My favourite poem

The Transfiguration

So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.

But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.

Edwin Muir

An Anglican priest friend was talking to a primary school class of children, 8 and 9 years old, just prior to Easter. He asked them, 'So, what happens on Good Friday?' Many hands shot up and the answer given: the day Jesus is killed. 'And on Sunday?' Fewer hands but a few and the answer being that this is when Jesus came back to life, returns. 'And in between? On Saturday?' my friend probed adventurously. A single hand goes up. A boy. 'That is the day when Jesus goes in search of his friend, Judas'!

How extraordinarily right - according to tradition - hell is harrowed and new hope comes to all.

Muir's poem captures this. The light that penetrates all things, it is their true nature, and one day it will infuse all, when all that is summons it. A Bodhisattva commits to postpone the fullness of Nirvana until every blade of grass reaches into enlightenment and is revealed in true light. Here it is Christ who will be brought to the point when everything can unfold into its true nature and everything, every blade of glass, will come into its fullness.

It is my myth. This sense of paradise lost, disguised by our ignorance, the fear of our freedom; and, paradise restored. The grace of paradise is always present, waiting for our ability to summon it. The veil is thin, if resolute, but can be tweaked, drawn back, lost in light. It was Muir's abiding myth - paradise and the long journey back from darkness into light. It is why I love him as my poet: the one who most deeply encapsulates our seeing of the world.


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