The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.
The eternal spirits in freedom go.
See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other’s face
Till Heaven in hers and Earth in his
Shine steady there. He’s come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.
Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way
That was ordained in eternity.
Sound’s perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.
But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.
Somewhat severe in tone, Edwin Muir (1887-1958) only truly came to be regarded as a poet during the last decade of his life, when his book The Labyrinth was published in 1949. His work for the British Council in Prague just after the war informed those poems and they remain an outstanding testament in English, along with Orwell’s 1984, to that time and place along with Cold War culture. Born on a farm in Orkney, Muir moved with his family to Glasgow aged 14 but within the space of a few years his father, two brothers, and mother all died. Marrying in 1919 (‘the most fortunate event in my life’), he and his wife were the first to translate Kafka for English readers. His religion dated from a 1939 experience in St Andrew’s and he saw Christianity as revolutionary, akin to socialism. Calm, conventional, even classical, often intense, his poetry can strike a neutral tone yet breathes from spiritual depths.