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The Poems of Rowan Williams the musings of God's quiet messenger

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The former archbishop of Canterbury wears his faith lightly in this arresting and surprising compilation of poems

This collection a vigorous compilation of old and new poems including translations of Rilke and of several Welsh poets gets off to an unexpected start with an introduction to a "Mrs Noah", who is drying ferns out on deck: "I am Mrs Noah: I call the beasts home/together, the cat to lie down with the slug" It is a charming poem and the unlikely bedfellows a fitting beginning for a motley volume filled with cultured reflection and surprise. One surprise is that the former archbishop of Canterbury does not wish to be thought of as a religious poet but as a poet to whom religious things matter "intensely".

On the evidence here, the broader definition suits. Many poems are devotional in a secular way and some not obviously devotional at all. Take Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, presumably inspired by Manet's painting, in which Williams wonders (as everyone must) what happens next: "Shall there be wine to drop/on the drab summer grass/or only hours' worth of spent sands?" The oddity here, if he is alluding to the painting, is that there is no wine visible on canvas: it is the archbishop who brings a bottle to the party.

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