The Peace Thou Gives:
Important landmark in Sri Lankan Christian devotional poetry
Poets around the world may embrace various themes that inspire them
to write poetry. Themes such as love, separation, loneliness, death,
nature and nostalgia are some of the common themes that poets have
dwelled but religion or the bliss of faith have also inspired poets
throughout history. A case in point is American born T. S Eliot who has
captured many themes from Christianity in his work.
Eliot not only focused on individual lives of the post-industrial
world but also presented a post-Christian world despair of humans and
redemption diagnosing post-industrial civilisation and its impact on
mankind. Some of the best representation of this Elitian diagnosis could
be read in his verses including "The Hollow Men" (1925), where Eliot's
narrators are discovered with a sense of hopelessness but, ironically,
with an extraordinary lyrical beauty on the threshold of Hell.
In Sri Lankan poetic scenario, the concept of religion has inspired
many ancient to medieval writers. For example, Buddhist Pli Jataka
contains 550 birth-stories of Buddha's journey prior to the
enlightenment. Each Jataka story opens with a preamble or previous tale
which relates a particular quality in the Buddha's previous lives that
led him to tell a particular birth-story.
Compared to Pali and Sinhala version of Jataka tales, either
Christianity or Catholicism hasn't offered us a similar Sri Lankan
literary legacy. However, some modern English poets are now coming out
with themes relating to Christianity and producing poetry dealing with
diverse subjects embracing political and social elements in the context
of spirituality, particularly issues and plights of vulnerable people in
a changing milieu. One such poet is Lynn Ockersz whose first anthology
of poetry entitled "Flame and Sparks" deals with his muse inspired by
God and spirituality.
Lynn Ockersz's second collection of poetry 'The Peace Thou Gives'
represents not only in Lynn's personal saga of discovery but also in the
annals of Sri Lankan Christian devotional poetry in English that merits
our closer attention.
A significant facet of Lynn's poetry is that they are not products
that could be classified as Victorian devotional poetry but truly
indigenous in essence with the imprints of socio-political and topical
elements represented poetically.
Ockersz's work that appear in 'The Peace Thou Gives' are neither mere
inspirational poetry, nor reports of events to shadow poetry with
socio-political messages. They are, in a way, spontaneous responses of
emotions of a sensitive human being which themselves have turned into
Ockersz has vividly captured the stark reality of abject poverty
along with mechanisms of manipulated reality manufactured by Harry
Potter stories in the context of war. It is the grand show run to the
whims and fancies of 'the big powers'. It is the poor man's cocktail.
The Poor Man's Cocktail
Harry Potter mesmeric lore thrown into
War casualty tolls and cricket scores,
Political gossip and superstar shows;
These are the spicy parts of the concoction heady
The sprit-starved of this land
To their parched lips lustily carry,
In a daily dumb show,
Wherein the strings are pulled
By the Big Powers
Or wily Ole Nicky.
Here, the poet has captured the 'grand show' that is going on, in the
context of war. It is the 'Big Powers' which control the 'show' and
thanks to them, poor forget their woes as subjects of war casualties who
merges into 'cricket scores' and what is thrown on top of them is the
'Harry Potter mesmeric lore'.
The poem titled, 'Political gossip and superstar shows' would only
add spice to the confusion and the concoction would be a good feed for
the 'The spirit-starved of the land'. It is obvious that Lynn's
devotional poetry is not in the same mould as the Victorian devotional
poetry which extols the virtues of God.
In a way, the poem titled 'The Poor Man's Cocktail' is a social
satire. The poet says in no uncertain terms that the 'Cocktail' is for
the 'Poor', those who are not only living in abject poverty when it
comes education but also in inner spirit. At the end of the day, they
have become puppets whose lives are controlled by the 'Big Powers' and
not by 'wily Ole Nicky'.
In my opinion, this poem is a well-thought out reaction of a
sensitive poet to the meaningless acts goings on in a society oblivious
to the reality.
The poet's reaction to the conflict is manifested in the poem "As the
Gun Smoke settles..." The poet describes the fragile nature of peace and
that though the terrorism is over, still the dark powers may have
As the Gun Smoke Settles...
This 'peace of the graveyard' grates on the ear,
It is not the Peace of Love Thou holds so dear
But an eerie stillness born of fear,
Welling in hearts by worldly
Might brought to heel
Unheeding the word of Love
That the blessedness brings,
This tear-shaped isle lies impoverished and still,
In the satanic grip of 'Principalities and Power',
Which only the way the Cross can bring to grief
The 'Peace' is not the one made by God but one made by the worldly
power or 'Principalities and Power'. It is the 'peace of the graveyard'.
The everlasting peace is not the one brought about by power but the one
brought about by God or 'Peace of Love Thou holds so dear'. In essence,
what the poet says is that the true peace can only be brought about by
the love of God.
The nature of peace that the poet envisions is manifested in the
title poem 'The Peace Thou Gives'. It is the eternal peace which is
beyond 'all material understanding'.
The Peace Thou Gives
When I ask for relief,
Thou givest grief
When I sob for strength,
Thou leaves me weak,
When I beg for success,
Thou delivers defeat,
When I cry for acceptance,
Thou answers with rejection
Grasps not Thy bountiful ways,
This puny mind of Man,
For the peace thou givest,
Is beyond all material understanding,
But as real as Thy presence eternal"
People often pray for worldly gains and when they do not receive
solace for their grievances, humans tend to be impatient. Most of the
devotees do not think that it is the will of the God and what more
precious than worldly gains is the eternal peace that the God gives. The
poet says that the devoted Christians should not alone look for "Grasps
not Thy bountiful ways", but look for the real peace which is 'beyond
all material understanding' reminding us the message T. S Eliot has
represented in his work in a different context.
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
(T. S Eliot. Ash Wednesday)
In the poem 'Goodness and Governance', the poet says the real power
is 'the power of selfless love'. Political power gained through bullet
or 'ballet robbed or hard won' is transient and not eternal. The power
which is everlasting is spiritual power.
Goodness and Governance
No, this is not power
As we have come to see it;
Not the power that comes from
The barrel of the smoking gun,
Not the power that comes
From ballets, robbed or hard won,
Nor the power that sits
Uneasily on ruling thrones,
Or rages savagely in polarised parliaments,
All destined to crumble and fall
No, this is the power of virtue,
Of goodness which never fails
Of innocence which disarms
And brings to their feet
In stunned reverence,
Those clothed in regal might,
Like the magic of old
No, this is the power of selfless love,
Which came to birth long ago, in a humble
Stable in Bethlehem "
The underline message of the poem is that this spiritual power which
is mightier than any material power 'came to birth long ago' and 'in a
humble stable in Bethlehem' with the birth of the Jesus Christ.
The poem 'Thou will Hear 'is a prayer for the God to bring the agents
of dark forces into captivity and to reign the righteousness throughout
Thou Will Hear
The hired killer's bloody hand,
The bullying politico's mindless rant,
And the wheeler-dealer's transfixing guile,
Have earned for our Land a wasting blight;
But it is from the Gates of Hades they come,
And if we will but lift our voices in prayers united,
Thou, O Lord, will hear from Heaven,
And bring into captivity,
These tremors from the Kingdom of Darkness.
The poet says that these powers of darkness comes from 'the Gates of
Hades' and that if the Christians pray in unison, God will bring them
into captivity. Here the poet depicts the realities of a harsh world who
firmly believes that at the end of the day, the good will triumph over
evil due to divine intervention of the God.
The poet's reference to 'the Gates of Hades' is an important biblical
allusion. For instance, Jesus said "...I will build My church, and the
gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt.16:18b). Jesus had
said this in response to Peter's out loud confession that the Jesus is
actually the son of the living God. In a primary sense, it means that
gates of Hades do not have a victory on believer. It is obvious from
many biblical allusions throughout the collection that the poet has
encrypted messages of the God in his poetry.
For instance, Ockersz refers in the poem "Be still and Remember' to
the baptising of Jesus in the waters of Jordan River by John the
Baptist. The poet says that although the cry for peace is 'savagely
smothered', the Lord is with the peace lovers and that with 'His
rock-steady presence', the God will destroy 'the arrows of persecution'.
Be still and Remember ...
Keep your minds aglow with this memory
Of how Yahweh's glorious power benign
Led the chosen through Jordan's waters deep,
The yonder beckoning Land of Plenty
And gave to them repose and refuge, strong, abiding
Therefore be you of good cheer
As the Island Pearl's
War flames rise sheer
And your Peace-cry
Is savagely smothered
For the Lord your God is at your side
And with His rock-steady presence
Shall the arrows of persecution destroy
In the poem, "The Miscarriage", the poet describes that just is
denied to poor because some wants to protect their self-interest before
The world comes crushing down on the powerless,
Because some trembling hands cannot weigh evenly,
And obey the Call of Conscience coming from Eternity,
But would prefer to heed
Hade's cold prompting,
And choose safety of self,
Position and Pelf,
In the mockery of
The world Almighty
'The Peace Thou Gives' offers insightful poetic observations of a
sensitive poet who is inspired by God and his belief in spirituality.
Apart from its religious significance as one of the few Sri Lankan
Christian devotional poems in English, this collection offers masterly
crafted poetry that readers of any faith could enjoy.