A Poem of the New Creation

From Peter Stanlis

Peter Milward's A Poem of the New Creation is like a fusion of Dante Alighier's Divine Comedy and Chesterton's Orthodoxy but with the ethical, aesthetic and intellectual paradoxes reconciled into a highly original lyrical-narrative-thematic poem that harmonizes and synthesizes the tragic nature and history of mankind, its secular "trial by existence" on Earth, with the power to be transformed through the eternal "pillar of light" in the Christian epic of salvation.


The spirit of God's love for mankind permeates the poem, with a powerful, realistic and unsentimental reverence for humanity, in all of its tribulations, and for all divinely created things.

In its lyrical intensity, its mastery of literary techniques and artistic structure, so rich in many perceptive allusions to biblical, theological, historical and literary sources, it is indeed a "new creation:" at once traditional and original, a fresh revelation of how the dark confusions in mankind's temporal condition can be transfused though the voice of Christian grace and prophecy from its sorrowful tragedy into the joyous comedy of redemption.—PETER J. STANLIS, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Rockford College


Further comments from an accompanying note:  "delighted with the poem and glad you are publishing it... should be read by Christians of all faiths, as well as non-believers, and it would do much good in dissolving the weaknesses and moral depravities that bring such evil to contemporary society."

 

From Kevin O'Brien

   Then in the prayer of the Virgin Mary
   Appeared the angel Gabriel
   Descending as if from distant ages
   Bearing the promise long awaited
   Now at last fulfilled within her

 

At first glance, though the verse is not rhyming and the meter throughout this book irregular, one wonders why this counts as poetry. It’s because poetry, even when not rhyming or clearly metrical, is at least an attempt to reflect the barely expressible through words that are ordered and structured, this very order and structure reflecting the ordered and structured nature of the poem’s subject. 

In this case, there appears to be nothing hard to understand in these few lines, but think about what Fr. Milward is saying. Read the poem backwards for a moment—fulfilled within Mary is the promise long awaited borne by the angel Gabriel, who appeared in the prayer of the Virgin. It is Mary’s prayer that brings this about, her prayer that preceded her fiat, her yes to God. The poet is telling us that before the offer and the acceptance, before the fulfillment of the promise that became the Incarnation, the field is prepared by prayer, by Mary’s longing for the Lord, by her talking to Him in her heart, by her relationship with Him. What does this tell us about the importance of prayer? Does God simply work automatically without us and without our calling out to Him, our yearning for Him, our desire to unite with Him in our deepest and most silent places?

 

So these few words “Then in the prayer of the Virgin Mary” imply what it just took me a paragraph to spell out.  This is part of what poetry does.

And now look at a more difficult poem, and a tremendous one.   This is from “The Proclamation of the Kingdom” by Pavel Chichikov in Mysteries and Stations in the Manner of Ignatius.

To see the ripple in Siloam’s pool,
The wheat that grows, the harvest and the yield
Is to be shown the passing of the soul:
Here we are, we die, the tomb is sealed

But as the flowered galaxies decay,
The stone of death itself is rolled away,
And as the ripples of Siloam die
Scales of blindness tumble from the eye

And as the wheat is sickled from the stalk,
The leper’s cured, the crippled beggars walk,
And as the servant stands from his sickbed,
Wine is Christ, infinity is bread.

Siloam’s pool is the pool in which Christ instructed the blind man to wash so that he would be cured. Chichikov shows us the ripples in this pool, the passing waves that pass and die away in the same way that wheat grows and is harvested by the sickle, itself an image of death.  And even the very “flowered galaxies” decay—and in these images we see the passing away of our very souls—“Here we are, we die, the tomb is sealed”.

But “the stone of death itself is rolled away” and even in the passing of the ripples of the waters of Siloam, “scales of blindness tumble from the eye”—an image that encompasses not only all of the miraculous cures of blindness by Jesus, but also the cure of St. Paul, at whose conversion and healing scales fell from his eyes.  And even as the wheat dies (and is “sickled”, a marvelous word), the lepers are cured and the crippled are walking.  And yet we are not left with images of healing and rebirth only, for the image of the “sickled” and sacrificed wheat is carried through to the last line, where “wine is Christ, infinity is bread.

Notice how the poet weaves the images of death and despair into the images of life and health and resurrection—how at the end even death itself is transformed as Christ—who is infinity—becomes bread (the Eucharist), the fruit of His death and that which sustains us.

Now in pointing out to all of you poetry-haters and anti-intellectuals the merits of these verses, I am missing much of the point. For the meaning of any good poem, the revelations that come from meditating on any good poem, can not in all fairness be separated from the way the poem is expressed, from the words and meter. The beauty of Chichikov’s poem is not simply the beauty of its sentiments or its philosophy. Its beauty can not be severed (or you might say “sickled”) from the words and phrases that the poet so carefully chooses, and guided by the muse, arranges. The spirit of the poem and the stuff of a poem go together

The same can be said for people. We are composite creatures, souls enfleshed. We are walking poems. And in learning to understand poems, we can learn to understand much more than the poems themselves.—KEVIN O'BRIEN, Theater of the Word Incorporated

 

Copyright 2008, Gilbert Magazine. Used with permission.  A Sudden Certainty by Dwight Longenecker, A Poem of the New Creation  by Peter Milward, and Mysteries and Stations in the Manner of Ignatius by Pavel Chichikov—as well as Divining Divinity by Joseph Pearce—are published by Kaufmann Publishing, www.kaufmannpublishing.com.  Kevin O’Brien is an actor and writer who performs across the country with his troupe Theater of the Word Incorporated (www.thewordinc.org) and played—of all things—The Poet in EWTN’s production of G. K. Chesterton’s play The Surprise.

 

From Eleanor Nicholson

In his Preface to A Poem of the New Creation, Father Milward avers that the “proper response to the new creation of Christ must itself be creative, that is, poetic in the deepest sense of the word.” This statement could be taken as an effective treatment of all three volumes of poetry, which are firmly based in the faith-filled understanding of the poets themselves, but has special resonance in the case of Father Milward. He works to capture the entirety of salvation history in terms of six movements: Formation (creation), Deformation (man’s encounter with sin), Reformation (the Incarnation), Information (the public ministry of Christ), Conformation (the crucifixion of Christ), and Transformation (the Resurrection). The scope is profoundly supernatural, and yet the scene is deeply, compellingly human. Father Milward’s is not a poetic voice highly strung or demonstrable of angst, but nor is his appreciation shallow or unemotional. He demonstrates throughout a sense of poetry as an expression of man in his deepest interiority, and simultaneously the realization that true art must be the fruit of contemplation, that intimate encounter with the Divine Reality that is possible only in the soul capable of leisure and reflection.ELEANOR BOURG NICHOLSON, assistant editor for the StAR and for Dappled Things, is a freelance writer based out of Charlottesville, VA.

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