Hymn to Saint Barbara


Mistress of all excessive motions,
Things that go crash and clang and boom,
Fireworks and rockets and explosions,
The drum-roll of the Day of Doom;
Patron of wreckers and ship-breakers,
Of gun-layers and bombardiers,
Of miners, sappers, boilermakers
And astronauts and engineers;

Where is that stillness whose dominion
Once blessed the tranquil days of yore,
That angel of repose whose pinion
Visits her fastnesses no more?
The heavens now filled with man-made thunder
And earth beyond all reach of grace,
Her very atoms split asunder
And cities blasted from her face.

Should I be tempted to withdraw me
And seek the peace of woods and hills,
Progress and din are there before me
With chainsaws and pneumatic drills.
The whole world bows to your commotions;
All solitudes your voice besets;
Remotest islands of the oceans
Have landing strips for jumbo jets.

From age to age your realm increases
On earth, in air, beneath the wave
With men by millions blown to pieces
And hell let loose beyond the grave,
The clatter of combustion engines,
The growl of Blake’s ‘satanic mills’,
The wrath of God, if not his vengeance,
Man of his own accord fulfils.

And even music’s pure, ethereal
Domain is changed in your control
To the cacophonies of Belial
And Pandemonium’s rock-and-roll;
Till poor Cecilia, broken-hearted,
Denies that harmony to man
In which, said Dryden, when things started,
This universal frame began.

For now your powers have grown to cover
The origins of heaven and earth,
And you, in a supreme take-over,
Are mid-wife to the Cosmic Birth.
Yours was that first divine occasion;
No morning stars together sang;
And God withdrew from his creation,
Reduced to one Almighty Bang.

Yet for one cause I still adore you:
In a world turned to total noise,
You grant me gifts as I implore you
To compensate my ravished joys.
For in this day of rage and violence,
Towards twilight by your mercy led,
I enter that enchanted silence
Reserved for deaf men and the dead.

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