Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
We have just had an eclipse, but here is a re-blog of a poem
I wrote 19 years ago:
That week we ventured outside at midnight,
when a shadow gradually snuffed the moon,
till the reddened orb, deprived of its light,
stared like the Baptist’s eyeball. In high noon
we think the spotted sphere no longer there.
All the primitive tribes rise to my mind,
who must have viewed such an eclipse, despair
weighing stricken hearts. How they must have signed
to each other when they became aware
of its reappearance. So a small group
watched the waning of their Son as darkness
covered the earth, but they were to recoup
The Light of the World. This Easter I bless
the God of Heaven for resurrection,
looking to the sky for inspiration
through my cataract eyes. So inspection
of the new moon tends to celebration.
Astrological symbols directed
men to the babe. Lunar allegory,
which by most people would be rejected,
confirms for me the Good Friday story.
Most of the time I look through the wrong end
of the telescope; get a false picture;
let the neon town lights obscure my Friend;
forget he’s an omnipresent fixture.
He who controls the weather, cycles, tides,
is sometimes indiscernible through cloud;
never disappears, though he sometimes hides:
rises like Lazarus minus his shroud.
Around this special time of commemoration and reconciliation, I thought
I’d reblog one of my war poems…
Clammie commiserated: I can see that you are affected by your friend’s
demise, Candia. He seems to have been a marvellous character.
He was, I affirmed. We really got to know each other when we went to
Normandy as part of a choral group, in order to join forces with a French
choir and the Orchestra of Basse-Normandie, in 1994. It was to
commemorate D-Day and we ended up singing The Brahms Requiem in seven
towns, over a week. Then the French choir returned with us and we sang it in
England for an eighth time. We performed it in German as a symbol of
reconciliation and the congregations and audiences gave us standing ovations,
with tears streaming down their faces. Sometimes the concerts were in
buildings which had been bombed and were partially re-built, as in the case
of the church in St Lo.
Didn’t you say that he took you to Pegasus Bridge?
He did. We arrived at the bridge and he couldn’t believe his eyes as
Major John Howard was sitting at the cafe, having a beer. We joined
him. What a legend he had been. He’s dead now, of course. My friend
recognised the old hero immediately, as he was a military historian.
Didn’t you write a poem about your trip?
Oh yes. I have already posted the one I wrote about Pegasus Bridge,
but I will post another one now, if you like. It tried to sum up my
emotions when we sang in Lisieux. That thrilling phrase: Ja, der Geist
spricht still creates shivers down my spine. I suppose it speaks of the
Spirit of Man, as well as the Holy Ghost. My friend emanated a vital
force of that Great Soul and, since he had been a brave soldier himself,
here is my poem, in his memory.
EIN DEUTSCHES REQUIEM FUR D-DAY
The breath of that great soul speaks in hushed tones,
soothing survivors of Allied assaults-
Brahms bathing the buttered Normandy stones:
tinting kaleidoscopic windows. Vaults,
in cross-ribs, soar to swelling resonance;
reverberate sharp reminiscences
of those who suffered in this audience.
Choral voices soften dissonances.
Ja, der Geist spricht. No permanent abode
can house indomitable souls on earth.
When Destruction came, still sweet music flowed,
inspiring creativity where dearth
had reigned before. The youthful soldiers sleep,
lullabied to lilt of liberation:
seeds watered by grief of those who now weep.
They’ve passed beyond that twinkling of an eye
and rest, sung heroes. Heartfelt ovation
from grateful present shows they’ll never die
in memory, or appreciation.
And when that final bugle sounds, they’ll rise,
as one, not knowing discrimination,
to jointly celebrate War’s own demise.
Related archive post on P
I think the term was ‘pelican daughters’, I said to Brassie. Have you read King
No, should I have?
Well, it’s where you see the trouble with familial ingratitude, and virtue having
to be its own reward, I expounded. It’s the same with A Winter’s Tale.
By the time some people view things clearly and they understand compassion
and forgiveness, it can be too late for any joy in this Vale of Tears.
Life is too short to bear grudges, she agreed. People can be so gullible
and take everything at face value.
King Lear again, I agreed. Anyway, I was intensely struck by a misericord a
few years back. I wasn’t aware of the iconography, but I felt the symbolism
Vulning is the technical word.
What’s that? she asked.
Oh, it’s sacrificial wounding. I read it in a description of a book
called Physiologus, about animals, created about 200 A.C.
Are you going to post another poem? she sighed.
Well, it is one that I wrote a long time ago, but maybe it needs an airing
in Holy Week.
A pelican bends her sinewy neck
towards a famished and clamorous brood.
Her ruffled breast is rent by one sharp peck.
She feeds her offspring with her own lifeblood.
Now phoenix-like, amid a flickering fire,
her neck is arched; her throat emits no cry.
The suckling of her children then conspires
to pierce her very heart and suck her dry.
And, as I look, the bird has disappeared.
Gross, engorged chicks ignore what she bequeathed.
And, one by one, these darlings that she’s reared
cannibalise their siblings, claws unsheathed.
But there’s another version that I’ve read:
how male bird, suffering insurrection,
struck by the chicks, twisted each little head.
Three days on, he witnessed resurrection,
having pierced and sacrificed his own blood,
in order to revive his own dear brood.
And here is a poem spoken in the voice of Peter, the fisherman who followed Christ:
We had toiled till daybreak and caught nothing,
trawling mercury stains on the glass lake,
but finding them fishless. He stood watching
us: fishers of men, breathless, scarce awake,
with calloused hands. Though His breath caused the world
to emerge, He gave us no assistance.
Perhaps the sight of our washed nets unfurled-
co-operation and sheer persistence-
showed Him fallen men performed some tasks well.
When we’d exhausted our efforts, He said:
“Try the other side of the boat. I tell
you, prophesy that a multitude fed
on two fish is nothing to me. Vast draughts,
miraculous ingatherings await
Much later, on the shore, we spied a waft
of smoke and smelt some broiling fish. He cooked
our breakfast. We marvelled and ate.
He joined us: a fish out of water; looked
the same, drawing His symbol on the sand.
I dredged my mind to find inspiration
to write about Him, but was barren and
no silver flickerings of creation
took my bait. Then he blew on smoking coals,
which I kissed. Their heat took me to my cross,
but not before I’d netted many shoals
of men, small fry and large, for His great cause.