On St Cecilia’s Day

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    Stop listening to that music
    and hear instead
    what the dead are saying
    who were buried on this day
    seven years or sixteen or,
    if you insist on entering
    the hypostyle court
    to count the pillars,
    a silent dynasty ago.

    There is an absent
    zodiac where the shifted
    tropic once looked down
    but one can imagine
    the figures unless you
    believe only in measurable
    stars and cannot behold
    even, say, the Southern
    Cross with delight.

    Now think of the day
    a story that has been quietly
    boring travellers to Syene
    reaches north at last
    through stacks and scrolls
    to Eratosthenes, who sees
    the sun-shaft in that well
    and hears the Music of the
    Earth start playing.


    John Greening has published more than a dozen collections (notably To the War Poets, Carcanet, 2013), and several studies of poetry and poets. His edition of Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (OUP) appeared in 2015, along with a classical music anthology, Accompanied Voices. Following the pamphlet Nebamun’s Tomb (Rack Press, 2016), he has this year published a major collaboration with Penelope Shuttle, Heath (Nine Arches) and is now working on a long poem about Sibelius. TLS reviewer and Eric Gregory judge, John Greening’s awards include the Bridport Prize and a Cholmondeley. He is RLF Writing Fellow at Newnham College. www.johngreening.co.uk