Thorns and Thistles and Briars (An Easter Poem) by Jonathon Penny

This is a rather wretched place,
All things considered:
More paradox than paradise;

A poky little patch of dust and scrub
Now parched, now drowned,
Shaken and, as often, stirred;

A heaven gone to ground,
Ground gone to seed,
Thorn- and thistle-crowned

And for the very birds—
The dove, the hardy thrush,
The brown chat with his melancholy word.

It’s an abated wish,
This dense and dropping orb,
A momentary, dark, full-throated hush;

A nascent sun, an infant star,
This crib of Adam-Christ:
Worth falling and worth rising for.


Jonathon Penny took his MA in Renaissance literature at BYU and his PhD in 20th Century British literature from the University of Ottawa. He has taught at universities in the U.S. and Canada, and now lives with his family in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates where he is Assistant Professor of English at UAE University. He has published on Wyndham Lewis and apocalyptic literature and is currently at work on several books of poetry for precocious pipsqueaks under the penname “Professor Percival P. Pennywhistle.” Bits and pieces may be found here. In addition to those he has published on WIZ, he has grown-up poems forthcoming in Dialogue and with Peculiar Pages Press.  He misses Spring.

To read more of Jonathon’s poems published on WIZ, go here, here, and here.

*contest entry*

8 thoughts on “Thorns and Thistles and Briars (An Easter Poem) by Jonathon Penny”

  1. After many winter blizzards, we are supersaturated with water–filled ditches and flooded fields. The creek near our house is a huge gurgling pond. Please take a sip of ours. As I read your poem, it was a towel absorbing moisture and left me walking a dusty road kicking gravelly dirt. And, yes, I did experience heaven
    on earth and am gratified.

  2. I should say the paradoxes you so very well describe elicit joy–a paradox itself–in this reader. Your poem is somewhat reminiscent for me of dry bones and such in T.S. Eliot’s spiritual journeying and his sparse yet well-chosen descriptive images.
    Eliot also wrote some very funny poems about cats for children and grownups, Professor :) I feel like whistling spring.

  3. I have a more optimistic vision of the nature of this world (and Being-in-it), yet still I admire this poem much–‘specially that BANG! of a last line.

  4. Lovely of you both to comment. Mary, I think you’ve nailed it. Patricia: generous as always, but I had hoped the irony of the poem would let you know we were on the same side. There’s a theological tension inherent in earth-loving, one overcome by a doctrine of stewardship and a cultural optimism. You have an abundance of the latter two. Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Jonathon, I have no doubt we’re on the same side, and you’re good company. I guess I don’t feel the theological tension inherent in earth-loving that you mention. Irony is one of my favorite topics; I’ve thought a lot about it and have rather complex and perhaps personalized ideas about what irony is and does. If you’re interested, you can read my thoughts about irony here:

    The Importance of Being Ironic (part 1)
    The Importance of Being Ironic (part 2)

    But that’s a lot of stuff. Bottom line: I think irony’s way cooler than we think we know. Love the stuff.

  6. Thanks, Patricia. Two clarifications: 1) I never doubted your ability to identify and interpret irony, only my ability to adequately communicate it; 2) I think the tension grows from a cultural tendency to view “fallen” and “telestial” as negative states rather than states of an essential grace, as given and therefore as gifts, to use philosophy-speak. What I’m after in the poem is an acceptance of that fallen condition in both its negative and positives moods.

    Keep the poems coming. I’m enjoying them tremendously.


  7. I love this poem. The imagery, the meter and subtle rhyme, it just sings.

    I love the last four lines especially. Seeing the sort of rough infancy of our existence and the world in which we live, but also loving it.

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