Swan Song


On the Feast of St Cecilia, November 22


The days are sweet with lavender,
rosemary, hibiscus and lilies,
bees suck petal-satin throats,
thrum a hum of multiverse,
melting veils, imparting honey
to chaste Cecilia's song.
Emollient the olive groves and tart the lemon.
The vines are drenched in peridot
and geckoes dart among the leaves.
Night crickets throb their notes in sward
and moonstruck pines whisper of the sea,
a soothing, plangent litany.

Footfalls upon the tessarae:
wafted air strums kithara strings,
proposing chords celestial
and plucking nerves.
He is come out of the Alban Hills,
a patrician youth whose profile scythes,
keen and lean; relief of chiselled limbs,
taut with harnessed power,
a pagan son whose object deities
beguile, confuse and disappoint.
He is a god himself, Valerian,
rooted in rock like the plant.

Now the string bends to the arrow
and nature reins her mettled team.
How can fidelity to Christ,
the Son of Man, be reconciled
with obedience to parents
and to unreplenished earth?
Dashed promises, like amphorae
shattered upon ferrous earth,
let spill the Water and the Wine
of heavenly banquets.
This marriage of uneven yoke
must stake or break Cecilia!

The song dies in her breast.
What manner of having and not having
is the truth of it? But vows!
The dilemma has her seraph mute.
Speak, Guardian! she cries,
bending the knee in heart-wrung prayer.
Fear not, the Angel says, be wedlocked,
explain the plight, bid thy spouse
meet me in the Appian Way,
trust, and he shall change his tune,
in honour bound and shared virginity
to bear the Cross of Christ in melody.

Noble Valerian, yet a heathen,
so loves his wife, he dreams her dream
of flesh dilute in ecstasy of being,
no ebbing passion, no turgid clay,
and strikes out on the flinted road
only to meet the Blessed Pope himself.
Urban's eloquence spurs bold revision,
points out a bearing strange but close at hand.
Polyphony enchants Valerian's return,
the bridal bower, thronged with lark and thrush,
rings with blended harmonies
of mortal and immortal themes.

A chaplet of roses, barbed with Thorns,
adorns Valerian's brow. The Angel smiles.
Cecilia's braid of lilies honours
an ever-bountiful Madonna,
but no sword has pierced her soul as yet.
The golden couple tread the Narrow Way,
and strive and sow in grief and gladness
under a jealous Emperor's rule,
their simple faith and sunlit vista obscure,
a threat to pride and overweening power.
Be sure that buckling reason will hold sway
and rob the life that yields eternity.

They fell the bridegroom where he stands,
neither do his convert kin escape.
Three times the axe is laid on sweet Cecilia's neck
and three times is repelled. 

Her songs of praise they cannot sever,
even as God's Mercy claims her.
So Love released induces this world's tears,
till every sound becomes the Music of the Spheres.

 

 

 

from THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether