That Power which gave me eyes the World to view,
To see my self infused an inward light,
Whereby my soul, as by a mirror true,
Of her own form may take a perfect sight,
But as the sharpest eye discerneth nought,
Except the sun-beams in the air doe shine:
So the best soul with her reflecting thought,
Sees not her self without some light divine.
To judge her self she must her self transcend,
As greater circles comprehend the less;
But she wants power, her own powers to extend,
As fettered men can not their strength express.
O Light which mak’st the light, which makes the day!
Which set’st the eye without, and mind within;
‘Lighten my spirit with one clear heavenly ray,
Which now to view it self doth first begin.
But Thou which didst man’s soul of nothing make,
And when to nothing it was fallen again,
To make it new the form of man didst take,
And God with God, becam’st a Man with men.
Thou, that hast fashioned twice this soul of ours,
So that she is by double title Thine,
Thou only knowest her nature and her pow’rs,
Her subtle form Thou only canst define…
But Thou bright Morning Star, Thou rising Sun,
Which in these later times hast brought to light
Those mysteries, that since the world begun,
Lay hid in darkness and eternal night;
Thou (like the sun) dost with indifferent ray,
Into the palace and the cottage shine,
And shew’st the soul both to the clerk and lay,
By the clear lamp of Thy Oracle divine.
Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem
Man’s capacity for enlightenment exceeds both reason and imagination. Education can certainly expand man’s mind and equip him with enhanced tools, but no methodology or curriculum can guarantee break-through insight. If modernity argues for scientific explanation, religion insists on room for the holy and it is there we find the kindling of enlightenment.
Jesus is the light of the world. Of today’s reading of John Davies’ poetry, Malcom Guite writes the following in The Word in the Wilderness:
Davies concludes that we cannot account for the world and ourselves unless we look beyond ourselves to a source, a maker both of ourselves and of the world in which we participate. To do this we must begin by acknowledging the mystery of our own minds, we must cast back upon ourselves what Davies called, in our first extract ‘our understanding light’. In so doing, Davies believes, we will encounter another light, an ‘understanding light’ cast upon us from beyond ourselves and our world, a light which is at once the source of our consciousness and the source of the world of which we are conscious. Indeed he realizes that unless there is another light, that transcends us and yet is available to us, then we have no chance of really seeing ourselves.
Describe a time when you were surprised by enlightenment.
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy
(1569–1626). The Englishman John Davies distinguished himself as a poet and as a statesman. His famous work Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing reveals a typically Elizabethan pleasure in the contemplation of the correspondence between the natural order and human activity.
Davies was born in April 1569 in Tisbury, Wiltshire, England. Educated at the University of Oxford, he was called to the bar in 1595. On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Davies was one of the messengers who carried the news to James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I. James received him with great favor, sent him to Ireland as solicitor general, and conferred a knighthood on him. In 1606 Davies was made attorney general for Ireland. He took an active part in the Protestant settlement of Ulster, a province in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and wrote several tracts on Irish affairs. He entered the Irish Parliament and was elected speaker in 1613, and after he returned to England he sat in the English Parliament of 1621. He was appointed lord chief justice in 1626 but died later that year, on December 8, before taking office.
Much of Davies’ early poetry consisted of epigrams. Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M. (1590?) contained both Davies’ work and posthumous works by Christopher Marlowe; it was one of the books the archbishop of Canterbury ordered burned in 1599. Orchestra (1596) is a poem in praise of dancing set against the background of Elizabethan cosmology and its theory of the harmony of the spheres. In Nosce teipsum (1599; Know Thyself), he gave a lucid account of his philosophy on the nature and immortality of the soul. In the same year he published Hymnes of Astraea in Acrosticke Verse, a series of poems in which the initials of the first lines form the words Elisabetha Regina in honor of Queen Elizabeth. A volume of his collected poems was published in 1622.
“Davies, John,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.