That Bright Grey Eye

The grey sky, lighter & darker
            lights between & delicate
            lavenders also
blue-greys in smaller strokes,
                                                      & swashes
of mauve-grey on the Hudson—
of light to the blue oblong
                   where the door to the warehouse
                the larger smearings darkening
into blues
                             So alight that sky,
                             late August,
early evening,
                             I had to
gasp at it,
                   stand there hardly moving
to breathe it,       using
whatever my body gave me,
that moment       attending to it,
                  Turner, he should have
seen it,
              he would have given it
back to us,
                     not let it die away
                                                                       And that other
evening, walking down Bank Street from marketing,
the sky fiery over the river,
                                                  luminous but
hot in its flowering also,
                                              rich in color
as Venice seen by Guardi—more aflame even,
the sky moving in a pulse,
                                                its fire breathing
in a pulse verging on danger—mane of a lioness
                         That brilliance—the eye of the lion
filled to the lids with
                  And his eyes, Turner's, that bright grey eye
at seventy-six,
                           "brilliant as
the eye of a child"
                                 who grew his thumbnail
in the shape of an eagle's claw,
                                                          the better
to use it in painting
                                     In Kirby Lonsdale, Yorkshire,
where Turner first drew mountain-landscapes,
                                      I found Blake's Marriage
of Heaven and Hell—sold for two guineas, 1821
& Turner aged 46 that year
                                                  & there I read:
"And when thou seest
an Eagle, thou seest a portion of genius.
                                                                         Lift up
thy head," says Blake.
                                        These afternoons now,
                                         late in September, 76,
the sky, the river are lit up
at the end of Bank Street, at Bethune.
                                                                     The pavement
trembles with light pouring
upon it
               We are held in it.
We smile.
                   I hold my breath to see if
the cashier in the supermarket
will be gentle with the old lady who cannot
read the price-tag on
a loaf of bread.
                            Then I breathe freely,
for yes, she is helpful, yes, she is
                   Outside on
the pavement, the light pouring itself away
is the light in the eagle's
eye        (or the eye of
a child)
                              (I saw it in a man's eye once:
                              but he's dead now more than
                              four years)
Drawing heat out of
                      the light is
without calculation,
                                    is a munificence now,
is justified.
new york, 1977

Hilda Morley, "That Bright Grey Eye " from To Hold in My Hand: Selected Poems, 1955-1983. Copyright © 1983 by Hilda Morley.  Reprinted by permission of The Sheep Meadow Press.
Source: To Hold in My Hand: Selected Poems, 1955-1983 (The Sheep Meadow Press, 1983)
More Poems by Hilda Morley