Friday, November 25, 2011

The Vicar

Nearly every time I go exploring in the vast, uncharted realms of Arthur Quiller-Couch's anthologies, I find some heretofore overlooked gem.  This summer as I was working my way through his Oxford Book of Victorian Verse, I ran across this wonderful poem by Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839).  

I don't think it is too much to say that these thirteen stanzas capture almost perfectly my own vision of what a parish pastor's life and ministry ought to be. There is so much to learn from here.  I absolutely love it:

Some years ago, ere time and taste
  Had turn’d our parish topsy-turvy,
When Darnel Park was Darnel Waste,
  And roads as little known as scurvy,
The man who lost his way between
  St. Mary’s Hill and Sandy Thicket
Was always shown across the green,
  And guided to the parson’s wicket.

Back flew the bolt of lissom lath;
  Fair Margaret, in her tidy kirtle,
Led the lorn traveller up the path
  Through clean-clipp’d rows of box and myrtle;
And Don and Sancho, Tramp and Tray,
  Upon the parlor steps collected,
Wagg’d all their tails, and seem’d to say,
  “Our master knows you; you ’re expected.”

Up rose the reverend Doctor Brown,
  Up rose the doctor’s “winsome marrow;”
The lady laid her knitting down,
  Her husband clasp’d his ponderous Barrow.
Whate’er the stranger’s caste or creed,
  Pundit or papist, saint or sinner,
He found a stable for his steed,
  And welcome for himself, and dinner.

If, when he reach’d his journey’s end,
  And warm’d himself in court or college,
He had not gain’d an honest friend,
  And twenty curious scraps of knowledge;
If he departed as he came,
  With no new light on love or liquor,—
Good sooth, the traveller was to blame,
  And not the vicarage, nor the vicar.

His talk was like a stream which runs
  With rapid change from rocks to roses;
It slipp’d from politics to puns;
  It pass’d from Mahomet to Moses;
Beginning with the laws which keep
  The planets in their radiant courses,
And ending with some precept deep
  For dressing eels or shoeing horses.

He was a shrewd and sound divine,
  Of loud dissent the mortal terror;
And when, by dint of page and line,
  He ’stablish’d truth or startled error,
The Baptist found him far too deep,
  The Deist sigh’d with saving sorrow,
And the lean Levite went to sleep
  And dream’d of tasting pork to-morrow.

His sermon never said or show’d
  That earth is foul, that heaven is gracious,
Without refreshment on the road
  From Jerome, or from Athanasius;
And sure a righteous zeal inspir’d
  The hand and head that penn’d and plann’d them,
For all who understood admir’d,
  And some who did not understand them.

He wrote too, in a quiet way,
  Small treatises, and smaller verses,
And sage remarks on chalk and clay,
  And hints to noble lords and nurses;
True histories of last year’s ghost;
  Lines to a ringlet or a turban;
And trifles to the Morning Post,
  And nothings for Sylvanus Urban.

He did not think all mischief fair,
  Although he had a knack of joking;
He did not make himself a bear,
  Although he had a taste for smoking;
And when religious sects ran mad,
  He held, in spite of all his learning,
That if a man’s belief is bad,
  It will not be improv’d by burning.

And he was king, and lov’d to sit
  In the low hut or garnish’d cottage,
And praise the farmer’s homely wit,
  And share the widow’s homelier pottage.
At his approach complaint grew mild,
  And when his hand unbarr’d the shutter
The clammy lips of fever smil’d
  The welcome which they could not utter.

He always had a tale for me
  Of Julius Cæsar or of Venus;
From him I learn’d the rule of three,
  Cat’s-cradle, leap-frog, and Quæ genus.
I used to singe his powder’d wig,
  To steal the staff he put such trust in,
And make the puppy dance a jig
  When he began to quote Augustine.

Alack, the change! In vain I look
  For haunts in which my boyhood trifled;
The level lawn, the trickling brook,
  The trees I climb’d, the beds I rifled.
The church is larger than before,
  You reach it by a carriage entry:
It holds three hundred people more,
  And pews are fitted for the gentry.

Sit in the vicar’s seat: you ’ll hear
  The doctrine of a gentle Johnian,
Whose hand is white, whose voice is clear,
  Whose tone is very Ciceronian.
Where is the old man laid? Look down,
  And construe on the slab before you:
“Hic jacet Gulielmus Brown,
  Vir nullâ non donandus lauro.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving in Boston

Early on the settlers expressed their thanksgiving for the evidence of God’s good providence in their lives.  Despite all the hardships they faced, they recognized the peculiar opportunity they had been afforded.  Thus, they outwardly affirmed their fealty to God and His ways.  

This verse by the renowned historical epic poet, Hezekiah Butterworth, captures that predisposition toward gratitude in early Boston.

"Praise ye the Lord!"  The Psalm today
            Still rises on our ears,
Borne from the hills of Boston Bay
            Through five times fifty years,
When Wintrop's fleet from Yarmouth crept
            Out to the open main,
And through the widening waters swept,
            In April sun and rain.

"Pray to the Lord with fervent lips,"
            The leader shouted, "pray";
And prayer arose from all the ships
            As faded Yarmouth Bay.

They passed the Scilly Isles that day,
            And May-days came, and June,
And trice upon the ocean lay
            The full orb of the moon.
And as that day, on Yarmouth Bay,
            Ere England sunk from view,
While yet the rippling Solent lay
            In April skies of blue.

"Pray to the Lord with fervent lips,"
            Each morn was shouted, "pray";
And prayer arose from all the ships,
            As first in Yarmouth Bay;

Blew warm the breeze o'er Western seas,
            Through Maytime morns, and June,
Till hailed these souls the Isles of Shoals,
            Low 'neath the summer moon;
And as Cape Ann arose to view,
            And Norman's Woe they passed,
The wood-doves came the white mists through,
            And circled round each mast.

"Pray to the Lord with fervent lips,"
            Then called the leader, "pray";
And prayer arose from all the ships,
            As first in Yarmouth Bay.

Above the sea the hill-tops fair;
            God's towers--began to rise,
And odors rare breathe through the air,
            Like balms of Paradise.
Through burning skies the ospreys flew,
            And near the pine-cooled shores
Danced airy boat and thin canoe,
            To flash of sunlit oars.

"Pray to the Lord with fervent lips,"
            The leader shouted, "pray!"
Then prayer arose, and all the ships
            Sailed in Boston Bay.

The whit wings folded, anchors down,
            The sea-worn fleet in line,
Fair rose the hills where Boston town
            Should rise from clouds of pine:
Fair was the harbor, summit-walled,
            And placid lay the sea.
"Praise ye the Lord," the leader called;
            Praise ye the Lord," spake he.

"Give thanks to God with fervent lips,
            Give thanks to God today,"
The anthem rose from all the ships,
            Safe moored in Boston Bay.