The Magic Animals of Heaven

I have seen Heaven in a Book of Hours.
The skies above are glowing velvet blue
(The deepest blue of Northern winter dusk)
Spangled with silver sun and stars and moon,
Reflecting light, set in their place like flowers.

Distant and blue, the hills and streams and shores,
Whence glorious ships set sail for unknown parts,
Pregnant with promise, beautiful with hope,
Landscape of exploration, lifting hearts,
While here and there a soaring dragon roars.

High on one hill, the city of delight,
All architecture reconciled in one
With pillars, columns, arches, golden domes,
Whose glow suffices to outshine the sun
As if the stones of Chartres were lines of light.

There, everywhere, a head in every space,
Between each column, curlicue and throne,
Two thousand years of magic animals
Burst out with vibrant life from paint and stone
To breathe the wholesome airs that fill this place.

The unicorns, warm nosed, with ruffled manes,
Run on the sward and neigh and stamp with joy.
Winged horses swoop with eagles through the air,
While griffins pace, still with stone’s dignity,
But warm and weighty in the streets and lanes.

The birds, the glorious bats, and all that flies
(The sparrows, peacock splendid, but still brown)
Are perched and singing fugues in all the trees.
The lions, tigers, apes and lambs lie down
And watch the people pass with curious eyes.

The snakes of Ireland twine around each sill
So everything is limned and edged with Kells,
Wreathed in bright living jewel-coloured snakes
Whose writhings make up words as clear as bells,
Yet still are beasts who wriggle as they will.

The cats of Heaven leave the snakes alone.
One calico, (which Ghirlandaio drew
Eating the crumbs beneath the table) lies
Curled twice around her tail, as cats will do,
Twitching in sleep beside the right-hand throne.

1st August, 2000