Religious themes

Following on from Lessing, there are some brilliant religious poems in various forms. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is an example of Persian poetry translated by Edward FitzGerald and first published in 1859.

Some for the pleasures here below
Others yearn for The Prophet’s Paradise to come;
Ah, take the cash and let the credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum

And much as Wine has played the Infidel
And robbed me of my robe of Honour, well …
I often wonder what the vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell

For some we loved, the loveliest and best
That from His rolling vintage Time has pressed,
Have drunk their glass a round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest

But helpless pieces in the game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days
He hither and thither moves, and checks … and slays
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays

“The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Possibly one of the most popular hymns, particularly at times of loss, is “Abide with me” written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 who was facing his own imminent demise.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

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