‘Luther and the Devil’, by Robert Cording

Over the coming six or seven weeks, I’d like to share some poems, one a week, probably on Wednesdays, from Robert Cording’s very rich collection of work published as Common Life: Poems.

Here’s the first:

‘Luther and the Devil’, by Robert Cording

When I began to lecture on the Psalms and I was sitting
in the refectory after we had sung matins, studying and
writing my notes, the Devil came and thudded three times
in the storage chamber as if dragging a bushel away.
— Martin Luther

Someone once remarked the medieval air
Was so thick with demons, a needle dropped
Randomly from heaven would have to pierce
One or two on its way down. These days
We’re more likely to believe in poltergeists
Than the heavy-footed, skulking Adversary
Who shows up in Luther’s little story.

Now, when Milton’s Satan of obdurate pride
And stedfast hate can be understood in terms
Of sibling rivalry, how quaint that path
Through the Psalms seems; likewise, the soul
Disturbed by the racket of a jealous Devil
Who needs to be wherever God is. Who believes
That figure of a bushel being dragged away?

Yet we catch certainly a glimmer of Luther’s
Pain over the sure step gone astray,
The barbed hours to come when nothing satisfies,
When that dull thudding in the storage chamber
Seems everywhere, centerless, and there is
No escape from the tightly spiralled Nautilus
Of the self that endures by choosing blindly.

And so perhaps we can come to understand again
Why, when Luther turns back to the Psalms
And his writing, he looks hard for the Devil
Harbored in his words, having learned too often
How that old Adversary shows up each time
The soul comes close to letting itself be found,
His soft mouth whispering one more illusory solace.

– Robert Cording, Common Life: Poems (Fort Lee: CavanKerry Press, 2006), 9–10.

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