Taken from a section in Geofrey Hill’s collection Tenebrae, entitled Lachrimae, or Seven tears figured in seven passionate Pavans, this poem is a meditation on the sheer strangeness of God’s unconditional love, and our unwillingness to either accept it or respond to it. Hill creates the sense that it is precisely because God loves us in spite of our sinfulness, because of the undeservedness of His love, that we find it hard to accept. He invokes many biblical passages in this regard, principally Psalm 8 – ‘what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?’ (v.4) and Revelation 3:15-22, particularly verse 20 – ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ Despite the relentless offer of God’s healing, liberating love, we lock ourselves into the confines of familiarity and security (even the security of religion):
What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew
seeking the heart that will not harbour you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.
So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered ‘your lord is coming, he is close’
that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
‘tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.’
Hill’s poem seems particularly tailored towards the idea of ‘coming’ that we reflected upon not long ago during Advent (c.f.; ‘this dark solstice filled with frost and fire’), with an air of expectance ever-present in the poet’s mind. It is, in fact, this feeling that leads to the familiar and heartbreaking confession that he, in response to a perceived sense of the Lord’s immanence, has often ‘drowsed half-faithful…bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse’ – an unsettling reminder of our own half-hearted attempts to renew our relationship with God via contrition and repentance, as well as our own lack of response to Jesus’ ceaseless love for us. Rightly is this poem entitled Lachrimae Amantis (‘The Lover’s Tears’) – this could refer in part to our tears of sorrow and remorse, but more apt I feel is a reference to the tears of Jesus Himself, who is the supreme Lover, and whose sorrow, caused by the depth of His love, is infinite, and of infinite worth. The poem as a whole reminds me of a similarly touching passage in Hosea 6 (v.4), which captures the essence of how our lukewarmness affects God, and with which I shall conclude:
‘What shall I do with you, O E′phraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.’