Sunday, 5 January 2020

NEW YEAR: HONOURS AND SYMBOLS

20 C + M + B 20

The priest takes the chalk and makes these marks above the church door.    It is Epiphany Sunday.  The numbers signify the new year and the initials are those of Casper, Melchior and Balthazar (the traditional names of the three wise men - or the three kings - who followed a star from the East to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new royal child).  Prayers are said for those who pass through the door of the church and the doors of our homes.

This is a Polish custom, but today it was re-enacted in Egwys y Groes Sanctaidd, the parish church of Llannor, on the Lleyn Peninsula.  The door is significant - the symbols represent a prayer that the door will be wide enough to receive all who need love and compassion, but narrow enough to keep out evil.

When Poland was under the control of the USSR, the custom came to be seen as an act of resistance against the Soviet regime.

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The poet, Lorna Goodison, describes another new year custom in her poem 'To Become Green Again and Young':

In Rio de Janeiro  
they go at midnight 
to welcome the new year.

Fresh in white garments
bearing white candles
they assemble by the sea

to toss old year's errors
griefs and mistakes
into the accepting waves.

I was delighted to read recently that Lorna Goodison is to receive the Queen's gold medal for poetry.  A worthy new year honour.

Several of her poems have stayed with me.  'Reporting back to Queen Isabella' is on the beginning of Spanish colonial rule (the afterthought reported in the last line - 'Yes, your majesty, there were some people'). 'The Woman Speaks to the Man Who has Employed Her Son' is chillingly relevant - think of child soldiers., gun crime. The woman reports what her son has told her -

... that he is working
for you, that you value him so much
you give him one whole submachine gun
for him alone.

There is much warmth and compassion in her poems.  'The Domestic Science of Sunday dinner' starts off with instructions about soaking the dried peas overnight but this not just a recipe poem.  Rather it is a family history, and now, when her 85 year old mother is ill in hospital (served 'bland food'), the poet writes:

Over and over I watch for signs

that hearts are softening,
that hard things are breaking open
that in the end it will all come together
like the Sunday dinner rice and peas.
As I pray for your soul's safety, Mother,
as I pray for your blessed release.

In a radio interview* Lorna Goodison spoke of her love of George Herbert's poetry and her admiration of his 'kindness'.  In the same programme Kei Miller described Goodison as 'a poet of love, heart, soul, spirit and light.'  Dzifa Benson has written of her work as being 'rooted in an intimate connection to the land of Jamaica and its people', and, like many great writers, the local provides the springboard for the universal.  Her work is lyrical, generous, thought-provoking.

And in all the photographs I have seen of her she is smiling.


 More about Lorna Goodison at https://www.carcanet.co.uk/np108.shtml

*BBC Radio 3 The Verb on 3 January 2020 rebroadcast a programme on Lorna Goodison and Jorie Graham.

An excellent article written by Dzifa Benson on Lorna Goodison and her work was published in The Poetry Review: 'Never to be extinguished flame: the "many chambered heart" of Lorna Goodison' (vol 107:4 Winter 2017)

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