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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

'The Rosary' by Frances Caryll Houselander (1901-1954)

          




Frances Caryll Houselander
- mystic, poet, artist, writer
         (1901 - 1954)








                                                                     
The Rosary


In the doorway of a low grey house,
built of stones as old as the Crusades,
a woman of Bruges sits in the sunlight,
among the flowers, saying her Rosary.


She seems to be carved out of season walnut
and polished smooth
by the constant touch of the hand of God,
and the beads that twine her crippled fingers
are scarlet berries on the thorny twigs.


The running rhythm
and the repetition
of the Paters and the Aves
is like the rhythm that in nature
moves through the seasons
from seed to harvest
with the unity
and the pause and stress
of music;
like the bloodstream of Christ,
that flows through the seasons
from Advent to Easter
in the Liturgy of the Church,
the ebb and flow of the tide of love
in the Mystical Body of Christ.
             
II
God has given His children strings of beads,
as we give strings of beads to our children,
to teach them to count.


We do not say,
“Learn from these the doctrine of numbers,
the measure of human life,
the dream of Pythagorus,
counting the pulse of the world.”


We do not say
to a child with a string of beads,
“learn the perfection of reason in mathematics.”


We say,
“Learn to count on the beads,
small for your hands to hold,
bright for your eyes to see.”
And he begins,
slowly,
with one, two, three:
the spark is kindled
to light the flame of philosophy.


God has counted in fifteen Mysteries,
on the fingers of human creatures,
the singleness of the Undivided Love,
the simplicity
that we cannot comprehend
because our hearts are divided.
         
III
We are not all vessels of gold,
lifted up in virginal hands,
empty chalices to receive
from the perfect vine
love,
absolute
and complete.


But the old woman of Bruges
is a round bowl,
lifted up to be brimmed
with pure wine.
and the Mysteries of the Rosary
concern familiar things
known in her own life.


Her mind, like a velvet bee
droning over a rose,
gathers the honey of comfort
from the story of God,
familiar as the things in her kitchen –
the shining pots and pans,
the milk in the jar of earthenware,
and the flags of the scrubbed floor.


The story told by the Rosary
is the story of primitive beauty,
true as the burden of folk- songs.
It is a song piped on the hills,
by a shepherd calling his sheep.
       
IV
The cradle of wood, 
the wood of the cross;
from cradle to cross,
like a lullaby;
the wail of an infant,
lost on the wind –
the arms of a girl
in a circle of love,
rocking to rest;
a woman’s arms
in a circle of love,
the young Man dead
on His Mother’s breast.


The jewels that glow
low in the grass
on the feet of Christ,
risen from death,
touching the flowers
and touching the dust,
even in glory.


The dust of the earth 
on the feet of God,
walking the soft blue meadows of stars.
       
V
In the doorway of a low grey house,
built of stones as old as the Crusades,
a woman of Bruges
sits in the sunlight, among the flowers,
saying her Rosary.


The story of Mary is her own story,
and her son was her life’s joy
and her life’s sorrow;
and for ever
her son is her life’s glory.


In a field in Flanders,
among the red poppies, he is sleeping:
he will sleep soundly
until the day of resurrection.


She has still the patchwork quilt
made, when her hands were nimble,
for the wooden cot:
now he is sleeping, and each year
he has a new coverlet
of delicate young grass,
and at the end of his cot
a wooden cross.


The cradle of the wood,
the wood of the cross:
from cradle to cross,
like a lullaby.


The story of the woman of Bruges
is the world’s story.
it is the story
of human joy and sorrow,
woven and interlaced,
like the blue and crimson thread
in a woven cloth:
the story of birth and death,
of war and the rumours of war
and of peace past understanding,
peace in the souls that live
in the life of Christ.


In the doorway in Bruges,
sitting among the flowers, 
her mind like a velvet bee
droning over a rose,
taking the honey of comfort
out of the heart of Love,
the old woman is nodding 
over her Rosary.


She has lived her meditation,
like the Mother of God,
living the life of Christ:
let her sleep in Christ’s peace.
        
VI
Under the loud din
of the tramp of metallic feet
in the armed march of time,
like a river moving
under the dark hills,
the everlasting life
is flowing, eternally.


The measured beat of love,
with pure perfection of music,
timing the life of Christ
in the human heart
goes on.
                   Frances Caryll Houselander

                              
                             *********************
    
 'Frances Caryll Houselander was born in Bath, England, on Sept 29, 1901, the second of two daughters.  She was not expected to survive for more than a day, and was immediately baptized,  given the name ‘Frances’ after her uncle, a gynaecologist who helped deliver her, and ‘Caryll’,  after the yacht on which her mother had spent the last months of her pregnancy!
     She went on to survive her first day, and indeed many more after that, though her health continued to be poor throughout her life. 
     When she was 6 years old, a family friend persuaded her mother to have the children baptised in the Catholic faith. Although little formal religious education followed her reception into the Church, her mother encouraged a deep sense of piety and devotion in the home, and Frances, a devout child,  made her first confession and Holy Communion when she was just seven years old.
     Two years later, her world was shattered when her parents  separated. Though they were never  divorced, the separation was to be a permanent one. For the next several years, she changed homes and schools, never fully settling in one place before she was moved to the next. 
     Her erratic health led her doctors to advise that she avoid all class work, and,  by the time she returned home in 1917, her formal education was virtually non-existent.  During her years in the convent schools, she experienced three religious visions, which led to a personal and absolute conviction that she had been called by Christ to give recognition to the reality of His loving Presence and Image in all people, particularly the suffering and poor of this world, and to convey the realisation and awareness of this to all those with whom she came into contact, personally and through her writings. Frances had a great affinity with young children, and during her life wrote and illustrated children's books, always revealing a simple delight in the love of God and His creation.
     When the war ended, she attended art school and it was during this period that she drifted from the Catholic Church. She explored the Orthodox Church among others, but found them all wanting, and craving for peace of soul and longing for the Sacraments, she returned to the Catholic Church; she was then twenty-four years old. 
     Advised to concentrate on her writing, she  began to write articles and illustrate for the ‘Children’s Messenger of the Sacred Heart’, often on an unpaid basis. Her work ultimately led to her making the acquaintance of the Catholic publishers, Sheed and Ward, who were subsequently to  become the major publishers of her many books. 
     Always willing to open her home and her heart to those in need, she was frequently physically and emotionally  overwhelmed by those who sought her advice, yet she remained reluctant to turn people away. 
     Msgr. Ronald Knox, a contemporary, and admirer of Houselander, recognized her tremendous gift of insight, and was later to say, "She seemed  to see everything for the first time, and the driest of doctrinal considerations shone out like a restored picture when she had finished with it." 
     Her popularity and success in healing the hurts and the hearts of many can be measured by the support of such eminent physicians as Dr. Strauss, later President of the British Psychological Society, who sent patients to her. His explanation was that "she loved them back to life". 
     Her impact, both literary and personal, was due above all, to the intensity of her vision of the suffering Christ, a vision she expressed with utter sincerity and immediacy and, on occasion, with breathtaking luminosity. Indeed, she can best be described not just as a writer, nor even just an artist, but as a mystic and a visionary, even in the tradition of Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, or Teresa of Avila, which would explain how she was able to communicate so directly and movingly to her large reading public, and accounts for her extraordinary success in counselling British and foreign children who had been traumatized by the war. 
     Not gregarious by nature, she nevertheless radiated gaiety and a  sense of fun; her wickedly funny tongue often provoking as much hilarity among her intimates as it caused her remorse. 
     She was unquestionably a genuine mystic whose frailties were transformed into real strength and whose neuroses became the means whereby she was able to join her sufferings with Christ on the cross.It was as though her burning love of God overflowed for the refreshment of all who came in contact with her.
    "She seemed to possess a well that never ran dry for anyone but herself. She gave of her food to feed the hungry, her time to counsel those in need, her energy to write countless letters, articles and books, and ultimately her health for the health and well-being of others. She spent years attending to the rigorous demands of her ailing parents, and, having been plagued by ill health her entire life, had become accustomed to pain and slow to address her own physical ailments. Her lack of self-concern, however, which extended to everything from her looks, to her diet, her sleep, her health, her living quarters, etc., took its toll."  
      During her last years, she worked tirelessly to complete books, write letters, strengthen the works of charity she had begun, and minister to the many mentally ill children who were sent her way'              
      She died on October 12, 1954, from breast cancer. 
"The wonder of Frances Caryll Houselander is found in her humble willingness to suffer with Christ, to let Him transform her flawed and sinful nature into a divine work of art."


Ack.  Karen Lynn Krugh / Catholic Culture.org
Ack.  Margot H. King - currently working on biography for Peregrina Publishers.
Ack.   Robin Maas - Caryll Houselander, an appreciation.
www.ewtn.com/library

                      *******************************
Books by Caryll Houselander

SPIRITUALITY
"Guilt"
"The Reed of God"
"This War is the Passion"
"The Stations of the Cross"
"The Passion of the Infant Christ"

AUTOBIOGRAPHY
"A Rockinghorse Catholic"

ANTHOLOGIES
"The Mother of God"
"A Rockinghorse Catholic"

BIOGRAPHY
"Caryll Houselander: That Divine Eccentric" by Masie Ward






2 comments:

Richard Collins said...

Thank you so much for this Brian. Unknown to me but something to be treasured.

umblepie said...

Thank you for your interest Richard. I have to admit that the works of this truly 'good' lady were unknown to me until recently,when I picked up a book belonging to my wife called 'The Mary Book' by F.J.Sheed, published in 1950, in which were several poems by her. I was hooked, as the saying goes, and hope to acquire more of her work. Kind regards. Brian.