Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hymn for the Mercy Seat: Ann Griffiths

It's probably obvious by now that I've been working my way through Rowan Williams' book of poetry. He has translated, rather magnificently, a set of Welsh poems into English; I find them so compelling that I must share them - so, here is another, and by no means the last, of his translations. I recommend reading further about Ann Griffiths, by the way. She was an eighteenth century housewife who lived in a Welsh village and wrote unbelievably vivid poems.

Hymn for the Mercy Seat

By Ann Griffiths (as translated from the Welsh by Rowan Williams)

Wonder is what the angels' eyes hold, wonder:
The eyes of faith, too, unbelieving in the strangeness.
Looking on him who makes all being gift,
Whose overflowing holds, sustains,
Who sets what is in shape,
Here in the cradle, swaddled, homeless,
And here adored by the bright eyes of angels,
The great Lord recognised.

Sinai ablaze, the black pall rising,
Through it the horn's pitch, high, intolerable,
And I, I step across the mortal frontier
Into the feast safe in my Christ from slaughter.
Beyond that boundary, all loss is mended,
The wilderness is filled, for he,
Broker between the litigants, stands in the breach,
Offers himself for peace.

Between the butchered thieves, the mercy seat, the healing,
The place for him to test death's costs,
Who powers his very killers' arms,
Drives in the nails that hold him, while he pays
The debt of brands torn from the bonfire,
Due to his Father's law, the flames of justice
Bright for forgiveness now, administering
Liberty's contract.

Soul, look. This is the place where all kings' monarch
rested a corpse, the maker of our rest, and in
His stillness all things that always move,
Within his buried silence.
Song for the lost, and life; wonder
For angels's straining eyes, God's flesh.
They praise together, they adore,
'To him', they shout, 'only to him'.

And I, while there is breath left to me,
Say, Thanksgiving, with a hundred thousand words,
Thanksgiving: that there is a God to worship,
There is an everlasting matter for my singing;
Who with the worst of us, in what
he shares with me, cried under tempting,
A child and powerless, the boundless
Living true God.

Flesh rots: instead, aflame, along with heaven's singers,
I shall pierce through the veil, into the land
Of infinite astonishment, the land
Of what was done at Calvary;
I shall look on what never can be seen, and still
Shall live, look on the one who died and who still lives
And shall; look in eternal jointure and communion,
Not to be parted.

I shall lift up the name that God
Sets out to be a mercy seat, a healing, and the veils,
And the imaginings and shrouds have gone, because
My soul stands now, his finished likeness,
Admitted now to share his secret, that his blood and hurt
Showed once, now I shall kiss the Son
And never turn away again. And never
Turn away.

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