South Creake, St Mary's Church - Kevin Crossley-Holland

Our Lady Saint Mary Church, South Creake.

Kevin Crossley-Holland

When I was a boy, I used to go on Sunday afternoon outings with my grandfather to north Norfolk churches, so that he could try out their organs! One of his favourite churches (and organs!) was Our Lady Saint Mary Church, South Creake, and he talked of it just before he died.

This poem is the copyright of Kevin Crossley-Holland and is reproduced by permission of the Enitharmon Press.

Generations of Air


I was the bellows boy. And in corners

decorated with curious tidemarks

or up against grey walls frosted with salts

I pumped and the monsters with twenty throats

or forty throats shuddered and wheezed.

Then the old sorcerer showed them his palms

and soles: they hooted and began to sing.


The last words he said to me (pulling out

from under the bedclothes not a green note

for me and a brown note for my sister,

as was customary, but his own right hand,

mottled and weedy, which he inspected

and arpeggioed across the scarlet):

That noble beast at Creake: feed him sometimes!


But in these frantic days, a mere ten years

before the millennium, most of

the menagerie is under lock and key.

The keepers no longer trust the visitors

who carry crow-bars in their handbags,

and snaffle the plate, and either cannot see

or cannot tolerate the beautiful.


And then, despite the mighty efforts

of Mrs Carwithen, and that chronicle

of practice culminating on the day

of the Coronation, my reading's poor

and I'm a poor interpreter, sounding out

the cadences of foreign tongue

I still won't resign myself to not learning.


South Creake was open, though. I stood once more

under the amused, expectant angels,

marvelling at the bourdon, the cornopean

and the oboe d' amour, and it seemed to me

the old man taught me neither team spirit

nor love of music (I honour my mother,

I honour my father) but how to listen.


Here for instance, close to Creake, in the village

where he died, beneath the raucous gulls

fishing and flying on errands, white on pearl,

I listen to the suck and drag of the creek

returning to its source, and the source

itself no more than a tremor, the sense

you are not listening to silence.


Not only to listen but to hear

myself, and come to read the signs.

To man the machine! This is what I learned-

­grandfather, this and the virtues

of discipline. Always to keep steady;

to keep the beat with my left hand.

To draw deep lungfuls. Generations of air.


Last year, two young friends of mine were married in the church, and this poem for them includes the church’s wooden, stone and glass angels.

Aux Anges

for Rosanna and Zadok 


So here you are – with family, friends, angels.


The two teams in the oak roof, riddled

with musket-shot intended for jackdaws,

smile slightly anxious, expectant smiles;


demi-angels dance as light dances,

amber, azure in the clerestory glass;

a pair swing censers like hammer-throwers


and, over the sedilia, novices

strain their necks, breaststroke swimmers

trying hard to keep their heads above water.


And seeing you aux anges, hailed and hallowed,

flying, our hearts sing until all we wish

for you could well become an inland tide.


Seeing you spring-heeled where promise deepens

into sacrifice, your gift to each other gives

strength to each of us. Yes, our hearts sing,


seeing you here, in this crossing-place

where all that has been and what will be

meet today, married and redeemed in you.


For more information about Kevin’s work visit

St Mary's Church, South Creake - NHER 1975

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