Wednesday, January 16, 2008


In her is Eden's ashen grove restored
Unto the likeness of its lost increase;
Its fateful fruit changed for the Golden Apple
Enfolded in her hands' Hesperides.

-Thomas Banks-


Jeff Moss said...

The Gerard Manley Hopkins poem I was trying to remember yesterday, with the line "shining from shook foil," is "God's Grandeur".

The line "Christ plays in ten thousand places" is from this one.

But I think my favorite Hopkins poem (that I'm aware of) is probably also the first I ever heard, "Pied Beauty".

Jeff Moss said...

And in your poem, the correct spelling is "Hesperides."

Thomas Banks said...

Thanks, Jeff. If you want to read some Hopkins that's really jagged, check out "The Wreck of the Deutchland."

Jeff Moss said...

Tom, thanks for the recommendation. This is the sort of poem I'll have to read many times to reach an understanding.

I thought stanza 12 was amazing, then I came across the weather in stanza 13:

"For the infinite air is unkind,
And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,
Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;
Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivell├Ęd snow
Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps."

And this in 15:
"Hope had grown grey hairs,
Hope had mourning on,
Trenched with tears, carved with cares,
Hope was twelve hours gone;"

I'm almost certain that you've read Thomas Hardy's "Lines on the Loss of the 'Titanic.'" How would you compare the two poems--in terms of theme, mood, structure?...

Thomas Banks said...

Jeff- a good pare to weigh together- but I think doing so would require a post of some length; I'll try to come up with something, but it may take a bit.

Cheers, and thanks for all the thoughts.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

I'm really curious, who's the subject of this post. To me it sounds like praise of Mary, but somehow, I doubt that's what you're up to. But in Mary Eden's ashen grove is restored, we once again have the Tree of Life, and all the fruits of Paradise, for these are Christ, and He lies in her. And in Christ, in Christ lying in Mary's hands, the Adam's fruit is changed into the fruit of the Tree of Life.

So...what's up with this post? Did you mean it to be about Mary, or is that just me?

Thomas Banks said...


Good observations, but you're right, that wasn't what I was up to. Like you, I think that most protestants could do with a more holistic view of Mary's role in scripture, both literal and metaphorical; a tricky business, to be sure, and one that involves a lot of false starts.

To return to the poem, a passage that provided me with a bit of spark was "Come, Peter, take and eat." The rest is a combination of word-picture and a guilding of the Sacred (Eden) and the profane (Hesperides) in each other's mutual shades under the impression that the above scripture applies to all sensory delights and by it is Hesperides made pure, and so the Woman, and so the Man, if he should choose to receive the Golden Apple; in other words, no unclean image yet remains that has not been made thus by unclean motives.

Jeff Moss said...


(Some thoughts that aren't entirely at home here on Tom's blog, but seemed to fit the direction the discussion was going...)

I've been thinking about your recent writings on the Mother of God and trying to figure out how much you're right, how much you're wrong, and how much my instinctive reaction against some of what you write is due to vestigial hyper-Protestant hang-ups.

On Mary's eternally remaining a virgin, I would disagree based on my reading of Matthew 1:24-25 and Mark 6:3. But I know that the Second Helvetic Confession describes her as "ever virgin," so I can't even call that an un-Reformed position to hold.

On the other hand, I think some of your descriptions of Mary are subject to a kind of dead timelessness, as if the months of Jesus' gestation in Mary's womb were frozen in time forever. You wrote, "But in Mary Eden's ashen grove is restored, we once again have the Tree of Life, and all the fruits of Paradise, for these are Christ, and He lies in her." I would say rather, He lay within her during a glorious year predetermined by God's will, but that year passed more than 2000 years ago and He was born and grew to adult manhood. It would be truer now to say that Mary is within Christ, than that He lies within her.

And again, "in Christ lying in Mary's hands, the Adam's fruit is changed into the fruit of the Tree of Life." That was true when it happened, but who lies in whose hands now? Who supports whom? Of course, Mary is the one who sings, "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and this is a favorite proof-text for Protestants who argue that if God was Mary's Savior, then she wasn't sinless, she needed saving. She would be lost without the salvation that Jesus gives, just as any one of us would be.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Regarding the tense:

I think I agree that literally that the past tense is better, but poetically the present is better. It's like in the Christmas carol when we say "What Child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping" not "was sleeping."

But I do think there is (now) something of a timelessness in Mary's relation to Christ. First, the present tense (in for instance What Child is This) captures something that a mere past misses.

But more importantly, we confess that God will do more than we could ever ask or hope. But Mary has progressively moved from union with Christ. And so I think that part of what will be restored (or has been restored) is what Mary gave to Christ that he would live and save all.

That may not be entirely clear: Mary did not hoard Christ, did not hoard the four cell Christ to herself, but gave him her blood, and made him grow, and grow more independent of her. And Mary did not hoard the ready-to-beo-born Christ, but gave Him to you and I. And Mary did not hoard the infant Christ, but nursed Him, and raised Him up into man.

At each step she gives herself to Christ, and gives Christ to you and I. At each step she is, in faith in Christ, perparing Him to leave his Mother. Raising Christ is, for Mary, a series of small Crosses, of small swords piercing her heart.

But from her crosses, there must be a resurrection. And the resurrection must restore what she had, and add to it, making it even more glorious.

But if she is now wholly dependent on Christ, and not He on her, she has lost, she has born her cross, but has not been resurrected.

And so, I think, we must say that part of the Resurrection, or of Pentecost, or of Trinity, is that Christ, now grown and ascended, comes and lays down in the lap of His mother, restoring all she freely gave Him that He might save us.

And I think if we remember that Jesus is a man, we can begin to see that He would want this too. They say that wounded soldiers call out for their mother. So, it would seem, Christ on the Cross would have longed for his mother's comforting arms--He certianly had her on His mind, and even on the Cross provided for her protection. And in glory, when His every desire is realized, his desire to fully return to His mother, and again repose in Her must be satisfied.

I do not mean this to exalt Mary to the exclusion of her children, you and I. But like any good mother, she lets herself be eclipsed, and gives all to her children, to you and to I. As she prompted Jesus to begin his ministry, so she prompts Jesus to be as united to you and I as He is to her. (And of course He is completely willing, but just as He came down from Heaven willing, but also because His Father wants it, so He comes down to you and I not only because He wants it, but because His Mother wants it. (This sounds odd, but remember, whenever he answers a prayer from you or I that he save our friend, he is doing essentially the same thing.))

"Who are my mother and brothers? My mother and brothers are they who keep my commands."

This is not said in denegration of Mary, but in exaltation of you and I.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

One of the better arguments for Mary's perpetual virginity is that Jesus, the first born, had an obligation to protect her, and give her to another if he were unable to protect her. And obligation he fulfills on the Cross when he gives her away to St. John.

But had he had younger siblings, he would not have had that obligation, it would have naturally fallen on them.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

"Christ has a pure, innocent, and holy birth. Man has an unclean, sinful, condemned birth; as David says, Ps. 51.5, "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Nothing can help this unholy birth except the pure birth of Christ. But Christ's birth cannot be distributed in a material sense neither would that avail any thing; it is therefore imaprted Spiritually, through the Word, as the angel says, it is given to all who firmly believe so that no harm will come to them because of their impure birth. This is the way and manner in which we are to be cleansed from the miserable birth we have from Adam. For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through Him we might be born again, as He said John 3:3, that it takes place through faith; as also St. James says in 1, 18: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."

"We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his, that in it we might become pure and holy, as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ's birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary as was Christ. Whoever does not believe this, or doubts, is no Christian.

"O, this is the great joy of which the angel speaks. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, he can boast of the treasture tha Mary is his rightful mother, Christ his brother, and God his father. For these things actually occured and are true, but we must believe. this is the principal thing and the principal treasure in every Gospel, before any doctrine of good works can be taken out of it. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his, before we can do good works.

"But this can not occur except through the faith that teaches us rightly to understand the Gospel and properly to lay hold of it. This is the only way in which Christ can be rightly known so that the conscience is satisfied and made to rejoice. Out of this grow love and praise to God who in Christ has bestowed upon us such unspeakable gifts. This gives courage to do or leave undone, and living or dying, to suffer every thing that is well pleasing to God. This is what is meant by Isaiah 0"6 "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." to us, to us, to us is born, and to us is given this child.

"Therefore see to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel only as a history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you. This will be the case if you believe, then you will repose in the lap of the virgin Mary and be her dear child. but you must exercise this faith and pray while you live, you cannot establish it too firmly. This is our foundation and inheritance, upon which good works must be built."

--Martin Luther "Sermon for Christmas Day" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther ed. Baker volume 1 p. 143 ff.