Since the publication of Shards of Blue, I haven’t spent much time on any of my historical, family history-based poems. Recently, though, I submitted “Dear William” to The Copperfield Review. They did not accept it for publication, which doesn’t really bother me since I’ve been focusing on other themes lately. Still, I have had a few people ask me if I’ve given thought to other family history themed poems. The answer is no, but maybe I’ll work on packaging up those that I have written, but did not include in my book. With that in mind, here’s “Dear William” and its companion piece, “Who Am I to Minister Unto Friends” (which was published by The Copperfield Review).
Robert Pleasants, of Curles Friends Meeting, Henrico County, Virginia, writing to William Ratcliff, of Skimino Meeting, 1784. The words in this poem are drawn from Robert Pleasant’s letter, contained in the collection “Robert Pleasant’s Letter Book.”
A tender and friendly caution
has rested on my mind
since I last saw thee.
Be careful, my friend,
attend to thy gift for ministry;
attend to the motion of life
and listen for the distinction
between the voice of the true shepherd
and the suggestions of the Enemy
who sometimes comes
as an Angel of Light,
the better to deceive
and draw us into his night.
We are all weak and frail;
that is our human nature.
How easy it is to deviate
from the pure simplicity of the Gospel
if we are not diligent and watchful.
Do not be distracted
by the expectations of people
or exaltation of the works of man.
Remember that the Lord
will not give his glory to another
or his praise to graven images.
Be on guard against everything
that might hurt thy service
or harm the peace which is the reward
of an honest discharge of duty.
The Lord will be raised in his own way
and in his own time.
Listen for that still small voice
that announces his presence.
WHO AM I TO MINISTER UNTO FRIENDS?
William Ratcliff, Skimino, Virginia, 1778
What wisdom do I have
that will be fitting for Friends?
Though on occasion I speak in Meeting,
I am no different from the others.
My words are plain and simple.
Who am I to minister unto them?
O Lord, I strive to follow thy path,
but I do enjoy a pipe and a pint with friends
when in Williamsburg on business.
I do not always keep the Sabbath.
There are days when I prefer
to worship in silence at the helm of my boat.
Lord, how can I minister to Friends
when even I stray from our discipline?
And yet, Friends have expressed faith
that I can minister to their needs.
Did not Jesus turn water into wine?
Did he not enjoy dining with friends?
Perhaps the Meeting seeks not a saint,
but one who understands
the temptations we face;
that we can find the Spirit in daily life,
and in that way come closer to the Light.