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An Angel in Blythburgh Church


Peter Porter

Shot down from its enskied formation,
This stern-faced plummet rests against the wall;
Cromwell's soldiers peppered it and now the death-
            watch beetle has it in thrall.

If you make fortunes from wool, along
The weeping winter foreshores of the tide,
You build big churches with clerestories
            And place angels high inside.

Their painted faces guard and guide. Now or
Tomorrow or whenever is the promise -
The resurrection comes: Fix your eyes halfway
            Between Heaven and Diss.

The face is crudely carved, simplified by wind;
It looks straight at God and waits for orders,
Buffeted by the organ militant, and blasted
           By choristers and recorders.

Faith would have our eyes as wooden and as certain.
It might be worth it, to start the New Year's hymn
Allowing for death as a mere calculation,
            A depreciation, entered in.

Or so I fancy looking at the roof beams
Where the dangerous beetle sails. What is it
Turns an atheist's mind to prayer in almost
            Any church on a country visit?

Greed for love or certainty of forgiveness
High security rising with sea birds?
A theology of self looking for precedents
            A chance to speak old words?

Rather, I think a woman lying in her bed
Staring for hours up to the ceiling where
Nothing is projected - death the only angel
            To shield her from despair.

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