Cowper’s “Truth”

400b243d3301f6278b47302bf954df6cI love the poetry of William Cowper (d. 1800). He struggled with doubt, dealt with bouts of depression, and was even institutionalized (in the pictured asylum of St. Alban’s). His poetry is honest, insightful, and full of desire and longing for God. But he can be confrontational and prophetic as well. I’ve shared his poem about his mother. Here I’d like to share portions of his poem “Truth,” a lengthy but wonderful meditation that I come back to now and then. Portions memorized years ago remain clear in my mind today. Here are the opening and closing stanzas. Enjoy!

Man, on the dubious waves of error toss’d,
His ship half founder’d, and his compass lost,
Sees, far as human optics may command,
A sleeping fog, and fancies it dry land;
Spreads all his canvas, every sinew plies;
Pants for it, aims at it, enters it, and dies!
Then farewell all self-satisfying schemes,
His well-built systems, philosophic dreams;
Deceitful views of future bliss, farewell!
He reads his sentence at the flames of hell.
Hard lot of man—to toil for the reward
Of virtue, and yet lose it! Wherefore hard?—
He that would win the race must guide his horse
Obedient to the customs of the course;
Else, though unequall’d to the goal he flies,
A meaner than himself shall gain the prize.
Grace leads the right way: if you choose the wrong,
Take it and perish; but restrain your tongue;
Charge not, with light sufficient and left free,
Your willful suicide on God’s decree.


Hark! Universal nature shook and groan’d,
‘Twas the last trumpet—see the Judge enthroned:
Rouse all your courage at your utmost need,
Now summon every virtue, stand and plead.
What! Silent? Is your boasting heard no more?
That self-renouncing wisdom, learn’d before,
Had shed immortal glories on your brow,
That all your virtues cannot purchase now.
All joy to the believer! He can speak—
Trembling yet happy, confident yet meek.
Since the dear hour that brought me to thy foot,
And cut up all my follies by the root,
I never trusted in an arm but thine,
Nor hoped, but in thy righteousness divine:
My prayers and alms, imperfect and defiled,
Were but the feeble efforts of a child;
Howe’er perform’d, it was their brightest part,
That they proceeded from a grateful heart:
Cleansed in thine own all-purifying blood,
Forgive their evil and accept their good:
I cast them at thy feet—my only plea
Is what it was, dependence upon thee:
While struggling in the vale of tears below,
That never fail’d, nor shall it fail me now.

Angelic gratulations rend the skies,
Pride fall unpitied, never more to rise,
Humility is crown’d, and Faith receives the prize.

To my right and to my left


I’m walkin’ in the parking lot and I got my hood up.
Feelin’ like a lottery winner, got that good luck;
Smiling as I stroll, a King in the Pride Lands,
But then I catch some side-eye contact in a wide glance.
The lady looked at me, then she locked all her doors;
Nervous smile, passing me with fear comin’ out her pores.
Maybe it’s the good, maybe it’s the melanin,
Passing me, still rubber-neckin’ like a pelican.
Stuff like that use to tend to enrage me,
But now they have my pity, afraid to engage me,
Trapped by unchecked notions they proceed to preconceive,
Unaware of the lies they proceed to believe.
So I bless the poor woman under my breath
And people who may be like her, to my right and my left.
Why? Because I see Jesus in their faces,
Seeing God in each puts all things in their places.

(Dwayne Polk)

Off the Richter


It’s a party bumpin’,
Chris Brown, no invitations,
Lyrics thumpin’ to the chest,
Give your heart some palpitations,
Flowin’ like libations,
Growin’ in my patience,
Knowing’ indications
of Divine Self-Revelations.
Whew! Feelin’ like the days of Noah,
But I got the Tiger’s Eye like I’m Rocky Balboa.
Boa. Constrictor. Holy Covictor.
Shakin’ the world with a force off the Richter.

(Dwayne Polk)

O Magnum Mysterium

I’ve been falling to sleep each night this past week with Morten Lauriden’s rendition of “O Magnum Mysterium” playing on my laptop. So beautiful.

There are several amazing online versions you’ll want to catch. Start with the King’s College Cambridge 2009 Choir (search it on Youtube) and be transported. I’ve included here a clever multi-track version because the Latin pronunciation is clear and I’m trying to commit it to memory. You’ll complete it by minute 3:19. It repeats after that.

Latin text (adjusted to match the lyrical rendition of the song)
O magnum mysterium (2x)
Sacramentum et admirabile, et admirabile sacramentum
O magnum mysterium, O magnum mysterium
Viderent Dominum ut animalia, viderent Dominum natum
jacentem in praesepio
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera me ruerunt
Beata Virgo, portare Dominum Christum

English translation
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament
O great mystery
that animals should see the new-born Lord
lying in a manger
Blessed Virgin whose womb was worthy,
Blessed Virgin, worthy to bear our Lord Christ.

“And death shall be no more” – comma

I’m ending 2016 with another viewing (’ve stopped counting how many) of one of my favorite films, favorite because of its sobering and ultimately simplifying effect, Margaret Edson’s play “Wit” produced and acted by Emma Thompson (2001). The film is built around Donne’s Holy Sonnet X (incorrectly referred to as Holy Sonnet VI in the movie, I’m sorry to say). It is a morbid film in all the  because it’s sobering and simplifying the way the Void is sobering and simplifying when faced honestly. The right questions about death are always about questions about life.

Holy Sonnet X
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppie, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.

Christ El Dorado


Got more love in my heart than Lucy had for Ricardo,
My heart goes astray, He stops me cold like an embargo,
I am the Masked Monk, theological desperado,
Searchin’ till I found the Hidden Treasure, El Dorado.

Never gold, I’m ever bold, his story’s been told,
Never sold, staying cold, for the young and the old,
Preacher like a creature with the Word in his mouth, and his
Feature as teacher will remove any doubt—that the

Logos is reality, like death and taxes
People claim to know the Savior, but they don’t follow his praxis
So they wobble in the Faith, unstable axis
Using power instead of love, using unstable tactics.

It’s time to repent, come back to reality,
Transcend the animality, annihilate brutality;
Awaken. I am you and you are me, we are all one.
Unity in Zero, made relevant by the Holy One.

(Dwayne Polk)