Wednesday, July 5, 2017

“Gospel Poetry” by Ciaran Thompson

The gospel, in its most simple form, is about death – the death of one man for all humanity. It is also about life – the resurrected life of one man for the eternal life of all humanity. With the theme of death so critical in the story of the gospel, it is not surprising to find a volume of poetry entitled Gospel Poetry that is so much about death.

Poet Ciaran Thompson has done something unusual in poetry, and unusual even in spiritual and Christian poetry. He has included an extended commentary on each poem in the collection. And the collection is comprised of only 14 poems, poems which, he says, he hopes people will find to be encouraging in a time of terrorism, war, and rumors of war.

The subjects of the poems include the creation and the fall; Shakespeare (both the writer himself and Richard III); the Great Fire of London of 1666; a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II written from a time after her death; the equality of death; capitalism (entitled “The Mercantile Locomotive”); a letter to death from a bereaved survivor and a response from Death; betrayal; the power of life over death; and this poem, written about the Battle of the Somme in 1916 during World War I, the battle which began in June of that year and lasted until November.

A Great Silence

A great silence spoke before dawn,
of taunting terror in everyman
as our spears and guns were drawn.

Nervous whispers to each one warns.
Trench ladders clenched with one hand:
a great silence spoke at the dawn.

Then rising up and blazing forth:
colossal flames upon the land,
as our spears and guns were drawn.

The first to fight were doomed to fall.
My voiceless friends strewn ‘cross the span.
A great silence spoke after dawn.

Then, the roll of gunfire’s call
thundered much more than I could stand.
My spear and gun withdrawn.

I look down from rest upon that war,
once fought on lands where poppies adorn.
They silent’ speak of blood each dawn,
where knives and guns we all once drawn.

A scene from the Battle of the Somme, 1916
Of particular note in this poem is the use of repetitive lines and phrases (for what, after all, is war but a seemingly endless series of repetitions?) and the perspective of the soldier who is speaking – it is from the perspective of being in heaven, looking down “from rest upon that war.”

The commentaries on the poems are filled with references to William Wordsworth, Carl Sagan, Samuel Pepys, books in the Bible, St. Paul, and much more. In a sense, these are more than commentaries -- they allow the poet to break free of poetic form and expand (and expound upon) the subject and its implications.

Thompson is the author of The Holy Spirit (2016) but there is precious little additional information available on the poet. (There is a Ciaran Thompson who is an art director on the Doctor Who television series and one who is a player for the Donegal football team in Ireland, but neither appears to be the poet of this volume.)

The poems of Gospel Poetry prompt thinking about the subject that we all have to face but would usually prefer not – the subject of death. But it is thinking about death with hope and not despair, death with expectation and not fear.

Top photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

1 comment:

Michele Morin said...

Thanks for this insightful review. I love the idea of offering poetry and then commentary. Even if I don't reach the same conclusions as the author, I appreciate someone else's insights when I'm reading new poetry.