Woodbine Willie

Woodbine Willie

I just took a moment to google “G.A. Studdert Kennedy” and discovered that his book of poems, The Unutterable Beauty, long out of print, is online at http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/dasc/TUB.HTM.

Kennedy (1883-1929), known best in his day as “Woodbine Willie,” was a British army chaplain during World War I, and wrote his poems to capture the speech patterns of the soldiers to whom he ministered on the Western Front. I was first introduced to these poems in grad school, by a philosophy professor from Wales, who had served as a chaplain in World War II and found much spiritual strength in Kennedy’s poetry. Years later, a former student, who had discovered “Woodbine Willie” while working on a doctorate in Scotland, gave me a copy of The Unutterable Beauty. I read the poems regularly these days as a devotional exercise. Here is one of my favorites, appropriate for Holy Week. It is meant to capture a soldier’s feelings for the spiritual condition of his young son, but it is clear that “Woodbine Willie” knew of what he wrote–and I dare say, most of us also know the sentiments all too well.


I gave thee life, my little son,
     And thou art part of me; Which part?
Would God I knew the Truth,
     Then were my soul set free
From fretting fears all down the years,
     From dull anxiety;

Lest I have given thee that part,
     Which makes my angel weep,
That underworld whence lusts and lies,
     Like vermin, crawl and creep
Across my visions and my prayers;
     Whence selfish passions leap

To slay the very thing I love,
     To crucify my Lord,
To strangle Jesus in my soul,
     With coils of evil cord,
And force me spit my sins upon
     The face my soul adored.

Fain would I give thee those bright wings
     On which my spirit flies,
To talk with angels on the heights,
     In solemn sweet surprise,
And win from Him, who is the Light
     The poet’s open eyes.

1 Comment »

  1. As I reading through all the articles and news about last Monday’s “World War” at Virginia Tech, “brotherly love” – Philadelphia (Greek language) came to my mind. The word translates to mutual love of children of the same father. It seems to me like a life demonstration on admonishing us to love each other with the love of spiritual brothers and sisters, who came from the same heavenly “root”, the one who dared to risk his life to take the first action, the one who sacrificed his own body to protect others to safety. The one who silently prayed for others’ wellbeing and soul before his departure on earth…Sadly, this life demon took place not on the stage of a theater, but in our real life chapter. Though, as we grief over the lost innocent lives, many inspiring stories shine through the darkness to bring us hope and sense of love and passion. I know that my heavenly father weeps with us for His name is Love.
    “Now about Brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been thought by God to love each other.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

    Thank you, Dr. Mouw for your this posting.


    Comment by PofP — April 24, 2007 @ 3:25 am