So I didn’t blog in 2017, and I make no promises about 2018.
But I’ve decided that I must share one of my all-time favourite poems. I can’t spell out all of my reasons for doing this — there is subtext here — but I can give you one reason. It’s a truly beautiful poem and I love it.
Adrian Plass is a well-known religious writer, and I discovered his books back when I was religious myself. After I abandoned religion I pruned some books from my shelves, but — babies and bathwater — some things are worth keeping. Versions of the following poem can be found in at least two different books, showing that the author continued to work on it after the initial publication; my version is based on the one included in the book An Alien at St Wilfred’s (1992). I’ve made a couple of very small changes and punctuated afresh — it’s a poem for reading aloud, not for scanning from a page, so punctuation is arbitrary.
The poem is called “Angel”, and it is subtly religious, but you absolutely do not have to be religious yourself in order to love this poem to bits. Immediately below is an audio version I recorded early in 2017. Please wear headphones to listen to this because it’s binaural and I want you to hear me speaking softly into your ears.
For discussion: if it speaks to you too, what other poetry do you know that is as beautiful as this?
“The Angel” by Adrian Plass
Six o’clock, the sky that evening. Autumn grey, a shining dome.
The sun a glowing tangerine
That rolled along the far horizon. Don’t remember where I’d been.
He was just a shabby figure standing by the roadside near my home.
I parked the car and stood a while; enjoyed the way October daylight sweetly, sadly dies.
Then turned, and walked towards the stranger. Don’t know why,
Except that as I passed I’d seen a warm and strange expression in his eyes.
When I asked where he was heading, he just smiled and said,
“Well now, my friend. I don’t believe I know.
But that’s no reason not to go, unless you need me.”
“Come eat with me,” I said, “and stay a while.
There’s food for two, the sofa makes a fair to average bed.”
He said “okay,” we went inside; I lit the lamps and poured some wine.
We talked, and soon some orphan hope broke down the wall
And wept through every stumbling word of mine.
How the darkness circled round us, like a disappointed foe.
It crouched and waited hungrily; it filled the space behind the lamplight.
We were safe inside the glow.
And the wine was more than nectar — blood red in the gleaming of the fire.
His touch upon the bread disturbed me; something far beyond recall
Or underground. And then … a smiling benediction seemed to fall,
And work a little miracle — a relaxation in my heart. I heard a sound.
My own voice, live with wakened passion, breaking with a nameless yearning!
Like a long-forsaken child, who is sick of running wild in desert places.
“Where’s your home?” I asked. “Perhaps one day I’ll visit you.”
His eyes were burning coals. He whispered, “Yes, I hope you will.”
He slept; I wandered out. The air was cold and clean
And looking up, for one eternal moment, I felt homesick for a place I’d never seen.
Later, when the day was breaking; later, when the day was there
When I awoke in strange distress
To find the morning grey and silver, I was quick to rise and dress.
Almost ran towards the stairway, hoping that my friend would still be there.
But far away and in my mind, I seemed to hear a restless ocean
Sighing to the shore. A sound like giant wings in motion.
Down below, the sheets and rugs were piled neatly. Too much money lay beside the door.
Though I called out through the doorway, in my heart I knew he must be gone.
The silence was profound, and the countryside around was cold and empty.
“Just one more day,” I said, “he could have stayed;
To leave so soon with countless questions waiting to be asked.”
I closed the door. Inside, the fire was dead. But in the silent air,
A gentle warmth caressed the autumn morning
As it glowed and loved and softly lingered there.
And the words he spoke that evening were so full of love and light
That the agony inside me was attacked and put to flight.
And you may believe I’m crazy, and I may believe you’re right,
But I think it was an angel I entertained that night.