POETRY: At Twilight An Angel, by Mary Oliver

At Twilight An Angel Mary Oliver

At twilight an angel was standing in the garden. It is true, the wings are very beautiful. Even more spectacular, in a quieter way, is the light that shines out of the angel’s body. Not the cold light of the glow worm, but the softer light of a candle, or more exactly the light of a candle as it is seen through a window and, therefore, is not only itself but the light and a kind of veil together, which in fact does not double the mystery but multiplies it. The angel was looking into the trees, but mostly it was just standing there. In a strange and inexplicable way, it seemed as familiar to me as the trees themselves. I was glad it was there, but didn’t expect more – I mean I didn’t expect the angel to stir from its place anymore than I expected the trees to start walking around. The trees and the angel, they were each just what they were.

And yet, I am not quite telling the truth when I talk of such contentment. Once I woke in the night and was exasperated entirely, for an angel in those days, and nights too, had come into our house – had come that far – and hovered there. Why doesn’t the angel help me, I thought, as I exhausted myself doing what had to be done. But the angel did not. It was, as I said, like a light behind a veil, as though Heaven’s purpose could not trade itself for the business, even the grief, of the Earth. Which is just one more mystery and, finally, the one I think about most. What, then, is their earnest business? What do the flames mean that spark from under their feet? Was I wrong, did the angel in the dark offer tenderness, and did I miss it? And what was that other angel doing in the garden, standing there straight-limbed and substantial, as though the trees were singing to him, or he was singing to the leaves, or all of them were stitching a music together for something or someone, and no time no precious time to think of anything else.

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