I read this poem before bed, and by the last stanza I'd stopped breathing. It seemed urgent that I share it immediately, so I share it here. Is it not astonishing? I think particularly of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: arriving with his fist clenched on what the king had written.
For the Protestant martyrs of the Third Reich
By Waldo Williams (as translated from the Welsh by Rowan Williams)
Earth is a hard text to read; but the king
has put his message in our hands, for us to carry
sweating, whether the trumpets of his court
sound near or far. So for these men:
they were the bearers of the royal writ,
clinging to it through spite and hurts and wounding.
The earth's round fullness is not like a parable, where meaning
breaks through, a flash of lightning, in the humid, heavy dusk;
imagination will not conjure into flesh the depths
of fire and crystal sealed under castle walls of wax, but still
they keep their witness pure in Buchenwald,
pure in the crucible of hate penning them in.
They closed their eyes to doors that might have opened
if they had put their names to words of cowardice;
they took their stand, backs to the wall, face to face with savagery,
and died there, with their filth and piss flowing together,
arriving at the gates of heaven,
their fists still clenched on what the king had written.
Earth is a hard text to read. But what we can be certain of
is that screaming mob is insubstantial mist;
in the clear sky, the thundering assertions fade to nothing.
There the Lamb's song is sung, and what it celebrates
is the apocalypse of a glory
pain lays bare.