'There are two literary quartets alluded to is this poem. There's a quotation from the Alexandra Quartet, and a quotation from T.S. Eliot'

Attitudes of Prayer

After Beethoven, Quartet in C sharp minor, Op 131

One hundred and thirty-one approaches
to the problem of God.
Imagine it:
over and over
rehearsing what you don’t know,

Letting yourself transcribe
what no-one’s said before –
in your greatcoat,
in the freezing study
where you take bitter tobacco and coffee.

Occasionally, through the pall of tinnitus, hearing –

I feel as if heaven lay close upon the earth
and I between them both,
breathing through the eye of a needle.

Early December.
Grey on grey, grey annealing grey,

except light, catching the high
notes of a fiddle
(quick quick said the bird):
Your breath
like smoke on the window.


Light glints on a door-handle,
draws parallels on the carpet.

When you were a child
those voices in another room seemed far off.

Under the covers, in darkness
you drew your knees up to your chin.

Lamplight on skin, on a polished table:
laughter lit up your mother’s voice.

It made you think of honey;
slipped away
like the muntjac you see sometimes
browsing beyond the Service Station –

half-dog, half-deer,
caught on pause
before neural pathways catch
and it flickers off
like something you can almost taste

but are afraid to;
let slip
into shadows and trees.


Light against dark. The way you remember Nazareth –
the cave house
in the basement of its hanger-church

and the meal at a long table,
where the light from arched windows
was white
and absolute

each dish – a basket of pitta, long-leaved lettuce,
pastel swirls of hummus and tahini –
clear as a still life.

from Common Prayer (Carcanet , 2007), © Fiona Sampson 2007, used by permission of the author and Carcanet Press Ltd

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