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Yuletide in Norfolk

by George MacBeth


The long-ships drove up the Bure, and the horned men were
   there to rape and to burn,
Seeding their names, Rollesby and Billockby, Fleggburgh,
   Clippesby and Thurne,
Ashby and Oby. Our church roofs came from the rot of each
   oak-warped stern.

But the Nazarene grip was strong. The surge of energy in
  the whoring blood
Settled for the purpled moan of the organ, the heifer
  chewing her cud,
And the cart with its thwarted axle broken and stuck in
  December mud.

I drive to the service at Clippesby, a mile along
My lights throw up the parishioners, whipped by the
  Christian goad
And the hope of Heaven, their faces pinched by a cold,
  unearthly woad

Into shapes of bread and wine. Their archangels gloat and
  wither on spruce,
Bald winter's fuel from Norway. The tied surplice is
  shaken loose,
And the paean rises, the bitter semen of prayer squeezed
  like a juice.

Nothing can alter the sounded heritage from the
  throbbing brine,
The keels lifting above the waves. Let humility
  be divine.
All arrogance is human, the black ride of the Vikings
  is mine.

Norfolk Poems




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