MS (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

! S I N

Language is a blessing and a curse –
sometimes uniting, sometimes dividing,
sometimes an arrow, sometimes blown blossoms,
misplaced seeds..

How can we of the Western world
imagine what it’s like to speak a tongue,
as Persians, Hebrews, Aramaics, Arabs
are so blessed that they possess –

where words remember that they come from One
whose word is law, whose word is love;
so words are true at every level of understanding:

say ‘name’ or ‘kingdom’; ‘bread’; or ‘dust’:
a golden ladder from the heaven to earth,
from earth to heaven; we as dust beneath
the chariot wheel, as it drives over
this old potter’s yard; cracking discarded potsherds
back to dust, to mud, to clay, to future pots –

drive carefully, though, around that standpipe
where the grace of water waits to join that fuller’s earth,
or rich red clay, in some new pot, which fire will join in turn
to give it measured life…

so, if we take a word which floats uncertainly
between the mind and heart, seeking to put
its feet on earth, yet raise its eyes to heaven –
like ‘sin’… now there’s a word
to stir the mind, to bleed the heart,
to chill the gut…

language, so the pundits say
(naming that which eludes all division)
should be true at the literal, the allegoric,
the moral, the anagogic –
and, let’s add, the universal and divine:

so where does ‘sin’ put down its feet on earth?
Many pulpits have proclaimed, in the easy tones
of clerics who don’t expect too much
of their suburban congregation,
‘missing the mark’ – assuming Britain
still at Agincourt, the target undisputed…

The Aramaic has its clue: ‘sin’ translates
as ‘unripe deeds’…

So to the metaphoric mind
(which Western poets, orators,
must endeavour to make serve
our lacking languages…)

This glorious view of ‘sin’:
the Sower, with his years of wisdom
knowing the fair autumn day,
the blessed dawn of Spring,

rises early, takes the leather shoulder bag
of harvested seed corn, dry stored
to hold against its time –
breathes the fresh morning air
so full of promise, magically natural –

strides steady to that field prepared
as banquet for the merciful and just;
flings, in a gesture time-honoured,
almost ritual, the seed spraying out
in airy curve out from his cupped palm,
cupped as one would care for baby
or for wild creature’s deserted offspring…

that way, the bed of thorns; this way,
a ground too stony in the Palestinian hills;
over there, thin soil which weeds are happy with…
sin is but deeds sown in the wrong place
- even well-intentioned deeds, misplaced,
as tyrants and dictators seek to do –
or sown at the wrong season's time…

even, if you must, a seedling apple, picked
out of some garden once called paradise..

together, cause, the action, and result:
in the moment cast seed touches open earth,
in law and love its fate is cast and sealed.

Truth must be simple, in its subtlety:
‘sin’ is subtle, simple; earthly, heavenly truth:

just - unripe throw aside the guilt,
the burden, criticism, weariness;

just choose a wiser place
to sow the seeds of deeds next time?

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Comments (4)

What an analysis. What a tramp through metaphor. What an introduction to you Michael, and why have I not found you before? Never have I read a more riveting discourse on the word which has for long cursed our race. Greetings from Fay
Though little bit lengthy, you've said it very correctly.Good thought.Thank you
You say 'language is a blessing and a curse'. A wonder too, it seems to me, when used poetically to ponder ideas so fundamental and timely and allegorical and elusive as those you pose in this enchanting (I agree with Tara here) piece. Your words contain the softness of the Buddhist point of view - kind and compassionate - and yet are also more earthly, sometimes even gently mocking. I felt like a dose of Michael Shepherd this morning - I have certainly not been disappointed. love, Allie xxxx
Divided by a common language. And that's just Manchester and London. Tee hee. No.. really, I find this an enchantingly pensive, thought-provoking, sort of kindly piece, for which thank you. t x