The Heaven that Runs Through Everything
Here’s to the small everyday miracles –
Mrs Baggett with her knitting and pearls,
the lovely daughters of Jerusalem
in their gardens of lilies, laburnum,
gospels and gossip at the regatta,
Sarah Tubb and her heavenly visitor,
courting and baptism along the Thames,
a dustman leaping into his wife’s arms.
Here’s to tulip, rock rose, gypsophila
flowering together, to vases of prayer,
Saint Francis in slippers and dressing gown
up on the roof with hens to catch the sun,
chores doing themselves down in the kitchen
at a wedding where water’s turned to wine,
everything married to everything else –
yearning to show itself as happiness,
as Love. Neighbours who rejoice with tin cans
and cabbage leaves, the ripe summer commons,
skies which open over bulrush, goose-run,
the fresh light making everything new-born,
shot through with flame, each shrub a burning bush
by the tow path. All detail the flourish
of nature to show itself exactly –
not ‘bird’ but swan, cockerel, grebe, quail, turkey.
Blessings on Ricket’s Farm, Rowborough, Pound Field,
the very word ‘Eden’ changed, now this world
is all we need to know of paradise.
Consider the gardens at Cookham Rise
where Adam’s walking backwards to a tree
laden with unpicked apples – the first day
and the last become one, as if heaven was
wanting to reveal its eternal Yes –
earthly desire become beatitude,
everything known to be equally god.
Suffering a page to be folded over,
tenderness up sleeves in the tents of war,
balm poured from seraphs in the guise of men.
Nothing that is not transfiguration –
the dying girl next door raised up, restored
to life, then the quickening of a horde
of spirits, hungry for what death waylaid –
the lost embrace, words not said, love not made.
Here’s to grief unlearnt, grateful breath redrawn,
the rapture of rolling away the stone.
And let’s not forget the man most at home
in sunlight, newly arrived in Cookham,
who walks with disciples up Cockmarsh Hill,
everyone in the crowd a plump angel.
Sir Stanley Spencer (1891–1959) was undoubtedly one of the most admired and influential English painters of the twentieth century. Cookham was a major influence on both his life and painting and his reference to the place as ‘a village in Heaven’ is reflected in his famous series of paintings of Biblical scenes featuring local people.
The 2017 Cookham Festival Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition invited poets to find inspiration for their own art in the work of this remarkable man. “The Heaven that Runs Through Everything” is the winner of The Don and Jill Cawthorne Prize of The 2017 Cookham Festival Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition. A selection from the entries to the competition is published in Stanley Spencer Poems An Anthology.