Saturday, 28 October 2017


Five hundred years since Martin Luther struck the spark that ignited the Reformation and changed the course of history.  Traditionally the date when Luther posted his Ninety Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg was 31 October 1517.

My poem, ‘Martin Luther and the Swan’, is based on a visit to the Mariakirchen, the Lutheran church in the old Hanseatic city of Bergen.  The church is exuberantly decorated, endowed by the rich Hanseatic merchants, but I was intrigued by the portrait of Luther which seemed oddly out of place.

Martin Luther and the swan
(In the Mariakirchen, Bergen)

No guide – just a silent cleaner
working hard at God’s house-keeping,
her rubber gloves flesh-coloured pink
as she dusts the glitzy altar.

Those Hanseatic merchants were
shameless: all around the pulpit
cavorts a cornucopia
of bare-breasted Bergen hussies.

You were an embarrassment, faith’s
token portrait in the shadows –
black robed, the white bird at your side.

The swan was your feathered familiar –
he would take the bread from your hand
but his wing beats could stop your heart.

©Mary Robinson 2010, 2107

(from The Art of Gardening Flambard 2010)

When I visited the church Luther’s full length portrait was tucked into a corner.  What struck me most was the swan standing next to him.  I discovered that one of Luther’s predecessors, the Bohemian Reformer, Jan Hus, who was burnt at the stake in 1415,  is reputed to have prophesied Luther’s coming by saying, ‘You are roasting a goose [hus is Czech for goose] but after me will come a swan’.


This is the first post I have typed in my study in my new house.  The carpet went down last Monday and I am slowly unpacking my books.  The cardboard packing cases are piled up by the window.  The postman keeps asking me, ‘When are you going to finish emptying all those boxes?’

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