Barry Smith

Pilgrims of Night

In an age which is defined by its faith
when even apostate Swinburne was interred
in holy ground, laid to eternal rest
amongst public outrage in a neat row
with pious relatives who had knelt
on assured, cold-stone certainty,
we can imagine that lost souls seeking
salvation were stirred by the glowing glass
which luminesced above their bared heads
and fervent supplications for grace.

In this sequestered church of St. Lawrence,
separated by scouring tide and crumbling cliff
from the moss-aged beauty of the old abbey
and its spruce Victorian off-spring
where the reviled prince of pain still lies
in Bonchurch, we can detect an air
of studied neglect in the dusty
display of angled aisles, dark-grained pews,
solemn slabs of memorial tablets,
hand-sewn kneelers and famine appeals.

What vision remains in this temporal age,
whose currents rush by the latched wooden door,
when only occasional visitors
step from the world into this quiescent
solitude? It is the glass which catches
the eye with sinuous swirls of living
lines that at first engage and then impose
their narratives. We see the sick and dying
reaching out for succour, pilgrims of the night,
transfigured by the fickle wash of light.

Barry Smith is director of Chichester Poetry and co-ordinator of the Festival of Chichester. His work has appeared online, on youtube and in magazines. He was runner up in a BBC Proms Poetry competition. Barry is co-editor of Poetry & All That Jazz magazine. Recent readings include the South Downs Poetry Festival.