“Hasten to Aid Thy Fallen People”

“Hasten to Aid Thy Fallen People”

How does one make a song of holiness?
  Or speak of music without spoiling it?
They both seem more than our tongues can confess
  And, born above, in our world do not fit.
    What’s more, those who ascend with them
    Are closed in on themselves, struck dumb,
And all in ecstasy that they have heard
Seems flailing, foolish in a fallen word.


But every rising strain must strain indeed
  To lend a form to what in truth is light,
And manifest peace as if it’s a deed
  And give transcendence some arc of a flight.
    The purity of every saint
    Will be daubed on with sloppy paint,
And what no thought may comprehend or say
Must be taught in the staging of a play.


The gift of form, because so fascinating,
  As we bend down to work with knife or ruler,
Reminds us that beyond it’s always waiting
  Some piercing light. Consider how the jeweler
    Makes every cut upon a stone
    For its sake but not that alone,
His patient labor wasted if a line
Does not refract and multiply and shine.


And, any humble implement may serve
  To figure-forth and yet conceal that light,
So that high thought is felt upon each nerve
  And mystery is given to our sight.
    Just this way, things are lifted up:
    A chalice wrought from wooden cup;
A little dust and water, mixed to clay,
Are molded into birds that fly away.


The Mass is first His earthen sacrifice,
  But also taste of peace and heaven’s throne,
The gift that leaves behind all thought of price
  Yet where, no less, we raise a plangent groan,
    For at its finish we are sent
    Into the world both dark and bent
That bearing out the Virgin’s hastening aid
From ruined choirs some good may be remade.


This is the seventh and final poem from James Matthew Wilson’s new book of poems, The River of the Immaculate Conception (Wiseblood Books, 2019), commemorating the Mass of the Americas and rooted in his childhood vision of America as a Catholic Country. “Hasten to Aid Thy Fallen People” is a line from the Marian antiphon for the Advent season, the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which begins:
O loving Mother of our Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,
Hasten to aid thy fallen people who strive to rise once more.

More To Explore