| We are trying to praise you here, old wit,
without exaggeration, trying, god help us, not to make you
too good. We are trying to pin you down, you
who managed never to be pinned down. We are looking
for a thumbtack that is not too high-minded.
It’s best, perhaps, to start with what you didn’t do.
How you did not become a monk. Or a TV idol, quite, either.
Or a do-gooder. How you never walked the London streets
feeding the empty meters. How you never rested in the hammock
with your friends, who thought utopia might come to earth,
how you got up and wrote the news, but never fell for it,
how you laughed it’s only old things happening to new people.
How you never tried to pretend that light was bigger than it is.
And what light you found, you would upend to show the dark side.
It could be said you were a skeptic. It could be said
you’d never want to read a poem in praise of you.
But we will praise you anyway for your irony, your candor.
And we will praise Kitty, sitting on the couch reading you
The Gulag Archipelago years after you had lost your job
for telling us what old Joe had done. How much you told us
we didn’t understand. The Western World was bound for hell,
you said, and then you cheered the cracking of the Spy Enigma Variation
that saved us. Religion, you said, helped you be a doubter.
Mother Theresa embracing lepers in Calcutta was your best Pope.
Did you ever think how, in all this paradox, it would be
more than a little daunting for us to find you?
We’ll look for you in the empty chair at Punch.
We’ll reread your novels, different every time.
And every time a prophet’s kind enough not to say
I told you so, we’ll think of you. Old spy, old gargoyle,
you were Jacob, who tried to pin the angel for forty years,
you were Peter, who swore, I know him not. Then one day,
walking down a lane in your battered coat, you slipped
sideways into the ordinary loveliness of faith.
Old mystic, are the tracks you left behind so scant because
you knew we’d worship anything you left, even footprints?
Can you hear us? We are looking for you, Malcolm,
a dark century after you were born, you who are
still as quick as humor, still as fast as light.
Jeanne Murray Walker
for Muggeridge Rediscovered