Thursday, November 29, 2018

Anarchy and the Virgin's Pinions

One of Father A.'s occasional pastimes is reading -- or rather, trying to read -- the poetry of Geoffrey Hill.

In the years before his death in 2016, Hill was widely, if somewhat embarrassedly, said to be the most important poet writing in English. The embarrasment in this statement grew from his notorious "difficulty," which means that even among his admirers few are quite certain what he intends to tell us. Reading Hill, except perhaps for a rarefied few experts and initiates, is consideralby harder than, say, reading Greek. We imagine it is more like reading skaldic verse, replete with those pesky kennings.

Still, one soldiers onward. And from the humility-inducing murk will on occasion emerge something comprehensible and stirring. This happened today, with a passage from his Hymns to Our Lady of Chartres (1982-2012). It is, we think, a wonderful description of St Mary, to hold in one's heart through Advent, and which may inspire a sermon or two come Christmas:

She, prejudged to common wantonness
in a land racked for tribute, takes pity
on us by virtue of the Nativity
which was not without shock, although faultless;

and not devoid, some say, of blood and pain.
I place no call to sleeping heresies.
The three adventurers whom we deem wise --
pedigree of imperious Iran --

or Botticelli's angels on the thatch
did not deplore the tearlessness of things;
lawlessness, yes. Anarchy is what brings
the pinions of her grace to fullest stretch.

It still takes a bit of explaining, but not too much. The question of whether the BVM suffered during childbirth is an old one, but since at least the 4th century reputable authors have said she did not, a view confirmed officiually at Trent, and closely associated with her perpetual virginity. The "tearlessness of things" reverses Virgil's rather obvious claim that there are tears of things -- sunt lacrimae rerum (Aeneid 1:462). In other words, a painless childbirth, if that's what she had, reverses the natural order -- but is not the point, to the Magi, the angels or the poet.

The point is not whether the birth of Christ violated the laws of nature, but that it was provoked by the rejection of divine law. This, or so we take it, is the anarchy from which Christ comes to take rescue us, and against which Mary spreads her, um, wings. (Okay, we don't pretend to get every line.  We said he's difficult.)

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