Monday, November 7, 2011


Martin and the Beggar -- Trento Longaretti (b. 1916)

Nov 11th is Martinmas -- the feast day of St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of France. Martin was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. After a time he became a monk, and later reluctantly accepted ordination as Bishop of Tours on condition that he could maintain his monkish lifestyle. Martin's concern for the poor was made evident while still a soldier. A famous legend recounts how he cut his valuable military tunic in two to clothe a naked beggar. He died in 397 AD, and his ascetic life, episcopal leadership, concern for the poor and championing of the oppressed quickly led to widespread veneration. His feast day became known as 'Martinmas', and was used as the 'quarter day' on which accounts were settled before winter began.

Chuck Bartow's poem 'Salvation' does not mention Martin, but it brilliantly finds spiritual significance in military and wintery images that make it specially fitting for his feast day.

As with a powerful but unseen blow,
Midwinter’s sun strikes every tree in sight.
Ice-sheathed limbs, bravely engarde, glistening, bright,
Wildly flail. Armor falls into the snow –
Shoulder pieces, elbow plates, gauntlets glow
Then disappear. Bare tree bark, dark as night,
Stands exposed to day. All is brought to light:
The wounds, the tears that let the sweet sap flow.
Yet warrior light, fierce as unseen grace,
Saves what it strips that’s armored unto death
With slash after slash, silent, certain, keen.
Swift, sure, assault upon assault with pace,
The beauty of it makes us catch our breath,
And wish for light ourselves to strip us clean.
from Dust and Prayers by Charles L Bartow

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