Carol Ann Duffy
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
Faith comes through hearing. I always think of that line from the apostle Paul (Romans 10:16) when I read—or rather hear, for this poem only comes fully to life when read out loud—this “prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy. Spreading the Gospel is Paul’s concern (“How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”), but, as is often the case with Scripture, some charged, less teachable truth has infiltrated the lesson. Faith comes, in this deeper sense, not through taking in and assimilating the meaning of words, indeed not through content at all, at least not primarily. It comes, literally, from the air, from sound. I would call it pre-Christian if Christianity didn’t itself contain its own cosmic origin and extinction: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. I say “origin” because the verse puts Christ not simply at the beginning of Creation but as its source and means of sustenance. (God speaks existence into being in Genesis.) And I say “extinction” because every human utterance exists in the shadow of—and is annihilated in the full light of—that divine one. You can’t hear the word of God until you’ve heard the Word of God. The word is imparted, the Word intuited. The word comes from a minister, of whatever sort. The Word might come from the leaves of a tree, or a rudimentary piano lesson, or a radio’s shipping forecast.