Poetry as Prayer: Edwin Markham
WELCOME TO TODAY'S WORSHIP SERVICE BY THE SWEDENBORGIAN ON-LINE COMMUNITY
August 8, 2010
POETRY AS PRAYER:
Light a candle
Down in the River to Pray
FROM THE BIBLE
The Fig Tree Withers
18Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.
21Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
Arcana Coelestia (Potts) n. 885
sRef Ezek@47 @12 S0' sRef Ezek@17 @9 S0' sRef Gen@8 @11 S0' 885. That a "leaf" signifies truth, is evident from many passages in the Word where man is compared to a tree, or is called a tree, and where "fruits" signify the good of charity, and a "leaf" the truth therefrom (which indeed they are like); as in Ezekiel:
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, there cometh up every tree for food, whose leaf doth not fall, neither is the fruit consumed, it is reborn every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for medicine (Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:2).
Here "tree" denotes the man of the church in whom is the kingdom of the Lord; its "fruit" the good of love and of charity; its "leaf" the truths therefrom, which serve for the instruction of the human race and for their regeneration, for which reason the leaf is said to be for "medicine."
Edwin Markham was born in Oregon City, Oregon, as the youngest of 10 children. His parents separated several years later, and in and he and his mother moved to central California where he lived on a farm.
He studied literature and then attended San Jose Normal school, and taught for several years and then became superintendent of the county schools.
Markham began writing poetry around 1872, and he sold a poem by 1880. He wrote poetry for Harper's, Century, and Scribner's.ted at the end of 1898, "The Man with the Hoe." The poem was based on the 1862 painting by Jean-Francois Millet. Markham read the poem at a New Years' Eve party, and it was published by the San Francisco Examiner.
"The Man with the Hoe" received a great deal of publicity. It supported the labor movement and working conditions, and started Markham’s reputation as a social reformer and champion of the working class. He became a popular speaker at labor meetings.
In 1922 Markham, read his poem "Lincoln, the Man of the People" at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. On his 80th birthday in 1932, he was honored at Carnegie Hall by Pres. Hoover as one of the most important poets of his time.
THE MAN WITH THE HOE
The Man with the Hoe
by Edwin Markham
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?
Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this --
More tongued with censure of the world's blind greed --
More filled with signs and portents for the soul --
More fraught with menace to the universe.
What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Judges of the World,
A protest that is also prophecy.
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake the world?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings --
With those who shaped him to the thing he is --
When this dumb Terror shall reply to God,
After the silence of the centuries?
A reading of the poem:
MARKHAM'S BELIEFS & SWEDENBORGIANISM
Markham was raised Methodist. He came to know Thomas Lake Harris around 1876, and may have learned about Swedenborg from him.
[Harris was a Universalist minister who came to know Andrew Jackson Davis, and became involved in Spiritualism, and then became a Christian. He discovered the Swedenborgians, and before long considered himself and his congregation to be Swedenborgian. This view was not shared by the Swedenborgian Church! For more on Harris and David, see Wings & Roots.]
Markham wrote a poem about Swedenborg, and often quoted Swedenborg. He spoke at Swedenborgian Churches, but never officially joined the church.
This is a quotation from New Church Life:
UNITED STATES. The NEW YORK Society has, on a number of occasions, been addressed by the poet, Edwin Markham, who is a professed Newchurchman. In January, Mr. Markham addressed the congregation at the close of the services. After a sketch of his own life, and his study of the Bible; Mr. Markham then told how he had been led to see "that a revelation of truth had been made through "Swedenborg," whom he characterized as "the eye of the eighteenth century," and whose writings he has been studying for forty years. Mr. Markham also addressed members of the Church in BOSTON, Brookline and Cambridge, Mass. He has an original and forceful style.
If Swedenborg had never expressed another idea than his imortal saying, "All religion has relation to life, and the life of religion is to do good," he would have given the world enough to inspire a hundred seers. I never speak his name without emotion. He lifted me out of quagmire of theology; he lifted me up to see the stars. [p. 348]
MARKHAM'S POETRY AS PRAYER
Here are two poems by Markham that are like prayers. Read them as prayer, and see if, to you, they are a form of worship.
A Song to a Tree
Give me the dance of your boughs, O tree,
Whenever the wild wind blows;
And when the wind is gone, give me
Your beautiful repose.
How easily your greatness swings
To meet the changing hours;
I, too, would mount upon your wings,
And rest upon your powers.
I seek your grace, O mighty tree,
And shall seek, many a day,
Till I more worthily shall be
Your comrade on the way.
Teach me, Father, how to go
Softly as the grasses grow;
Hush my soul to meet the shock
Of the wild world as a rock;
But my spirit, propt with power,
Make as simple as a flower.
Let the dry heart fill its cup,
Like a poppy looking up;
Let life lightly wear her crown
Like a poppy looking down,
When its heart is filled with dew,
And its life begins anew.
Teach me, Father, how to be
Kind and patient as a tree.
Joyfully the crickets croon
Under the shady oak at noon;
Beetle, on his mission bent,
Tarries in that cooling tent.
Let me, also, cheer a spot,
Hidden field or garden grot—
Place where passing souls can rest
On the way and be their best.
in honor of Markham's support of the Labor Movement, here are two songs by Woody Guthrie:
Extinguish your candle.
Close the Bible
Go forth, giving God thanks for the trees in our world.
Visit our recently updated web page on Edwin Markham. [Many thanks to Robert Griswold for doing the research and updating for this page.]