Wednesday 12 June 2024

Pendragon's Shield A Poetry Collection - Avellina Balestri

Pendragon's Shield
A Poetry Collection
ISBN 9798393129644
ISBN 9798393455996

Pendragon's Shield A Poetry Collection - Avellina Balestri

This was the first volume I have read by Avellina Balestri. I have it and one of her novels. And I have great interest in one that is in the works currently.

The description of the volume states:

“Avellina Balestri’s debut collection of poetry is a broad and deep tribute to the legacy of heroines and heroes whose values and life lessons represent forces of faith, hope and light and who stand as stalwart guides through our common fears and suffering to the eventual reward of peace by living lives of allegiance, gratitude, love and service.

Balestri examines her own Catholic Christian roots via many insightful and accurate dramatic monologues, well-researched and creative personal elegies, and mystical experiments that eulogize inspirational personages. Ever the educator and writer, Balestri employs her artistic command of imagery, sound devices, and narrative skill to weave a magic that compels her audience to accompany her various personae through the poetic experiences at hand.”

In the author’s note Avellina states:

“For some time, I debated whether or not to release a poetry book, as they are not particularly en vogue these days. But running a cursory check, I realized that I had quite an accumulation of poems, built up for over a decade, lying around in digital folders, just collecting cyber dust. Hence, I decided it couldn’t hurt to write a few more, string them together in a relatively pleasing order, and break up the collection into two volumes. This is the first; God willing, the second will appear on the horizon when I’ve managed to expand my collection wider still and wider, as my sporadic imagination allows.”

Further on she states:

“My main inspirations for writing poetry are drawn from the religious, historical, and mythological traditions of both east and west. But I also delve into social justice and sense of place, two concepts which I believe are knit together. The idea of the personal and the communal permeates the desire for home which we all have, and which I believe will be fully realized in the world to come, though we might do our best to bring heaven to earth through our recognition of the divine spark in each person and the eternal purpose unfolding in time.”

The poems included in this collection are:

Our Lady of Britannia
Ferguson’s Grave
A Man for All Seasons
Eulogy for Imam Ali
Shattered Mirror
The Late Sir David Amess
An Hour That Passes
Nothing Human
The Sun of Truth
The Riddle of Notre Dame
Recusants of Middle-earth
Again, in Nottingham
Hussain at Karbala
Edmund the Martyr
Love is Not an Accident
Sacrifice of the Sun
The Day of Queens
Strong John of Waterloo
I Am
The Queen's Funeral Day
The Priest’s House
Remembrance Sunday
Braddock's Sash
The Afternoon of Emptiness
Hidden Queen
The Dowry
Till After the Trial
Waiting Room

The poems are followed by a section called ‘Historical Commentary’. This section begins with:

““Our Lady of Britannia”

Marian devotion in England, and the wider British Isles, is as old as Christianity’s presence there. The earliest imaginings of the people have Mary visiting Cornwall with the Christ Child during Joseph of Arimathea’s tin mining expeditions. In some of the first references to King Arthur we have written down in the chronicles, he is depicted as bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child upon his shield. Robin Hood, also, is shown in the earliest ballads to have a deep Marian devotion, regularly praying his rosary and sneaking into mass on lady days, even at risk of capture.

G.K. Chesterton paid tribute to England's love for Mary in “The Ballad of the White Horse” by having her appear to King Alfred as he prepared to battle the invading Danes, bearing seven swords in her heart, and one in her hand. Such apparitions had historical precedent. The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham where one such visitation is believed to have occurred was called “England's Nazareth”, and was a major center of European medieval pilgrimage. The Shrine of Our Lady of Cardigan in Wales served as another destination for the pious. Countless other markers, formed by nature or the hand of man, dot the British Isles in her honor.”

Typically when I review a collection of poems I highlight a few that really spoke to me. Here are three from this collection:

Our Lady of Britannia 
Dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, as well as to all Catholics throughout the British Isles who have suffered and struggled to maintain the faith of their fathers in the midst of travail.

Thou stood on Newgate Arch and graced Pendragon’s shield;
Cardigan bore thy taper and Walsingham thy seal.
Humbly we now beseech thee as at thy feet we kneel:
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy beads hung from the sword-belts of Locksley’s merry men;
Thy hymns were sung by choirs, O Mother Free from Sin.
This land was once thy Dowry; pray make it so again.
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy servants thou defended when Alfred made his stand,
With ships upon the water and fire o’er the land.
Seven Swords were pierced through thy heart, and one was in thy hand.
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy name was oft-times chanted by peasants and bold knights,
Preparing for the harvest or arming for the fight.
Though long’s the time we’ve wandered, thou’st kept us in thy sight.
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy hands are in the Highlands to show us how to pray;
Thy footprints are in Cornwall to guide us in Christ’s ways.
Direct us, Star of Ocean, if, God forbid, we stray.
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thou art the Dove of Peace for Ulster’s troubled sons;
The Queen of Thorns and Blossoms whose seat was Avalon.
‘Tis thou who reigns in silence when all the songs are gone.
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Imprisoned in the darkness, thou still remained the same,
A bearer of Good Ransom for those who called thy name.
Thou art the Gilded Lamp that holds the Sacred Flame.
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Recall the martyrs’ deaths in Christ’s own imitation;
Come rack and then come rope, they braved the tribulation.
The ruby blood they shed cries out in supplication:
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Remember this, thy country, amidst the stormy sea;
O may she stand united, a stronghold for the free.
But foremost, make her faithful to Jesus Christ and thee!
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

“And the pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss, and called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.”—G.K. Chesterton

Along the crimson straight of war,
Beads are clutched by daring men,
Some hailing Holy Mary,
Some praising, “Ya Allah.”
Strange symphony of souls
Drawn forth unto their end...
Don Juan is kneeling on the deck,
Repenting of his sinful ways,
With empty belly, swelling soul,
Like the wind behind the sails.
Perhaps he quotes Theresa,
Saint of the unconquered quill:
“God alone sufficeth.”
And Ali Pasha prostrates now,
Hair shirt scratching under robes,
And murmurs the motto of mortals:
“Hasbunallah”—Allah is enough for us.
Both men enjoyed the ladies—
Don Juan, that gallant blade,
With sword and satin, emperor’s son,
A wild youth who sowed his oats
In far too many fields;
And Ali Pasha, with sweetest voice
The women said bewitched them,
A warrior and a muezzin’s son,
His ears attuned to greatness,
God’s, and his own, glory craved.
Don Juan, too, yearned for the same:
Pleasure for honor, a noble exchange.
They vow to perish or prevail.
Rome is the prize, imperial jewel,
And the tomb of a fisherman
Who asked, “Quo vadis, Domini?”
And promptly took his Master’s place
Upon the hill where stands the Church—
Saint Peter’s, Seat of Christendom.
The sultan wants her for a mosque,
Like Holy Wisdom in the east,
And Pasha is his chosen sword,
But Juan is Europe’s final knight.
The Pope has christened him anew,
For the lady Juan loves most of all
Sang lullabies in Bethlehem
And offers him seven swords.
Juan and Pasha, lords of hosts:
Both are brutal, both are brave,
Crushing rebels, conquering lands,
Slaughtering strongholds, seizing slaves,
Leading where men will follow,
Sleeping in blood-stained clothes.
Both pray, now, for victory,
And for mercy, to shield them
At the reckoning, on the day of doom,
When all will see their worth.
So they contest—ship to ship,
Blood spurting, banners snapping,
The Christ stretched wide across the sea,
Pierced heart flowing into water,
Human and divine commingled,
Agony and ecstasy embraced.
Five wounds, ruby red and wondrous,
Surround the maiden, shrouded in sky,
Crowned with stars, glinting like steel.
They glow in the cannon fire,
So far from humble Nazareth
Where Gabriel cried, with eyes of flame:
“Full of grace, the Lord is with thee!”
Yonder, see the attributes of God,
Stitched glorious and golden,
Like honey upon children’s tongues,
Taught to them since speech was learned:
“Our Master has beautiful names,
And the whole of the affair returns to Him.”
Oh, Ever-Living God!
What is this lofty spectacle?
The words and the Word
All torn and bleeding,
Trickling like the prayers of dying men
Down, down, into the straight...
And the Lady is not unmoved,
She who prays for us now,
And at the hour of death...
Yes, the end comes for us all,
For Ali Pasha and Don Juan,
The first slain by a musket ball,
The second, fever-stricken.
Perhaps Pasha mumbled, faintly,
“La ilaha il allah”—There is no god but God,
Before his head was hewn off
And raised upon a pike.
We know Juan cried, in agony,
“Jesu! Maria! Jesu! Maria!”
And then grew calm, kissed by grace,
And fell asleep, like a child.
We remember them both,
Victor and vanquished,
In history’s gory halls.
Yet none know now where they have gone,
Nor where we shall go.
Perhaps, in every manly heart,
There dwells a child who learned to pray.
And when we shed our earthly cloaks,
The shirt of sorrow is revealed,
And the child gains the victory.

The Dowry
“In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England.”—St. Edmund Campion

Christ is slain in the flesh
In Oxford’s heart, where all is still;
His wooden slumber reigns
Where Campion’s flower blossomed
In the hands of the Virgin, lily-white,
Stained by Albion’s scarlet rain.
Christ’s arms are folded over chest,
Where sacred heart has ceased to beat
In this Holy Saturday of centuries,
Without the scent of blooms or balm.
A silence rules between the notes
Of hymns we’ve half-forgotten;
A silence rules between the words
Of tales we hardly tell.

This is England, Mary’s dowry,
In the tomb with Christ's brown body,
The pearl of greatest price interred.
We wait beside the sepulcher,
Like the wolf over Edmund’s head,
Cast into forest by the foe.
“Hic, hic, hic,” he howls.
“Here, here, here,” he beckons us.
"Come as a pilgrim to the martyred isle."

I love this land, and love her dead;
The ghosts are close enough to kiss,
With rumors of relics everywhere—
Was Becket’s ring recovered?
When all the swords in England
Were pointed against his head,
And the keys of Canterbury
Were entrusted to his keeping,
No royal threats could turn him.
But Henry stole his ring…
And the soul of his own realm.

I hear the birdsong by the hedge,
Like their chorus once upon a June,
When More held fast and lost his head…
And the seasons kept on turning.
Where is the skull his Margaret kept
After he made his parting joke
About his beard committing no treason,
And swore he was the King’s true man,
But God’s good servant first?

I sing to the sky of clouds that part
For stars to sparkle, cold and clear,
Above the long green lawns of Oxford.
I think of the two Thomases,
Alongside the two Edmunds,
Looking down on their island home
Where Alfred battled heathen hoards
And the Lady swung her sword,
Vowing darkness would grow deeper,
With yet a cause to hope.

Yes, this is her dowry, rich and rare,
Christened twice, by water and blood,
Where beads are yet told in softest tones
“For the quick and the dead.”
This is the land of exiled sons
And secret sacraments received.
Perhaps the many have lost the way,
But the few yet remember.

You can see them here, the hallowed host
That graces oratory walls
And the minds of the faithful:
We see Anne and the three Margarets,
And all the Johns and Philips and Ralphs,
Lukes, Roberts, Henrys, Richards,
Swithuns and Cuthberts and Albans,
Good English names, each and every one,
Rolled upon an ocean of English tongues,
And not an English shire untouched
By the red fire and the redder blood
Of Southwell’s Burning Babe.

Today, in the alcove of the oratory,
You can read the words of sweet Therese:
“The earth’s thy ship and not thy home.”
But in this place of days undone
The ship seems moored, the kingdom spied.
The martyrs are here, there, everywhere,
Transcending temporality.

Yes, this is England—
My finger traces sign of Cross
At Blackfriars, during Holy Mass.
Somehow, still, our priests dwell here,
Their vespers foretelling victory.

I hope those three poems give you a feel for the volume. I greatly enjoyed some works in this book. A few did not hit for me they felt like they were pressing too hard. There were others I greatly loved. I would have no hesitation picking up another volume of poetry by Balestri, which is hinted at. And I can recommend this one for the discerning reader.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2024 Catholic Reading Plan!   

Books by Avellina Balestri:

The Telling of the Beads Series:
Saplings of Sherwood 

Gone for a Soldier Series:
All Ye That Pass

Contributed to:
The Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ in Islam

Fellowship & Fairydust Anthologies:
Tales of Chivalry: A Medieval Anthology
Happy & Glorious-A Royal Celebration

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