We are each familiar with the morning scene on High Streets, Main Streets, City Streets. We don’t have to travel far to come across the plight of the homeless, whose only comfort might be a warm blanket on a door step, hoping some indoor heat might escape. Why are we tempted to walk a little brisker, staring into the morning sky rather than slow down and offer a smile, a hello, some grace or better still some tangible hope? Like you, I am found guilty of doing nothing!
Today, I am turning from Carol Ann Duffy to the poet Simon Armitage. Armitage followed Duffy as the U.K. Poet Laureate and will hold that role until 2029. Like Duffy he spent some time in Manchester though is presently Professor of Poetry at Leeds University. He studied Geography as an undergraduate then moved to Manchester for further study. He worked for several years as a Probation Officer, before becoming a playwriter, TV producer and then fulltime in the academic world. In his poem Give we hear the voice of a homeless person addressing the reader. Pause and ponder every word and please catch the irony and the meanings behind the words. Enjoy the rhythm, rhyme and alliteration. After reading the poem take a walk down High Street, or Main Street, or City Street and have those who sleep on doorsteps call us into question. The homeless person seeks “just change” – how do you hear these words? What might he/she be asking of us, the reader?
Of all the public places, dear
to make a scene, I’ve chosen here.
Of all the doorways in the world
to choose to sleep, I’ve chosen yours.
I’m on the street, under the stars.
For coppers I can dance or sing.
For silver-swallow swords, eat fire.
For gold-escape from locks and chains.
It’s not as if I’m holding out
for frankincense or myrrh, just change.
You give me tea. That’s big of you.
I’m on my knees. I beg of you.
in the gospels
Jesus watches as the widow
gave her mite.
Forgive us for clinging to what
we believe is ours.
Forgive us for being slow to share
and for seeking certificates and awards
for sharing change, only ever giving
from what we deem as extra and spare.
prompt, prod and poke us.
Awaken us from our safe, secure, sleep,
and walk with us down the street.
Might we not seek stars and awards,
might sight of the stars in the night sky
be all we need to remind us of
mystery, majesty, meaning
of your creation.
Hear this our prayer and make
to this prayer. Amen.
One thought on “Give”
What a poignant and expressive poem. Though only a few lines, the common story it tells is powerful isn’t it. A recent article in the local paper indicated that in my community at large there are about 2,000 individuals considered to be homeless, and of those, about 500 do not have access to shelter. So we grieve not only for those who are homeless, but those both homeless and unsheltered. The greatest gift identified by one man was a job. It allowed him to purchase his own sleeping bag and tent, not having to rely on those provided by a makeshift urban camp. It seems that we are arrogant about our knowledge of such things and ignorant about our responsibilities.