Here’s a wartime poem from Amy Carmichael. Have you ever dreaded or experienced the knock at the front door? An unexpected phone call? My brief comments are at the end.
The telegram said “Missing” and she said,
“Would God that he were dead,
For this is worse.” And for a terrible hour
The enemy had power.
And he painted grievous wounds,
A lingering piteous death,
Or misery of crowded hospital
Or hateful prison.
All sights, all sounds, sharp-edged imaginings
That cut into the soul, had power with her,
Until she turned from all, and moaned, “My God!”
And God said to an angel, “Go to her,”
(He named the house and room),
“Show her the things that be.”
The angel flew.
And shortly after she was made aware
Of movement all about her; and her gloom
Rolled up like fog at dawn; a glorious air,
As from far mountains blown,
Like wine revived her spirit. She could see
On to blue distances—eternity
Opened its spaces; and she tasted powers
Of the world to come, and knew
As she was known;
Knew herself not forsaken.
Then as she waited, a great brooding calm
Filled all her being; and as dew
Rises in stillness from a field of flowers,
So from her heart, quieted now as any summer field,
Soft thoughts rose gently, soothing as a psalm
Familiar, cadenced; and she looked and saw
Deep into mysteries; but by the law
(Which rules the place to which she had been taken)
Directed, she was careful not to say
What she had seen; except, being free to tell
The comfortable word that healed
Her sorest hurt, she chose
This as the sweetest: that before they
Wrote her belovèd “Missing,” One
Well-skilled in finding lost things said to those
Who stood about Him, “Lo, another son
Has need of Me,” and went . . .
He did not tell;
Only she knew He found him. “It is well,”
She said aloud, being unaware
That she was home, till fearful, violent
As waters that have sudden broken bound,
Strong doubts turmoiled her, “Drown,”
They cried, “Yes, drown,
Poor foolish hope! Who heeds thee?” and they tossed
Its folly aside,
And shouted, whispered, cried
About her hope, “Drowned! Drowned!
The vision is vain
For he is lost!”
But she again
Affirmed her faith, and on the telegram crossed
The “Missing” out, and wrote instead, “Nay, Found.”
Amy Carmichael, Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael, pp. 282-83; © 1999, The Dohnavur Fellowship, published by Christian Literature Crusade. Published in Made in the Pans (1917)
* * *
Amy Carmichael loved studying military history, and was an extremely disciplined woman. This is one of several poems she wrote about World War I. She thought of her work in India, rescuing girls and boys from prostitution, as a military campaign against an unseen enemy. The work demanded disciplined commitment. Sometimes Amy lost one of her ‘soldiers,’ or a rescued child went missing.
The cadence and layout are uneven, sometimes abrupt. Perhaps like the telegram? Or like the woman’s competing emotions? The length of the stanzas hints at the center of power. It isn’t her tormentor or her worst fears, but God and God’s presence to her loved one and to her. The turning point comes in the last two words of the second stanza, though she still experiences fear and doubt.
The poem focuses on inner drama; it doesn’t get lost in abstract discussion. It depicts the struggle between “It is well,” and the woman’s worst fears. Images of nature play a calming role over against her fear-drenched imaginations. The immediate resolution is (for me) unexpected, and emotionally satisfying for the moment. At the same time, I wonder what happens next? Does it matter? Why or why not?
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 February 2015