Enlightenment! poem – Luminary by Ann Atkinson



 Set the scene with a full bright moon,

 note Flamsteed’s Crater in the Ocean of Storms,

 the impact; now think of the tide-swell,

 the collision and ferment of curious minds,

 a beginning, then, of modern times.


So at full-moon they come to Erasmus,

unfolding ideas like charts, maps to a future,

these friends – the maker of buckles, the potter,

the clock-maker working with minutes,

but dreaming of eons, engineers, mechanics,


and you, Joseph Wright, artist and witness,

 frame new perspectives, cast your light

 on these moments advancing the times.

 We think of you stretching your canvas, mixing

 a spectrum of colour, planning balance and form.


Those intimate nocturnes – faces, keen and alight,

 drawn close by the candle’s flame; and there,

 a lamp is the sun, and the orbit of planets, moon,

 demonstrates an eclipse; in the foreground,

 another – the dark silhouette of a child.


 There, is the clamour and heat of the air

 in the blacksmith’s forge, a glimpse of moon

 behind clouds; and the same moon shines

 as the Alchemist kneels, like prayer, and gasps

 at the instant, the phosphorous flare.


You write from Italy, wishing John were there

 to see Vesuvius redden the sky, say

 that he would think deeply into the mountain

 while you skim the surface, the glare in darkness,

 the moon floating palely over the bay.


John is our clock-maker. He explains the heave

 and uprising that opened up strata, like pages

 recording the layers of time. You paint him,

 pen and diagram in his hands, a smoking volcano,

 the image you choose for the power of his mind.


You give us your views in the changing light,

 Arkwright’s Mill, Matlock Tor, Dovedale

 by day, by night, and the stories you frame

 come like news from your time. You set these scenes,

 the storm and the vision of these luminous minds.


Ann Atkinson: Derbyshire Poet Laureate: 2009 -11

Luminary was commissioned to celebrate ‘Faces in the Crowd: Joseph Wright and Friends in Georgian Derbyshire’, an exhibition at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery from 5th March to 30 May 2011. 

Ann Atkinson was Derbyshire Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011 and before that Poet Laureate of the Peak from 2008 to 2010. Her book From Matlock to Mamelodi: 5000 miles of poetry is available from Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer on 01773 831359 or email alison.betteridge@derbyshire.gov.uk.  Ann’s pamphlet Drawing Water is available from Smith/Doorstop.