The Antagonism

by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

to Helena Shire

The Makers did not make
The muddy winter hardening to privation,
Or cholera in the keep, or frost’s long ache
Afflicting every mortal nation
From lord to villagers in their fading dyes
—Those who like oxen strained
On stony clearings of the ground
From church to sties.

They sought an utterance,
Or sunshine soluble in institution,
An orthodoxy justified, at once
The dream and dreamer warmed in fusion,
As in the great Rose Window, pieced from duty,
Where through Christ’s crimson, sun
Shines on your clothes till they take on
Value and beauty.

But carved on a high beam
Far in the vault from the official version
Gape gnarled unChristian heads out of whom stream
Long stems of contrary assertion,
Shaped leaf ridging their scalps in place of hair.
Their origins lost to sight,
As they are too, cast out from light.
They should despair.

What stays for its own sake,
Occulted in the dark, may slip an ending,
Recalcitrant, and strengthened by the ache
Of winter not for the transcending.
Ice and snow pile the gables of the roof
Within whose shade they hold,
Intimate with its slaty cold,
To Christ aloof.

Last updated May 12, 2023