Emmanuel by Paul Sutton

It was the Cambridge college my school favoured –
so I applied to Oxford, that hard December, 1981 –
my face like the plague, the college his other name.
I’ve never written of faith before – how on earth to –
it seems impossible, though I love the cold stone,
bleakness, Ely or Salisbury in a gale, battered and
light inside. So I’m sad I didn’t live early enough
to have it, but I couldn’t pretend now, that would
be betrayal – of what I don’t know. Any child then
could go to church and not believe a thing – I sang
as a choirboy, bored or enchanted, sometimes afraid.
But I’m proud of English Christianity (though not
its weaker politicians) the sadness and the decline,
the quiet loss, unoccupied buildings, embarrassing
comparisons with this faith of fanatics. What works,
maybe that’s the point. Oh how heartbreaking from
a tailback to see some old church – I couldn’t bear
to see Salisbury, the spire so pure in any light and
there for any generations, carved in Autumn mist.
To cry in the snow and find no one in The Close,
not a hurrying clergyman straight from Trollope –
back to what was often poverty, but faith I guess.

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