A Poem by Sir Geoffrey Hill In Memory of Andrew Parker – Priest and Poet

English poet Sir Geoffrey Hill in 2009.

7 Lachrimae Amantis (Tears of the Lover)

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew
seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.
So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered “your lord is coming, he is close”
that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
“tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.”

Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016) from Lachrimae in Broken Hierarchies Poems 1952-2012, Oxford University Press, 2014

Before he died on December 18th my friend Andy Parker had put together a list of poems he wanted to memorize. But he already had a few he had put to memory and loved to share. This sonnet from Geoffrey Hill’s sonnet sequence Lachrimae was one he knew by heart. So I share this poem in memory and honour of Andy – Priest and poet.

Sir Geoffrey Hill, thought to be one of the great English poets of his generation, was a deeply religious and spiritual poet. So it’s not surprising Andy cherished this poem and its Christian context considering that Andy was an Episcopalian priest!

For me the significance of the poem , regardless of one’s religious beliefs, is its context, set as it is in this Solstice/Christmas season. A time of deep dark but also a time when we know the light is coming back. Solstice. And a time in the Christian story when Christ, the light of the world, is born. Christmas.

As I write these words Andy’s funeral is on going at Palmer Memorial Episcopalian Church in Houston. Andy’s church , Emmanuel Episcopalian, where he was the rector was not available because of the flood damage it suffered during hurricane Harvey. And the synagogue where its services were being held was too small. And under these circumstances it seems so appropriate that his funeral is at Palmer where his wife Liz Welch Parker is the Associate Rector.

As I sit here on the Canadian west coast I feel the darkness not only of this season but of Andy’s death at 61. It is hard to be hopeful during such dark moments. But then I look up and see a bouquet of flowers my dearheart Somae had placed on the floor next to where I am writing. Deep purple flowers on one side and bright yellow roses on the other. Dark and light. Despair and hope.

The dark, too, in Hill’s poem for those of us with a belief in the divine. The dark of a half-faithful commitment. The refusal to embrace totally what makes us fully alive. But also the light of a love that will not let us go. That pursues us.

And regardless of one’s religious beliefs or even belief in a divine presence in one’s life I so appreciate the wake up call in this poem! What is calling us to our fullest expression of our lives? Are we answering it? So whether or not it is Christmas or the Solstice that calls to us during this season what is the light we need to be seeking, we need to welcome, not tomorrow but today?

I know for Andy this poem was a wake up call for him to live his life fully in the light of what he believed in so deeply; a belief he shared so devotedly with his parishioners, family and friends. And I know one of the ways he lived his life so fully was through devotional poetry. Like Hill’s Lachrimae Amantis. And it was because of this we met about ten ears ago. And it because of this I came down to Texas for almost ten years to lead poetry-as-prayer retreats organized by Andy. I am grateful to what called me and Andy together. And I am grateful to poetry and the poems that join me to Andy even now when he is gone.

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