Gradual, Andrew McCulloch
The Melos Press, 2017 £5.00
Praise where it’s due
At the centre of Andrew McCulloch’s pamphlet are six translations of ‘Holy Sonnets’, based on verses of the psalms and attributed to Jean Racine. The wonder and worship within these poems distinguish the entire collection: the poet’s own language and imagery are as sacred and full of splendour as those ‘sonnets’.
‘The Artful Gardener’ is a fine example. Consisting of rhyming couplets and written in iambic tetrameter, this poem echoes something of the style of ‘To His Coy Mistress’, by Andrew Marvell, to whom this poem is dedicated.
Just as Marvell’s writing centres upon his devotion and the laws of time, McCulloch’s poem reflects the beauty of creation and how nature will not yield to the designs of man. ‘The Artful Gardener’ portrays the poet’s adoration of the mystery and beauty within the world:
For heavens here on earth do lie
And looking down we find the sky,
A world of wonder at our feet
Where we and sky and heaven meet.
‘The Hill’ is another beautiful, ethereal poem, its meaning fortified by many biblical references:
Wafers of coloured light drift to
the water and bless it where they touch —
leaf flakes dissolve into its palms,
thickening into oil, darkening to blood.
The imagery is bold and striking, drawing upon this world — which is beyond our grasp, though we exist within it, ourselves a ‘crowd of trees’ ‘gathered on the hill’:
fingers reach for
an unreal sky, spilt flames float in a glass.
McCulloch’s writing rings with holiness, from the repetition of ‘love’ in ‘Coming of Age’ to the pamphlet’s title poem, ‘Gradual’, where he describes being drawn ‘by the distant whistle of a train’: ‘[we] wave our elegiac handkerchiefs / at the clouds of incense tumbling in its wake.’
Gradual is rich and wondrous in its contemplation of creation and the beauty of the world. Not only do the translations reflect upon the power of what is greater than us, McCulloch’s original poems are majestic in their own right, each worthy of contemplation and praise.