Sunday, January 3, 2010

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year...." M.L. Haskins

On New Year's Eve 2008 I posted this much loved quote on 'The Oasis". Having decided against repeating it this year, I was delighted to find it on the blog of the 'Transalpine Redemptorists at Home". Here it is again with some reflections and information about the poet.

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safetly into the unknown.' And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.' "

Minnie Louise Haskins 1875-1957 (from "The Desert: Introduction" c.1908)

Even with the Internet it is difficult to find much biographical detail about Miss Haskins. She was a graduate of the London School of Economics and most of her subsequent academic career was spent lecturing there in the fields of Sociology and Philosophy. Writing poetry was her spare-time pursuit. She was English, and not American or Canadian as some have claimed. Born in the Gloucstershire village of Bitton, now on the eastern edge of Bristol, she later lived in Crowborough, Sussex. (Does anyone know whether she is buried there?)

Minnie was neither Catholic nor Anglican, but a Non-Conformist. She never married.

Those of us who were alive during WW2 or who were born during it, find double poignancy in these words because they were famously quoted by King George VI during his Christmas Day speech 1939, that is the first Christmas of a war whose length could not be predicted. They were a perfect choice, through which our sovereign encouraged his subjects to faith. Only that could save us, whatever lay ahead. That is one part of the poignancy. The other lies in our affectionate memories of King George himself, a man who never expected to accede to the throne and one who found the role nerve-wracking, not the least because of all the public speaking he had to do and the necessary personal battle he waged in order to conquer his stammer. Miss Haskins' words are engraved on the entrance to King George's Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle.

I was eight years old when he died and we were allowed to sit cross-legged on the floor of the school hall as we listened to his funeral on a utility radio. No TV at that time but we'd seen pictures of the Abbey and so had images in our minds. We sat in awed and sad silence, paying absorbed attention throughout the long service. There was no fidgeting, and I believe that this was not because of an enforced external discipline from the teachers, but because of a genuine inner reaction to the solemnity of the occasion and at least some understanding of its national and historic significance. A sad memory yes, but a deeply etched and treasured one.

I don't recall the occasion of first hearing Miss Haskins' words but I've known them for most of my adult life. When we used to run Christmas and New Year house-parties here in France, we always had a New Year's eve celebration during which her words would be read out. Then, as now, it is difficult to read them without a lump in the throat and misted eyes. Of course this reaction is partly due to nostalgia, but there is more to it than that. The words are stirring as an affirmation of the faith of an English king, with which he knew he could inspire the Nation in the face of the physical and moral threat of the war ahead of us.

It occurred to me last night that the words are even more important now, when Faith itself is being systematically attacked and eroded by an ever growing number of Britons themselves, many of whom are in dangerous positions of power and influence.

With gratitude and admiration I pray that the souls of Minnie Louise Haskins and of King George VI may rest in peace.

I pray to all our British saints and martyrs for the British Isles and their inhabitants.

St. Michael defend us in these days of spiritual battle and help us to 'put on the whole armour of God't.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and may Your Face journey with us.



umblepie said...

Another interesting and illuminating post Jane, thank you again. Best wishes to you and yours for 2010. Brian. PS Your mention of the death of King George VI reminded me that on the day of his State funeral, I was visiting Westminster Cathedral with a good friend and we were at the top of the Cathedral tower when the whole of London came to a standstill as a mark of respect for the late King. Everything on the streets stopped! I have never forgotten that moment. BC

Jane said...

Thank you for sharing this memory Brian. And you know, I think it will happen again when his daughter dies. If it doesn't I will know finally that we are truly in the 'slough of despond', if not worse. After the event of course, one dreads to think.....

In the meantime, thank you for your good wishes, which as always are warmly reciprocated.