Thursday, 16 June 2016

A poem by John Medlin

Some readers may know of John Medlin who used to be the General Manager of the Latin Mass Society and editor of their magazine, ‘Mass of Ages.’ Since retiring from the LMS he has devoted some of his time to his great love for poetry. His work can be seen on his poetry blog All of his work is influenced by his commitment to religion and a good number of his poems reflect specific Christian commitment (i.e. Catholic!)
   His recent poem, ‘The Anthropological Turn,’ is a timely dissection of how we arrived at our current horror of “the dictatorship of relativism” and proposes the heroism of St Damien of Molokai (the leper priest) as a corrective. It can also be read on his poetry blog here
   The term “the anthropological turn” was used by Catholic thinkers, such as the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to describe the revolution in thinking in the 1960s (at least in the West) which put man rather than God at the centre of all things.



A fist of lightning sunders the packed cloud
On Sinai’s peak; thunder engulfs the slopes;
Moses, exultant with the Tables, browed
With light, descends to mould men’s fears and hopes:
Moral truth is given and hence endowed
Is beauty – golden cherubim and tropes
Adorn the Ark. A proud propitiating
People is created, lacking but one thing.

The Nazarene, transfixed with the Divine,
On Shabbat day completes the Torah’s lack:
“Stretch forth thy hand” – a flesh-transcending sign            
Is given, pity more flagrant than God’s back
Seen by Moses in the cloud. Like sweet-scent wine
Compassion infuses dogs-in-a-pack
Humanity, and though men riot like fools
Their wounds are bound by hospitallers and schools.

Later, the harmonic circle is smashed:
Vaunting men, in love with experiment,
Scrub Revelation’s face until it’s washed
Raw. Diderot’s book swells to a testament,
Newton by the sea of knowledge is splashed,           
Paine’s pot of rights boils to a sacrament;
Hume demands freedom to die in his sins;
In France the clash of guillotines begins.

The wheel turns. A Sixties scientist re-presents
The fruit; Eve swallows and fecundity
Is balked. Man centres self and the ornaments
Of being are smashed in a futility
Of drugged desires. Harsh New Age hierophants
Propose fault-free fulfilment and absurdity                          
Is raised a god. Two thousand years of symbols
Are overthrown by dancers beating timbrels.

Destruction triumphs. Pornography swamps
The internet; man’s primal itch inflamed,
Aggression surges and motel room romps                             
Turn rapes. Enthused, unnatural rights are named –
Gay marriage, gender choice – what tawdry pomps!
Careerist women have the boardroom tamed;                       
Children are objects, abortion’s in demand:
Moloch counts dollars with a blood-stained hand.                

Saint Damien sweats in Hawaii’s heat,
Dressing ulcers, digging graves. The leper priest,
In the eternal wrapt, with bandaged feet,
Scarred face and dragging legs, dies for the least
Of his charges. There’s no despair, nor bleat
Of woe, instead a pure-eyed grasp of the feast
Of being. Fulfilment’s not in drugs or vice
But in hands gone leprous in sacrifice.


© April 2013 Revised June 2016


  1. A very interesting poem, I shall now visit John Medlin's poetry blog regularly.

  2. I love this poem. Have just started writing some myself, although on more mundane things like Euro 2016. I agree the word "modern" should not be used....contemporary would be better. But thank you for introducing us all to this cealrly talented poet.