The Annunciation


Edwin Muir


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.