The Oil Painting
Poem by Pete Crowther
Across the cosy firelit room my eyes
Are drawn to rest upon the sombre hues
And heavy brushwork of a small oil painting;
It holds my gaze—the scene is strangely haunting.
Grey formless clouds drift by in a leaden sky
Above a domed cathedral standing high,
Tall-walled and casting shadows on the ground
Across the narrow streets and all around.
The darkened windows show no chink of light,
No worshippers will worship here tonight.
No sacred sounding music will be heard
Nor pious sermons on the Holy Word.
Beyond this Christian church of God
Lies wasteland and a distant pine tree wood
But nowhere in the picture as a whole
Can I see another single living soul,
This painting’s like a window in the wall
And easy to get through if you are tall.
The air was cold and I was feeling stiff
As I approached the building looming like a cliff.
Its stones were damp and dripping wet with mould:
They must have been a thousand years old.
I found a solid wooden door and pushed,
It creaked ajar, then like a torrent rushed
All Mother Russia, tsars and peasants,
dancing bears and golden pheasants,
Volga boatmen, Leningrad mums
trilling pipes and beating drums.
Dancing, prancing down the aisle
came Rasputin with a smile
and hand in hand with Lermontov
was jolly Boris Godunov.
More and more came in procession
one by one in gay succession:
Pushkin’s playing the balalaika
for First Space-dog, brave little Laika’.
Old Count Tolstoy is a brick
beating time with his walking stick;
in his beard he wears a rose
and plays clock golf with Gogol’s nose.
Off they go into the night,
both of them a little tight,
Borodin and Dostoevsky
down the Rhine and up the Nevsky.
After them came good Prince Igor
marching his Cossacks four by four.
They each wore a medal of Peter the Great,
Tsar of all Russia and head of state.
Skipping, dancing, singing all
these jolly Russians had a ball,
lit up the night from distant Omsk
even as far as the city of Tomsk.
Whenever now that picture draws my eye
No longer do I feel I’d like to sigh
For I discovered in my sleeping trance
The soul of Russia still can sing and dance.
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