01 January 2009

O Clavis

Here is Malcolm Guite's sonnet based on the O Antiphon appointed for 19 December in the Sarum practice:

O Clavis
Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard.
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free.

HT to the Confessing Reader for giving me the idea of using the Harrowing of Hell fresco (looks like a Panselinos to me) to illustrate the 'Key of David'. Actually, it makes me want to do a whole post on the Harrowing of Hell, but I don't have time at the moment!

It is now time to post the corresponding portion of Cynewulf's 'Christ I' Advent lyrics (ll. 18-49). The Old English text can be found in The Exeter Book, ed. George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, Vol. III of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, A Collective Edition (Morningside Heights, NY: Columbia U, 1961), pp. 3-4. The translation I give here is that in Kevin Crossley-Hollan, ed. and trans., The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford U, 1984), p. 198.

You govern the locks, You open life,
O Lord and Ruler, righteous King.
Unless man's work is well done, You deny
him the paths of joy, the blessed journey.
Truly in our need we speak these words
and call upon Him who created man
that He should not consign to hell
those unhappy ones, we who sit in prison,
sorrowing. We yearn for the sun,
for the Lord of Life to show us light,
take our souls into His protection,
clothe our clouded minds in His glory;
we await the day when He will make us worthy
that He has admitted to His grace,
abject, cut off from our own country,
we who had to come to this narrow land.
Wherefore a man may say--he who speaks the truth--
that, when it was lost, He delivered
the race of man. The maid He chose
for mother was still young, a virgin
without sin. The bride grew great with child
without once entering a man's embrace.
There has not been such merit in a woman
anywhere on earth, before or since;
it was a mystery, one of God's miracles.
All the gifts of the Spirit grew on earth;
the Maker illumined many matters,
knowledge long since hidden under the soil;
the sayings of the prophets were realised
when the Ruler was born, He who fulfils
the cryptic words of those who, fittingly
and fervently, praise the name of the Creator.

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