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Poetry Blog 20

Poetry Blog 20
Published by Sarah Bourne on Mon, 7 Jun 2021 09:48
Poetry Group

“A Pastoral Selection”

What image does the word Pastoral conjure up for you?

Are we drawn to think about those idyllic, rural scenes with animals grazing on open pastureland, or the delight of seeing newly born lambs? Or does it remind us of the importance of looking after and conserving our land?

Perhaps it reminds us of a much wider need of care for communities, either in the church or other organisations such as schools.

In all these, it carries the sense of being aware and responding to the specific needs of individuals, groups or settings. 

In this Blog I want to concentrate on the needs of individuals, which is normally referred to as Pastoral Care. This approach embraces emotional, social and spiritual support. So, it explores the ways we might give care, as well as some of the conditions in life which cry out for a need of care: loneliness, sadness, disappointment, bereavement.

As I started to think about the poetry which might provide some insights, I was drawn instinctively to Psalm 23, which is very much a pastoral Psalm. This opens with the lines;


The Divine Shepherd 1


The Lord is my shepherd;  

therefore can I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures  

and leads me beside still waters.

He shall refresh my soul 

and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.


So, although it is very much about people it also contains that imagery of the rural scene of a shepherd caring for the sheep. And, of course, this is an important comparison for it is very much an act of shepherding in our concern of other people.   And this is a notion which is powerfully transposed through the life of Christ.


Let me start this selection of “Pastoral Poetry” with of an acrostic poem, where the letters of PASTORAL CARE are used in turn as the opening letter of each word as we progress line by line. The author of this poem is unknown.

This poem, I believe, embodies many of the skills and approaches that are used in pastoral care and links them with a relevant condition that might be encountered.


“Pastoral Care” 2

Perceptiveness of people and the issues that they bear

Attention to the trappings and the wrappings present there,

Sincerity in listening and reflecting what we hear

Tenderness of presence to those hurting and in fear.

Openness in hearing what is different from our view

Reverence for the treasure of a life which seems askew,

Affection for the beauty beneath the surface of the skin

Love to dare and time to share for the soul alive within.

Compassion in the presence of a badly mangled life

Acceptance of the anger, the depression born of strife,

Respect for all humanity and the baggage it must bear

Enable us to share the journey as we offer Pastoral Care.


My second choice is a poem written by an American Benedictine Priest Monk, Fr Julian Peters OSB.

Fr Julian is part of the leadership at Saint Meinrad Roman Catholic Seminary and School of Theology, Indiana, which retains Benedictine links. 

This poem expresses some of the hope and aspirations we all recognise as well as the disappointments we encounter throughout our lives, and the relationships we forge. It is firmly anchored to the notion that God’s grace always provides.


“God’s Grace Provides” by Julian Peters, O.S.B. 3

Successes and joys 

 projects complete 

 plans carried out 

 things gone right 

 blessings abound – 

 God’s grace provides.


Life’s disappointments 

 dreams unfulfilled 

 hopes unrealized 

 chaos of feelings 

 aching hearts – 

God’s grace provides.


Questions arise 

 doubt hovers near 

 strength subsides 

 resolve grows weak 

 the going gets tough – 

 God’s grace provides.


 Family and friends 

 soul-mates, sisters and brothers 

 all for a time 

 length of days varies 

 but lasting forever – 

 God’s grace provides.


Do not be afraid 

 walk through the darkness 

 sail through the storm 

 travel on in hope 

 move forward in faith – 

 God’s grace provides.


Yesterdays of memory 

 tomorrows of imagining 

 have been and yet will be 

 today’s lived now 

 all will be well – 

 God’s grace provides.


I now turn to one of the Romantic poets of the 19th century, John Clare. He was celebrated in the Royal Mail stamp issue of 2020.

 Clare was born in 1793 in Helpston, Northamptonshire.

The son of a farm labourer, he became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and sorrows at its disruption. His poetry underwent major re-evaluation in the late 20th century, and he is now rightly regarded as a major 19th-century poet. And perhaps as a consequence of his upbringing on a farm, he writes so powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self.

He died in 1864, having spent the last two decades of his life in Asylums.

The poem speaks about loneliness and its effects on life and the pain of loss of friendship.  It is an expression of the sorrow of rejection and the absence of anyone to share pain and suffering with.  Indirectly, the poem talks about friends who are with us during the good times and leave otherwise. He longs for heaven to be with God to find eternal joy.

John Clare led a troubled and lonely life in so many ways.


I Am!  - by John Clare4

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;

My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes—

They rise and vanish in oblivious host,

Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes

And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed


Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;

Even the dearest that I loved the best

Are strange —nay, rather, stranger than the rest.


I long for scenes where man hath never trod

A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator, God,

And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie

The grass below—above the vaulted sky.



My final selection is Thomas Gray’s “Elegy”, written in 1751

Thomas Gray was an English poet and classical scholar, and this is perhaps his most famous poem. Interestingly he only published 13 in his lifetime.

It is believed the poem was written in his local churchyard of St Giles, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, following the death of a close friend and fellow poet, Richard West, who died at the young age of 26.

It is a long poem, so I have only included a few opening verses plus the epitaph. It inevitably draws us to think about death and dealing with the consequent bereavement.


Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard - By Thomas Gray 5

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, 

         The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 

The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 

         And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 



Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight, 

         And all the air a solemn stillness holds, 

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight, 

         And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; 


Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r 

         The moping owl does to the moon complain 

Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r, 

         Molest her ancient solitary reign. 


Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade, 

         Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap, 

Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, 

         The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. 



Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth 

       A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. 

Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth, 

       And Melancholy mark’d him for her own. 


Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere, 

       Heav’n did a recompense as largely send: 

He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear, 

       He gain’d from Heav’n (‘twas all he wish’d) a friend. 


No farther seek his merits to disclose, 

       Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, 

(There they alike in trembling hope repose) 

       The bosom of his Father and his God. 



1. Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, Church House Publishing, London 2000

2.Queensland Institute of Clinical Pastoral Education Inc. 

Adult reflective learning for chaplains in all walks of life

Posted as a blog on their website October 2012.

3.Fr Julian Peters OSB reported on OFS HealthCare, Illinois USA. Website - https://www.osfhealthcare.org/services/home-care/

4 The New Oxford Book of English Verse, Chosen & Edited by Helen Gardner, OUP Oxford 1972/ Reprint 1987

5.The New Oxford Book of English Verse, Chosen & Edited by Helen Gardner, OUP Oxford 1972/ Reprint 1987. The full poem can also be accessed online on the Poetry Foundation website




Submitted by Roger Verrall 6 June 2021