Monday, January 4, 2010

The Dumbfounding

My friend Jay Gurnett wrote an article in which he mentioned the poet Margaret Avison. I did a little research and learned that she is a Canadian poet who was given the Order of Canada for her poetry and yet not many Canadians have ever heard of her. I encourage you to grab a cup of coffee or tea and slowly read this Margaret Avison poem. We used it last night as a communion meditation for the gathering of the church in our home.

The Dumbfounding
(Margaret Avison; from: The Dumbfounding. New York: Norton, 1966. pp.58-59.)

When you walked here,
took skin, muscle, hair,
eyes, larynx, we
withheld all honor: "His house is clay,
how can he tell us of his far country ?"

Your not familiar pace
in flesh, across the waves,
woke only our distrust.
Twice-torn we cried "A ghost"
and only on our planks counted you fast.

Dust wet with your spittle
cleared mortal trouble.
We called you a blasphemer,
a devil-tamer.

The evening you spoke of going away
we could not stay.
All legions massed. You had to wash, and rise,
alone, and face
out of the light, for us.

You died.
We said,
"The worst is true, our bliss
has come to this."

When you were seen by men
in holy flesh again
we hoped so despairingly for such report
we closed their windpipes for it.

Now you have sought
and seek, in all our ways, all thoughts,
streets, musics--and we make of these a din
trying to lock you out, or in,
to be intent. And dying.

Yet you are
constant and sure,
the all-lovely, all-men's way
to that far country.

Winning one, you again
all ways would begin
life: to make new
flesh, to empower
the weak in nature
to restore
or stay the sufferer;

lead through the garden to
trash, rubble, hill,
where, the outcast's outcast, you
sound dark's uttermost, strangely light-brimming, until
time be full.

1 comment:

Keith Shields said...

Dear Keith,

A friend has sent me your blog about Margaret's "The Dumbfounding." As a longtime friend of hers, and now her literary executor, I can tell you she would be deeply pleased that you used the poem for your communion service.

Just so you know, the poem was originally published in a book of the same name, The Dumbfounding, (Norton, 1966, New York); that book has long been out of print. However, The Porcupine's Quill in Erin, Ontario, reprinted all of Margaret's poems up to 2002 that she wished to preserve. They are in a 3-volume work with the title Always Now (2003).

Recently Margaret's autobiography (I Am Here and Not Not-There) came out with the same publisher. Their website, if you would like it, is The book more or less describes Margaret's journey from early agosticism to vibrant faith in 1963, after which time The Dumbfounding poems were written. She actually won Governor General's awards twice, and as late as 2003 received the Griffin Prize for Poetry for her 2002 collection Concrete and Wild Carrot (Brick Books).

I'm telling you more than you want to know, probably!

God bless you and your work,