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A Song of Saint Francis

Good friends, I wander vale and hill
The Master’s words upon my lip;
My only thought: to do His will
And sing such Love as makes hearts skip!
Rejecting wealth, prestige and sword —
I only live to serve the Lord!

God’s blessings are for all to hear:
The lark who nestles in the trees
The wolf, the cat, the prancing deer
the placid sheep, the droning bees…
In fields of gold all safely graze
In peace ‘neath Brother Sun’s warm gaze.

The poor I serve with work by day
My tonsure moist from heat of noon;
At night I grateful vespers pray
Beneath the gaze of Sister Moon.
I sing of poverty and grace
Enraptured by the Lord’s embrace.

I sing this song for all to hear
And preach of goodness with each deed.
Friends, lift your hearts and do not fear
For God knows what your faint hearts need.
Give thanks for all creation gives!
Rejoice that our Creator lives!

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Nature’s Silence Sings

The silence of Nature sings grandeur and grief—
Her quietude both a rebuke and a hush;
Her hallows protected from onslaught and rush,
By conjuring shadows from lichen and leaf.
She hides what she loves for she knows of a thief
Who would pilfer her forest and crush and crush,
Diminishing everything, thorn tree to thrush
Destroying much beauty, subverting belief.

But her generous spirit does not deny
The goodness of people who treasure the wold
Who pity poor Nature’s disquieted sigh
And are willing to help with both spirit and gold.
Earth’s silence is rent with a bleak lullaby
Which warms us with love. And which sharp stops us cold.

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The Tyger

Tyger burning in my heart
Would you cleave this world apart?
What deep need for symmetry
Can justify such zealotry?

In what cauldron of the soul
Burns this angry flame of dole?
From what cave, what deep abyss
This urge to turn the world amiss?

Whence your prowling in my mind?
Friends and foes alike maligned?
Loud of roar, sharp of claw,
Daring hate, decrying law?

Fierce of eye, hot of breath,
Why should you judge life and death?
How can I my soul restore
When you are crouching at my door?

Do not pounce. Let anger cease.
Though maddened, I admire peace.
When the grave receives this shell
I would avoid the hate of Hell.

Tyger burning in my heart
Let my anger cleave apart.
Let me answer Heaven’s call—
For He who made the lamb made all.

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Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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16 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Thanks for these three, Mr. Yapko. The “… crush and crush” line jumps out like a moment from a 3-D movie. “Tyger” reminds me of Chesterton’s answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?”: “I am.”

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you very much, Julian. I struggled a little with that “crush and crush” line but I liked the literal way it conveyed the crushing of nature.

      Reply
  2. Tonia Kalouria

    I have already read these twice: They gave me peace … a respite from the spite that is our current world. Just beautiful.
    (And even more so with the restored last line:-)

    Reply
  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I am a huge fan of your poetry, and, of all the saints, St. Francis is my favorite. You have done him every justice. This is the first time I’ve ever offered advice on a poem. My pet peeve is inversion, and for me, the line; “At night I grateful vespers pray” is a distraction to an otherwise perfect poem. Maybe something like, “At night, with grace, I kneel and pray”? – a minor nit-pick that holds no weight in a poem that shines… just a personal viewpoint.

    “Nature’s Silence Sings” – I love the sibilant hush of the title – it speaks to me. Nature is my go-to cure for all of life’s ills and your poem says it so well.

    “The Tyger” excites and engages me. I love Blake and I stole his form to write my “Spyder” poem. I absolutely adore the line; “Loud of roar, sharp of claw” great internal rhyme (in the British sense) and sentiment. Again, the line; “How can I my soul restore” detracts from the natural flow… but, that’s a minor nit-pick in an otherwise perfect poem.

    Thank you for my Friday afternoon smile 🙂

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you, Susan! I’m one of your biggest fans as well so I’m always extremely glad to receive in-put from you! Thank you for the kind words and I understand exactly what you mean about the inversions. I generally don’t like them either, but I truly wasn’t trying to cut corners. Doing it was a risk which I hoped would nevertheless serve the poems. The St. Francis poem is meant to evoke a Medieval setting and so I felt that the inversion provided an archaic quality to the language and flow of the piece. With respect to The Tyger, I tried quite consciously to model William Blake’s rhythms and use of inversion in his original “Tyger” — “… Dare its deadly terrors clasp!” for example. Or the more famous one (referring to God) was “Did he smile his work to see?” I will try to be very sparing of such devices in the future and, again, thank you for your kind words and your always helpful perspective!

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Brian, I have listened to and taken on board everything you’ve said, and now I understand and appreciate exactly what you were trying to achieve. Margaret has given me a huge helping hand along this path to enlightenment. This is exactly why I am uncomfortable with critiquing poetry. A good poet knows the foundations that excellent poetry is built upon, and you are a good poet. My mistake was to look at your poetry through my lens… and my lens focuses in on stuff I believe elevate my own poetry. The beauty of this art and site are our different ways of interpreting literary excellence… and I have had a refreshing insight into exactly what your poetry means, and have thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

        Thank you, Brian and Margaret for setting me straight.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    Brian, I had the privilege of visiting Asissi several years ago and have St. Francis’ cross on the wall above my computer as I type and a small wooden statue of the saint just to my right. I devoured the medieval biography, The Little Flowers, when I was still in high school and I must agree with Susan that your poem is a wonderful and artful distillation of his life and philosophy/theology of the world in which we live. I loved how you managed to get both Brother Sun and Sister Moon into the narrative.

    You have a lovely way of expressing complex meanings in flowing lines such as these, which drew me into your third poem with high expectations that were, as it turned out, not disappointed:

    The silence of Nature sings grandeur and grief—
    Her quietude both a rebuke and a hush;

    So true and beautifully said.

    Also lovely were these lines from the first poem that capture the essence of St. Francis’ understanding of the Gospel:

    I sing this song for all to hear
    And preach of goodness with each deed.
    Friends, lift your hearts and do not fear
    For God knows what your faint hearts need.

    And the closing couplet that celebrates both God’s gift of life and Christ’s victory over death in a way that makes the two otherwise unnecessary exclamation points stand out like a pair of triumphant shouts.

    I savored each poem several times and I appreciated them more each time I revisited them.

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      James, thank you so much! I appreciate your comments and, incidentally, I wish, wish, wish, I could visit Assisi. St. Francis is truly the saint I most resonate with. I’ve never read The Little Flowers so you’ve inspired me to get a copy. And I’m especially pleased that you liked the last couplet of the Song of St. Francis. These “triumphant shouts” were exactly what I was hoping for! Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    “A Song of Saint Francis” is a marvelous tribute imitating the saint’s own famed canticle. The piece depends on the strong iambic stresses, which is one reason I would not change line 15. It is perfect for a simple song or recitative with regular beats. Susan’s suggestion would preserve the meter, but by adding comma breaths, would shift the line toward a plain speech rhythm monologue. It would also take out the word “vespers,” which works here with “tonsure” to provide the medieval touches Brian wants. Inversions are problematic when syntax is complex or the line is enjambed, but here the meaning is clear despite the inversion, which is entirely contained in this single line. And the order that is not regular in English (subject-object-verb) in fact imitates Francis’s own Italian style, which featured Latinisms. Brian differs from Francis in his emphatic ending; Francis ends with “humility.” Yet both poets are focusing on God, using different tones.
    And Brian, you are contributing to a current artistic trend of interest in Francis’s lauda. Eight months ago, Italian actor Bruno di Giovanni released a music video in which he gave a professional recitation of Francis’s poem. Just two months ago, Andrea Bocelli sang his own adaptation, focusing as you do on Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Perhaps you will not mind that I link to di Giovanni’s performance. If I can get this done right, we can hear the original you adapt so well.

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Margaret, thank you very much for the link and for the thoughtful analysis — you understand exactly what I was going for. It was important for me to link the language — even in a modest way — to the Middle Ages, and my use of tonsure and vespers was intended to do exactly that. Thank you, also, for giving me some great insight on Francis and his work! I know I will enjoy watching this video!

      Reply
  6. David Gosselin

    Dear Bryan,

    These are nice pieces, especially the St. Francis and Tyger piece.

    In St. Francis, you give a religious theme a very honest and original treatment. At no time does it sound preachy or just like a reformulation of something found in sacred text, or a theological idea formed into rhyme and meter. You created an original song with a beautiful idea inspired by sacred texts. It’s clear that the music found you and you chose to follow it, just like the Word, or the inspiration from a muse.

    I think the difference between a real poet and someone who writes verses is that one who merely writes verse is simply trying to write well, trying to rhyme, trying to use form, but a poet knows this doesn’t work, the poetry, the music must find them, and at that point it becomes their duty to pursue that musical idea of inspiration to its end. They don’t know where they will end up, but they know how to stay true to that initial inspiration and to follow it through.

    Your Tyger piece also has a very musical and free quality to it. One can tell from your poems that you think for yourself, you are humble, and engaged in an inspired pursuit of truth. All the best poetry comes from that humble journey into the unknown, and I think your poems are a good example of that.

    Good stuff!

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      David, thank you so much for these kind words. I respect your work tremendously, so this praise is very meaningful to me. I try to write about the things that are close to my heart. Then I pray for the right words to convey it. You are so right about not necessarily knowing where it will end, but nevertheless following that original inspiration through to the end. Thank you for your encouragement!

      Reply

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