Ian Sowton

For Ian Sowton at 90

For Ian Sowton at 90

Some saints were farmers
like Serenus the gardener who shares your day, dear Ian.
They ploughed the land like billy-o
scattering the seed where fall it will
and harvesting the growth, if any,
in due season, tares and all.

And some moved kings and potentates,
and prelates too, as did bird-preaching Frances,
pushing Sultans, Popes, and a priest or two
to grant his brothers space; their kingdoms peace;
their people just a crêche or two
to see the mystery unfold.

Some to the desert, some to their desks
for theologic exercises, producing weighty tomes,
like Tom of Aquino,
or others vivid visions in the night,
like Antony or great Theresa—
he keeping all the nasty beasts at bay,
she asking God “What for?”
to all God’s arbitrary actions in the world
that we call Providence or Great Design.

But you, dear Saint, you take up pen
and with one eye fixed firmly on eternity
the other on our human fleshy pages,
you dight our life in deathless words,
full-singing offering for our times
to help us see and feel—and be
that little more that we can glimpse
beyond the page. We can perceive your pen
unhesitatingly filling in our contours,
with all those places where we need to grow,
delineating the hope and love that Paul,
your great progenitor, set out with faith for us
as virtues. So—ninety years, eh? just fancy that:
‘blisful’ as daisy, as Geoff Chaucer said,
‘Fulfilled of al vertu and honour,
And ever y-lyke fair, and fresh of hewe,’
still with some petal-words a-blowing in the wind,
some breeze to catch, still with some seeding hymns to scatter.

Perhaps that time in China—was it not Shandong?—
Hardened your hands, but not your heart?
Perhaps your life with Fran, so named of
that brave sky-lark of a soul—
Immortal Shelley—
That life you shared kept hearts warm
and souls in good repair.
In any road, as said in north of England,
the stars aligned on February twenty-three:
Not only Samuel Pepys, but Handel too
born on this day.
The deaths are also worth remark—
John Keats in 1821, another poet-of-the-line,
And Polycarp, the bearer of ‘much fruit,’
or so his name in Greek,
disciple of Apostle John.
God’s company are these to share
in births, commemorations, sanctity,
all good deeds
to heap up treasury in heaven,
leave us the richer far, so far below
for all their time among us.

Go on, dear Saint, and write us in,
Some name or two
on your blank pages’ waiting hope
As we so happily inscribe
our joy in knowing, loving, honouring your name
and you, dear friend, at four-score years and ten.

                                         William Whitla
                                      February 23, 2019

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