Word & Song by Anthony Esolen
Poem of the Week
"Lead me, O Lord, into the world I knew"

"Lead me, O Lord, into the world I knew"

From The Hundredfold

Some years ago, I said to myself that I’d take up the old poet’s pen again. Debra had wanted me to, and I’d thought it was high time, and then our good friend Louis del Grande, the Canadian-American television actor, said out of nowhere — and Louie’s known for sudden inspirations — that I should do it. “I don’t know,” he said, “but it just came to me!” I figured I’d better listen, especially because Louie’s biggest hit on Canadian television was a show called Seeing Things, about a lovably clumsy reporter who’d solve mysteries by the help of sudden flashes before his eyes. Well, why not? I’d read a couple hundred thousand lines of classic poetry in those years, translating quite a lot of them from Latin or Italian or Anglo-Saxon into English, too. That’s an education, right? And I set myself several aims, one of which I’ll share with you right up front here. I wanted to write poetry that anyone could approach. That doesn’t mean that it’s all obvious or on the surface — far from it. But I’ve always believed that poetry really is for ordinary people, just as music is. And people like rhythm and meter in their songs, just as they like patterns in their houses and public buildings, of course with variations, like the wild and yet tamed order of a vista of hills and woods and villages seen from a mountaintop.

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So for our Poem of the Week, I give you one of my short lyrics from The Hundredfold, picking up on our Word of the Week, the phrase Man’s Best Friend. The Hundredfold is a single poem made up of 100 poems, its major pillars being 12 dramatic monologues or dialogues centered on the life of Christ. There are also 21 hymns, and 66 lyric poems, with a 100th poem in terza rima as the “envoy” to complete the work. Each of the lyric poems is introduced by a verse from Scripture, and for these I decided I could speak in my own person, and not tie myself down to any one period of time. Our lyric today is introduced by the verse from Revelation, “And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” But don’t worry, it isn’t about international politics! It’s about the childhood I remember, in the land of my birth, and the childhood I hope to attain, in a land I have not seen. It’s meant to be light-hearted, and how could it not be, if Man’s Best Friend is in it, barking and wagging his tail?

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The stanzas are alike in form, seven lines, with the fifth line having only three strong beats instead of five, to set up the climax in the seventh line, which in the first stanza is whimsical and in the second stanza is meant to lead the reader into wonder. So each stanza reflects the other, and the first prepares the way for the second. Anyhow, as I’ve sometimes said here at Word and Song, when I think about the best things in my life, they don’t come with a lot of noise and bright lights. Don’t you find it true in your own lives? I sit with Debra on the sofa and we watch a funny show, while we’re holding hands — isn’t that better than any headline in a newspaper? I’m reading a book I enjoy, while Debra is playing on the guitar and singing, and the puppy dog Molly is sleeping in the crook of my arm — isn’t that a blessing you can hardly begin to understand? When the prodigal son came back home, imagine the homely and familiar things he must have seen as he approached his father’s house; a field where he and his brother played; a muddy pond where they caught frogs and turtles; an old fence for what used to be a sheepfold . . . And perhaps what the eye of man has never seen will bring him back what he has seen, but never seen aright. I think it’s a good hope to entertain.

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And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Lead me, O Lord, into the world I knew,
When water was a wondrous thing, like wine,
And manna no more marvelous than the dew
Globed on the grapes of my grandfather's vine;
The little stars were mine
Because they were themselves, and came from you,
And the dogs barked because you made them to.

Then take me, Lord, into that world to come,
Where nations are a drop in a child's pail
And all their wars a pat upon his drum;
Bring me where living waters never fail,
And the dog wags his tail
Because the prodigal at last is home,
And has an endless riverside to roam.
Return of the Prodigal Son, Murillo. Public Domain.

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Word & Song by Anthony Esolen is an online magazine devoted to reclaiming the good, the beautiful, and the true. We publish six essays each week, on words, classic hymns, poems, films, and popular songs, as well a weekly podcast for paid subscribers, alternately Poetry Aloud or Anthony Esolen Speaks. Paid subscribers also receive audio-enhanced posts and on-demand access to our full archive, and may add their comments to our posts and discussions. To support this project, please join us as a free or paid subscriber.

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Word & Song by Anthony Esolen
Poem of the Week
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