by Kenneth Boulding

INTRODUCTION

It is now more than fifty years since The Nayler Sonnets were published, and since I began writing them as a young Instructor at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. The first five or six were written in Hamilton, in the stress of the first few months of war in Europe in 1939 to 1941. The writing was interrupted in May of 1941, when I met my wife-to-be, Elise Biorn Hansen, and the muse turned to celebrations of love, in a quite different series of sonnets that has continued through our fiftieth wedding anniversary and beyond (see Sonnets on Courtship, Marriage & the Family). But the war did not go away, and the Nayler sonnets returned to creep in among the love sonnets. It was at Fisk University in the years 1942-43, inspired partly by the spread of the war around the world, partly by experience of living in a warm and friendly but beleaguered black community, that I finally finished the Nayler sonnets.

Today the world is changing even more rapidly than in 1945 when the first edition of the sonnets was brought out by the Fellowship Press. Wars multiply in both hemispheres, but so do visions of a more humane and peaceful world order. These sonnets were first written to express the hope that lies beyond despair, and their re-publication today is an affirmation of the same hope.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to the Fellowship of Reconciliation for having kept the sonnets in print over so many decades, to friends known and unknown who have written to share what these sonnets have meant to them, and to Quaker Home Service of London Yearly Meeting, and to Pendle Hill Publications for sponsoring this third edition in my 83rd year.

– Kenneth E. Boulding, Boulder, Colorado 29th October, 1992.


PREFACE

I have written these sonnets, partly as a purely personal act of meditation and devotion, but partly also in the hope that they may call the attention of others to the depths of truth in the passage which inspired them. It may be wondered why in this age of free (and occasionally easy) verse anyone should bother to compress his thought into the archaic strait-jacket of the conventional sonnet. Nevertheless, as metal must be run into a tight mould before it can become a bell, so the intellectual and aesthetic effort required to compress an explosive idea into the formal limits of a sonnet may cause the truth within the words to ring all the more clearly. Every one of Nayler’s phrases is packed with significance, and the attempt both to expand and extract this significance, and to compress it into the sonnet form has been a joyful and illuminating spiritual experience for me. I dare not hope that the sonnets can convey much of this experience to others. I can hope, however, that they may lead others to dig in the same mines of truth.

James Nayler was born near Wakefield, in Yorkshire, England about the year 1616. He fought in Cromwell’s army against the Scots, and afterwards became a powerful preacher and one of the early leaders of the Society of Friends. “I was struck with more terror by the preaching of James Nayler than I was at the battle of Dunbar,” wrote James Gough, another early Friend.

In 1656 he was led into certain excess of conduct by the hysterical enthusiasm of some of his followers, and allowed himself to be led into Bristol on a horse while his followers strewed garments in the way and shouted “Holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” For this blasphemy, as it was considered, he was cruelly punished by an illegal action of Parliament, being severely whipped, branded with the letter ‘B’ on his forehead, and having his tongue bored through with a red hot iron. After his punishment he was imprisoned in one of the horrible “holes” of the time, but he recovered his judgment, was eventually reconciled with Friends and came to condemn his previous behaviour. He was released from prison in September 1659.

In October 1660 he set off from London northwards on foot, intending to visit his wife and children in Wakefield. On the way he was robbed, and found bound in a field. He was taken to a Friend’s house, where he died.

The passage which forms the basis of these sonnets was spoken by him about two hours before his death. It is a classic expression of a spirit too close to the source of truth to have a name. It carries a message of peace to a world at war, a clear wind of pure truth amid the fogs of propaganda and deceit, an intimation of that love which is indeed God. There are times and places in history when we feel the wings of the spirit brushing very close to earth. The tragedy of James Nayler is such an occasion. Even while we cannot approve the pitiful and absurd behaviour of his followers, yet we can agree with them in this: that here we are close indeed to the spirit of Christ. It deserves to be read slowly, and deeply, so that its truth will bum through the plausible lies which form the principal furniture of our minds.

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; and takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings: for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.”
– James Nayler, 1660


I – THERE IS A SPIRIT THAT I FEEL

Can I, imprisoned, body-bounded, touch
The starry garment of the Oversoul,
Reach from my tiny part to the great Whole,
And spread my Little to the infinite Much,
When Truth forever slips from out my clutch,
And what I take indeed, I do but dole
In cupfuls from a rimless ocean-bowl
That holds a million million million such?
And yet, some Thing that moves among the stars,
And holds the cosmos in a web of law,
Moves too in me: a hunger, a quick thaw
Of soul that liquifies the ancient bars,
As I, a member of creation, sing
The burning one-ness binding everything.


II – THAT DELIGHTS TO DO NO EVIL

Shall I be good because of some reward,
Because the virtuous act pays dividends
In candy bars, the approving nods of friends,
In many tongues to praise, and hands to applaud,
In riches, honors, lavishly outpoured?
Or, since to ruin all things earthly tend,
Shall I be good to gain the greatest end,
The crown of bliss that Heaven may afford?
Ask the sweet spring upon the mountain top
What makes his sinless water flow so free:
ls it the call of some far-distant sea,
Or the deep pressure that no crust can stop?
No conscious end can drag us out of sin,
Unless clear goodness wells up from within.


III – NOR TO REVENGE ANY WRONG

Now I am veined by an eroding doubt,
Insidious as decay, with poison rife.
ls love indeed the end and law of life,
When lush, grimacing hates so quickly sprout?
I thought in ignorance I had cast out
The sneaking devils of continuing strife,
But as the cancer thwarts the surgeon’s knife,
So does revenge my sword of reason flout.
But though hate rises in enfolding flame
At each renewed oppression, soon it dies:
It sinks as quickly as we saw it rise,
While love’s small constant light burns still the same
Know this: though love is weak and hate is strong,
Yet hate is short, and love is very long.


IV – BUT DELIGHTS TO ENDURE ALL THINGS

How to endure, when all around us die
Nations and gracious cities, homes and men,
And the sweet earth is made a filthy den
Beneath whose roof black, belching vultures fly:
How to endure the darkness, when the sky
Is totally eclipsed by evil, when
Foul grinning Chaos spreads its reign again
And all good things in senseless ruin lie.
Must we be hard as a stone? It wears to dust.
As stiff as oaks? But they untimely break
As pitiless as steel? It turns to rust,
And time from Pyramids will ruins make.
In violence, decay, starvation, need,
What can endure? Only the living Seed.


V – IN HOPE TO ENJOY ITS OWN IN THE END

Small flowers there are beside the stoniest way,
And on the seeming-endless journeying
Some breaths of air are sweet, and some birds sing,
And some new goal is reached in every day.
Yet for the unknown end we wait and pray,
When the last knot of this world’s tangled string
Is straightened out, and every evil thing
Redeemed in heaven’s undisputed sway.
We know not how the day is to be born,
Whether in clouds of glory, tongues of flame,
As once at Pentecost the Spirit came,
Or whether imperceptibly as dawn:
But as the seed must grow into the tree,
So life is love, and love the end must be.


VI – ITS HOPE IS TO OUTLIVE ALL WRATH & CONTENTION

Who weeps for Babylon, who mourns for Tyre,
Who worships proud imperious Caesar now?
The wreath, woven to fit a tyrant’s brow
So soon is trampled in oblivion’s mire.
Buried the ash of Moloch’s dreadful fire,
Withered and lost Astarte’s golden bough,
And turned beneath the lonely peasant’s plough
Lie splintered shards of heathen altars dire.
Victorious lava sears the mountain side,
And leaves a cicatrice among the green,
But sun and frost and rain, and roots unseen
Advance the slow, resistless verdant tide.
Through all events runs one repeating rule,
That life may grow, but wrath and hatred cool.


VII – AND TO WEARY OUT ALL EXALTATION & CRUELTY

What patience must we cherish, to out-wear
The sleepless hosts of hell, who lie in wait
Against our slightest weakness, early, late,
With perseverance more than we can bear.
How can we wait the many a weary year
Before the rock of pride, and cruel hate,
Into a fruitful earth disintegrate
Under the tears of love and near-despair?
Who then can blame us if we lose our trust
In love’s slow ways, and hastily rush to blast
The rock to pieces – but to find at last
When smoke has cleared, not earth, but barren dust.
Only by endless rain the soil is given,
And endless patience is the way of heaven.


VIII – OR WHATEVER IS OF A NATURE CONTRARY TO ITSELF

If God be All in All, must all be good?
What then of evil? Of the shriek in the night,
The slavering jaw, the glinting eye, the plight
Of mouse, fawn, coney? If this mystery could
By some veil-rending flash be understood,
Would Darkness shine with its own holy light,
Wrong but reflect the under-side of Right,
And Life exult beneath Death’s sheltering hood?
Are there no contraries at the heart of things?
The double thread winds deep, beyond the reach
Even of faith’s white beam: and whether breach
Or union comes at last, no prophet sings.
Yet – if in this life love can weary out
The staunchest evil: does God lie in doubt?


IX – IT SEES TO THE END OF ALL TEMPTATIONS

What is the end of greed but emptiness,
And what the end of a determined lust
But staleness, unfulfillment, sick disgust,
A debt of pride unpaid, and no redress?
Always we give the more, and gain the less
In bargaining with the ambassadors of dust:
Who, knowingly, would rate their contract just
Ten future “No’s” for one sweet present ”Yes”!
Need we but sight to run from every shame,
The sight that sees the future opened bare
Or does a doom, writ with a darker name
Condemn us to a tunnel of despair?
Not sight alone, but Will, by love made free
Can make us walk the pilgrim way we see.


X – AS IT BEARS NO EVIL IN ITSELF

If soul be soil what may not grow therein?
The indifferent ground cares not what plant it feed:
Both the good grain and the lean poisoned weed
Out of its fecund womb their life may win.
Can there then be a soil that grows no sin,
That nourishes no thought of pride or greed,
And bears no plant not fruiting for the need
Of the good gardener and his humble kin?
Not in man’s world, where saviors do not save;
Where painless, glib goodwill for humankind
Serves but to rub the sores it cannot bind,
And Liberators leave man more a slave,
But out of harrowed heart and broken will
Ground is prepared at last that grows no ill.


XI – SO IT CONCEIVES NONE IN THOUGHTS TO ANY OTHER

Is there indeed a river that can clean
The stable of my thought? Can I not hide,
Behind the glittering wall of outward pride
In virtuous act, the dismal inward scene?
Not what we think, but what we do has been
The standard of the world: so have I tried
To wall out God with deeds. And yet inside
My soul blazes His light despite my screen.
Ah! Blinding Union! Now falls away
The shelly life of outward righteousness.
Torrential seas of brightness round me press,
Turning my secret night to open day;
Till in the fullness of Thy light no room
Is left for any cherished walled gloom.


XII – IF IT BE BETRAYED, IT BEARS IT

It is not hard to tum the other cheek
After an insult, or hot tempered blow,
And easier still it is, if we but know
How deadly are the weapons of the meek:
But treachery! That’s evil at its peak,
Not to be suffered: easier far to go
The second mile with enemies, than show
Love to deceitful friends – Faugh! How they reek
Of cowardice, and the stale grey stench of fear!
Can I bear this, and bear it to end?
Yet, Lord, do I not name myself Thy friend,
And then betray Thee oft, with word or sneer
Or silence – and Thou bearest it, content
To wait in long love on my betterment.


XIII – FOR ITS GROUND & SPRING IS THE MERCIES & FORGIVENESS OF GOD

My Lord, Thou art in every breath I take,
And every bite and sup taste firm of Thee.
With buoyant mercy Thou enfoldest me,
And holdest up my foot each step I make.
Thy touch is all around me when I wake,
Thy sound I hear, and by Thy light I see
The world is fresh with Thy divinity
And all Thy creatures flourish for Thy sake.
For have I looked upon a little child
And seen Forgiveness, and have seen the day
With eastern fire cleanse the foul night away;
So cleanses! Thou this House I have defiled.
And if I should be merciful, I know
It is Thy mercy, Lord in overflow.


XIV – ITS CROWN IS MEEKNESS

How every virtue casts a mimic shade
Of subtle vice, so like in form and face
That shadow oft usurps the royal place
Of substance, in unholy masquerade.
So rotten pride, in pity’s grab arrayed,
Drops hidden poison in the springs of grace,
And selfishness transmutes to metal base
The gold of love, by lesser love betrayed.
But most of all, the very crown of good,
Unconquerable Meekness, is pursued
By the grey ghost compliance, bland and lewd,
And cowardice seeks to stand where courage stood.
Yet no deceit of words can hide for long
The seed of life, the meekness of the strong.


XV – ITS LIFE IS EVERLASTING LOVE UNFEIGNED

Caught in a mirrored maze of bright deceit,
Peopled with images, that but reflect
The groping movements of the intellect,
Till bounds are smudged where fact and shadow meet,
The mind is lost, until with quickened beat
Love scents a wind, blowing from God, unchecked,
And senses, deeper laid that sight, direct
To the free air our once-bewildered feet.
But love must be made pure to be our guide;
Not trader’s love, that seeks more in return,
But love that with clear, slender flame will burn
Though it be spent for nought, spurned, crucified,
Until to one vast song our spirit lifts:
To love for Love alone, not for His gifts.


XVI – AND TAKES ITS KINGDOM WITH ENTREATY & NOT WITH CONTENTION

Are there no armies, no angelic hosts,
Invincibly arrayed in awful might,
To battle with the shapeless forms of night,
The slimy writhing ranks that Satan boasts?
Has Heaven no navies to assault the coasts
Of Hell’s hard Kingdom, cliffed with vulcanite?
Can Hell be taken with thin wisps of light,
Handwringing, cooing, pale, entreating ghosts?
What Kingdom yet has been by wooing won?
What King for words has willed his crown away?
Then with what right of reason dost thou say
Thou hast a Kingdom where there can be none?
Ah! – but what know ye, ye blind lords strife,
About the secret Kingdom of Man’s life!


XVII – AND KEEPS IT BY LOWLINESS OF MIND

No kingdom falls before it is betrayed
By inward enemies – no outward foe
Can deal the last, and only fatal blow
That turns defeat to death. So am I preyed
Upon by subtle fears, lest I have laid
Thy Kingdom in me open to a slow
Unseen decay that yet may bring it low,
And desolate the joy that thou hast made.
For see – the stony citadel of pride,
My inmost stronghold, is rebellious still
Against the peaceful envoys of Thy will.
Ah, Lord, run through me with Thy sudden tide,
For this proud heart can never be Thy throne
Unless its pride be pride of Thee alone.


XVIII – IN GOD ALONE IT CAN REJOICE

I plunge me, shouting, in the fecund tide
Of vast creation; lave myself in light,
Dwell with imperial clouds, cloak with the night,
And woo the earth as lover woos a bride;
Through intricate kingdoms of pure sound I ride
On music, and on laughter, and invite
My joyful body-spirit to unite
With scent, taste, touch: all senses sanctified.
What then! In God alone I must rejoice?
Not in His creatures, His abounding gifts?
The veil of sensual goodness lightly lifts
And through the inward seam there drops a voice:
“Seek first the Kingdom – for thy joys are dim
Until thou findest all things new, in Him.”


XIX – THOUGH NONE ELSE REGARD IT, OR CAN OWN ITS LIFE

Are not my friends built round me like a wall?
We stand together in a firm stockade
Around the cheerful fire our faith has made,
Its light reflected from the eyes of all.
Beyond the glow, in night’s unechoing hall
Slide shadows, hideous offspring of the shade
Of unacknowledged doubt – but who’s afraid
Of spectres, when there’s fire, and friends at call?
But ah! – let death, or faithlessness, or doubt
Pluck out the stakes of this protecting fence
And leave me shivering in the bleak, immense,
Dark Otherness – will not my fire go out?
Our gathered sticks are scattered: but the sun
Warms many no more certainly than one.


XX – IT IS CONCEIVED IN SORROW & BROUGHT FORTH WITHOUT ANY TO PlTY IT

Must every flower reek of its mother dung,
And every joy spring rash from beds of pain?
Must every bliss be minted with a bane,
And songs of joy to mournful chants be sung?
What though the saints from misery’s mass have wrung
Their drops of living water – can the chain
Of golden love the pearl of price sustain
When all the weight of woe thereon is hung?
Lord, could’st Thou not have brought this life of Thine
That we inherit, at a cost less great?
Was there no way to Thee, no other gate
But sorrow’s gloomy cave, where no lights shine
But Thy small rush? Then did’st Thou give us night
For stars, and give us suffering for Thy light?


XXI – NOR DOTH IT MURMUR AT GRIEF & OPPRESSION

Must Christian Love move us to fat content
With the black dismal mass of man’s distress?
And wrapped in God, must we then blandly bless
Wretchedness, pain, disease, as Heaven-sent
To prove our virtue, channel our intent
Away from Earth, where power and lust oppress
The ancient-suffering seed of gentleness,
And wealth and health always for nought are spent?
Ah, never, never! If this thing were true,
That we are cattle, tortured, that God’s grace
May shine – I would deny Him to His face.
And yet – and yet – If God should suffer too,
And share, and love, and die – may we not see
The paradox – blaze into Mystery?


XXII – IT NEVER REJOICETH BUT THROUGH SUFFERINGS

Can grief be gift, love’s gift, Divine Love’s gift?
Not gentle grief over imagined loss,
But vital-tearing agonies, that toss
All bodily organs into a bottomless pit
Of choking pain? Ah, dare we, dare we sift
The abyss of suffering, truly take our cross
To the insane pit of pain, and there emboss
Love’s symbol on a door Hope cannot lift?
Thou sayest it – and yet the very tongue
That mouthed these words was bored with blackening flame,
Seared with twice-bitter tasting pain and shame.
No greater song than this the saints have sung;
That there is joy, greater than joy can know,
Through suffering, on the far side of woe.


XXIII – FOR WITH THE WORLD’S JOY IT IS MURDERED

I will not shout for victory, nor praise
The bloody laurels of returning hosts;
Above the throaty cries I conjure ghosts
Of slain to pave the ceremonial ways.
And neither will I mourn defeated days,
When the stiff pomp that martial grandeur boasts
Cracks into chaos on forsaken coasts,
And the bald, craven head is stripped of bays.
Not with the world’s joy will I raise my heart,
Nor with the world’s grief bow it down to dust;
I will not sell it an earthly mart,
For every earthly love is kin to lust.
The living soul must find securer worth
In grief of Heaven than in joy of earth.


XXIV – I FOUND IT ALONE, BEING FORSAKEN

There is no death but this, to be alone,
Outside the friendly room of time and space,
Forsaken by the comfortable face
Of things familiar, human, measured, known.
Not in raw fires, nor in the imagined groan
Of tortured body-spirits, do we trace
The shape of Hell; but in that dreadful place
Where in the vision nought but self is shown
And yet – he found it there, as on the cross
When even God had fled, Love did not die:
So from the last despair, the extremest cry,
Flows the great gain that swallows all our loss.
And from the towers of Heaven calls the bell
That summons us across the gulf of Hell.


XXV – I HAD FELLOWSHIP THEREIN WITH THEM WHO LIVED IN DENS & DESOLATE PLACES IN THE EARTH

Can I have fellowship with them that fed
On desert locusts, or the husks of swine,
Slept without tent, went naked as a sign,
And made the unforgiving earth their bed?
When I in gentle raiment have been led
Through pastures green, and have sat down to dine
At banquets, and have let my limbs recline
On easy couches, and slept comforted?
How can we pray for daily bread, with lip
Still smacking from a comfortable meal,
Or how, from Dives lofty table feel
With Lazarus the glow of friendship,
Unless with spirits destitute, we find
Fellowship in the deserts of the mind.


XXVI – WHO THROUGH DEATH OBTAINED THIS RESURRECTION & ETERNAL HOLY LIFE

While yet we see with eyes, must we be blind?
Is lonely mortal death the only gate
To holy life eternal – must we wait
Until the dark portcullis clangs behind
Out hesitating steps, before we find
Abiding good? Ah no, not that our fate;
Our time-bound cry “too early” or “too late”
Can have no meaning in the Eternal Mind.
The door is open, and the Kingdom here –
Yet Death indeed upon the threshold stands
To bar our way – unless into his hands
We give our self, our will, our heart, our fear.
And then – strange resurrection! – from above
Is poured upon us life, will, heart, and love.


Kenneth Boulding was born in 1910, in Liverpool England. Raised a Methodist, he was attracted to the Religious Society of Friends by the Peace testimony and the meeting for worship, and joined Friends when an undergraduate at Oxford. Starting as a chemist, he became an economist, came to America as a graduate student to the University of Chicago in 1932, and emigrated in 1937. By the time of his death in 1993, Kenneth had become a magisterial figure in the field of social science. He taught at universities on three continents; authored more than thirty books and hundreds of articles, pamphlets, and chapters of numerous topics; and received honorary degrees. He married Elise Biorn Hansen in 1941; they have five children and thirteen grandchildren, and have both been active from the beginning in the peace research movement, and in many Friends meetings and organizations.


  • There Is a Spirit was first published in hardback by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in London in 1945

  • The 2nd edition was published in 1959 by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

  • Pendle Hill Publications published a 3rd edition in paperback in 1992 and a 4th edition in 1998 as Pendle Hill Pamphlet #337 . This paperback edition is still in print and available from Pendle Hill.

  • It is also available in a bilingual edition in Spanish and English, Hay un Espiritu: Los Sonetos de James Nayler from FUM Bookstore.