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Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

or, Meeting the Lord, is a feast I am too late to write about. It was last Monday, and, owing to Lent, has been shifted to Sunday. Anyway, I do it now since I’ve found a poem of Joseph Brodsky in English. Here it is:

Nunc Dimittis’

When Mary first came to present the Christ Child

to God in His temple, she found—of those few
who fasted and prayed there, departing not from it—
devout Simeon and the prophetess Anna.
The holy man took the Babe up in his arms.
The three of them, lost in the grayness of dawn,
now stood like a small shifting frame that surrounded
the Child in the palpable dark of the temple.
The temple enclosed them in forests of stone.
Its lofty vaults stooped as though trying to cloak
the prophetess Anna, and Simeon, and Mary—
to hide them from men and to hide them from Heaven.
And only a chance ray of light struck the hair
of that sleeping Infant, who stirred but as yet
was conscious of nothing and blew drowsy bubbles;
old Simeon’s arms held him like a stout cradle.
It had been revealed to this upright old man
that he would not die until his eyes had seen
the Son of the Lord. And it thus came to pass. And
he said: ‘Now, O Lord, lettest thou thy poor servant,
according to thy holy word, leave in peace,
for mine eyes have witnessed thine offspring: he is
thy continuation and also the source of
thy Light for idolatrous tribes, and the glory
of Israel as well.’ The old Simeon paused.
The silence, regaining the temple’s clear space
oozed from all its corners and almost engulfed them,
and only his echoing words grazed the rafters,
to spin for a moment, with faint rustling sounds,
high over their heads in the tall temple’s vaults,
akin to a bird that can soar, yet that cannot
return to the earth, even if it should want to.
A strangeness engulfed them. The silence now seemed
as strange as the words of old Simeon’s speech.
And Mary, confused and bewildered, said nothing—
so strange had his words been. He added, while turning
directly to Mary: ‘Behold, in this Child,
now close to thy breast, is concealed the great fall
of many, the great elevation of others,
a subject of strife and a source of dissension,
and that very steel which will torture his flesh
shall pierce through thine own soul as well. And that wound
will show to thee, Mary, as in a new vision
what lies hidden, deep in the hearts of all people.’
He ended and moved toward the temple’s great door.
Old Anna, bent down with the weight of her years,
and Mary, now stooping gazed after him, silent.
He moved and grew smaller, in size and in meaning,
to these two frail women who stood in the gloom.
As though driven on by the force of their looks,
he strode through the cold empty space of the temple
and moved toward the whitening blur of the doorway.
The stride of his old legs was steady and firm.
When Anna’s voice sounded behind him, he slowed
his step for a moment. But she was not calling
to him; she had started to bless God and praise Him.
The door came still closer. The wind stirred his robe
and fanned at his forehead; the roar of the street,
exploding in life by the door of the temple,
beat stubbornly into old Simeon’s hearing.
He went forth to die. It was not the loud din
of streets that he faced when he flung the door wide,
but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death’s kingdom.
He strode through a space that was no longer solid.
The rustle of time ebbed away in his ears.
And Simeon’s soul held the form of the Child—
its feathery crown now enveloped in glory—
aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows,
to light up the path that leads into death’s realm,
where never before until this present hour
had any man managed to lighten his pathway.
The old man’s torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.

This translation of G.L. Kline skifully reproduces the musics of Russian tetrameter which probably renders it unreadable. In Russian, it’s really a jewel: you feel like reading the Bible, and, for a change, understanding it. Brodsky was a great Russian poet, a fine American essayist, and, as far as I know, was rather far from Chirstian faith. God lives where He pleases…

 

 

 

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1 comment

wow

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