Holy, Holy, Holy

The poet-bishop gazes
On busy city streets
Wondering where to find holiness
Where gutters have become sewers
Amid sweat, squalor and poverty,
While affluent officials and merchants
Shaded by palmyra palms and banyans
Pass by on the other side -
Ignoring society's outcasts.
But one is with them on the pavement
Perfect in his ordinariness,
Knowing they too can become best
Though that's a matter of fact
Hidden from the eye of sinful man.
(Calcutta, India, 1825)

The sexton plucks the ropes
As the morning hymn rises
Above the City of Saints
Stooped in quiet adoration
Listening to the Nicean melody
Pealing out over the High Street
From St Michael and St George;
Above the oak leaves of spring
To the keep, detaining the less good,
A three-persons-plus family,
Waiting for an elusive perfection
And finding it in the tolled notes
Of the Sunday morning trinity,
Praised in earth and sea and sky.
(Grahamstown, South Africa, 1950)

The warm-up settles into silence
At a double tap on the stand
And the introduction swells to letter A,
Translating home practice
Into the shared production of the whole,
With crescendo developing the theme
In sound vibrating from a mouth-piece
Embellishing a truth they share.
Until the left hand grabs the air
Signalling a halt in proceedings
As the bandmaster explains what he wants
From the band in those few bars,
So that glory can fill the earth,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.
(Bromley, England, 2014)
March 2014

The Bromley band practises the composition based on Bishop Reginald Heber's hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, which had been a family favourite since heard  from the cathedral steeple on the first visit to Grahamstown.