THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
After that vast possession it was she
lay in the dark, the strangely quickened womb,
and yet was nothing, no person; God.
Then from without, touched her amazed flesh
with hands, trembling, full of love and pity;
was everywhere so foreign: but a virgin.
Where the great wings had beaten with no pain
and the light, the light, only a small cold pulse
opened and shut like an eye; and the smooth breasts
were not erect or struggling; nothing; she
was like a cool bed newly made. Beside her,
night after night, the old man lay and would not
sleep for wonder; would not touch, for doubt
and terror, the girl's body stolen from him
and from the world by those invisible walls.
Soon she desired him and that unknown act
of human passion; her dark was tears,
and craving of the parted mouth, sharp waves
in the arrayed flesh: but he lay more still,
more distant, than a shy boy. So at last
only the shame was left; to be rejected:
I to be temple of divine seed, I
an old man's irritable lust refuses,
I who am dry with lust? This also was
the Hebrew dream, and was not: how shall God
swim in my scorned flesh that no man desires?
Nothing. Only my silent bed. And ageing.
The second month was leaning against wind,
clutched from the sudden blow, reeling in
confused and battering fingers. She knew.
No way out: a wild road to walk lonely:
the burden, pain, all to be borne; and no
way out: the motherhood of God; God growing
in the dark salt inward blood; fed with her soul;
two natures clasped and struggling in her, self
and an appalling vastness, a new world,
to bear from shrinking and in dissolution:
she the weak virgin, the soft wand of pity.
And the great roaring terror folded her.
Thenceforward he slept from her: Joseph, half
in stabbing jealousy of doubt, who long
ago heard her denial, doubting; half
with God's hand in his fear: and spoke with hatred,
with reverence or love; but always little.
She, like a string drawn tight with terror, yet
was glad to be alone: his presence gripped
too hard on tender places where the mind
had not its armour. So avoiding speech,
seen but unreal and intangible
to all, she wore in silence, like perspective,
her dedication to the endless waiting.
And wondered serpent things, when things of man
turned from her like a glass: for no-one came;
for nothing came. Would not the calm angel
speak in the rainy curtains or the dove?
No message, no protection? But a pulse
stronger and stronger in her numbness. Now
she was a cup, only a cup, with God
as wine within her; growing wine. And time
crushed her with new fear: Can time hate, time hurt,
so? Oh shelter this enclosed vine, let it
flourish and be fruit. And all her future
hung to that sweetness like a swarm of grapes.
In those unreal acres of her days,
Herod and Egypt - flight and foreign speech,
all the pursuing cloud, desert and strangeness,
and her clear image in the holy well
- lay dimly, the unfinished balance: and
imagination blindly groping towards
that legendary pain of birth. She was
no longer woman, but a symbol. All
were symbols: Joseph; God; and one to be.
But she desired no meaning. She observed
curiously and with wondering - not to call
love or hope - human children; and they seemed
as far as birds or jewels or as visions
from her life and the life within her, that
she could not picture like them: not a child,
separate in the sun. He was an hour,
a custom and a future way. An organ.
And inwardly that crouching fishlike beast
ripened through history and became a god.
A stirring: and her head lifted in joy,
gazing into unearthly distance; at
a white moon growing heavy. Oh strange moon
of women, gradual and proud, needing
no darkness, and not dead. Strange pride of women,
the body leaning backwards like a shadow
from a filled lamp, yet bearer of the lamp.
And moving slowly like a sleep-walker,
she felt the alien life beating beneath
in its close cradle, its world-cradle: different
from her quickened heart; not terrible,
but trembling upon terror; a world waking.
And the world's weight was majesty, was a still
pride; a smile, delicate and unthinking
as water-light. A deepening content.
Only a restlessness, the coming of
the Bethlehem road and Sinai, and the green
thin line of Egypt: longings for men's faces
half-understood, but formless. Yearnings for
gold, and myrrh, and frankincense; and unknown
water. For a music never heard.
She gathered thorns. The cold abundant earth
flowered, with her longing, to an empty grave.
She knew the trouble of desire; its breaking;
aimless desire that steals and cannot build,
and has no power of will. She was loose flame.
And all the past, inaccessibly calling.
The Bethlehem road was real. Her heavy body
forced on the slow too-swift way between
successive darknesses. But she knew nothing.
Day was a dream of infinite toil: night was
- limbs loosed from outrage, the thick excitement
mounting in her for the imminent birth,
and the vague nightmare of the journey: all
faded into the insistent life
already more intense than hers. To nothing.
Sleep. And one night was Bethlehem: three lives
beating at closed gates: for the warning clenched
her body like a fist. Again. She must
not yield. Again. Till, without knowledge, she
lay down between the animals: and waited.
Till the god fought in her like anger, and
her body fought; till her soul withered, that
this agony was not the end: but how
long? There was no time. Like a dying house,
all that was she, shook down. The heavy breath,
moaning, the gradual mounting of the scream,
were not of woman but inhuman flesh
unendurably fighting a blind power:
Ah world of pain; how shall this tiny body
hold you, that roar like water through me? Over
me: real as iron, moving the flesh like wind,
tearing the flesh like storm: grinding the soul.
Oh you enormous wind against out small
and yellow lights: infinite darkness moving;
oh heaven-striding cold, the dancing-floor
of merciless vacancy: oh be my garments:
I am alone: vast world and little walls
are weight upon me: oh unhelpers, distant
and never clearer - shelter, break through to me.
Ah but the crying! Was it that I cried?
This is no longer I: I am the pain
folding this wrenched and weaving body of
an unknown woman, crying. Oh thick harsh
anguish of the cries! Now. Could I save her,
out of the beating space about us, watching,
enemy: rolling the atrocious quern
of her torn body, and her staring thought.
No longer I; I could not endure...
Then passive suffering without thought; the patience
of animals. Long inarticulate pain:
pain like a wheel; red armour of the last
explosive swallowings into birth. Then only
an emptiness - such fierce and long reality
over - a lightness; and no memory.
Smooth with accomplishment, inert, she lay
and was a cool bed newly made: for it
was she brought helpless to the foreign air,
wailing: she had been born. The child was she.
He had come through the portal she alone
bore, among mothers: the last pang of birth
her bridal stab - closing one circle in
one point. She dared not look to see what stain
or imperfection marred his body: God,
her God, her child a monster, horrible.
Only believed him God, and waited for him.
And over his thin cry, the noise of angels.