“Leavetaking” by Anne Porter

Starry, Starry Night by Kiki Smith
Kiki Smith (American, 1954–), Starry, Starry Night, 2013

“Leavetaking” by Anne Porter

Nearing the start of that mysterious last season
Which brings us to the close of the other four,
I’m somewhat afraid and don’t know how to prepare
So I will praise you.

I will praise you for the glaze on buttercups
And for the pearly scent of wild fresh water
And the great crossbow shapes of swans flying over
With that strong silken threshing sound of wings
Which you gave them when you made them without voices.

And I will praise you for crickets.
On starry autumn nights
When the earth is cooling
Their rusty diminutive music
Repeated over and over
Is the very marrow of peace.

And I praise you for crows calling from treetops
The speech of my first village,
And for the sparrow’s flash of song
Flinging me in an instant
The joy of a child who woke
Each morning to the freedom
Of her mother’s unclouded love
And lived in it like a country.

And I praise you that from vacant lots
From only broken glass and candy wrappers
You raise up the blue chicory flowers.

I thank you for that secret praise
Which burns in every creature,
And I ask you to bring us to life
Out of every sort of death

And teach us mercy.

This poem appears in Living Things: Collected Poems (Hanover, NH: Zoland Books/Steerforth Press, 2006) and is used here by permission of the publisher.

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Anne Porter (1911–2011) is one of the last century’s foremost poets of thanks and praise. She wrote all her life, occasionally sharing poems with friends and family, but she focused mainly on raising five kids with her husband, Fairfield Porter, who was a painter.

Motherhood paintings by Fairfield Porter
Fairfield Porter (American, 1907–1975): Anne Reading to Laurence, 1947, oil on Masonite, 30 × 24 in., Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; Katie and Anne, 1949, oil on board, 30 × 24 in., Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; Anne, Lizzie and Katie, 1958, oil on canvas, 78 × 60 in., Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska.

She wrote “Leavetaking” upon entering old age, and after her husband had died. As her body grew weaker and more burdensome and death drew nearer, she still found much to praise God for—for the regal shape of swans’ wings overhead, for the “rusty diminutive music” of crickets on starry nights, for the vast love between mother and child, for the hope of resurrection preached in abandoned lots where flowers rise out of debris.

Some years later, Porter’s friend David Shapiro, a literary critic and fellow poet, asked if for his birthday, she could compile some of her poems for him. She gathered up what she could find in the house, and without her foreknowledge, he submitted it to a publisher. The resulting collection, An Altogether Different Language (1994), was published when she was eighty-three and was named a finalist for the National Book Award.

In the foreword to that first book of hers, Shapiro wrote,

If we have problems, because so much of the language of belief has grown connotatively encrusted, then we wait for the poets who believe enough and can freshen this dialect.

Anne Porter is one of the rare poets who believes enough, who lives in days and holidays, and who has stunningly found a language to transmit her Franciscan joy in created things.

Also from the foreword:

  • “Her faith has enlarged her, not the reverse, and her poetry has the grandeur of seeing things ‘as if for the first time.’”
  • “Her greatest emotional perspective is that of praise.”
  • She is “an American religious poet of stature who reminds us that the idea of the holy is still possible for us.”
  • “For Anne Porter, the holy is found in a commitment to Christ the Mediator and his triumph in suffering for a suffering world. However, she gives a constant, almost pantheistic pressure to the theme that the Kingdom of God is within and without, so that her radiant if concise imagism is all in the service of God.”

Whereas many modern and contemporary poets write about the hiddenness of God, the deus absconditus, Porter wrote unabashedly about the myriad ways in which God reveals himself in the world. Her second and last book, Living Things: Collected Poems (2006), brings together thirty-nine new poems with those published in the previous volume.

In 2010, theologian and biblical scholar Ellen F. Davis wrote a beautiful article for the Christian Century titled “Our proper place: The poetry of care and loss,” in which she discusses Porter’s poetry alongside that of Mary Oliver. Like Oliver, she says, Porter is a “direct descendant of the psalmists”; she “clarif[ies] what is at stake in the Psalter: nothing less than the possibility of praising God truly.”

Roundup: Record-smashing painting; Sutherland Springs memorial; jazz Thanksgiving; Advent candle liturgy; Every Moment Holy

Leonardo da Vinci painting breaks all-time sales record: A painting of Christ by the Renaissance master sold for $450.3 million at Christie’s on Wednesday to an anonymous bidder, making it the most expensive painting ever acquired, either at auction or (it’s believed) through private sales. (It displaced by a long shot Picasso’s Women of Algiers, which sold for $179.4 million at auction in 2015, and the reported $300 million paid privately for Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo?, also in 2015.) A common iconographic subject in the sixteenth century, “Salvator Mundi” translates as “Savior of the World”; Leonardo’s shows Christ in Renaissance dress, holding a crystal orb in his left hand (representative of Earth) and raising his right hand in benediction. He painted it around 1500 for King Louis XII of France, but it was presumed lost until 2005—“the biggest [artistic?] discovery of the 21st century,” said Christie’s. It’s one of only twenty known paintings attributed to Leonardo.

Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452–1519), Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World), ca. 1500. Oil on walnut, 45.4 × 65.6 cm (25.8 × 19.2 in.).

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White-chair memorial inside Sutherland Springs church opens to public before demolition: First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, reopened to the public on Sunday evening for the first time since a mass shooting on November 5 killed twenty-six people attending worship. In the week between, volunteers came in and repaired all the bullet holes, ripped up the carpet and tore out the pews, and applied fresh coats of white paint to the walls and concrete floor. A temporary memorial has been erected, consisting of white folding chairs that bear the names of the victims in gold paint as well as roses with chiffon ribbons. The one pink rose among twenty-five red ones is for the unborn child who died with his or her eight-months-pregnant mother.

First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs
Temporary memorial, November 12, 2017, First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Photo: Drew Anthony Smith for the New York Times
First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs
Baby Holcombe’s pink rose sits between roses for his or her mom Crystal and brother Greg. Nine of the twenty-six shooting victims were from the Holcombe family.

Although the congregation has not yet officially voted on it, it’s likely that the church will be demolished and a new one built in its place; the pastor said many congregants do not want to go back in there because of the trauma. (The Sunday after the shooting, they worshipped in a large outdoor tent nearby.) Preemptively, a San Antonio contractor teamed up with other local business owners to form a nonprofit, Rebuilding Sutherland Springs Inc., to raise money for a new church building and park. Through GoFundMe, they have already raised $1.1 million of their $2.5 million goal. Click here to donate.

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Thanksgiving-themed black gospel jazz service: This video recording is from a Jazz Vespers service held on November 10, 2015, in Goodson Chapel at Duke. Chapel Dean Luke Powery and others offer prayers and readings, while the John Brown Big Band, a professional jazz ensemble, leads music. The songs are as follows: “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” (opening); Walter Hawkins’s “Thank You (Lord, for All You’ve Done for Me)” (5:15); “Thank You, Lord” (11:44, reprised 52:26); “Every Day Is a Day of Thanksgiving” (25:05); “Perfect Love Song” (56:25); “Amazing Grace” (1:03:24); and “When the Saints Go Marching In” (1:09:04).

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Advent candle-lighting liturgy: Advent season is just around the corner. Here are five dramatic readings for the lighting of the Advent candles, based on traditional liturgies. They were written by Kathy Larson, director of Christian education and creative arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. They sound very compelling!

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NEW BOOK: Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey: On November 3 Rabbit Room Press released a collection of one hundred-plus new liturgies for daily life bound together in a beautiful hardcover volume with linocut illustrations by Ned Bustard. Some of the prayers are intended for routine acts, while others are for special, memorable, difficult, or even tragic occasions. Included are liturgies for laundering, for home repair, for the watching of storms, for the first hearthfire of the season, before beginning a book, for setting up a Christmas tree, for the welcoming of a new pet, for the morning of a medical procedure, for the death of a dream, upon tasting pleasurable food, and for the sound of sirens. The aim is to encourage mindfulness of the constant presence of God. Five free liturgies are available for download at https://www.everymomentholy.com/liturgies. The book is for sale exclusively at the online Rabbit Room Store. Read an interview with the illustrator here.


Communing with the Lord during one’s daily tasks is what the seventeenth-century monk Brother Lawrence calls “practicing the presence of God”; poet George Herbert calls it “drudgery made divine.” The Anglican priest Jonathan Evens led a short meditation a few months ago at St. Stephen Walbrook that draws on the wisdom of these two near contemporaries, titled “Doing Our Common Business for the Love of God”—very much in the same spirit as McKelvey’s book.

Every Moment Holy
Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (Rabbit Room Press, 2017). Right: Part opener illustration by Ned Bustard for “Liturgies of Labor and Vocation.”

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK: The following church-sign photo from the Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace in Vancouver has been making the rounds on Twitter via Banksy:

Build a longer table

“If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a taller fence.”

A prayer of thanksgiving

Feast of Creation by Pablo Sanaguano Sanchez
Pablo Sanaguano Sanchez (Ecuadorian, 1966–), Feast of Creation.

“O my God,
. . . . . . . . . .
I bless You for the soul You have created,
For adorning it, for sanctifying it,
Though it is fixed in barren soil;
For the body You have given me,
For preserving its strength and vigor,
For providing senses to enjoy delights,
For the ease and freedom of limbs,
For hands, eyes, ears that do Your bidding;
For Your royal bounty providing my daily support,
For a full table and overflowing cup,
For appetite, taste, sweetness,
For social joys of relatives and friends,
For ability to serve others,
For a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
For a mind to care for my fellow-men,
For opportunities of spreading happiness around,
For loved ones in the joys of heaven,
For my own expectation of seeing You clearly.
I love You above the powers of language to express,
For what You are to Your creatures.
Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.”

—Puritan prayer, published in The Valley of Vision (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Trust, 1975)