For the last couple of years, I have been reading women Christian poets. As my devotional poetry has been so soaked in the work of John Donne and George Herbert, some of this is my curiosity about how women approach the cross, God, beauty, art, and life. Some of this, though, is accidental–a stumble-upon effect that has led me from C.S. Lewis to Ruth Pitter, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Joy Davidman, or from my time at Regent College to Luci Shaw, Flannery O’Connor, and, in an indirect way, L.M. Montgomery. At the intersection of these two worlds–people working theologically in Inklings studies–are a number of poets who have deepened my reading. Among them is Sørina Higgins, a colleague at Signum University, editor of the awarding-winning The Inklings and King Arthur, and a scholar of modernist-era poets.
In a long-ago post called “Free Like Form” I shared a sestina and a villanelle from Sørina Higgins’ Caduceus. As some of Sørina’s poetry is formal, and as it is soaked through with water from the deep wells of our poetic history while remaining entirely within the contemporary moment, Caduceus is a great text for talking about the poetic vocation.
I recently reread this little volume and found myself coming back again and again to the same poem. Using Hebrew, Greek, Medieval, Renaissance, sacramental, mythological, botanical, and anatomical imagery in one short, etymologically rich lyric poem, Sørina leads us to think of creation itself as patterned after the cross. In a poem that captures C.S. Lewis’ idea of the mythohistoric unity—“The message and the messenger in one”—she loops creation, incarnation, cross, and resurrection into a single poetic vision.
In many ways “The Rood of Time” captures in 14 lines what it is taking me 100,000 words to describe, what I take to be the imaginative centre of C.S. Lewis’ spiritual theology. I’m still working on my 100,000 words, but here are Sørina’s 14 lines:
The Rood of Time
Almost at the blink of beresheet,
a tree grew—double-branched, caducous—
whose cruciform foreshadow bruised the subtle beast.
Round self-rolled on a caduceus,
raised by a sort of desert Buonarroti,
Leviathan watched God’s phalanges scribe Logos.
The message came in flesh: no wing-sped heels
but death. The Phoenix lifts its martyred head
again and shouts Afflatu from a Thuja tree.
The Beatific seer beholds the blood
quarter Malacandra with salvation:
the ecstatic Sacrifice held up in flaming red.
The message and the messenger in one:
the Ketuvim, the Koine, and the incarnation (39).
Thanks for this! A fine poem for pondering as Eastertide proceeds.
Such a chance of reading as this, leaves me wondering why I am not regularly reading more poetry…
I wish I was more seasonally in tune! This would have been good a few weeks ago.
I think it’s especially fitting right up to the Feast of the Ascension (30 May in the ‘Western’ reckoning, 6 June in the ‘Eastern’ reckoning)!
Wikipedia tells me “it could be from Bethany that he parted from his disciples at the Ascension”, and notes that “The root meaning and origin of the name Bethany has been the subject of much scholarship and debate”, with “the meaning ‘house of dates’ […] attributed to Joseph Barber Lightfoot” (‘Bethany’). And Pliny the Elder notes in his Natural History, Book 13, chapter 9 (written around 77-79 A.D.) that the name ‘Phoenix’ could designate both the Bird and the Palm Tree (I suppose, including the Date Palm)!
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