A Gradual Canticle for Augustine

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and while I generally don’t post reviews/quotes from a book until after I’ve finished reading, this poem within the book was too good not to share.

On pages 63-64 of the book, Stephen King describes how he met his wife, Tabitha Spruce. Stephen and Tabitha both attended a poetry workshop in the living room of instructor Jim Bishop’s house. Stephen King transcribes one of Tabitha’s poems, titled “A Gradual Canticle for Augustine”:

The thinnest bear is awakened in the winter
by the sleep-laughter of locusts,
by the dream-blustering of bees,
by the honeyed scent of desert sands
that the wind carries in her womb
into the distant hills, into the houses of Cedar.

The bear has heard a sure promise
Certain words are edible; they nourish
more than snow heaped upon silver plates
or ice overflowing golden bowls. Chips of ice
from the mouth of a lover are not always better,
Nor a desert dreaming always a mirage.
The rising bear sings a gradual canticle
woven of sand that conquers cities
by a slow cycle. His praise seduces
a passing wind, traveling to the sea
wherein a fish, caught in a careful net,
hears a bear’s song in the cool-scented snow.

Elegant and graceful. According to Stephen King: there was silence when Tabby finished reading. King describes the poem as exhibiting a “combination of crafty diction and delirious imagery.” I wanted to highlight this poem because it is the most vivid thing I’ve read all day.

In case you are wondering about the title: St. Augustine, the Latin-speaking theologian, wrote the Libertine’s Prayer, which goes “O Lord, make me chaste… but not yet.” In St. Augustine’s writing, he focused on man’s struggle to give up belief in self in favor of belief in God. And in the process, he sometimes likened himself to a bear.

2 thoughts on “A Gradual Canticle for Augustine

  1. And more importantly, as King points out, the poem means something, rather than just being pretty words on a page.

    No wonder he fell in love with its author.

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