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Praying with Christopher Smart

May 2003, no. 251

Praying with Christopher Smart

May 2003, no. 251

‘I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else’

                                                                                    Dr Johnson


Down on your knees in the street as if a goldsmith

           pouncing the metal, you still alarm us,

for all that your yard-and-a-bit of bones are buried.


I remember a student calling your ‘Song to David’

           a berserk thing, and though he was wrong

the fling of a raw, unkenneled heart had caught him,


as it could many. You found the trace of its music

            when stashed and barred for exhibition

in your century’s nightmare, the foetid warren of Bedlam,


and rejoiced, though God knows how, at seeing the Lamb,

           all radiant victim and focal creature,

where knave and fool and we the bewildered are welcomed.


So I too would be glad to pray, if you came

            to this other world, where the mettlesome stars

patch the darkness after a different fashion


of the thing we call the cosmos, meaning always

            something beautiful, something entire:

glad to be taught by someone unguarded, the lilt


of jubilation practised at every hour,

            and the coarse roads conceived as channels

of grace, that naked investment of love. So come,


for a season at least, to a country of goshawk and ibis,

            where the diamondbird flickers in tilted leaves

and the needletail swift feeds and drinks on the wing,


where reindeer moss, and sea tassel, and fireweed

            come out with archaic flair, and leopard

and tiger and waxlip are so many orchids, and heal-all


and hound’s-tongue and bulrush and running postman

            are out for show with the black swans,

the crimson rosellas, the wedge-tailed eagles, and the swallows:


come down, little man, in your dirty linen, and your need

            for help back from the alehouse, and your love

of the one whose beauty sent you to sea for pearls.

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