Friday 5 May 2017

Mary & the Poets: 3 Wordsworth's Virgin

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost 
With the least shade of thought to sin allied; 
Woman! above all women glorified, 
Our tainted nature's solitary boast; 
Purer than foam on central ocean tost; 
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn 
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon 
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast; 
Thy Image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween, 
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend, 
As to a visible Power, in which did blend 
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee 
Of mother's love with maiden purity, 
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

(William Wordsworth)

This comes from a series of Ecclesiastical Sonnets which Wordsworth wrote about the historic Church in England. Here he is reflecting on the time of the 'Reformation' when much iconoclastic fury was expended in destroying the beautiful things for God which so many of the faithful had created. This explains the central use of the word 'Image' since both our Lady and her threatened cult were on his mind. Similarly the reference to 'not unforgiven' may be about how so many ordinary humble Christians at this time were persecuted or scorned by the powerful for refusing to abandon their devotion to Mary and the saints.

However that may be the essence of poetry is the words which the poet gives us and the meanings which they have for us. Two things in particular spring out of this sonnet for me, firstly-

Woman! above all women glorified, 
Our tainted nature's solitary boast

Our Lady, conceived without Original Sin and cooperating so fully with grace that she committed no actual sins is the new Eve. That is, she is Eve as she should have been, as she would have been but for the Fall. And as Eve was the mother of all the living we are her children. Mary, therefore shows us what we should be and do and become. To the extent that we are truly the children of Mary after the Spirit as we are the children of Eve after the flesh we can share in her purity and in the victory over sin and death which the gifts of the Paraclete and the merits of Christ Crucified gave to her.


All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee 
Of mother's love with maiden purity

In short form poetry every word is carefully used by a poet. When Wordsworth, then, uses the word 'reconciled' in connection with Mary he would have had a definite purpose. As Jesus effects the reconciliation of Man to the Father through the Cross so the Blessed Virgin in her way effects a lesser reconciliation. Before the Logos of God could become fully human as well as fully divine Mary had to become both Virgin and Mother. Again we see the power of the Spirit working within the human heart where cooperating with the will and reason of a person it can conquer and subdue mere flesh to the purposes of God. Mary is not only the ground upon which Jesus her Son stands she is the model and exemplar for Christians of all ages as to how we should make our religion a lived reality within the very centre of our being.

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My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.

The painting The Coronation of the Virgin is from an illuminated manuscript in the National Library of the Netherlands

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