The Power of Prayer

In honor of Shavout, we present this work by a poet with a unique Jewish perspective.

Dannie Abse
1923 – 2014


A kind of tune, heart in pilgrimage, yes,
But reversed thunder as Herbert said?
Herbert was right or we were April fools
Last night when we beheld a sign. Behold!
our Indian neighbor surely praying
since every house across the road was dark
except his own—his bedroom lit by volts,
no doubt, of the thunderstruck eternal.
Why else would those high surprising windows
be raging steadily with sheet lightning?

Herbert, such prayer-power! You’d not credit
these other, raving, more ancient gods
summoned here by fervent invitation.
How they swarmed in rudely, none so rampant
as Agni—tawny hair, all gold teeth,
long golden beard—whooping it up crazy
in that attic crackling room, his crimson
snorting horses and his dwarf golden car.
These wild, drunken fire deities! Neighbour,
we thought, oh cease praying do, for God’s sake.

And just in case called the bell-mad earthly
fire brigade whose hoses curved and hushed
so that the gods quit, disguised cleverly,
of course, as tiny butterflies of fire
or billowing out in cloaks of smoke
and sacred steam. Now no more thunderstorms,
only black debris of last night’s party.
And so we godless ones give thanks to God
For godless neighbors this April morning
and for ladders more than rainbows, Herbert.

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