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.