Here is the version I shall read at 13.15 on Saturday 6 October in the Lear Exhibition Gallery.
We look over his shoulder
At Shepherds standing by,
Unmindful of the city.
An open sky is heaven enough for them.
But shining on the other hill
The artist shows so clear
The place they call
So far and yet so near.
A valley lies below us, bare and dark.
For me this has to be the shadow of death,
A place of desolation, fearful, stark,
Where all too many soldiers took their final breath.
Armies of the past, and of the future too;
We do not see them now upon the ground
And yet I think I hear their dreadful sound.
Over his shoulder we see some goats or sheep
In pastures almost green,
A peaceful, restful, pastoral scene;
Even the rocks are bright and clean.
He might have drawn on William Blake.
These could be northern English hills;
An English man’s
to make, Jerusalem
Not covered in satanic mills.
Out of nowhere, a God without a face
Compels the souls of men to make for this.
It whispers to the world, “This is the place
Which, more than any other, is the source of bliss,
More powerful, more wonderful than any lover’s kiss.
For, if there is redemption, it is here.
Come all ye, and enter without fear”.
Our fathers went on pilgrimage to reach this holy city,
A pure white shining citadel beyond decay.
In hope to reach eternity, they made their way,
With prayers in many tongues, and oaths to say.
Some came in peace, some came in holy war
They shared a sacred dream,
Some thing, for them, worth fighting for.
Thousands fought and thousands died
And thousands more will fight and die
To hold this land. Many have tried
To find a way of peace, but many lie
And will lie again. I ask you why?
When you believe that God is on your side
You do not count the dead, or lose your pride.
We look over his shoulder
For a dream that we hope to come real
A place of love and beauty, peaceful games,
A place with magnetism, a serene appeal,
Where conflicts end in happy resolution.
But all these hopes are turned to desperation,
The darkness spreading higher on the hill,
As war threatens death to every nation.
Christian, Moslem, Arab, Jew,
The jealous God that was just for you
Can change his mind, adding new revelation.
Acceptance might transform your indignation.
Please set aside the gun and bomb,
Or I fear the end of days will come,
The breathless child Lear left behind
Escaping into nonsense or fine birds
And pastoral landscapes of this remarkable kind,
Where life becomes more real, less absurd,
And men sit silently, no words
Upon their lips. Perhaps his promises had all been kept
Or maybe he has stood here, painting while he wept.