"The Journey of the Magi" (detail) (1459)
Illumination: On the Track by Loch Fewin
Suddenly the sun poured
through an arrow-slit in the clouds
and the great hall we walked in -- its tapestries
of mountains and parquet of rich
bogland and water -- blazed on the eye
like the Book of Kells.
For four days a cloud
had sat like a lid on the round
horizon. But now
we walked in a mediaeval manuscript --
doves flew over the thorn, the serpent
of wisdom whispered
in our skulls and our hands
were transparent with love.
Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009). Loch Fewin (or "Fionn Loch") is located in northwestern Scotland.
The following poem by R. S. Thomas (which has appeared here before, but which is worth revisiting) is remarkably similar to MacCaig's poem both in atmosphere (although the setting is Wales, not Scotland) and in spirit. (And not solely because the word "illumination" appears in one poem, while the word "illuminate" appears in the other!) It is, I think, one of Thomas's finest poems.
The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
R. S. Thomas, Laboratories of the Spirit (1975).