still the best answer I can find to Rick Warren’s challenge to formulate a life purpose statement.

When I read or recite this, I feel intensely glad to be who I am, in this age and in this place, yet so appreciative of my forebears. I know that the things I love best about being English are Gospel things – ‘by small | Accomplishing great things’ – and that a life lived ‘as in His presence’ is a life of significance and purpose whether joyful, sad, achieving or resting.

And I know this because I have His example – the same Redeemer a blind Puritan Poet four hundred years my senior knew.