The Voice of Silence
I am the oldest angel, the dark side of the brain. Everything untold, suppressed, unseemly or wild is under my protection. I am Charoum, Angel of Silence. I am the seed of fire in a hearth you thought was cold, the stillness when you step into moonlit snow and who you are in private. I appear whenever surface cracks, lustre and veneer wear thin. Silence, you say, when you suddenly make room for wonder. I am less and less here. But tonight, for twenty-four strange hours in the darkness of the year, I have a voice - for this is Christmas Eve, when everything hidden comes alive. Children’s toys that have rolled under the sofa or stayed in the cupboard unplayed-with for years, the mice you weren’t aware of in the wall, your own unspoken longing to be given a little more by life: suddenly, if you listen. every unnoticed thing can talk. And so can I. Tonight I play a part in everyone’s secret search for something better. Come with me to St Pancras Old Church, on a little London hill runed with twenty centuries of human stories. Nearby, shops are closing on Camden High Street, Euston Road. The sky is that bruise-colour you hardly think is sky, and sodium lights from the station terminal flicker in glass sides of the bus shelter like a zodiac on mica. London’s neon glory falls on wet-purple tarmac of Royal College Street and its last-minute traffic: on roadworks, traffic cones, surveillance cameras above the door of a homeless hostel and the final Eurostar before the Christmas break. Below us, evening pads down Pancras Road and pokes its nose through shy, half-open doors of girls tying last-minute mistletoe in Goldington Crescent, Unity Mews, Penryn while young men fresh from the gym zip back the first ring-pull of lager. Up here, the evening glides over golden moss on the flat-top tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft where her daughter - whom she never knew, and died giving birth to – used to meet her lover, Shelley, in secret. And here is the Hardy Tree where a young surveyor, not yet a writer, ordered to clear consecrated land to make the new thing, Railway, fanned dug-up grave-stones like slices of grey bread round a sapling ash in a memorial wheel. Now the roots, look, flow and tentacle through crumbled names on lichened marble. People are trickling through the gates, up the path, around the monuments and into church: a stream of fur-trimmed anoraks and trailing scarves for the Children’s Service. Those two figures hurrying because they’re late are Sue and her daughter, Holly. Holly is seven. She’s a pony, prancing on the firefly shimmer of LED Light-Bringer trainers through a thousand-year-old arch to a shrine built over a Roman altar on the bank of the River Fleet - long covered over, like the secret hopes, hidden in every soul, which might flare out tonight in joy, or disappointment, in loneliness hardest to accept this time of year, or else might bear new fruit. That’s why I’m here. I belong with secrets kindly kept, with possibilities, with mute. For what might a mysterious birth, witnessed by distant shepherds and foreign kings, longings conjured up by giving, gift and given, and this time-stopping rift in every schedule - what might Christmas do, to all of us?
Ruth Padel will be performing extracts from her new Christmas Poetry collection Tidings on 29th November in the King’s College London Chapel on Strand. In her recent article in The Guardian, Ruth discusses a Christmas journey on homelessness, living near one of the first sites of Christianity in England, and how poetry is like sculpting.