Sunday, December 1, 2013

"A Song for Simeon"

One of my favorite characters in the New Testament has always been Simeon, the faithful old man who had been given, at some point in the distant past, the promise that he would not die until he had seen God's Saviour, the Messiah of Israel.  (The story is found in Luke 2:25-35; Simeon's female counterpart, Anna, is found in verses 36-38.  I would suggest reading the brief Biblical account before reading the poem.) In 1928, the greatest poet of the twentieth century, T. S. Eliot, re-told the story, from Simeon's perspective, in one of his finest poems.  Naturally, as a man grows older, this poem becomes more and more meaningful to him. As the madness of the "holiday" season proceeds, these very thoughtful words might provide a brief respite.

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

- - - T. S. Eliot, 1928

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