Our Lady Saint Mary Church, South Creake.
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.
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 www.kevincrossley-holland.com
St Mary's Church, South Creake - NHER 1975