The loud gale scatters the ancient city into fragments,
And the cold rain is piercing enough for Lent as
Darkness falls at the ninth hour.
Winchester cathedral is a house of God
In glass and stone.
Our faces in the carved chancel are only
Sallow in the candlelight perpetual.
The organ stirs like that Leviathan, dreaming as
They enter in red and white
To sing of the light invisible.
It is the third evening and the Psalm declares
A moratorium on time:
The pains of hell came about me,
The snares of death overtook me.
In my trouble I will call upon the Lord
And complain unto my God.
Nearby the tombs of Lancelot Andrewes and Canute and
How may a boy sing,
‘For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden’?
The people kneel clumsily, wood on stone,
And their noise resounds into the high arches of
This Gothic forest.
It is possible to pray thus: My Love, my Terror,
My distant God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made,
Who holdeth my new and contrite heart:
Spare me this vision of thy presence,
For it is too high for me, a man of unclean lips who dwell
Among a people of unclean lips.
And I am a stranger to all that is familiar,
An exile from all that is lovely.
We turn our eyes from that looming reredos, for fear
Of seeing England in a thousand years of grey stone rising.
The stone-faced, pierced Christ immoveable at the centre.
This may be, for connoisseurs,
an experience of the sublime:
Kenneth Leighton’s Drop, slow tears…
As if tears needed to be commanded.
This may be what is called a spiritual experience:
It is not to be sought after, for It is a terrible thing
to fall out of the hands of the living God.
Now they recede in white and red, and so do I
Emerge into the darkened city With its pain