"Pre-Xmas at L’Artista": a new poem by Dannie Abse

Sorcery of music! Listening to it some, as in sleep,
become inexact imitations of themselves.
Others, also out of Time, return into another.

When the ugliest beggar you ever saw,
an old soldier’s ribbon across his chest,
limped into L’Artista, evidently knackered,
to sing “Silent Night” with such uncanny rapture
the woman at the corner table, beneath the balloons,
baring her left breast for her baby
began to resemble the brooding figure
in Giorgione’s Tempesta; our seductive
waitress became a shy Botticelli angel;
L’Artista’s dandy boss framed in the doorway
posed like the Grand Doge in Gritti’s portrait;
and at the long scheming table
a Xmas staff party, no longer rowdy,
seemed ready to model for The Last Supper.

The crippled beggar collected his silver
and I thought how beautiful an ugly man can be.
When he opened the door to the outside world
no cool draught was felt from a great beating wing.
Simply, the resident TV resumed its appalling
dominance with scenes of the most newsworthy,
most up-to-date massacre of the innocents
with haggard Rachel weeping for her children.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Will Europe ever go to war again?