Transgressive Saints

1. Hadewijch of Antwerp, from a convent garden, 1233

My mind's clacking mill
grinds and grinds.
Words confound, ward off peace.

I stack wood, beat, mangle, peg clothes.
I moisten dry clay, turn damp earth,
tend beet, onion, turnip.

Silence: my true nature,
where nothing confuses your language, holy Mary,
Mother of us all.

Plum tree skeletons find green flesh.
Spring-time earth, water, sky,
invite surrender: separateness dissolves.
I relinquish speech for seven days,
rest in oneness
underlying sense, thought and word.

What is worth saying may be said without a tongue;
what is worth hearing, may be heard without ears.

I walk our north wall's length,
dwell within mystery near and far,
familiar, yet impossible to understand.
Campions, near the pond, beam pink light.
Sky turns sword-grey; the sea no longer glints
but heaves like a black bruise.

Here in the garden, five nuns, each widowed
to either plague or war. Last night, heavy with child,
a farm girl came to our gate. Mary,
Mother of rich earth, fair and dark sky:
we see your radiance in all things;
we see all things in you.

They say: Divinity is beyond.
But I hear of it in a storm's howl,
in the boom-boom of a torrent; today, in the rustling
of leaves shaken by a breeze. I fear the Bishop's censure.
Whether I starve, freeze, or burn at the stake,
I declare my trust: all will be well.

My ducks nod and waddle in my wake,
nuzzle fallow ground.
Here, see us, they say.
Look, you earnest Sister,
hoping to survive the stake,
look at us.

This soil;
that worm.

Trust belongs to a duck,
a farm child, a robust worker.
How can I find real trust?
I will go out again, confront
the place of my greatest fear
and meditate there.

Help me, Mother,
to forsake attachments
which beguile.
I want to flow with sap
of fidelity to all.



2. Simone Weil at Saint-Marcel d'Ardèche

She bends in opaque light, in heat-blaze;
picks grapes, prunes thoughts and words.
A hare crouches near the vines:
fully attentive, no muscular effort,
no brow-wrinkling concentration.

The vines' silent liturgy: stem, branch,
stalk, leaf. Attend the planet's rhythm, repeat
the Rhône Valley's quiet recitation of pure grape,
nine hours each day.

In borrowed cape and boots, Simone
pursues her life's anomaly: to crave for less,
achieve peace with loss of all sense
of presence. Truth is conveyed by what's withheld.

Attend, recite, repeat: stem, stalk, sap.
She picks her way into autumn,
the body's rhythm. Snip this tangle,
snap tendril; shift away from words.
A brace of ravens waddles down a furrow,
lunges at each songbird. Nature's daily work;
truth of world as is.

I'd rather be an atheist with passion
for Earth than a consoled Christian.

Give up self-questioning, abandon
the search. Relinquish the mind's
mythographic cast. Accept the void
of letting-be.

It is not for me to seek, or even to believe
in God. I have only to refuse belief
in gods that are not God.


Each pilgrim vine is circumscribed yet wayward;
each cluster blazing purple in light,
cold black in shade.
A matter of seeing deeper, penetrating truth.
Only the lived reality has point.


Can trellises entwine the vine?
Then excise all belief: face emptiness.
Expose the mesh of long-held shibboleths;
defy the grid imposed upon
the world's real labour.

© James Charlton