Passing the south side,
His years turning heavier,
He did not need the cathedral
To warn him of the Last Judgment.

Nor was his room
In the hospitable college
Where he would speak the next day
A comfort for his unease.

He placed on the table
His reading for the morning.
Prepared for the night
He lay without sleep.

Deliberately calm,
Anticipating nothing,
He was overwhelmed
By a revelation of mortality.

Nothing remained
Of the tangible carpentry
Of door and window,
Nor of the cathedral’s implacable mass.

The sensuous world had vanished.
His hands grasped a felt nothing,
His eyes stared at a visible nothing,
Nothing surrounded him.

He had no hands.
He had no eyes.
He was aware only
That he experienced

A universe of nothing.
And he was terrified,
Lay like an animal
In a world without animals,

Where form was an absence
Of form, sound an absence
Of sound. There was no use
For the music of breath.

He struggled against
A vacuum of time,
He groaned in his head
The physical words

He had brought with him,
Stammering without order,
Florid, muscular, bread,
Populous, throwing them

Into the void. And began in despair
To imagine the shapes
Of emptiness, imagined
That he could build

Of nothing an architecture
Without shape, substance
Without matter, intangibles
Without texture or color.

Making, making, and
Feeling a dull hope, he fell
Asleep. At which some
Inexplicable guide returned him

In the time before dawn.
When he awoke his commonplace
Room was radiant. He
Slapped his hands on the miraculous

Flat of the polished table.
When he ran to the window, he cried
Aloud at the tail lights of a car
As it turned into the road below.

He read in the morning
To the college visitors
In an ecstasy of relief,
Astonished still by the richness

Of the familiar. He drank his coffee
Listening to the wealth
Of human voices, drove
Away from Lincoln down

The Fosse Way, through the flat country
Which only yesterday had been
Drab. But now its villages
Glittered, its small rivers,

Having no gradients
To hurry them, dawdled,
Holding pure light
And the reflections of moving clouds.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 1, on page 37
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