Monday, 21 November 2011

Facing East

Because I’m a born pessimist, I’m always looking for reasons to be hopeful, hence the title and description of this blog. Today I found a heartening name for the One I try to trust in a poem by Thomas Chatterton. His phrase was “…God, my East, my Sun…”
God as our life-sustaining Sun-Star is a familiar metaphor, but God, “my East”? I liked this image a lot. In the face of life’s haunting shadows, it’s powerful to remember the feeling of watching the eastern sky begin to lighten, after a Canadian winter’s night, and then the brilliant moment when the sun’s glorious fire blazes over the horizon.

Unfortunately I made the mistake of looking up this poet’s bio.

What a sad story of an 18th century boy in England named Thomas Chatterton! It appears that little Tom was born with a tendency toward depression, since he is described as a child who sat for hours staring off into space and was frequently found in tears. After a slow start at learning to read and write, this solitary dreamer began creating poems.
At the age of 11 he had one of his poems published in the “Bristol Journal”, and he continued to write for various magazines, while enduring a strict boarding school and later a dull apprenticeship to a local lawyer. In those days, as you know, children were considered adults at a very young age and he was earning his own living by 16.
Chatterton is considered the first “Romantic” poet and did in fact live alone in a garret, where one night, before his 18th birthday, depression overcame him. In hopelessness, Tom ripped to shreds some of his written work, drank a glass of water mixed with arsenic and ended his life.
(See painting by Henry Wallis of Chatterton’s death scene  here  )

Needless to say, Chatterton’s poem below took on a different shade for me after reading his story. Two hundred and fifty years ago, poor Thomas turned away from the Christian hope affirmed in his poem and resolutely set his face toward the west.

Then why, my soul, dost thou complain?
Why drooping seek the dark recess?
Shake off the melancholy chain,
For God created all to bless.
The gloomy mantle of the night,
Which on my sinking spirits steals,
Will vanish at the morning light,
Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals.

May you and I hold up for each other the promise of dawn’s faithful return.