So little time. We have to hustle God.

by maggi dawn

U. A. Fanthorpe is one of my favourite poets. She manages to get right under the skin of a subject, or a person, or a narrative, and make it luminescent.

Here is a clip from a poem from her “Safe as Houses” collection. It’s called Tyndale in Darkness, and each section of the poem is an imagined musing of Tyndale himself, exiled into Europe, writing his bible translation by day, and worrying, moaning, missing home, in the dark of the evening.

So little time. We have to hustle God 
 Who, in His unhorizoned sphere of time, 
 Can hardly know how short our seasons are. 
 And I pray too for resurrection in the word. 
 This shall be written for those who come after. 
 And still, these tedious Chronicles waiting for me, 
 These kings and priests and rulers of this world, 
 These Jeroboams and Jehoiakims, 
 Between me and beatus vir, the happy man, 
 Whose leaf shall not wither. Unlike mine. 
 And look, whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper.
 Et omnia quaecumque facies prosperabuntur.
 Prosperabuntur? God's teeth, what a word
 For Christian tongues to wrestle with. Language for liars! 
 Our dear and patient English shall rip out 
 The rubbish Jerome stuffed in the Church's mouth. 
 I must get on. Day and night. Instantly. 
 The Psalms are waiting. So are the English. 
 Vile the place is, but still my Father's house. 
 Lampless or not, He lights it.

Here Fanthorpe has Tyndale disagreeing with — God? the Scriptures? — no, with Jerome’s Latin interpretation of them. Tyndale, translating the tedious Chronicles, imagines that if only he had light at night, he could already have got past this and be in the Psalms – those joyful lines, which he may not live long enough to enjoy. Oh yes, the Psalms where that “man who prospers” appears – and so Tyndale’s angst focuses on the fact that he is unlikely to prosper, and more likely to be dead before he gets to the Psalms (earlier Fanthorpe gives us a wonderful line: Tyndale, musing on what will happen if he can’t complete the task, asks himself, “will Miles be up to it?”). And so his anxious working against the clock emerges in this brilliant lines where he goes against conventional wisdom (there is time enough for everything in God’s economy) and notes instead that God couldn’t possibly grasp how desperate the situation is when time is running out.

Wonderful stuff.

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