17 March 2014

Poem of the Week 2014/12

The Lorica (Breastplate) of St Patrick

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet "Well done" in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarch's prayers, the prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star-lit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

traditionally attributed to St Patrick, translated by C F Alexander

Today is St Patrick's Day, so here is an old Irish prayer/chant/charm traditionally associated with him, though there seems to be a consensus that in its current form it actually dates from after his fifth century ministry to the Irish. It might have become associated with Patrick due to its emphasis on the mystery of the Trinity, which was a major component of his teaching (remember the shamrock. . . ), or perhaps it was merely the tendency, still observable on Facebook, of lending the moral and historical importance of well-known figures to any notable spiritual/uplifting quotations. Lorica comes from the Roman word for a cuirass (protective armor for the torso consisting of a breastplate joined to a backplate, made of leather or metal); hence a poetic lorica is a protective charm; as such, this type of poem goes back before Christianity to the druids, and there do seem to be elements in this particular example that go back to the primal impulses of unprotected humanity first confronting the forces of Nature – stanza 4 in particular ("I bind unto myself today / The virtues of the star-lit heaven, / The glorious sun's life-giving ray . . . ). As is often the case with ancient and originally oral poetry, there is a strong use of repetition, and little rhyme, allowing for flexibility and adaptation to individual circumstances and any lapses in perfect memory. This particular translation was done in 1889 by the wife of the Anglican primate for Ireland. Some of the phrasing echoes late-Victorian religious sentiment ("the sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour"), as well as that period's nationalistic urge to reclaim and renew a country's national past, buried with the long-silent bards and vanished seers, and surviving occasionally in musty disregarded manuscripts or unschooled peasants.

2 comments:

Michael Strickland said...

Loved stanza four and was fairly repulsed by the God the Father worship, but I grew up on a Southern California beach, so what would you expect?

Happy personal Saint's Day, Patrick.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Thanks for the name day wishes (saint #2 is up in 2 days: 19 March is St Joseph's Day), and thanks for reading the poem, which I knew would not really be your kind of thing, despite the druidic underlay showing through the Christian covering.