I dreamed I went to Heaven, once, and in the bookshop there
I went, the way I always go, to R.
Even though I've all the Renault, even though it isn't fair,
Even though I know there won't be any more.
And there were six new Renaults, six new books I've never seen,
Six unknown books she'd written since she died,
And I picked them up and held them feeling happy as a queen,
And a voice said, "Have you looked the other side?"
"There are four new Tolkiens waiting, he could never write them fast,
There are thirty Heinleins, written at his best,
There is Piper, there's Dunsany, there's more Sayers here at last,
And O'Brian, and Zelazny, and the rest."
And I staggered there in Heaven, as my arms and eyes spilled o'er,
And I said "Now where to start I just don't know,
I am rich in wealth of Heaven's books, here gathered on the floor,
Amd four hundred years of Shakespeare still to go!"
I wonder what Milton writes in heav'n, and if he's happy there
With all eternity to draft, in hope and in despair
(For you can't change your mind in heaven, if Sartre's words are true
And what you are is what you were and never something new)
Imperishable epic themes, as angel voices swell.
I wonder, can he find the words, and is it heaven or hell?
Oh heaven to see, but hell to know, or maybe merely odd
To justify, for all of time, the ways of man to God.
(15th January, 1998)
The Magic Animals of Heaven
I have seen Heaven in a Book of Hours.
The skies above are glowing velvet blue
(The deepest blue of Northern winter dusk)
Spangled with silver sun and stars and moon,
Reflecting light, set in their place like flowers.
Distant and blue, the hills and streams and shores,
Whence glorious ships set sail for unknown parts,
Pregnant with promise, beautiful with hope,
Landscape of exploration, lifting hearts,
While here and there a soaring dragon roars.
High on one hill, the city of delight,
All architecture reconciled in one
With pillars, columns, arches, golden domes,
Whose glow suffices to outshine the sun
As if the stones of Chartres were lines of light.
There, everywhere, a head in every space,
Between each column, curlicue and throne,
Two thousand years of magic animals
Burst out with vibrant life from paint and stone
To breathe the wholesome airs that fill this place.
The unicorns, warm nosed, with ruffled manes,
Run on the sward and neigh and stamp with joy.
Winged horses swoop with eagles through the air,
While griffins pace, still with stone's dignity,
But warm and weighty in the streets and lanes.
The birds, the glorious bats, and all that flies
(The sparrows, peacock splendid, but still brown)
Are perched and singing fugues in all the trees.
The lions, tigers, apes and lambs lie down
And watch the people pass with curious eyes.
The snakes of Ireland twine around each sill
So everything is limned and edged with Kells,
Wreathed in bright living jewel-coloured snakes
Whose writhings make up words as clear as bells,
Yet still are beasts who wriggle as they will.
The cats of Heaven leave the snakes alone.
One calico, (which Ghirlandaio drew
Eating the crumbs beneath the table) lies
Curled twice around her tail, as cats will do,
Twitching in sleep beside the right-hand throne.
(1st August, 2000)
All three of these were posted on usenet. I'd forgotten about the last one until david_goldfarb mentioned it, and reading it again after a long time is odd -- I can't think why I made up such a bizarre rhyme scheme, and yet it is what I like best about it.
I posted it with a disclaimer which I'd better repeat "views expressed in this poem do not necessarily reflect views of the author", or as I said here once "I am playing with this mythology while trying to be respectfully aware that it is still connected to a live religion".