Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thinking of Christmas, Compline, and a poem by T.S. Eliot

I stumbled across a lovely poem by T.S. Eliot this morning called “A Song for Simeon” that meditates on the Canticle of Simeon found in Luke 2:29-32. This canticle is prayed at Compline (Night Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours and is also called “Nunc dimittis” after its opening words in the Latin text. It reads as follows:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

Eliot’s poem expresses Simeon’s desperate hope and longing for salvation so poignantly that, as I read, I wished it were Advent already. Then I was struck with the realization that, as of today, Christmas is exactly two months away! The beautiful cool weather we’ve had lately has many of us looking forward to Christmas with anticipation. Ordinary time grows long, and much of our Easter-season fervor has faded.

As Catholics, we are asked to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth with the same reverence, penitence and contemplation we practice during Lent. With great hope, let us look ahead to Advent (which begins on Sunday, December 2) and make Simeon’s prayer our own.

“A Song for Simeon” by T.S. Eliot

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) was an Anglican poet, playwright, and literary critic. He is most famous for his poems “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock ” and “The Waste Land,” as well as his play Murder in the Cathedral about the death of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

1 comment:

laura lynn said...

Danielle Rose has a beautiful meditation on Simeon's canticle, also in Simeon's voice, called "Simeon's Finding."

In it, Rose sings, "I hold him in my arms/ I have my Jesus/ Oh, bless the Lord/ Take my life, for my eyes/ Have seen the Light..."

I've been singing it all day, actually. Thanks for posting the Eliot poem.