Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jessica Powers

Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit
Not too long ago, Magnifacat Magazine published a beautiful poem by Jessica Powers, a name that was completely unknown to me.  I lingered over the final words of that poem, The Garments of God, which read:

"here in the dark I clutch the garments of God."

And I clutched those words throughout the day, pondering about who the author of such wonder could be.  I didn't have to think on it for long, as within a day I found a blog post by Easter from Hawaii, and learned that she, too, was enamored by the poem penned by that unknown poetess.  But Easter did more than I did, she began to search in an effort to learn more about Jessica Powers and she found this wonderful website with a wealth of information about Jessica Powers, who spent most of her life as Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, a Carmelite nun living at the Carmel of the Mother of God in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.  I had the honor of praying at that very same convent  with my niece several years ago and had no idea that I was in the earthly home of so great a poet.  I wrote about that prayer experience here and after re-reading that post I'm going to have to make an effort to get back out to that convent for some one-on-one time with the Lord, and this time I will be praying for the intercession of a saintly poet!

After learning that Jessica Powers was the author of several volumes of poetry, I quickly put in a request at my favorite library, St. Francis de Sales Seminary's Salzmann Library, and was soon holding every book by or about this wonderful poet within my hands.  Jessica Powers was a close friend to Green Bay's Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau and several of her books of poetry were collected and edited by this local holy man.  You can read an article of his about her here.

One of the things that impresses me the most about Jessica Powers is that she has a great love for nature, specifically the wilds of Wisconsin.  I brought several of her poetry editions along with me when my family and I took a recent camping vacation to Devil's Lake State Park just south of her hometown of Mauston.  While sitting around the campfire, my husband suggested that we have a poetry reading, with my children, and he and I each taking a turn reading one of her poems aloud.  After each reading, everyone snapped their fingers, which is apparently the hip thing to do to show appreciation for the poem instead of clapping.  I was just so happy to introduce spiritual poetry to my family as willing participants that although I would have preferred silence in lieu of the snapping, I went along with the game anyway and found that it was most enjoyable.  If the Spirit inspires you, feel free to snap your fingers after reading the following poems by Jessica Powers, or simply absorb them in silence.

Doves (from:  The Lantern Burns)

A dove in the air,
A dove in the sea,
And a dove in your glance
When you look at me.

Feather of dusk,
Wings in the grain,
And a crumpled bird
In the wake of pain.

Everywhere doves
With their drifting wings;
In a dream, in a song
That a poet sings;

In the touch of death,
In the kiss of love,
And God Himself
As a snow-white dove.

The Seventh Station (from:  The Place of Splendor)

The corner is dark and nobody sees this station.
He falls again, and the picture has nothing new.
The air is musty, crowded under the choir loft,
And people pass with a hurried glance or two.

I think that it must have been true in ancient Juda
As it is true on this shaded chapel wall
That He Whose love had rooted itself in suffering
Would find the most uncomforting place to fall.

Take Your Only Son  (from:  The House at Rest)

None guessed our nearness to the land of vision,
not even our two companions to the mount.
That you bore wood and I, by grave decision,
fire and sword, they judged of small account.

Speech might leap wide to what were best unspoken
and so we plodded, silent, through the dust.
I turned my gaze lest the heart be twice broken
when innocence looked up to smile its trust.

O love far deeper than a lone begotten,
how grievingly I let your words be lost
when a shy question guessed I had forgotten
a thing so vital as the holocaust.

Hope may shout promise of reward unending
and faith buy bells to ring its gladness thrice,
but these do not preclude earth's tragic ending
and the heart shattered in its sacrifice.

Not beside Abram does my story set me.
I built the altar, laid the wood for flame.
I stayed my sword as long as duty let me,
and then alas, alas, no angel came.


  1. When I was in the postulancy and novitiate, one of our teachers used to talk about Jessica Powers and read us some of her poetry. However, I didn't know that she was a Carmelite nun!

  2. Jessica Powers is my favorite poet! And I love what you've written about her! My favorite poem of all time is her one about Abraham. "I think, alas, how I manipulate dates and decisions, pull apart the dark... take out old maps and stare..." O yes, indeed.

  3. Anne, thank you for this. I knew who she was, but had never read any of her poems. Can you hear the snap? :)

  4. The 7th station got me. I don't read much poetry...think it's to do with my impatience. It was pleasanttoslowdown and absorb the thought and feeling in these words.

  5. Oh, I wish all my books weren't in storage! I have this looks-like-an-encyclopedia-thick book which has a writing about a different saint (or saint-like person) for each and every day ... and when I started reading your entry in your blog, I said, "Where do I know that name ... my big brown book!" Thank you for all the poetry you put in here, and for reminding me of an old friend!

  6. I just came across Jessica Powers aka Miriam of the Blessed Trinity. Her poetry touched me so much I ended up bawling on my bed! Thanks for the tidbits of info here. I'll have to buy her poetry- I think she has chosen me for a friend...

  7. One of the greatest poets ever.I was introduced to her poetry by french poet Jean Pierre Lemaire a great christian poet himself. Hlad to see 1946 being one of her richest years. My birth's year. ha ha