Myself and time, like birds
or ships at sea, slip past each other,
with nothing that stays put;
but what I’ve done amiss does not skip by,
but stays: this is life’s cruelest pain.
Not can I tell what to pray for, to live on, or be done:
it’s fearful either way. Come, think with me.
Through sins my life’s become an aching mess. But if I die,
ai ai! there’s no cure then for your old passions!
If this is what life appoints for you, its anguish is so great
that even when ended it holds no end of troubles,
but on both sides there’s a precipice. What’s there to say?
This then is what’s best
to look towards You alone, and Your kindheartedness.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus
From on God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory Nazianzus, a part of St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press excellent and handy Popular Patristics Series.
The immediately striking thing about St. Gregory’s poetry is the almost existential, quite personal sense of internal struggle. The autobiographical sense of his poetry reminds one of St. Augustine, who is usually held up as the prime example of an initial move to more introspective, personal narratives. St. Gregory lacks the verve of a dramatic conversion story, but he strongly channels the sense of honesty and struggle, filtered through a clearly internally absorbed Christocentric, Trinitarian faith. Thus many of Gregory’s poetic self-narratives wander through darkness and near despair, but always return to a Christ-infused hope, even if it seems somewhat tenuous in a highly uncertain world.