Page 6, 19th November 1993

19th November 1993
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Page 6, 19th November 1993 — The poetic illuminations of Christianity
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The poetic illuminations of Christianity

Between Two Eternities: A Helen Wadelt Anthology. edited by Felicitas Corrigan OSB, SPCK £12.99

DA:viE FELICITAS CORRIGAN'S

much-loved biography of Helen Waddell revealed its subject as an artist and a woman of great depth and warmth. Much of the distinction and power of the portrait is due to the unusually generous use of quotations drawn from her unpublished and published writings.

Between Two Eternities is a compilation of extracts representing the very best of these writings. There are significant moments from the hugelysucessful novel Peter Abelard, from scholarly work on the 12th century humanist John of Salisbury and from the charming Stories from Holy Writ composed for Helen's young nephews.

What gives inner coherence to this disparate range of material, beyond their obvious rooting in Helen Waddell's ' Christian faith, is her spontaneously poetic sensibility. Though in no way a modernist like Eliot, Pound or Joyce (and as far as one can tell, oddly uninterested in them) she shares with such writers a Profound sense of "epiphany", that moment a created thing stands manifest in its fullness of being. So she is beautifully evocative, for instance, of the feel of "a November day of faint sunlight and emerald moss".

Illumination, for a poet, has sources beyond such literal experience of light. Sound and rhythm give rise to a consciousness and sensitivity that transcend identifiable meaning.

Helen Waddell's missionary father reciting the Psalms in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek, the Lord's Prayer in Japanese, was the centre of her "creative memory", treasured together with the "veneration" that "came on" her at the age of nine when she read three lines quoted in Latin from the Dies Irae. One of the great pleasures of this anthology is the way in which the editor has herself echoed this veneration of words and their echoes, evocations and expanding meanings. The extracts quoted in Between Two Eternities, Dame Felicitas claims, "fall naturally into the Christological form that shaped Helen Wadell's our life".

The anthology, therefore, is a suggestive and appealing aesthetic whole. Dame Felicitas's extracts give full value to the richness and warmth of Helen Waddell's thinking and feeling, to the complexity of a women deeply Protestant in faith, delightedly Catholic in culture. Characteristically, some of the finest examples of Helen's perception come in the letters: best of all, perhaps, are these lines from a letter to the man she considered her spiritual father.

"I got my illumination for Tuesday's class just the night before It was Christ's promise of "treasures in heaven'. Take all His teaching on money, and that follows it It is to use it to win love 'the everlasing habitation' foi of all things that abide, low only has eternity. That wai what the Ruler lacked: i wasn't renunciation that oui Lord demanded, it was conse. cration. The thing condense into a phrase 'Christ does no ask us to give `up', He ask us to give away That story i the meeting ground and th battleground of ascetism an Ctujstianity. Before, I alway saw it as the bulwark of thi monastic ideal. But don't yoi love the other way of it?"

ANGELA WATKINS




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