Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Written on Sunday Morning"

First there is this from Robert Southey, "Written on Sunday Morning":

Go thou and seek the House of Prayer!
I to the Woodlands wend, and there
In lovely Nature see the GOD OF LOVE.
The swelling organ's peal
Wakes not my soul to zeal,
Like the wild music of the wind-swept grove.
The gorgeous altar and the mystic vest
Rouse not such ardor in my breast,
As where the noon-tide beam
Flash'd from the broken stream,
Quick vibrates on the dazzled sight;
Or where the cloud-suspended rain
Sweeps in shadows o'er the plain;
Or when reclining on the clift's huge height
I mark the billows burst in silver light.

Go thou and seek the House of Prayer!
I to the Woodlands shall repair,
Feed with all Natures charms mine eyes,
And hear all Natures melodies.
The primrose bank shall there dispense
Faint fragrance to the awaken'd sense,
The morning beams that life and joy impart
Shall with their influence warm my heart.
And the full tear that down my cheek will steal,
Shall speak the prayer of praise I feel!

Go thou and seek the House of Prayer!
I to the woodlands bend my way
And meet RELIGION there.
She needs not haunt the high-arch'd dome to pray
Where storied windows dim the doubtful day:
With LIBERTY she loves to rove.
Wide o'er the heathy hill or cowslip'd dale;
Or seek the shelter of the embowering grove,
Sweet are these scenes to her, and when the night
Pours in the north her silver streams of light,
She woos Reflexion in the silent gloom,
And ponders on the world to come. 

                               * * * 

And there is this personal postscript:

I also seek the answers to life's biggest questions in places beyond churches. The answers are there if you know how to look and listen. Perhaps Robert Southey can be your guide on this Sunday. He is a nearly forgotten poet who ought to be read by more people in these troubled times. 

What do you think?

Read more about Robert Southey in my review of W. A. Speck's highly recommended biographical study via this link to The American Spectator.


  1. The poem is technically quite good, and I agree that Southey deserves better than posterity has granted him. But a poem also has to be soundly reasoned (oddly enough), and this one isn't. I am a cradle Catholic and a lifelong hiker (until my knees grew gimpy — and I plan on having that fixed sometime this year), and the only nearly mystical experience I ever had was while hiking. But I doubt it would have been the same, or even been at all, were it not for my Catholicism. The error of the poem, in my view, is that it presumes we must choose between the house of prayer and the woodlands. My experience is that we do not. They complement each other. After all, who was it told us to look at the lilies of the field?

    1. Yes, Frank, I understand your point. I have always been impressed with the rituals and sacraments of the Catholic church; when the mass was in Latin, I was even more impressed. You see, my Protestant background left me ignorant of such structural/spiritual scaffolding. As for Southey, I think his position within English Romanticism is the easiest explanation for his reasoning in the poem. BTW, I am going to fix the review link at the end of the poem; I think readers might care to know a bit more about Southey, and the book I reviewed is a perfect opportunity for that knowledge.

  2. friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth, one of the Lake poets, supporter of a large family and hard pursuer of coin to provide for them, Southey was indeed under-rated, imo... i don't think this is one of his better efforts, though; his longer works, Thalaba or Roderick, for instance, capture the imagination... at worst tedious, at best, absorbing... interesting choice for a post... tx...

    1. Mudpuddle, you are more of a Southey reader than I have been. I chose this poem because -- well -- it is Sunday; and I wanted to provide an opening to the link of my ten-year old review for The American Spectator (i.e., W. A. Speck's critical biography). I suppose neither reason is immune from criticism; yeah, my selfish self indulged myself.

  3. Tim,

    I wonder what Southey would think of Tennyson's "nature red in tooth and claw."

    Just to be a bit persnickety.

    1. Hmmm, Fred, you've given me too much to ponder; this could take a while:
      Reading Canto LVI is insufficient for me, so I will now adjourn to reading mode. Thanks for the provocation.

  4. I honestly have never believed that houses of worship were the only (or even, always, the best) places to communicate with God, however one sees God. So I'm glad you're discussing this particular poem, Tim.

    1. Margot, some people need churches, but some need them for the wrong reasons. There is a riddle to ponder.