"The Poetry of Spring"
THE POETRY OF SPRING
10My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. 14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.… 16My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies. 17Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains.
(Song of Solomon 2:10-14, 16-17, NRSV)
Today is Earth Day. Earlier this week I planned to focus on the work of early environmentalist, Rachel Carson, and her groundbreaking 1962 book, Silent Spring. When I sat down to write that sermon yesterday, I couldn’t get any traction. I decided rather than writing about the crisis of global warming and climate change that instead I wanted to focus on the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. Today we will remember all that is beautiful and awe-inspiring throughout our earthly home.
Spring has been a long time coming this year and I’m not entirely convinced it’s here to stay, at least until June. One week ago we were having not Indian Summer, but Indian Winter with low temperatures in the 30’s, and that’s Fahrenheit not Celsius! For that reason, I put a portion of this Henry Van Dyke quote on our church’s outdoor signs: “The first day of spring is one thing and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” Sad but true.
This morning we are going to focus on spring, which is one reason why we are displaying Linda Collins’ painting, “The Barn in Spring” on the altar. If you look closely after the service, you will see that there is still snow on the ground, but it is melting and some of the trees are greening in the background.
We are going to try something a little different this morning. Instead of prose, most of today’s service will be poetry because sometimes poetry paints a better picture of earth’s magnificence and splendor than mere prose. Some of the poems may be familiar to you, others might be new. My apologies to anyone who came today for a sermon instead of a poetry reading. You’ll get your sermon next week!
Today we will lift our voices to heaven to praise God through hymn # 259, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Please take a moment to find hymn # 259 in the red hymnals. Here’s how it’s going to go, I’m going to read some poetry about spring and after each reading, we will sing one verse of “For the Beauty of the Earth” until at the end we will have sung the whole hymn.
I’ll start by reading excerpts from a poem that was new to me, entitled “The Late Wisconsin Spring” by contemporary Midwestern poet and philosophy professor, John Koethe.
Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,
People start to circulate again in twos and threes...
Spring here is at first so wary,
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight
Of another city, in a past which has almost faded into heaven.
Now let us sing together verse 1:
For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies, Lord of all, to You we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.
Our next poem was written by 19th century English poet and professor, A.E. Housman, and is entitled, “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now” (1896).
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now Is hung with bloom along the bough, And stands about the woodland ride Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten, Twenty will not come again, And take from seventy springs a score, It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom Fifty springs are little room, About the woodlands I will go To see the cherry hung with snow.
And now verse 2:
For the beauty of each hour Of the day and of the night, Hill and vale, and tree and flower, Sun and moon and stars of light, Lord of all, to You we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.
Our next poem is entitled “Spring,” and was written by Christina Rossetti, another 19th century English poet. Rossetti is best known for the Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Here are her thoughts on spring.
Frost-locked all the winter, Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits, What shall make their sap ascend That they may put forth shoots? Tips of tender green, Leaf, or blade, or sheath; Telling of the hidden life That breaks forth underneath, Life nursed in its grave by Death.
Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly, Drips the soaking rain, By fits looks down the waking sun: Young grass springs on the plain; Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees; Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits, Swollen with sap put forth their shoots; Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane; Birds sing and pair again.
There is no time like spring, When life’s alive in everything…
And now verse 3:
For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight,
Lord of all, to You we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.
This next poem was written by perennial favorite, Robert Frost, and is entitled “A Prayer in Spring.”
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year. Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in midair stands still. For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil.
And now verse 4:
For the joy of human love, Brother, sister, parent, child, Friends on earth, and friends above, For all gentle thoughts and mild Lord of all, to You we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.
Our next poem was written by Camille Dungy, a contemporary African American poet and English professor in Colorado. Her poem has a great name: “What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison.” She writes:
Only now, in spring, can the place be named:
tulip poplar, daffodil, crab apple,
dogwood, budding pink-green, white-green, yellow
on my knowing. All winter I was lost.
Fall, I found myself here, with no texture
my fingers know. Then, worse, the white longing
that downed us deep three months. No flower heat.
That was winter. But now, in spring, the buds
flock our trees. Ten million exquisite buds,
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,
dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.
The song is drink, is color. Come. Now. Taste...
Daffodils are up, my God! What beauty
concerted down on us last night. And if
I sleep again, I’ll wake to a louder
blossoming, the symphony smashing down
hothouse walls, and into the world: music.
Something like the birds’ return, each morning’s
crescendo rising toward its brightest pitch,
colors unfurling, petals alluring.
The song, the color, the rising ecstasy
of spring. My God. This beauty. This, this
is what I’ve hoped for. All my life is here
in the unnamed core—dogwood, daffodil,
tulip poplar, crab apple, crepe myrtle—
only now, in spring, can the place be named.
And now let’s sing verse 5:
For your church which evermore Lifts its holy hands above, Offering up on every shore Its pure sacrifice of love, Lord of all, to You we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.
Our last piece comes from today’s scripture lesson in Song of Solomon, also called Song of Songs. In your order of worship, the text is in paragraph form so as to make it fit. However, in the Bible, it is laid out in verse form. According to one source, “The Song of Songs is unique within the Hebrew Bible: it shows no interest in Law or Covenant or Yahweh the God of Israel, nor does it teach or explore Wisdom like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes…instead, it celebrates [romantic] love, giving the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other…The two are in harmony, each desiring the other and rejoicing in [romantic] intimacy; the women of Jerusalem form a chorus to the lovers, functioning as an audience whose participation in the lovers’ [romantic] encounters facilitates the participation of the reader” (https://en.wikipedia. org /wiki/Song_of_Songs).
Which brings us to our last poem from today’s scripture lesson in Song of Solomon (2:10-14, 16-17 NRSV):
10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. 14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely…. 16 My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies. 17 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains.
And now let’s join our voices in verse 6:
For Yourself, best gift divine! To this world so freely given, Word incarnate, God’s design, Peace on earth and joy in heav’n, Lord of all, to You we raise This our hymn of grateful praise. Amen.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
April 22, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
“The Year’s at the Spring”
Robert Browning writes:
The year’s at the spring, And day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; The hill-side’s dew-pearled; The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in his Heaven— All’s right with the world! Amen.
God, our Creator, as we reflect on the mystery of our fragile planet, we celebrate the wonders of Earth as our home. Make our spirits sensitive to the cries of creation, cries for justice from the land, the seas and the skies. Make our faith sensitive to the groans of the Spirit in creation, groans of longing for a new creation. Make our hearts sensitive to the songs of our fellow creatures, songs from the sea, the forest and the air. Help us preserve the gift of Earth for all of the generations yet to be.
Through the creative and creating Spirit of God we pray. AMEN.
Adapted from http://seasonofcreation.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2010/04 / liturgy-planet-earth-sunday-1.pdf