Page 8, 5th December 1997

5th December 1997
Page 8
Page 8, 5th December 1997 — Christmas books

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Christmas books

BRIAN BRINDLEY offers seasonal fare for the sluggish soul

THOSE WHO TURN UP their noses or curl their lip at the very thought of Evergreen Verse will not enjoy the late David Herbert's collection (Dent, £15.99) available as an Everyman Paperback since 1981 and now appearing for the first time as a handsome hardback. For the rest of us it will seem to contain all the poems we one knew by heart and have since forgotten.

Mr Herbert lists defiantly at the beginning of his book a handful of test cases: "To be or not to be", "Come into the garden", "I w4ndered , lonely as a cloud", "There's a breathless hush in the Chose tonight"... there you have it. Two poems, he explains, are e3tcluded by their length: the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and John Gilpin. For myself, I could have done without The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God and The Shooting of Dan MacGrew, but I am glad to have encountered some old favourites. Apart from a very few glosses in the early poem, no helps of context or explanation are offered to the reader: indeed, only by reference to the index is it possible to discover the dates of birth or death of the poets. Nearly all the poems are "real" poems — they scan, and most of them rhyme. There will be

one or two surprises for old-fashioned folk in the post-war period. A ideal book for someone who has not read poetry for years and would like to start again.

A Time to Pray (Lion, £14.99) describes itself as 365 Classic Prayers to help you through the year. It is compiled by Philip Law, and there is a foreword by David Adam. Allocated one to each day are extracts of various lengths and various types, all of which can be used in prayer.

The arrangement is unusual: each month is allocated to a particular theme, January to the Psalms, July to the Poets, December to Contemporary Christians. I am not sure that this is a good idea: I love hymns, but by the end of October I might think 31 had been a bit of a surfeit; I might enjoy May (Medieval Christians) more than August (The Reformed Tradition); and, excellent though Alexander Solzhenitsyn's words are, they are not quite what I want to read on 25 December.

The book, however, is nicely got up, and the choice of extracts wideranging: John Paul II appears alongside John Stott, Desmond Tutu and Terry Waite. For someone who doesn't pray much, an ideal encouragement.

The Joy in Loving, (Hodder and Stoughton £14.99) is a similar book of extracts, but in this case Daily Wisdom with Mother Teresa. It has been compiled by Jaya Chivalda and Fr Edward Le Joly, SJ, both of whom knew and worked with Mother for many years.

The extracts are short, sometimes very short; Mother Teresa's themes are what you would expect: love, peace, joy, reconciliation; we do not look here for elaborate analysis, but for simplicity and directness, and this is what we get. No doubt she profited much from her long residence in the east, and her contact with gurus and other spiritual teachers. If her words are printed out in extended passages they might become cloying: as it is they are incisive and stimulating; her great virtue, as a spiritual guide, is that there are no pretensions to religious superiority, no condescension; after all, who could imagine Mother Teresa being patronising? All Christians would do well to keep this book by their bed-side: a teaspoonful of Mother Teresa first thing in the morning, like a dose of salts, would cleanse the spiritual palate and stimulate the sluggish soul to activity.

Thoughts Along the Way, (Pentland Press £6) is something quite different, a book of highly indi

vidualistic poems by Peter Hutley, with decorations by Charles Bone. Mr Hutley and his family produce the Wintershall Nativity and Passion plays, and for much of the time he adopts a vigorous vernacular style reminiscent of their medieval counterparts. He is rugged with rhyme and ruthless with meaning:

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