The Canticle of Brother Sun
by Francis of Assisi
English version by Ivan M. Granger
My Lord most high, all-powerful, all-good,
Celebration, light, and all sweet blessings are yours,
No man speaks
who can speak your Name.
Praise to you, my Lord, and to all beings of your creation!
Praise especially to brother sun,
who fills the day with light
— through whom you shine!
Beautiful and bright, magnificent with splendor,
He shows us your Face.
Praise to my Lord for sister moon
and for the stars.
You have formed them in the firmament,
fine and rare and fair.
Praise to you, Lord, for brother wind,
for the air, for the clouds,
for fair days and every turn of weather
— through which you feed the world.
Praise to my Lord for sister water,
precious and pure, who selflessly serves all.
Praise to my Lord for brother fire,
through whom you fill the dark with light.
Lovely is he in his delight, mighty and strong.
Praise to my Lord for our sister, mother earth,
who nourishes us and surrounds us
in a world ripe with fruit, pregnant
with grassy fields,
spangled with flowers.
Praise to my Lord for those seeking your love,
who discover within themselves forgiveness,
rejecting neither frailty nor sorrow.
Enduring in serenity, they are blessed,
For they shall be crowned by your hand, Most High.
Praise to my Lord for our sister death,
the body’s death,
whom none avoid.
A great sadness for those who die having missed life’s mark;
Yet blessed they whose way
is your most holy will —
Having died once, the second death
does them no ill.
Offer holy blessings to my Lord!
In gratitude, selflessly offer yourself to him.
— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger
/ Image by rkramer62 /
Thank you to everyone who sent a note of concern about my absence from these poetry emails. I apologize about that unannounced pause. Let me reassure you that I am doing well and my health is okay. The reason I haven’t sent any poems during this past month or so is because my wife’s mother needed to go to the hospital, then hospice care, and then passed away. (Her death was not related to the current pandemic, however.)
Since my wife was her mother’s only relative, she bore a heavy burden in caring for her and in handling each new challenge and crisis as it arose. It is a profoundly difficult balance to deal with the whirlwind of decisions and responsibilities while also feeling the grief and complex emotions surrounding a close family member’s death. I went through all of this myself when both of my parents died about ten years ago. I was also an only child, but my mother had an extended family of many sisters who helped with everything. My wife has been on her own in dealing with her mother’s death, having only me to help her.
So we have been dealing with nurses and doctors and hospital administrators, sometimes having to fight with them on her mother’s behalf. Worrying questions of nursing homes and healthcare coverage switched to meetings with hospice care workers, who are the saints of the healthcare world. We wrestled with the uncomfortable questions of burial versus cremation and meetings with funeral home directors. We did a weekend sprint to move all of her mother’s worldly possessions from her tiny apartment before month’s end, rapidly sorting through things of emotional significance as if they were random objects that take up too much space. We navigated the bureaucracy necessary to close out financial accounts. I say ‘we’ but much of that effort was led by my wife. While I have helped in all the ways I could as well as acting as emotional support, I have primarily been pushing to keep my work hours high in my day job through all of this so that, in the midst of everything else, my wife can also take time to grieve without worrying about her own work.
Death is such a huge event, the final life passage. I like to think of it as our final initiation, our graduation ceremony. It is quite a challenge to find the balance that allows us to hold the appropriate sense of reverence in the midst of so many pressing practical demands. As a poet and a spiritual practitioner, I naturally want to be internal, contemplative and, of course, a loving presence to the person crossing such a profound threshold, but it takes real skill to accomplish all that is necessary and still hold that inner sacred space.
I continually stand in wonder at the immensity and beauty and crushing challenges of this human life — as well as its closure. I am in awe of every single person on this planet: we all walk a courageous path through this life.
St. Francis composed his masterpiece, the Canticle of Brother Sun, in three parts. The first part in praise of the beauty and holiness of nature as a reflection of the Divine, was written in the Spring of 1225, immediately after he received the stigmata during an extended meditation retreat among a group of caves.
The second section, the segment on forgiveness and peace, was composed soon after, perhaps in response to the squabbling of political and religious authorities in Assisi.
The final verses were written late the following year as St. Francis was dying, in which he seems to be greeting “sister death.”
This hymn is one of the first great works written in Italian. At the time, Latin was the language of the Church and of learning. Yet, as part of Francis’s humility and affinity with the common people, he composed this praise poem in simple Italian so all could be inspired by it.
Praise for brother sun and sister moon, for the living wind and water and fire and earth. Praise for love and peace, without which the living awareness collapses to barrenness. And praise to death, too, who, in the fulness of time, brings completion and life’s final initiation. Through this poem we witness the whole pageant of life as it expresses itself through us and all the world.
Be well, everyone — and bright blessings!
Recommended Books: Francis of Assisi
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