This poem is the first-prize winner in the Art to Poetry challenge on Young Poets Network, in partnership with Artlyst. Each of the winning poems responds to a work of art.


by Elsie Hayward

after Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing ‘The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist’, kept in the dark room at the National Gallery

This love is kept in the dark.
You only visit it, through curtain
Of hush and black, you step
Into a different colour of time.
There is no eye meeting yours,

But a presence echoes softly,
A far-off lullaby descending
Dim staircase of years, reaching
Through layers of silent dark
To put a finger to half-smiling lips.

The bodies are near, their shapes
Too melted, flowing, for time to wrap
And carry away. This is all time.
This is flowers coming to bloom
Beneath ancient, yellowing haze,

This is warmth of lines meeting,
Skin against skin, hidden in coolness,
The softly steel cradle of gentle
Strokes, blanket of tender watch.
This is a first idea of love,

A locket always carried. Somewhere
Outside this small still offshoot
Of the real world, the other threads
Of the tapestry, living reflections,
Closer than is thought.

This is the heart that keeps
The darkness thin.

The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 to promote “a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”.  Since then, it has grown into one of Britain’s most dynamic arts organisations, representing British poetry both nationally and internationally.  Today it has more than 4000 members worldwide and publishes The Poetry Review.

With innovative education and commissioning programmes and a packed calendar of performances, readings and competitions, The Poetry Society champions poetry for all ages.

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