Monday, April 17, 2023

Michael Symmons Roberts*

Michael Symmons Roberts is a British poet, broadcaster, and librettist ― collaborating often with the Scottish classical composer James MacMillan. His most recent poetry collection is Ransom (2021, Jonathan Cape). Carol Ann Duffy has called him “The clearest and purest voice currently sounding in British poetry.”

The following poem is from Ransom, and is the fifteenth poem from the central section “Vingt Regards,” which he explains “was written in response to Olivier Messiaen’s set of twenty short piano pieces about the incarnation: Vingt Regards sur l‘Enfant-Jésus.” The poems were commissioned by pianist Cordelia Williams who was curating a series of Messiaen events around the UK back in 2015.

For these poems Michael Symmons Roberts reflects on the various contemplations of the Christ child, but also on life in German-occupied Paris during 1944 where Messianen was composing his Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus, and simultaneously Marcel Carné was working on his cinematic masterpiece Les Enfant du Paradis. He has said, “the poems are an attempt to explore the same theological or mystical ground as the music ― the scandal and sheer risk of the incarnation, the liberating power of it.”

Rehearsal For The Death Scene

If trees could walk like men,
beautiful boy-god, I would bear you
on my shoulders through this city,
show you every boulevard and alley,
every market stall and park.

You would tower above
the cavalcades and rallies,
peer into penthouse suites and boardrooms
witness to so many acts of cruelty and love,
safe among my needles.

Then when you nod tired
in the cold and thickening dark
I would stand on the riverbank,
as long slow barges mutter by,
and sing you to sleep in my many tongues:

the bat-high silvered songs
of linden, plane; slow lullabies
of quince and medlar from the gardens;
long laments of empress, foxglove
in the windless squares.

I would carry you for years,
until you grow so heavy that they
nail you up to keep you here. It is needless,
because even if my back broke,
I would never let you fall.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Michael Symmons Roberts: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.