Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben

Ein Gedicht von / a poem by / una poesía de Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1. Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

2. Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.

3. Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

4. Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.

5. Laß warm und helldie Kerzen heute flammen,
die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

6. Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

7. Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist beiuns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Widerstand und Ergebung. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft.

With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.

The old year still torments out hearts, unhastening;
the long days of our sorrow still endure;
Father, grant to the souls thou hast been chastening
that thou hast promised, the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by thy loving hand.

But should it be thy will once more to release us
to life’s enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that which we’ve learned from sorrow shall increase us,
and all our life be dedicate as thine.

Today, let candles shed their radiant greeting;
lo, on our darkness are they not thy light
leading us, haply, to our longed-for-meeting? –
Thou canst illumine even our darkest night.

When now the silence deepens for our hearkening,
grant we may hear they children’s voices raise
from all the unseen world around us darkening
their universal paean, in thy praise.

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
boldly we’ll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely on each newborn day!

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison. English translation: John Bowden

Fielmente rodeado de poderes bienhechores,
protegido y maravillosamente consolado,
quiero vivir este día con vosotros
y con vosotros entrar en un nuevo año.

El pasado aún quiere atormentar nuestros corazones,
aún nos oprime la pesada carga de malos días.
¡Señor! Confiere a nuestras aterrorizadas almas
la salvación que para nosotros tienes prevista.

Y si nos tiendes el pesado cáliz, el amargo cáliz
del dolor, lleno hasta rebosar,
lo tomaremos agradecidos y sin temblar
de tu bondadosa y querida mano.

Pero si una vez más quieres concedernos la alegría
del espectáculo de este mundo y del brillo de su sol,
recordaremos el pasado,
y nuestra vida será toda para ti.

Permite que hoy reluzcan con calor y paz lo cirios
que Tú has traído a nuestra oscuridad;
y, si es posible, reúnenos de nuevo.
Nosotros sabemos que tu luz brilla en la noche.

Cuando el silencio profundo reine a nuestro alrededor,
concédenos escuchar el sonido lleno
del mundo, que invisible se expande en torno nuestro
y supremo canto de alabanza de todos tus hijos.

Maravillosamente protegidos por poderes bienhechores,
esperamos confiados lo que venga.
Dios está con nosotros mañana y noche,
y ciertamente en cada nuevo día.

— Dietrich Bonhoofer, Resistencia y sumisión. Cartas y apuntes desde el cautiverio. Traducción al castellano: J.J. Alemany y Constantino Ruiz-Garrido

Sailing to Byzantium

Deisis, Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

I must admit, I am drawn to Byzantium, to the ancient cities and culture of Eastern Christianity. In some circles it is common to describe anything useless or helplessly complex as “Byzantine”. This is just as preposterous as the French thinkers calling themselves the promoters of the Enlightenment in contrast to those thoughtful theologians and philosophers from the supposed “Dark Ages” upon whose shoulders they stood.

Eastern Christianity often suffers at the hands of Western ignorance. Many people summarize Eastern Christianity as Roman Catholicism without a pope. The truth is, Eastern Christianity is a fount of theology, spirituality, art, and music that comes to our aid in these pressing times.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, Ravenna, Italy

In our liquid modernity and postmodern churches, we do not have two feet to stand on. We act as if every institution and church tradition must be undone in order to be free. However, the faithful witness of Christians in the East tell us another story. It is not easy to be a Christian today in the post-Christian West yet it has rarely been easy to be a Christian in the East.

While Christians in the West may prefer to seek refuge in the early church and in later Western expressions of Christianity (i.e. the European Reformation), the East today provides traditions and theological undrestandings that can anchor our communities and keep our spiritualities free from self-help, egocentric, consumeristic, and degenerate forms of the Gospel.

May William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Sailing to Byzantium” inspire us to return to the ancient cities of the Orient in order to discover not ruins, but the living faith and tradition of Eastern Christianity and its vibrant spirituality.

Sailing to Byzantium

by William Butler Yeats

I

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,

— Those dying generations — at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium” from The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright 1933 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed © 1961 by Georgie Yeats.

Meet Pablo Alaguibe

Pablo Alguibe is the first poet we have translated and published for our online and on-demand print journal, Hagioscope. We have published three of his poems:

The Inside of a Whale

Holes in wool socks

The rotund man and the presumably young man

Pablo Alaguibe created Ediciones del Altillo in Mar del Plata, Argentina

I first met Pablo in a coffee shop in Vicente López, Buenos Aires this last year. He had been in a very long and tedious meeting for a local publishing house. Despite the long day and the bus that was awaiting him, he generously accepted the invitation for a cup of coffee with friends and I tagged along.

After the formalities of Argentine greetings, he said something like, “tell me about you — I want to get to know you”. I said a few things about myself without providing too many details. Nevertheless, he insisted that in our brief time together, he really wanted to get to know me. Pablo is not only good at telling stories, he is good at asking questions that lead others to tell their stories.

Pablo’s sensitivities to nature and life make him a keen observer of the human experience. He not only exposes the dangers of two-faced hypocrisy, he proposes through his life and poetry an alternative way of being human.

Frankly, I am fed-up with poets who provoke just to provoke. It is no surprise that it is mostly young souls that most enjoy provocation. I, like many others have long been witnesses to irreverent provocations and yearn for something more.

I long not only for fingers that point out hypocrisy, but fingers that point towards hope, towards alternative ways of being human and living together as one big family. After years of working with poor and immigrant populations, after years of reading poignant literature that artfully analyzes the human condition, I now read to discern better ways of being human. I read in order to see the beauty in the middle of the mess that is human existence.

Pablo helps me see that beauty and truth are not far off.

Pablo publishes his books in his workshop at his home in Mar del Plata, Argentina. For more information, visit:

Ediciones del Altillo

Ediciones del Altillo on Facebook

Michelangelo Infinito

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet and much more. A new biographical film, Michelangelo Infinito came out this last year in Italy. I went this week to see it here in Buenos Aires.

The film reminds us of his passion and artistic ambition. It was a specially poignant reminder that artists have the ability to see beyond that which is most easily perceived by a quick glance. In the case of Michelangelo, where many saw a block of marble, he saw la pietà.

Michelangelo was also a poet. Here is one of my favorite poems and an English translation.

90. I’ mi son caro assai più ch’i’ non soglio

I’ mi son caro assai più ch’i’ non soglio;
poi ch’i’ t’ebbi nel cor più di me vaglio,
come pietra c’aggiuntovi l’intaglio
è di più pregio che ’l suo primo scoglio.

O come scritta o pinta carta o foglio
più si riguarda d’ogni straccio o taglio,
tal di me fo, da po’ ch’i’ fu’ berzaglio
segnato dal tuo viso, e non mi doglio.

Sicur con tale stampa in ogni loco
vo, come quel c’ha incanti o arme seco,
c’ogni periglio gli fan venir meno.
 I’ vaglio contr’a l’acqua e contr’al foco,
col segno tuo rallumino ogni cieco,
e col mie sputo sano ogni veleno.

I feel more precious, I am more than one,
For, since you held my heart, my worth grew more:
A marble block, when carving has been done,
Is not the rough, cheap stone it was before.

As paper painted or just written on
No longer is a rag one can ignore,
So, since you looked at me, as I was won,
My value has increased for evermore.

Now, with your splendor printed on my face,
I go like one who, dressed with every kind
Of amulets and arms, can dare all wars.
I can walk on the ocean, brave all blaze,
Give in your name the light to all the blind,
And my saliva heals all poisonous sores.

Translation: Joseph Tusiani

*James M. Saslow. The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

David, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence

I have enjoyed two biographies of Michelangelo:

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo, Irving Stone

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, Miles J. Unger

A hagioscope was a hole in the wall of medieval churches that allowed people from the outside to see inside and most specifically to be present in the sacred moment of the eucharist. Michelangelo, like a hagioscope helps transform our vision of the mundane, the quotidian in order to be witnesses of that which is imbued with the holy. His vision represents a new paradigm or hermeneutic through which we can begin to perceive the sacred nature of our lives.

Poeta osado y valiente

Pablo Alaguibe, nuestro primer poeta publicado en la Revista Hagioscope, es un poeta osado y valiente.

Osado porque se anima a indagar e incomodar a sus lectores con preguntas pertinentes que muchas veces revelan la hipocresía o apatía de los seres humanos.

Valiente porque no se queda sólo preguntando y perturbando, sino que se esfuerza para explorar en qué consiste la buena vida como miembro de una comunidad.

Pablo es el fundador de Ediciones del Altillo en la ciudad del Mar de Plata, Argentina. Sus libros son publicados artesanalmente en su taller casero.

Les comparto dos poesías, una osada y otra valiente.

Salmo de desorientación

¿Por qué insiste Dios en los jazmines
cuando en Nigeria tantos niños
han quedado tendidos para siempre
en el piso de la escuela?

¿Por qué se despereza la semilla
y nace el brote por la noche,
mientras suenan las alarmas,
los gritos y disparos en el barrio?

¿Sonríe Dios cuando la flor florece?
¿Se olvida de lo otro?

De algo se olvidan los que son felices.

Es necesario no saberlo todo.

¿Cómo se puede ser Dios,
saber lo que ha pasado, 
y seguir pintando amaneceres,
seguir imaginando calabazas,
colores de moluscos,
niños posibles, lunares en mejillas,
formas de nubes,
perfumes de manzana?

¿Está contento Dios o llora?

¿Llora la historia humana cada noche
y vuelve a inspirarse en las mañanas?

Mientras no lo sabemos,
tenemos hijos, los mimamos
y jugamos con ellos en el patio,
como si nada. 
Sabemos del horror que los acecha.
Les damos a probar frutillas
dulces y ácidas. 
Disfrutamos su asombro. 
Reímos de sus caras.

Cuaderno Rojo, Ediciones del Altillo, 2018.

Seremos tu familia

Seremos los que abraces y te abracen. 
Los que no siempre te entiendan.
Seremos los primeros
a quienes quieras contar tus novedades.
Y con los que querrás ir a llorar corriendo.

Te veremos crecer,
y nos verás cambiar de ideas.
Descubrirás de a poco nuestra inconsistencia,
el triste abismo
entre lo que quisiéramos ser y lo que somos. 
Perderemos el rumbo cerca tuyo.
Perderemos el tiempo. 
y comeremos lo mismo muchas veces,
en ocasiones dulces y saldas.
Soñaremos mundos parecidos,
aunque no idénticos.
Nos reiremos de los mismos chistes.
Compartiremos los vinos y los panes,
los resfríos y las pestes. Y luego los remedios.

Intentaremos controlarte y,
con la ayuda de Dios, jamás lo lograremos. 
Tendremos que aprender a disfrutar
de que hagas lo contrario a nuestros planes,
y para lo cual estabas hecho. 
Tomaremos distancia.
Diremos cosas feas unos de otros.
Nos perdonarás y nos reencontraremos.
No reemplazaremos a la familia de tu sangre.
Solo seremos una más. Pero una que se elige. 
Tendrás con quienes caminar
cuando te duelan las rodillas.
Llegarás a la última puerta rodeado
por un montón de inevitables compañeros.
Les dirás hasta luego con la mano,
y te dirán: ¡NOS VEMOS!

Cuaderno Verde Limón, Ediciones del Altillo, 2018.

The Divine Image

Jean Vanier reminds us that “toute personne est une histoire sacrée”, every person is a sacred story. However, in today’s world, people are treated as mere patients, clients, and consumers. Luigi Zoja in his book, La morte del prossimo, writes that our neighbor is dead to us as a direct consequence of the death of God.

This leads me to believe that the desacralization of the world has much to do with our loss of humanity. In our aim to create secular states in order to avoid sectarian oppression, we have also eliminated sacred space and often denied the sacred nature of other human beings.

William Blake (1757–1827) reminds us from the not so distant past that the value of human beings is intrinsically related to the nature of the divine image.

The Divine Image

by William Blake

To Mery, Pity, Peace and Love
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Blake

Toute personne est une histoire sacrée, Jean Vanier

La morte del prossimo, Luigi Zoja

The Poetry of Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley wrote his most famous novel, Brave New World in 1932. He was a prophet, a man who foresaw things that were to come to pass. His criticism of technology, human relations and even on sexual promiscuity are more appropriate today than they were in the 1930’s.

Huxley however, is less known for his poetry. Here is a poem by Huxley:

Quotidian Vision

There is a sadness in the street,
And suddenly the folk I meet
Droop their heads as they walk along,
Without a smile, without a song.
A mist of cold and muffling grey
Falls, fold by fold, on another day
That dies unwept. But suddenly,
Under a tunnelled arch I see
On flank and haunch the chestnut gleam
Of horses in a lamplit steam;
And the dead world moves for me once more
With beauty for its living core.

Obedience

I said, “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said, “No, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers, but a crown.”

I said, “But the skies are black;
There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back;
“There is more,” He said; “there is sin.”

I said, “But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered, “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone.”

I said, “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered, “choose to-night
If I am to miss you, or they.”

I pleaded for time to be given.
He said, “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in heaven
To have followed the steps of your Guide.”

I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”

Then into His hand went mine,
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light divine
That path I had feared to see.

– George MacDonald