Tyburn       

 
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.