Picture of a Nativity

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Sea-preserved, heaped with sea-spoils, 
Ribs, keels, coral sores,
Detached faces, ephemeral oils, 
Discharged on the world’s outer shores,

A dumb child-king
Arrives at his right place; rests, 
Undisturbed, among slack serpents; beasts 
With claws flesh-buttered. In the gathering

Of bestial and common hardship 
Artistic men appear to worship
And fall down; to recognize
Familiar tokens; believe their own eyes.

Above the marvel, each rigid head, 
Angels, their unnatural wings displayed, 
Freeze into an attitude
Recalling the dead.

© Geoffrey Hill