Death As Birth by John Davies

 

automatic-beginning-of-a-portrait-of-gala-unfinished
Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala (unfinished) by
Salvador Dali

 

The first life, in the mother’s womb is spent,
Where she her nursing power doth only use;
Where, when she finds defect of nourishment,
She expels her body, and this world she views.

This we call Birth; but if the child could speak,
He Death would call it; and of Nature plain,
That she would thrust him out naked and weak,
And in his passage pinch him with such pain.

Yet, out he comes, and in this world is placed
Where all his Senses in perfection bee:
Where he finds flowers to smell, and fruits to taste;
And sounds to hear, and sundry forms to see.

When he hath past some time upon this stage,
His Reason then a little seems to wake;
Which, though the spring, when sense doth fade with age,
Yet can she here no perfect practise make.

Then doth th’aspiring Soul the body leave,
Which we call Death; but were it known to all,
What life our souls do by this death receive,
Men would it birth or gaol delivery call.

In this third life, Reason will be so bright,
As that her spark will like the sun-beams shine,
And shall of God enioy the real sight.
Being still increased by influence divine.

Acclamation

O ignorant poor man! what dost thou bear
Locked up within the casket of thy breast?
What jewels, and what riches hast thou there!
What heavenly treasure in so weak a chest!

Look in thy soul, and thou shalt beauties find,
Like those which drowned Narcissus in the flood:
Honour and Pleasure both are in thy mind,
And all that in the world is counted Good.

And when thou think’st of her eternity,
Think not that Death against her nature is;
Think it a birth: and when thou goest to die,
Sing like a swan, as if thou went’st to bliss.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


We think of birth as a beginning, and indeed it is, but for the child it is also an ending.  When a baby emerges from the safety of the womb, she finds her tears quickly.  The travails of her transposition are quickly assuaged by the new dimensions in which she experiences her mother, for where once she knew her in a darkened place, she now resides face to face in the loving embrace of her arms.

We likewise embrace this womb of earthly life without appreciation or understanding of that which is to come.  As Malcom Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

If you could talk to a babe in the womb and tell it what was about to happen at birth, it would quite understandably fear it and say ‘No thanks! I’m quite comfortable where I am, I don’t want to lose everything I know!’ And it would take a great act of faith for the babe to trust that far from losing the mother who has wombed him there in the familiar darkness, he is now going to have a whole new adventure in which, at last he will see that mother face to face! But first must come the trauma of birth.  And so it is with us, contemplating the time when we too will leave the womb of this world.

What will it be like to see God face to face?

1 Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

John Davies

John Davies

(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

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

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

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_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.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.

Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala (unfinished)

Date:1932
Style: Surrealism

The Light Which Makes The Light Which Makes The Day by John Davies

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.

John 8:12

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.”

D I G  DE E P E R


John Davies

John Davies

(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

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

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

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_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.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: Dawn and Night

Style: Symbolism
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 39 x 47 cm
Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

What It Is To Be Human by John Davies

She within lists my ranging mind hath brought,
That now beyond my self I list not go;
My self am centre of my circling thought,
Only my self I study, learn, and know.

I know my body’s of so frail a kind,
As force without, fevers within can kill:
I know the heavenly nature of my mind,
But ‘tis corrupted both in wit and will:

I know my soul hath power to know all things,
Yet is she blind and ignorant in all;
I know I am one of nature’s little kings,
Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.

I know my life’s a pain and but a span,
I know my Sense is mockt with every thing:
And to conclude, I know my self a man,
Which is a proud, and yet a wretched thing.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


Affliction forces us to prioritize.  Absent her disruption, our lives are frittered away with novelty and sloth.  On the surface, we think Affliction is an enemy and indeed, she often visits us without invitation,  but we likewise invite her into our lives by both action and inaction. Our best aim is to understand Affliction as a teacher.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite points to today’s poem by John Davies as illumination:

…when things go wrong, when we are ill, or confined to quarters and thrown back on our own resources, then the real questioning, and the fruitful work can begin. Just before the passage we will read today, Davies tells us, in a playful parable, that he has met with failure, disappointment and illness, all three, summed up in the word ‘Affliction’. But in his poem Affliction appears, not as a hag or night mare, but as a wise woman teaching him what he needs to know, rather as Philosophy appeared to Boethius in his cell:

She within lists my ranging mind hath brought,
That now beyond my self I list not go;
My self am centre of my circling thought,
Only my self I study, learn, and know.

How has Affliction led you to greater self-knowledge?

IMG_0181Job 36:15

He delivers the poor in their affliction, and opens their ears in oppression.

 

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

John Davies

John Davies

(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

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

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

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_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.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: A Domestic Affliction

Style: Rococo
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 112.71 x 142.56 cm

 

 

Why Did My Parents Send Me To The Schools? by John Davies

Why did my parents send me to the Schools,
That I with knowledge might enrich my mind?
Since the desire to know first made men fools,
And did corrupt the root of all mankind:

Even so by tasting of that fruit forbid,
Where they sought knowledge, they did error find;
Ill they desir’d to know, and ill they did;
And to give Passion eyes, made Reason blind.

For then their minds did first in Passion see
Those wretched shapes of misery and woe,
Of nakedness, of shame, of poverty,
Which then their own experience made them know.

But then grew Reason dark, that she no more,
Could the faire forms of Good and Truth discern;
Bats they became, that eagles were before:
And this they got by their desire to learn.

All things without, which round about we see,
We seek to know, and how therewith to do:
But that whereby we reason, live and be,
Within our selves, we strangers are thereto.

We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th’ebs and floods of Nile;
But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The subtle motions we forget the while.

We that acquaint our selves with every Zone
And pass both Tropics and behold the Poles
When we come home, are to our selves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own souls.

We study Speech but others we persuade;
We leech-craft learn, but others cure with it;
We interpret laws, which other men have made,
But read not those which in our hearts are writ.

Is it because the mind is like the eye,
Through which it gathers knowledge by degrees −
Whose rays reflect not, but spread outwardly:
Not seeing itself when other things it sees?

No, doubtless; for the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


 

How well do you know yourself?  As Facebook says, “it’s complicated.”  Since the oracle of Delphi uttered ‘Nosce Te Ipsum!’ (know thyself!) our best and finest writers have struggled to articulate the quest.  Into this fray came John Davies in the late 16th century.  A contemporary of William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, Davies composed a 2,000 line poem that takes us to task on self-knowledge.

For the next three days, we look to Davies’ poem for insight.  In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite wrote:

What we need is the kind of self-knowledge that would lead us to understand that we are not self-made, and would put ourselves and our world into better perspective. Davies exclaims upon the strange paradox of our sophisticated knowledge of the world set against our wilful self-ignorance, and, anticipating both Freud and Jung, suggests that we prefer to hide ourselves rather than know ourselves because we are afraid of what we might find:

For the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Davies’ response to this insight is not flight or cynicism, the two characteristic responses of our own age, but rather courageous exploration.

How has your understanding of yourself evolved?

Proverbs 20:5

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

John Davies

John Davies

(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

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

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

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_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.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: Narcissus

Alternative name: Narcissus (Caravaggio)
Date: c.1599
Style: Baroque
Genre: portrait
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 110 x 92 cm
Location: National Gallery of Ancient Art (GNAA), Rome, Italy