“Not as a dove…”: Two Pentecost poems by Mark DeBolt

Pentecost by William Congdon
William Grosvenor Congdon (American, 1912–1998), Pentecost 2, ca. 1962. Oil on tile, 4 × 4 cm. The Province of Milan Art Collection.

“Pentecostal Hour” by Mark DeBolt

No zephyr soft
but cyclone strong
bore thoughts aloft
in windy song.

No flicker mild
but flames of red
danced hot and wild
upon each head.

And so fierce was
our thundering word
in languages
of all who heard,

all knew it meant
the Spirit’s power.
This was our Pent-
ecostal hour.

“Pentecost Villanellette” by Mark DeBolt

Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came
to the disciples gathered in a room,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

A cyclone roared the ineffable name
as fire on each blushing brow did bloom.
Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came

to give sight to the blind and heal the lame
and raise the dead and dispel error’s gloom,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

The Breath of God is anything but tame.
Who dally with it dally with their doom.
Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

These poems are published in For the Mystic Harmony: Collected Poems 1997–2011 by Mark DeBolt and are used by permission of the author.

+++

This Sunday Christians will celebrate Pentecost, the historic giving of the Holy Spirit to all believers in Jesus Christ and thus the birthday of the church.

Before it was the name of a Christian holiday, Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot) was celebrated annually by the Jewish people in honor of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Jews still celebrate it today, fifty days after Passover—hence the name Pentecost (“pente” = five). (Appropriately, Christian Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter.) Because of the importance of the feast, ancient Jews traveled from all over the known world to their religious capital, Jerusalem, for the occasion, and that’s what we see in Acts 2—a multiregional, multilinguistic gathering.  

(Related post: “Pentecost art from Asia”)

Then, it happens. The Spirit of God comes on the scene in a torrent of power. Acts 2:2 describes his entrance as “violent” (NIV, NASB), “roaring” (NLT), “impetuous” (DBY)—“a mighty rushing wind” (ESV), or “a mighty windstorm” (NLT). He fills the disciples, causing them to preach in languages that are not their own. Hearing their native tongues, various people from the crowd draw closer to the source, marveling at how these Galileans could speak so articulately in languages beyond their local Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. This is only the first of the many mighty works the Spirit-empowered apostles would accomplish on God’s behalf in the early church age.

Mark DeBolt’s two poems above emphasize the wildness of the Spirit that manifested at the church’s first Pentecost—the enormous sound and sweep of his arrival. Three thousand-plus people, Luke tells us, came under his influence that day! He came not as a soft little breeze or puff of air, but as a cyclone; not as a quaint little flickering glow, but as a full-out blaze, more like a bonfire than a burning candlewick. The disciples’ words were “fierce” and “thundering” in equal measure, expositing the Hebrew scriptures and proclaiming Jesus to be the risen, reigning Christ.

“Pentecostal Hour” comprises four four-line stanzas, each line four syllables long. Its rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef ghgh.

DeBolt writes frequently in fixed verse forms, with rigid rhyme schemes and other parameters. It’s purposefully ironic how the topic of these two poems—the unrestricted Spirit—is at odds with their restrictive forms, but the juxtaposition of form and content works so well. Impressively, DeBolt achieves a high level of fluidity, due in part to his use of enjambment (the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza).

The word “villanellette” in the second poem’s title is a diminutive of the traditional verse form called a “villanelle,” which comprises five tercets and one concluding quatrain. A villanelle has only two rhyme sounds, and furthermore, the first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close.

DeBolt has condensed that form into three tercets and one quatrain, with a rhyme scheme of aba aba aba abab. Each line has ten syllables.

The two repeating lines in “Pentecost Villanellette” establish contrasting pictures of the Holy Spirit: dove versus wind and fire. Unlike the calm and gentle manifestation of the Spirit that alights, birdlike, on Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit who shows up at Pentecost, and the force behind the church’s growth and miracle working, is intense and cannot be contained. The Spirit is not either/or (either calm or wild); he’s both/and, depending on the occasion. But the Acts 2 event reveals him as the latter like never before.

To supplement these poems, I’ve chosen a painting by William Congdon, whose aggressive, untidy brushwork captures, I think, the spirit of Pentecost. Pentecost is a subject he painted several times. In this second version (Pentecost 2), an explosion of fiery color upstages the disciples, who stand on either side and receive its impact.

+++

For a list of books by Mark DeBolt, visit the CreateSpace Store. To read more of his poems, check out his blog, http://markdebolt.blogspot.com, or follow him on Facebook.

One thought on ““Not as a dove…”: Two Pentecost poems by Mark DeBolt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s