To J.S. Bach

Now, when the smoking ruins smoulder low
Of what was Europe once, and Christendom,
When all Creation groans, and men despair,
While they who speak your language, breathe your air,
Lead on the dreadful night of Antichrist
Victorious through the world, now more than all,
Gentle and mighty heart, to you I turn
To heal my mortal soul with heavenly voice.

For you had breathed your Lord’s own pain and joy –
Heart-piercing sorrow, speechless joy serene.
You lived the first bewildering breathless awe
That God should grow in Mary’s womb, that night
The angels sang so clear. You felt the nails,
Partook the unutterable ‘It is fulfilled,’
And laid your Lord to rest, deep tender grief
Big with the Resurrection. You had looked
Into the world’s despair and mortal sin
And not despaired, for God so loved the world.

So, in your music’s flying counterpoint,
The threads that boldly follow and cross and mingle
And knot themselves, and all at once resolve
Into the absolute close; and so those airs
That comprehend all sorrow, yet are drawn
Out of eternal truth, and good and glad.
O grace of God, that you, who so had seen,
Could tell it so to men! Most holy art
Expressing heavenly love to human heart –
The agony and sweat, the cry, the peace
That passed all understanding, Bach, but yours.

Your joy was new for ever. When you speak
I feel my soul on wings, sublime, that first
Great Christian morning breaking on the world,
The Daystar that was risen in your heart.

(October 1940)

Poems of the Spirit