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Friday, September 8, 2017

Long to Love and Memory: Poetry by John B. Tabb

The lovely, rhythmic poetry of Rev. John B. Tabb may have been written in the 19th century, but with timeless beauty and refreshing brevity, it transports us now into a keener awareness of God, nature, and ourselves.

For instance, in the very first poem of the new collection Long to Love and Memory, which Editor E.L. Core and Ex Fontibus kindly sent me to review, the poet writes “To a Songster,” thereby crooning the criteria for his own poetic voice:

“O little bird, I’d be
A Poet like to thee,
Singing my native song –
Brief to the ear, but long
To Love and Memory.”

Often writing in quatrains with an a/b/a/b or a/b/b/a (appropriately "Abba") pattern of rhymes, the poet did not refrain from looking at human nature and himself in all honesty. For example, consider “The Stranger.”

“He entered; but the mask he wore
Concealed his face from me.
Still, something I had seen before
He brought to memory.

“'Who art thou? What thy rank, thy name?’
I questioned with surprise;
‘Thyself,' the laughing answer came,
‘As seen of others’ eyes’.”

And take a look at “An Influence.”

“I see thee – heaven’s unclouded face
A vacancy around thee made,
Its sunshine a subservient grace
Thy lovelier light to shade.

I feel thee, as the billows feel
A river freshening the brine;
A life’s libation poured to heal
The bitterness of mine.”

God’s creation has a healing effect on the poet, and, therefore, on us, the readers.

Again and again, Fr. Tabb’s insightful verses give us an accurate picture of how human nature inhabits (but, hopefully, does not inhibit!) both the natural and spiritual worlds. Mostly, though, the poems encourage us to see through the poet’s lenses of faith.

Ironically, Rev. Tabb lost his physical eyesight before his death, but in my studies of the works of Christian poets, I’ve found none more capable of seeing himself and God’s hand so clearly. Look, for instance, at this “Song.”

“Fade not yet, O summer day,
For my love hath answered yea;
Keep us from the coming night,
Lest our blossom suffer blight.

Fear thou not; if love be true,
Closer will it cleave to you.
‘Tis the darkened hours that prove
Faith or faithlessness in love.”

Since I’m writing this while taking a break from the intensive preparations needed before a Cat 5 hurricane arrives in Florida, this exquisitely wrought collection has given me the opportunity to refresh myself again with Rev. Tabb’s poems and wait out the storm with a timely boost in faith.

As countless other people also experience storms, floods, earthquakes, and their aftermaths, Fr. Tabb’s poem “Evolution” will surely bring comfort and relief.

“Out of the dusk a shadow,
Then, a spark;
Out of the cloud a silence,
Then, a lark;
Out of the heart a rapture,
Then, a pain;
Out of the dead, cold ashes,
Life again.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, placed 30 books in all genres with Christian and educational publishers before self-publishing her new book, What the Bible Says About Love, which she hopes and prays will be her first in a series of topical Bible research and prayer-a-phrases.

Long to Love and Memory, paperback


  1. My aunt stopped by to visit for a little while yesterday. She is reading the book, which I gave to her a few days ago, and she specifically mentioned "The Stranger" as a favorite and how she has read it repeatedly.

    1. Cool. Rev. Tabb's work is memorably insightful. Thanks, ELC.