Monday, January 23, 2012

"Come After Me": Poems in Response

"Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men."--Mk 1:17

This command of the Lord was heard yesterday (though in the New American Bible translation, not the Douay-Rheims) during the Gospel reading at Mass.  Though it was addressed to Simon (Peter) and Andrew, it is in some sense addressed to all of us: we are all called to follow the Lord.  While some (that is, religious and consecrated virgins) answer this call by "[following] the Lamb whithersoever He goeth", the rest of us are called to follow Him "not whithersoever He shall have gone, but so far as ever [we] shall have been able" (Rev 14:4; St. Augustine, On Holy Virginity 28).

In response to this call to be followers, we are to draw close to Christ, so close that to be apart from Him is painful to us.  (Thus the absence of Christ's presence, or the feeling of it, is part of the dark night of the soul.)  Many spiritual writers have expressed this fervent desire to be with Christ and the excruciating pain of feeling apart from Him, and some of expressed it in poetry.  Two great examples of poems expressing this theme can be found in the poetry of the Spanish Golden Age.

The first example is a hymn by Fray Damián de Vegas, a friar (who I believe was Augustinian) from around the late 16th century, entitled "Estate, Señor, conmigo" ("Stay, Lord, With Me").  This hymn is included in the Spanish version of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The hymn entreats the Lord to stay with us and take us with Him wherever He goes.

Estate, Señor, conmigo
siempre, sin jamás partirte,
y, cuando decidas irte,
llévame, Señor, contigo;
porque el pensar que te irás
me causa un terrible miedo
de si yo sin ti me quedo,
de si tú sin mí te vas.

Llévame en tu compañía,
donde tú vayas, Jesús,
porque bien sé que eres tú
la vida del alma mía;
si tú vida no me das,
yo sé que vivir no puedo,
ni si yo sin ti me quedo,
ni si tú sin mí te vas.

Por eso, más que a la muerte,
temo, Señor, tu partida
y quiero perder la vida
mil veces más que perderte;
pues la inmortal que tú das
sé que alcanzarla no puedo
cuando yo sin ti me quedo,
cuando tú sin mí te vas. Amén.

Stay, Lord, with me
always, without ever leaving,
and, when You decide to go,
take me, Lord, with You;
because the thought that You will leave
causes me a terrible fear
that I without You will remain,
that You without me will go.

Bring me in Your company,
wherever You go, Jesus,
because well I know that You are
the life of my soul;
if You do not give me life,
I know that to live I cannot,
nor if I without You remain,
nor if You without me go.

Therefore, more than death,
I fear, Lord, Your parting
and I want to lose my life
a thousand times before losing You;
for the immortality You give
I know that obtain it I cannot
when I without You remain,
when You without me go.  Amen.

The second example is an anonymous sonnet (Petrarcan sonnet, not Elizabethan sonnet) from the late 16th century.  It is been attributed to many famous Spanish writers and saints, including St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, the Golden Age poet Lope de Vega, and Doctors of the Church St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of Ávila.  Despite all the attributions, it still remains anonymous.  This poem is less related to the theme of following Christ and being with Him: instead, it is about why to follow Christ.  The poet declares that he follows Christ not for any benefit he gains but instead solely because of Christ's identity.  While it does not focus on the theme of following Christ "whithersoever He goeth," it explains the mindset behind why one would follow Christ: in a sense, it could be seen as the mindset of Simon and Andrew in the verse that prompted this post.  Here, then, is the sonnet "A Cristo Crucificado" ("To Christ Crucified").

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte 
el cielo que me tienes prometido;
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.

Tú me mueves, Señor; muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido;
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido;
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.

Muéveme, en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
 y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.

No tienes que me dar porque te quiera
pues aunque cuanto espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

It does not move, my God, to love You,
the Heaven that You have promised me;
nor does it move me, the hell so feared
to cease for that offending You.

You move me, Lord; it moves me to see You
locked in a cross and incarnate;
it moves me to see Your Body so wounded;
they move me, Your affronts and Your death.

It moves me, finally, Your love, and in such a way
that even if there were no Heaven, I would love You,
and even if there were no hell, I would fear You.

You do not have to give me because I would want You
because as much as I hope I would not hope,
the same that I want You I would want You.

[Nota Bene: The verb I translate "to want" can also mean "to love."]

I hope these poems will help your spiritual life, and I hope they will help you to, like the apostles Simon and Andrew, respond to Christ's call, "Come after Me."  Thanks for reading, and God Bless.

Holy Brother Apostles Peter and Andrew the Protoclete (First-Called), pray for us!

Nota Bene: The hymn by Fray Damián de Vegas is from the hymnal Cantad a Dios con salmos, himnos y cánticos inspirados, published by Magnificat.  The anonymous sonnet is from Anthology of Spanish Golden Age Poetry, edited by R. John McCaw and Kathleen Thornton-Spinnenweber.  Information on proposed authorship for this sonnet is from Wikipedia and this page.  The quote from St. Augustine is from a translation by Rev. C.L. Cornish, M.A. in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Volume 3, retrieved from The Faith DatabaseThe English translations of the poems are mine: I apologize for any bad translation work.

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