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Strangest Strangeness

The Annunciation has been a favorite theme with painters, but it has also inspired a fair amount of poetry. Many poems about the Annunciation are really poems about paintings of the Annunciation. This one, by Edwin Muir, is not obviously about any particular painting, but it suggests that the encounter between Mary and the angel was as still as any representation of it could be. Outside the window, the movement of an ordinary day continues: footsteps fall and "with the sun along the wall / Pursue their unreturning way." Inside, bliss has interrupted time: "Immediacy / Of strangest strangeness is the bliss / That from their limbs all movement takes." One is reminded of W. H. Auden's poem "Musée des Beaux Arts," with its observation that suffering "takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along." Muir's poem suggests that suffering is not unique in this respect: every kind of intense experience, including bliss, takes place amid the heedless routines of daily life.

 

THE ANNUNCIATION

The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.

The eternal spirits in freedom go.
See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other’s face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He’s come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way.
Sound’s perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

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Your reflection reminded me of Stephen Mitchell's poem, "Vermeer": http://www.wisdomportal.com/Peace/StephenMitchell-Peace.html

Mitchell also wrote a poem entitled "The Annunciation" -- but I prefer "Vermeer" with its echoes of Mary's yearning and consent.

I must have read that over and over at least five times very very slowly. Thanks so much. He paints a picture with words deeper than any paintings. The event must have been so deeply interior and personal that it is impossible to capture from the outside.

But he seemed to capture the moment (I think) how it really must have been. All seems normal:

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way.

But the course of human history and human life has changed forever and she is the first human witness to it. Thomas Aquinas held that redemption began with the incarnation and not the crucifixon and resurrection. I agree with that view!

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

I like this one too by Rupert Brooke ...

Mary and Gabriel

Young Mary, loitering once her garden way,
Felt a warm splendour grow in the April day,
As wine that blushes water through. And soon,
Out of the gold air of the afternoon,
One knelt before her: hair he had, or fire,
Bound back above his ears with golden wire,
Baring the eager marble of his face.
Not man's nor woman's was the immortal grace
Rounding the limbs beneath that robe of white,
And lighting the proud eyes with changeless light,
Incurious. Calm as his wings, and fair,
That presence filled the garden.
She stood there,
Saying, "What would you, Sir?"
He told his word,
"Blessed art thou of women!" Half she heard,
Hands folded and face bowed, half long had known,
The message of that clear and holy tone,
That fluttered hot sweet sobs about her heart;
Such serene tidings moved such human smart.
Her breath came quick as little flakes of snow.
Her hands crept up her breast. She did but know
It was not hers. She felt a trembling stir
Within her body, a will too strong for her
That held and filled and mastered all. With eyes
Closed, and a thousand soft short broken sighs,
She gave submission; fearful, meek, and glad. . . .

She wished to speak. Under her breasts she had
Such multitudinous burnings, to and fro,
And throbs not understood; she did not know
If they were hurt or joy for her; but only
That she was grown strange to herself, half lonely,
All wonderful, filled full of pains to come
And thoughts she dare not think, swift thoughts and dumb,
Human, and quaint, her own, yet very far,
Divine, dear, terrible, familiar . . .
Her heart was faint for telling; to relate
Her limbs' sweet treachery, her strange high estate,
Over and over, whispering, half revealing,
Weeping; and so find kindness to her healing.
'Twixt tears and laughter, panic hurrying her,
She raised her eyes to that fair messenger.
He knelt unmoved, immortal; with his eyes
Gazing beyond her, calm to the calm skies;
Radiant, untroubled in his wisdom, kind.
His sheaf of lilies stirred not in the wind.
How should she, pitiful with mortality,
Try the wide peace of that felicity
With ripples of her perplexed shaken heart,
And hints of human ecstasy, human smart,
And whispers of the lonely weight she bore,
And how her womb within was hers no more
And at length hers?
Being tired, she bowed her head;
And said, "So be it!"
The great wings were spread
Showering glory on the fields, and fire.
The whole air, singing, bore him up, and higher,
Unswerving, unreluctant. Soon he shone
A gold speck in the gold skies; then was gone.

The air was colder, and grey. She stood alone.

 

Matthew Boudway:

Thank you.

John P.

The images of the Annuncuation have always been prominent in my own personal religious imagery.

Thank you, matthew, for adding the element of literary poetry to those wonderful images.

I liked this one, by Denise Levertov.  Possibly the formating won't hold up when it's posted.  If that happens, you can see the poem as it's supposed to be at

http://predmore.blogspot.com/2013/04/poem-denise-levertovs-annunciation-...

Annunciation

 

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn,

Greece, VIc

 

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

 

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.

       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.

         God waited.

 

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

                  ____________________
 

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.

More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
 

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

                  ____________________
 

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

 

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,

  only asked

a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

 

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

 

 

This was the moment no one speaks of,

when she could still refuse.

 

A breath unbreathed,

                                Spirit,

                                          suspended,

                                                            waiting.

                  ____________________
 

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

She did not submit with gritted teeth,

                                                       raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,

                                  consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,

the lily glowed in it,

                               and the iridescent wings.

Consent,

              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.