A new collection of poetry from Archbishop Rowan Williams has just been released, Headwaters. This is my first exposure to Williams’ poetry and I have to say, it is elegant, challenging, and rewards with some rereading. Like his theological writings you have to spend some time getting a feel for his cadence and use of language. Altogether there are forty-five selections including some translations of the Russian poet Inna Lisnianskaya and a couple translations of Gwenallt Jones from the Welsh.
In one of my favorites, “Resurrection: Borgo San Sepolcro”, Williams watches the ‘black eyes fixed half open’ of Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection (pictured at right) and waits, ‘paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring’.
Today it is time. Warm enough, finally,
to ease the lids apart, the wax lips of a breaking bud
defeated by the steady push, hour after hour,
opening to show wet and dark, a tongue exploring,
an eye shrinking against the dawn. Light
like a fishing line draws its catch straight up,
then slackens for a second. The flat foot drops,
the shoulders sag. Here is the world again, well-known,
the dawn greeted in snoring dreams of a familiar
winter everyone prefers. So the black eyes
fixed half-open, start to search, ravenous,
imperative, they look for pits, for hollows where
their flood can be decanted, look
for rooms ready for commandeering, ready
to be defeated by the push, the green implacable
rising. So he pauses, gathering the strength
in his flat foot, as the perspective buckles under him,
and the dreamers lean dangerously inwards. Contained,
exhausted, hungry, death running off his limbs like
from a shower, gathering himself. We wait,
paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring.