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

  • Life and Death

    Look where he lies, a clod of earth at best,
    Yet colder than a clod, for where there shone

  • After

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • The Old Convict Church, Port Arthur

    ..By a blue winking sea,
    The church stands in a green place,
    Green as Calvary.

  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Easter Hymn

    Out of the cloud my Lord the Sun,
    Out of the earth my Lady Spring,

  • Milton Blind

    That dreaming day it was, the bell-like air
    Unclosed the naked admirable heaven,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • To J.S. Bach

    Now, when the smoking ruins smoulder low
    Of what was Europe once

  • On Cathedral Mountain

    This mountain means discovery, since the day
    I climbed it first in boyhood and alone,

  • The Prodigal Son

    The ancient art of story-telling charms
    The ear, keeps its first hold on men
    The whole world over.

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • Space Window

    Waylaid by Handel’s theme, I think of you
    Now half a world away, and hear you say
    ‘His music always seems like coming home.’

  • Christmas Tree

    You hold the timeless in your brief green boughs
    The cardboard angels, home-made crib, the straw,
    The new-born baby older than Abraham

  • Passover

    Between the tumult of crucifixion
    and the diapason of resurrection
    that bar of absolute silence.

  • Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto

    I am bereft, lost in the mystery
    of music leaping quenchless, undefiled

  • Astronomy

    ‘The love that moves the sun and all the stars’ –
    When Dante wrote there was no telescope:

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • Last Stand

    These trees reached up for light
    when Jesus walked on earth,

  • The Child and the World

    It was a terrible world
    And into it came a child

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.

  • For Australia

    Lord of earth and all creation
    let your love possess our land;

  • Christmas Gift

    ..stamped with a star, but posted beyond the stars,
    marked ‘No Commercial Value’, signed, with a cross,

  • Farewell

    Fare well. We come to send you on the way
    we all must walk, so final, secret, strange.

  • The Word

    The greatest word in the greatest book
    is that conjunction, ‘Nevertheless’,

  • Extraterrestrial Report

    Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
    (female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter

  • Canberra Autumn

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more