Rowan Williams is celebrated as one of the more academically accomplished Archbishops of Canterbury in recent memory; indeed, even those who disagree with his theological points of view rarely fault his scholarship or methodologies. Williams also has a collection of texts dealing with spiritual practices and issues, such as his series on praying with icons, and his recent text dealing with cultural issues in iconographic ways.
With this breadth of creativity, it should come as no surprise that Williams is also a poet. Being an Anglican, used to the Shakespearean-sounding liturgies and poetic, rhythmic cadences of the spoken words of worship services, and being strongly rooted in the Welsh culture where the blend of English and Celtic influences produces wonderfully strong lyrical constructions, Williams has a natural depth in the poetic. Somewhat ironically, Williams was raised in a Presbyterian household (where things done decently and in good order was the rule of the day), becoming an Anglican of his own accord while still at home. Williams had a broad education that included a developing appreciation for poets in the English language - the work of T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden are apparent in some of his work. Williams also translated poetry of writers from other languages (such as Rilke), including his native Welsh (Ann Griffiths, T. Gwynn Jones, and Waldo Williams).
Perhaps the greatest strength of Williams' poetry is its immediacy and descriptive power. Anglo-Catholic liturgies are very tactile experiences - there are things to see, to smell, to hear, and to do. Anglo-Catholic theology is very incarnational - the word made flesh, something Williams takes to heart in his poetry, which seems to have a lot of flesh on the words, with thick descriptive power putting the reader in the heart of the feeling and experience.
This book includes all of the poems from Williams' previous volumes of poems, 'After Silent Centuries' (1994) and 'Remembering Jerusalem' (2001), in addition to new ones. Some relate directly to the icon work Williams did in relation to his meditative texts on praying with icons, 'Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin Mary' and 'The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ'. There is also a selection of some of his translations from German and Welsh.
There is a tremendous spirit, full of creativity and passion, present in these poems. Some are clever, some are heart-felt; all are glorious expressions of this caring and careful writer. Perhaps Williams says it best when he speaks of not wanting to be a 'religious poet' but rather a poet for whom religious concerns matter strongly. One can sense this strong sense of connection with independence, a distinction without a difference.
on 4 August 2013
I loved the straight simplicity of these poems, neither mannered, nor 'fashionable'. That seeming ease belied their depth, each is enriched by repeated acquaintance. For me these were morning tea and read aloud starts to the day ( still are) next to the kettle with the sunlight through the windows. The love of place shines, the injections of history, the palimsest of lives, a reminder of the need for the glory of the created ( and sometimes abandoned) worlds to be heeded ,acknowledged with the hat raised in passing, and a poet's gesture of assent.
The privacy of these poems made their declarations precious; and the very private, public. Almost too personal, to make a review a seeming small vulgarity.