Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Annunciation

'I remember stopping for a long time one day to look at a little plaque on the wall of a house in the Via degli Artisti [Rome], representing the Annunciation. An angel and a young girl, their bodies inclined towards each other, their knees bent as if they were overcome by love, 'tutto tremante', gazed upon each other like Dante's pair; and that representation of a human love so intense that it could not reach farther seemed the perfect earthly symbol of the love that passes understanding.' 

From Edwin Muir's 'Autobiography'.

The Annunciation by 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. 


Reading Ron Ferguson's admirable if flawed book on George Mackay Brown (for it needs both tighter editing and a gentle critique when it sprawls off point), I am reminded of Edwin Muir, one of Brown's key mentors and promoters. What shimmers through Brown's accounts of Muir is the incisiveness of his judgements and the gentleness with which they were offered. Judgements always aimed at building up or expanding vision and possibility. Muir refused to review books which he could not appreciate. This is one of my favourite Muir poems that speaks of his discovery of Italy, of incarnation, of a religion embedded in a visual, tactile culture, that is of grace, acceptance and mystery.






The painting is of the Eve of the Feast of the Annunciation by Mikhail Nesterov. I love the progression of youthful monk, followed by age, both reading in the dying light of day - the rhythm of prayer meets the timing of day and the emergent season of Spring - time wrapped in eternities.

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