New Release Review: The Heart’s Necessities

Posted June 9, 2019 by Lory in reviews / 0 Comments

Jane Tyson Clement with Becca Stevens, The Heart’s Necessities (Plough, 2018)

The Heart’s Necessities is a book with at least four layers. The foundation layer is a selection of poems by Jane Tyson Clement, written over a period of more than fifty years and mostly unpublished during the poet’s life. Each section of poems, arranged in roughly chronological order, is introduced by a brief biographical sketch — the second layer — giving insight into the quiet but strong spirit behind this lifetime of work.

This would all be interesting enough, but there’s a third layer of commentary by Becca Stevens, a rising young singer-songwriter who discovered Jane’s poetry when looking for lyrics for a song to honor a friend who had died. Becca eventually set five of Jane’s songs to music and developed a deep sense of connection and admiration for her as a person and an artist, which shines through her personal notes on some of the poems that have been most meaningful to her. And finally, going beyond the printed page, you can watch and listen to Becca playing her songs here.

One can obviously approach this book in a number of ways. Some music-lovers will be interested in getting to the source of the lyrics they have enjoyed. Others with a connection to the Bruderhof, the Christian community that Jane joined as an adult, will appreciate following her spiritual path as revealed through her life and work. (Plough is the publishing house of the Bruderhof, which produces a wide range of titles on spiritual life, social issues, education, and more.)

I was simply intrigued to delve into the work of an unknown poet who seemed to have such appeal in a variety of directions. I found her simple, unpretentious style very appealing, and free of the strenuous word-wrestling that I often find off-putting in contemporary poetry. These are the poems of someone who is trying to think with the heart, with honesty and compassion.

Though Jane’s  faith was the center of her life, her poems seldom speak explicitly of God or Jesus. When they do, it is not in a narrow sectarian way, but as a universal creative presence, a spirit of love. Mostly, she writes from her personal perspective about nature, the people she cares for, her evolving ideals of peace and justice, and the paradoxical mix of sorrow and joy that makes up our life.

I’m so glad to have met these poems, and the songs that inspired them, and will find these words enriching my life for a long time to come. I am grateful for the permission to share a few samples with you below; to learn more or purchase the book, please check out this page.

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WORDS

I feel the stirring of the unprofitable years,
the weight of prophecy and ancient grief.
We talk, the words flash golden and then die;
the thin smoke curls, beyond the window’s dark
a bat cheeps, faint, repeating, in the night.

Words are the symbols of a mind’s defeat,
they shape the hollow air with resonant life,
and trick and twist and make the spirit reel,
vanish like ember’s fire, devour and leave
brave husks and echoes of lost majesties.

(1940)

Jane Tyson Clement, from The Heart’s Necessities ©Plough Publishing House, 2019, used with permission.

Jane noted next to this poem: “after an intellectual discussion on the peace question.” I love how it brings out the insufficiency of words, the frustration of mere talk — and yet the act of writing such a poem is a struggle toward meaning as a creative deed.

 

LOVE IS THE LAW OF LIFE

Am I deceived, if I have given love
the voice to spell the essence of my days,
authority to rule in all its ways
and with its urgency my spirit move?
Am I betrayed, in yielding love this power,
in giving it the scepter and the crown,
the brightest banner and the sole renown,
unchallenged victor over every hour?

It is not I but love who is deceived,
and love who risks disaster, trusting me,
and puts its energy in jeopardy
and will by my defaulting be bereaved.

I have not strength nor majesty to bring
sufficient zeal to such a lord and king.

from the chapbook The Heavenly Garden (1952)

Jane Tyson Clement, from The Heart’s Necessities ©Plough Publishing House, 2019, used with permission.

Jane’s poems are often formal in rhythm and rhyme scheme, and she wrote a number of sonnets. Here’s one on a favorite philosophical theme.

 

TO MY UNBORN CHILD

I carry life or death within me,
this little stirring, blind and pushing creature
is the sweet paradox
inevitable
weighing me down with either joy
or sorrow.

Teach me, my little one, the slow acceptance,
whether death or life is borne within me.

I am in God’s hands, and you
in God’s hands
through me —
all of it God’s: the light, the dark,
the winter,

and this wild, petal-drifting,
sun-dazed May.

(1948)

Jane Tyson Clement, from The Heart’s Necessities ©Plough Publishing House, 2019, used with permission.

The paradox of death within life is one that Jane often ponders in her poetry. The essence of her spiritual path is a journey toward the acceptance she describes here, of the winter that we must live through in order to come to a truer experience of spring.

 

New Release Review: The Heart’s NecessitiesThe Heart's Necessities by Jane Tyson Clement
Published by Plough in 2018
Format: Paperback from Publisher

A copy was received for review purposes from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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