Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'Harvest and Consecration' by Elizabeth Jennings


Harvest and Consecration

After the heaped piles and the corn sheaves waiting
To be collected, gathered into barns,
After all fruits have burst their skins, the sating
    Season cools and turns,
And then I think of something that you said
Of when you held the chalice and the bread.

I spoke of Mass and thought of it as close
To how a season feels which stirs and brings
Fire to the hearth, food to the hungry house
    And strange, uncovered things --
God in a garden then in sheaves of corn
And the white bread a way to be reborn.

I thought of priest as midwife and as mother
Feeling the pain, feeling the pleasure too,
    All opposites together,
Until you said no one could feel such passion
And still preserve the power of consecration.

And it is true. How cool the gold sheaves lie,
Rich without need to ask for more
Richness. The seed, the simple thing must die
    If only to restore
Our faith in fruitful, hidden things. I see
The wine and bread protect our ecstasy.

Analysis

The poem Harvest and Consecration is about how the poet views deeply held views in Catholicism and Christianity in general. The poet tries to draw a comparison between harvesting and the consecration of bread and wine as the flesh and blood of Christ. However, this view is negated by a friend, who argues that the catholic rite is not akin to harvesting.

Summary

The poem opens focussing on the time period: It is the harvest season. the ‘corn sheaves waiting / to be collected, gathered into barns’, and the ‘fruits have burst their skins’. The reference is to the abundance of the harvest season, and a feeling of goodness bursting forth from the earth. After this image of the bountiful nature, we see a sudden change in tone as the poet compares the harvest to a significant ceremony during the catholic mass. Jennings as a Roman-Catholic: the reference to the ‘chalice and bread’ after the description of the plentiful harvest implies that the harvest is almost holy.

In the second stanza, Jennings talks about how religion is akin to the harvest: she ‘thought of it as close / To how a season feels which stirs and brings / Fire to the hearth, food to the hungry house’. Jennings blends the images of farming with the images of divinity. Near the end, ‘God in a garden, then in sheaves of corn’, brings up the image of the parable of the bread and fish in the Bible, and thus linking the idea of farming with the idea of holiness.

Jennings references the priest ‘as a midwife and a mother’, and points out that even as priests consecrating the common bread and wine, they must feel the ecstasy of making common entities divine. However, the person does not agree. He or she points out that religion itself is unemotional and spiritual.

Jennings however, does not accept this view. She points out ‘how cool the gold sheaves lie’, but that they are bursting with flavour on the inside. In the same way, religion has reason to be passionate about, though such passion is covered and protected by tangible objects such as the bread and wine.

Language and imagery

The poem has the rhyme scheme of ababcc dedeff and so on. The theme of natural abundance/harvest and the passion inherent in Catholicism is brought out with stunning imagery of farming, corn fields, as well as the chalice and the bread. The language is not as simple or straightforward as in most other poems of Jennings, but in this poem such complexity is fitting, since the theme itself is grave and deserves serious treatment.

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