Here, where the white Carthusian entered Heaven,
The blood-red buses loom along, and cabs,
Black lacquered things in which the pound notes roll
To a stop, fill up the street, and people, grieving
Over their hundred different griefs in pubs
Around about, stand still, and stare at souls
Like themselves, not even seeming to care
That once nearby the loving martyrs were.
And yet they must have seen this, as they clambered
Up the long ladder to the sky. Their eyes
Had pierced the fog of flattery and tears
That hung about those despots, all encumbered
In ruffs and farthingales of jewels and lies.
They saw ahead the desolated years:
Poor famished England dying unconsoled
In the work-house, while the bankers dined off gold.
Had they been asked: ‘Why be a fool? Can Peter,
So sumptuous there in Rome, put back your heart
After the Queen’s Grace tears it out? Is life,
The tear-shaped pearl, a trifle? Does it matter,
This nonsense over who’s to play the part
Of Christ on earth?’ The little bearded laugh
That went with being wordly-wise would meet
Their smiles far down in the mud of Oxford Street.
The long way they had prayed, the time of torture
They had endured for love of those who stand
Transfixed before the come-on posters, star
Surpassing star in lust and crime, gave courtier
Or priest or waterman the answer, and
Along the looking-glass behind the bar
The words are mirrored: ‘Both sides do not win:
The fool is he who loses out to sin.’
But sin is a movie word, and Hell, why, Hell is
A bore, something to say when darkness falls
Over this bright electric life. The world
From nothing unto nothing hurtles, spilling
Out people at the long disasters. Bells
Ring with no meaning, and the tube-train, hurled
Onwards, ignores its passengers, who keep
To themselves, drunk with news, or sadly asleep.
Still, overhead they talk, and God is listening
To all the good things they can find to say
About the orphan souls, forlorn, and peaked,
Who make do with their days-off, while they fasten
On to another what they will not say
To Him: ‘Love me and make me happy. Seek
For me and find me if you can.’ The wish
They have to worship makes each other flash.
These martyrs see and understand the sorrows
Heaped up in flats and lodging houses, piled
Like dirty washing in the smart hotels,
And seeping like the dust across tomorrow
In all the suburbs where the young grow wild;
They know the tears that leave the eyes like pools
Sunk in the ruined gardens of the past,
And smiles that flicker on but do not last.
The world of suffering, agonized in faces
That stare up at them from the crowded grief
Of a God-forsaking time, demands their prayers:
The rich, who spend and spend, yet find that peace is
Ever the absent guest; the poor, whose brief
Youth is paradise looked back on, cares
Swarming like bees from bill-collector hives;
And in-between, men with run-of-the-mill kind of lives.
It was for all of these the martyrs perished,
Since love of God is meaningless that lacks
The love of one another. When they rose
Into His waiting open arms, they cherished
Not simply ace and ermine queen, but jacks
Who hung around to see the horror shows;
In them they loved their Godless counterparts
Today, to whom they deal out only hearts.
For they are powerful great princes over
Head, who listen to the pealing lives
Rung out in long silence by the nuns who pray,
A rope’s throw off, for England to discover
How to be happy once again. Who gives
Anything to God has claims on Him and may
Ask with abandon in the toy shop for
All to be lavished on those outside the door.
So they are linked together, nun and martyr,
And share God’s stratagems for getting through
The barbed indifference walling off the soul.
The good-time boys and girls have sudden starts, and
Hear old tunes recurring, though the words are new.
God wills to reach them, so He sends the mole
Of sorrow on ahead to undermine
The broken-bottle topped defence of feeling fine.
He loves and loves and still He loves, and even
Had He to die for them again He would:
So those who love Him feebly still can feel
His longing for the wanderers, far from Heaven,
Uncertain, never having understood
That who they want is not themselves, but the real
One who had made them to enjoy His smile;
And happiness is meant to last all the while.
How many have the martyrs fished for, bending
Down from the cart on which they travelled home
To bless some sullen fop, to hurl their beads
Straight at the heart of one who laughed no friendly
Laugh, as they passed in triumph to eternal Rome:
One drop of Edmund’s blood and Henry heads
Away from poems, comes back to die in chains
At York: New York massed harvest of his pains.
Yet God delays their victory here: this shrouded
Land, where the gorgeous gangsters ruled so long,
Whose parks and palaces ate up the poor,
Lies late on Sunday, while a handful bow their
Pride in the sad saintless churches, and among
Us even, the fog swirls around the dour
Dreamers edging towards the door: the martyrs might,
For all they care, have danced, instead of died, last night.
Yet they have won: the prize is theirs: God dandles
This nursery kingdom at their bidding. They
Will come back to London, decked in gold and
Crystal, attended by their thousand candle
Lights, as cheers and tears mingle one holiday
When England’s own come thronging to the grand
Stands from Tower Hill to Tyburn Shrine, and flags fly,
The Five Wounds, the Pierced Heart, red in the sky.
There they will group themselves about Saint Mary,
Queen of Martyrs, Queen of Love, in the blue
Lapis lazuli that shimmers overhead;
Whose silvered statues melted, ran through history,
Tears of the poor; whose Walsingham withdrew
In smoke when Nicholas, sub-prior, was sped
To her side, as the high-booted gentry cashed
In on this life, while the long lightning flashed.
Tyburn will triumph, gallows engemmed with rubies,
Breathless jumping-off place into joy;
The blood-red lamps will burn and burn; the praise
Of these martyrs will resound all through the subways
Leading beneath that holy ground; the boy
Who drifted, bored and lonely, on dull Sundays
Will swing the censer through a crowded fun;
And the poet be grateful that the poem is done.
It is this which keeps me here a stanza longer,
I, who have read the martyrs’ poems and seen
The secret rooms in which they hid, who knew
Them in childhood but lost touch, now later sing their
Excitement to make up to the first one
Of them for the kiss of peace, when I read the true
Story: how he knelt and asked his brothers to
Forgive him, John Houghton, for his sins, who
Seemed to me at that moment like the sudden sun.