I recently attended a newly-formed Poetry Club, where each member brought along a poem to read to the group, one which was then discussed. At our inaugural meeting we had a wide variety of choice, ranging from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense verse! It reminded me of the wide variety of writing which comes under the wide banner of poetry, including the psalms which form part of Morning and Evening Prayer.

When attempting to choose a Lent book to read daily throughout the next few weeks I came to the conclusion that the one I chose last year still contains much food for thought. It was such a joy to combine two significant parts of my life – a love of literature and a love of God – in ‘All’s Well that Ends Well,’ a look at certain of Shakespeare’s plays intertwined with Biblical study. It is an excellent way to start the day!

But back to the Poetry Club. When I was wondering what to choose for our second session, I remembered something my daughter gave me years ago. Called ‘A 17th Century Nun’s Prayer’ it contains quite a bit of wisdom delivered in a humorous way which had me smiling. I had to hunt it out, but when I reread it, I decided that, although not strictly speaking a poem, it had a certain rhythm and balance of phrase which was poetic. I don’t think it really derives from the 17th Century – there is a certain contemporary feel to it – but that doesn’t matter!

17th Century Nun’s Prayer

Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself
that I am growing older and will some day be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say
 something on every subject and on every occasion.
Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody:
helpful but not bossy.
With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity
not to use it all, but Thou knowest, Lord
that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.
Seal my lips on my aches and pains.
They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy
the tales of others’ pains,
but help me to endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness
when my memory seems to clash
with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson
that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet;
I do not want to be a Saint –
some of them are so hard to live with –
but a sour old person is one of
the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things
in unexpected places, and talents
in unexpected people.
And give me, O Lord,
the grace to tell them so.


Try reading this out loud – it helps to get the feeling of the rhythm as well as the humour!

[Thelma Shacklady]