The name of the absolutely wise man is reserved for him
whose consideration is directed to the end of the universe,
which is also the origin of the universe.
                                                        -- Thomas Aquinas

I.  ADVENT

I come as one who has gathered fire,
who's plucked the dying sparks of day
that linger on in dusty books.
And I have worked at kindling other coals
to wield against the night, which left us
only spectral witness 
that light was once among us.
But each new brand is soon reduced
to ashen waste.  And what has been
is even more obscure than what shall be.

You ask: Was it worth it?
after all the years of painful growth
while trying to put on maturity,
we are still loathe to leave off sighing.
For though the enlightened mind
was offered the word as recompense
when the feeling waned, we could not find
the sought for surety amid the absurd.
And all we have learned or have retained
from experience is too little to justify
a claim to knowledge and too diverse
to imply even our own real presence.
Must I now repent me of the search
and accept my penance among the dying?

 

II.  EPIPHANY

Though now is a time when time is not,
a point in space that exists complete
without relation to a past or future,
for us it is just a name for the apogee
that marks the end of our wearing climb
and starts our  futile descent into the flame.
Our yesterdays are not yet dead
nor our tomorrows still unborn.
But I have said; and in saying
the cycle comes full round.
And we have worn a momentary respite
between the solstice and the end,
just enough time to change the calendar
and pretend we do not recognize
a repetition of the same.

Come silently.  Approach with fear
a thing you do not know.  Present
the tenth, you know not why.
And steal away in hope you have 
appeased for now the dark that presses in.

Above the sounds of night-storm
the shuffling feet upon the stair
might be only those of Father
bringing candles from the kitchen.
But then again, we fear the coming
of one who brings no light.

 

III.  THE PASCH

The word dies---not from neglect
but rather from its over-popularity.
Majestic terms in vogue pass quickly though
our minds and leave us nothing more
than incense traces in their wake.
But who the thurifer or where his way
they do not tell, nor can we seem to follow.
Thus, we are no longer held to the vision---
so blurred by memory's imprecision---when
around us others sights appear so clear.

Truth, you might say, changes form because
we are not enough awake to past or present;
while so much of what we call progress
is only one step sideways to avoid
the form past truth imposes.
When the word is viewed as only flesh,
we feel no pangs in crying: Crucify!
But then, I'd say, we are not the first
to kill the given Son in our zeal
to proclaim the advent of Messiah.

There is no hope without remembrance,
no basis for receiving apart from
that already given.  Having once refused
the gift, can we not return to find
it lying still within the crib?
Having let the fire be scattered,
must we sit here in the unwarmed dark?

As the rising descant of a child's laughter
breaks in on our reverent propriety
to show us the prayer within the Orders,
so present impiety makes me remember
the claim that the given has placed upon time.
And though time has left us only an ember
of the fire that caught up other warders,
we may yet---in turning toward a second birth---
find the flame that consumed the earth
still burning in the ashes of December.

                                                                         -- Mahlon H Smith

 

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* Author's note: This is a re-edited version of a piece
that was first published in ,
 the magazine of the Methodist Student Movement,
volume 23/3 (December 1962) pp. 2-3.

The title of this poem invokes a  name 
that western Christians traditionally assign
to one of the magi in Matthew 2.
It is used here to counter
popular images of a regal gift-bearer  
created by Renaissance artists like Benozzo Gozzoli
or the patient seeker Lew Wallace portrayed in Ben Hur
with the voice of a jaded sage
whose lifelong quest takes an unanticipated turn.


Collected Poems
of
Mahlon H Smith

copyright 2005
all rights reserved