In 1874 only a few blocks away from Grace Church, and the future Grace Cathedral, the poet Robert Frost was born. As a boy, he delivered newspapers on Nob Hill. Less than a hundred years later, we installed one of the Human Endeavor stained glass windows in the cathedral clerestory honoring his life. We call it “The Letters Window,” and it shows the poet and letters from various human alphabets.
Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” describes a collaborative project with his New England neighbor. The two work together to replace the fallen stones in the wall that separates their farms. His neighbor repeatedly says, “good fences make good neighbors.” To himself, Frost carries on a silent monologue about the project, saying, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense. / Something there is that does not love a wall.”
During the Year of Poetry, we will be exploring the walls that separate us from each other and the words that help connect us.
In particular, we will explore how we receive the beauty, goodness, justice, and truth that help us to better understand ourselves, each other, the world, and God. This will be the opportunity for us to write poems, recite and hear them, and share ourselves with others.
These days I have been thinking about the poet Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784), who was born in West Africa and kidnapped into slavery at the age of eight. George Whitefield was a traveling preacher of her time and an international publishing sensation. After his death, she wrote a poem celebrating him that spread widely in England and the colonies. Then while visiting London, she published one of the first books of poetry by an American woman.
Although her poems speak about her interior life, we do not know enough about her except that she died alone at the age of thirty-one. Below you will find one of her poems.
I am very grateful to you. This year I look forward to hearing what poems have shaped you.
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young
Dean of Grace Cathedral
P.S. For Ash Wednesday, all are encouraged to bring last year's palms to services on February 19 (this Sunday).