An English Nazareth (2004)

Cover Image

Published by Enitharmon Press, 2004. For more information click here.

Critical Views:

“[Martyn Crucefix] writes with precision and respect and a secular sense of the sacred, including a ballad about two lovers shot in divided Sarajevo, sung – astonishingly and effectively – by the ubiquitous water which features in their lives and deaths”   Andrew Stibbs  Iron

Crucefix has, as always, an exceptional ear . . . ‘On Night’s Estate’ is global in its vantage point . . . It’s a dark poem, portending monsters and catastrophe in a way that reminds one of Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ and makes us read the title of Crucefix’s book in a different way. It’s a superbly intelligent ending to a very strong collection.  Kathryn Maris, Poetry London

“The measurement of truth against blood is at the heart of Crucefix’s poetic instinct. His motors come in many sizes; yet they all draw their elecriticity from the friction between the tried and untried possibilities of language [. . .] Crucefix can aspire to be the patron saint who can lift us into the clouds of the small near-magic-realist lyric (‘Scoop’), or a high-flying purveyor of majestic clarity (‘On Night’s Estate’), or a tight-rope-walker forever balancing himself over the symbolic-sense divide (‘So Far’ and ‘Clay Town’) and in the best of these poems we rise with him and are then returned to earth by his many routes, squarely, impressively, on both feet. Mario Petrucci, Acumen


Impelled by a sense that our personal, social and corporate behaviours grow ever more infantile, these are poems that scrutinise the child, the child-like and the childish.

“I see you drop from the black, splintered pane,

sprawl, bruised and quivering as a newly-born

in your college room – then up and alert,

the strangeness of our futures a thing yet to learn”

Writing with humour, candour and precision, Crucefix’s fourth collection reflects the innocence and distress of modern childhood, its often bewildering transitions into the adult world where egotism, anger and acquisitiveness wait.

An English Nazareth calls up an extraordinary cast of real and fictional characters – Alexander von Humboldt, Mr Marvel, Lady Richeldis of Walsingham, Wimbledon referee Alan Mills, Radovan Karadzic, the Cleverly boy – and in doing so these poems further extend the formal and tonal range of a writer whose work confronts us with the fact “of innocence already dead, / the book’s sole intent to show it had to happen”.

From this collection:

A boy’s errand

I go to Spar and Mr Adams

who drops his small hands

beneath the counter

where it’s already wrapped

in white tissue paper.

Crisp, soft and undisturbed,

I carry it close to my chest,

the length of my forearm,

palm flat to one end.

It’s like something asleep.

It seems crisper today –

the pressure of my fingers

telling the birth-smell

of heat, yeast, risen air.

The confining tin

held sides to softness

and the crusty burst,

split down the length,

sharp-edged and breakable,

caramelly across my tongue.

And each bite a glimpse –

one leading to the next

till I’m nuzzling in,

jaggedness on my cheeks

being bitten, biting deep

through crust to white flesh

as if there were a heart

unconsumed somewhere

I might lay my hands on

bring back to the house.


An English Nazareth

(In 1061, Lady Richeldis of Walsingham, in a series of visions, received instructions to build a replica of Christ’s home)

We – who have only our strength to sell

and so little here to be thankful for –

we know well she has never risen

from that embroidered footstool

where she embroiders her mornings.

Yet she has stood in His simple home,

she says, the woodshavings obvious

on the clay floor, the cramp, the cool.

And because she has power over us

to manufacture walls out of English

ground, to her specifications

(though she insists, not hers at all;

she’s only a witness to the original),

because of this her dream has weight.

Here, a slant of evening sun, the saw

still warm in the red-grained wood.

Here, the hammer’s shout on the nail

each time bursting and then dying off

as she passes a door out of Palestine.

In an ecstasy, at least three times –

though not moving one tailor’s inch

off that embroidered footstool

where we imagine her long fingers

fumbling over the detail in her lap –

we picture her there, tall and swaying

richly through Christ’s small house.

And no matter how vivid her dream,

local men build as we have always built:

English wood upon English earth.

The best we deliver is a mockery,

a cacked version of our own poor homes

(those shambles she’s never visited)

yet this is the one she will have us deck

with flowers, have us light, keep warm,

proof from rain, since this is the roof

under which she expects to dwell

long in grace, in that other real place.

While we – who have only ourselves to sell –

give praise to God for the gift of work.

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