Saturday, January 2, 2010

Prayers From the Ark and The Creatures Choir

by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold
Translated by Rumer Godden
Finished December 31, 2009

Julie gave this book to me for Christmas. She found it at a religious book sale at the Memphis Public Library.

What a gem! Julie, for giving the book to me and the book itself. I took several days to read it even though it can be read in one sitting. The poems asked to be read and re-read. I read a few at a time and then pondered them. I suppose that contemplative approach was due to the setting. I read this while on retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Each poem is a prayer from one of the animals on Noah's ark. There's a prayer from Noah himself, as well. Really, this book is two in one. Prayers from the Ark and The Creatures' Choir. However, all poems obviously work together.

These are not sweet poems. Some are heartbreaking, some funny. Some of the poems speak the terrible truth about how humans treat animals. While all of the poems are in the voices of the animals themselves, many of them speak about the human condition. We can see ourselves when the animals talk about themselves.

Most of the animals have a complaint or a burden but many of them end their prayers with a plea to help them find a way to accept their condition. Take the tortoise, for example:
A little patience,
O God,
I am coming.
One must take nature as she is!
It was not I who made her!
I do not mean to criticize
this house on my back -
it has its points -
but You must admit, Lord,
it is heavy to carry!
let us hope that this double enclosure,
my shell and my heart,
will never be quite shut to You. Amen

As Julie says, it's providence! It's providence that I should have read this while at Gethsemani. Each day I attended prayers with the monks. They chanted the psalms. In between, I read this book of psalms. Like the psalms of the bible, Bernos de Gasztold's poems are songs of lament, of thanksgiving, and of praise. They express joy, penitence, anger, pride, love, and humor.

The most tender and personally heartbreaking is the prayer of The Lamb:
A spindle on four legs
leaving tufts of white in the thickets,
I am Your lamb,
in my soft wool.
My bleating
sends its puny note
into the ewe's heart;
my fleece
throws its curly shadow
on the cropped grass.
Look, Lord,
how my joy must leap!
Yet my need of my mother
never sleeps in me.
Let me run to her
with my wavering steps
and draw some of her tenderness.
don't let it happen,
that one sad day
I will miss her.

What a wonderful book. I will re-read it often.

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