A poem for Palm Sunday – “The Donkey”, G K Chesterton

I find Chesterton a somewhat mixed bag , and that applies to his poetry also, but this has always moved me deeply, and is all the more effective for concealing its theme until the last stanza:

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Glen Falls – a poem by Ciaran MacCormaic, Glencomeragh, Co. Waterford

Glen Falls – a poem by Ciaran MacCormaic, Glencomeragh, Co. Waterford

A while back I posted “Be Still”, a poem by Agnes Hunt RHSM which is displayed on a board at the Holy Family Retreat Centre in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

There is a poem on the other side of this board:

Here are the falls themselves:

Here is the text:

The noise alerted me
The sound attracted me
The music held me
At the waterfall.
The reckless rush of water
Wasting itself
Against the hard rocks,
Which tried in vain to repulse it.
They merely enabled it to sing
A new song for each hard rock.

As it slid under me,
Danced over another,
Briefly embraced a third.
As I looked at the many hard rocks –
I heard the many joyous notes –
Notes that would be silent
Were it not for the hard rocks.
It was happy water, dancing and singing,
It was generous water
Serving fish and fly and flotsam –
Green shoot and tired twig
And half-grown berry.

But not all the water rushed.
Some eddied pointlessly
Against a rusty sluice-gate
Where it stood
Burdened with its various corpses.
Or so it seemed.
Underneath it made its eager exit
And bubbled mirthfully up again
To meet the welcoming sun.

And I saw a tiny trickle
Seeping from the sodden bank –
A mere piddle.
Of what use to such a hurtling stream
Was such a petty dribble?
Why, another small note
Adding to the chaotic chorus
Of the stream.
And one hard rock was heart-shaped.
Laved by the loving torrent.
And God was in the water,
And God was in the hard rock.

Ciarán MacCormaic, CFC,
Glencomeragh, 26.5.99

And here are (blurry) photos of the board

J G Ballard on viewing Crivelli’s Annunciation

Via Bibliokept:

I am sure that a large part of the enduring mystery of the Renaissance masterpieces in the National Gallery was due to the absence of the explanatory matter that now drains away much of the strangeness and poetry of the Old Masters. I would stare at Crivelli’s Annunciation, charmed by the peacocks, loaves of bread and other incongruous items, the passer-by reading a book on the bridge and the Virgin in her jewel box of a house. I was forced to use my own imagination to stitch these elements into a master narrative that made some kind of sense, rather than read an extended wall caption and be solemnly told that the peacock was a symbol of eternal life. Perish the thought, and let the exquisite bird be itself, and nothing more or less than itself. What could be more natural, and more mysterious, than a peacock and a loaf of bread appearing on the scene to celebrate the forthcoming birth of the Saviour?

From J.G. Ballard’s autobiography Miracles of Life.



At his blog the poet Malcolm Guite features a suite of poems on pilgrimage, one for each day of the first week of Lent:

In this first week in Lent my anthology Word in the Wilderness introduces poems about pilgrimage itself and our life as pilgrimage. We will reflect on maps and mapping, on how outer journeys and inner ones are linked, on what it is we learn from the landscapes through which we walk. 

Among familiar poems such as Walter Raleigh’s Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage, there are ones unknown to me. I especially liked Holly Ordway’s “Maps”. I was particularly struck by the line on the egocentricity of GPS (and by extension Google Maps etc.):

Antique maps, with curlicues of ink
As borders, framing what we know, like pages
From a book of traveler’s tales: look,
Here in the margin, tiny ships at sail.
No-nonsense maps from family trips: each state
Traced out in colour-coded numbered highways,
A web of roads with labeled city dots
Punctuating the route and its slow stories.
Now GPS puts me right at the centre,
A Ptolemaic shift in my perspective.
Pinned where I am, right now, somewhere, I turn
And turn to orient myself. I have
Directions calculated, maps at hand:
Hopelessly lost till I look up at last.

#AshWednesday with Evelyn Waugh in New Orleans, 1949

Via the Evelyn Waugh Society online I came across this from Waugh in 1949. It captures the falseness of the dichotomy betweent the fleshy pleasure of Mardi Gras and the asceticism of this day:

Ash Wednesday; the warm rain falling in streets unsightly with the draggled survivals of carnival. The Roosevelt Hotel overflowing with crapulous tourists planning their return journeys. How many of them knew anything about Lent? But across the way the Jesuit church was teeming with life all day long; a continuous dense crowd of all colours and conditions moving up to the altar rails and returning with their foreheads signed with ash. And the old grim message was being repeated over each penitent: “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Ember Days and nature connection

Today, Friday and Saturday are Ember Days. I had never heard of these (though “embertide” rings a faint bell) until I came across this tweet

In a way Fr Schrenk explains it well in this thread so unroll it for the full explanation, or look here or here. Essentially, Ember Days are 3 days in an “Ember Week”, which occurs four times in a calendar year and mark the commencement of seasons. The December days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after St Lucy’s Day (13th December)

They are marked by practices such as fasting and abstinence, though specifics seem a little different depending on the online source.  One site I came across suggested “minor” fasting, ie one full meal and two light meals (which sounds closer to a healthy intake than to a fast to me) as well as marking the day with appropriate prayer.

Traditionally, clergy were ordained during Ember Weeks.



“Ember” is not a reference to fire but a corruption of the Latin Quatuor Tempora meaning “four times.” In Irish, they are Laethanta na gCeithre Thráth  – “days of the four times” – which preserves the sense of the Latin.  Ember days seem to have got a little more attention in recent times as a form of collective repentance related to recent crises in the Church. 

Separate from any theological or ecclesiastic practice, I am struck by the wisdom of observances that are tied with the cycle of the seasons and thereby of growth, death and renewal that follow the year. And I am struck by the wisdom of periods of restraint in consumption (which is what fasting is, as opposed to self-punishment) and of contemplation that relate fundamentally to the changes of the seasons. It is a cliché to bemoan the overcommercialisation of Christmas but it is salutary to recall that Advent was supposed to be a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation.

It seems a pity that the Ember Days practice has fallen into disuse in general. And again separate from any specific religious belief or affiliation, one wonders if the practice of Ember Days did help to connect people with the progress of the seasons (and if their abandonment is yet another marker of disconnection with nature) and whether for this reason observance of Ember Days is due a revival.