Prayer | Evelyn Underhill
When the soul yields to prayer
The gate made of jacinth
Swings, stands ajar.
Scents out of heavenly places
Storm the sad air
On the gale that blows in the unmeasured spaces
Which link star to star.
Eyes shut to the landscape here where we are
When the soul yields to prayer.
The soul deep in prayer
As a hyacinth
Stretcheth forth from its pillar of bloom
Feelers of fragrance unseen
To the edge of the room.
So, held still and serene,
Of its outpouring gift unaware,
With radiance redeeming the gloom,
With sweetness assaulting the air,
Is the soul deep in prayer.
In the triumph of prayer
Twofold is the spell.
With the folding of hands
There's a spreading of wings.
And the soul's lifted up to invisible lands
And ineffable peace. Yet it knows, being there,
That it's close to the heart of all pitiful things;
And it loses and finds, and it gives and demands;
For its life is divine, it must love, it must share
In the triumph of prayer.
In the anguish of prayer
It is well! it is well!
Then only the victory of love is complete,
When the soul on the cross
Dies to all save its loss.
When in utmost defeat
The light that was fair
And the friend who was sweet
Flee away, then the truth of its love is laid bare
In the anguish of prayer.
This poem, by the English Anglo-Catholic writer and spiritual director, Evelyn Underhill, was published in her book of poetry, Theophanies, in 1916. There are lines in this poem that I just love, like the opening line, “When the soul yields to prayer.” What a great reminder to us that we don’t decide to pray, we yield to prayer, meaning that God is always reaching out to us, and when we turn to prayer, we are simply responding to God.
And then there is the line, “Eyes shut to the landscape here where we are / Open elsewhere / When the soul yields to prayer.” Again, a powerful image for what happens when we pray, wherever we are. Whether it be in a church, on a walk, or as we work and live, when we turn to God in prayer, our eyes open elsewhere, to the beauty beyond what is immediately available to us through our physical senses. The soul is lifted up “to invisible lands / And ineffable peace.” Yes!
And then, finally, the last stanza, which takes us to the anguish of prayer and to the cross. Life is difficult, and a poem about prayer that acknowledges that is simply being honest. But at the cross, all is well, this poem reminds us, for there the “victory of love is complete,” and there we are loved, in the sweet anguish of prayer.
Prayer in all of its guises is found in this beautiful poem, which invites us to spread our wings by folding our hands. Let us spread our wings in faith, and yield to prayer always.