John Updike (1932-2009), The Angels
They are above us all the time,
the good gentlemen, Mozart and Bach,
Scarlatti and Handel and Brahms,
lavishing measures of light down upon us,
telling us, over and over, there is a realm
above this plane of silent compromise.
They are around us everywhere, the old seers,
Matisse and Vermeer, Cézanne and Piero,
greeting us echoing in subway tunnels,
springing like winter flowers from postcards,
Scotch-taped to white kitchen walls,
waiting larger than life in shadowy galleries
to whisper that edges of color
lie all about us as innocent as grass.
They are behind us, beneath us,
the abysmal books, Shakespeare and Tolstoy,
the Bible and Proust and Cervantes,
burning in memory like leaky furnace doors,
minepits of honesty from which we escaped
with dilated suspicions. Love us, dead thrones:
sing us to sleep, awaken our eyes,
comfort with terror our mortal afternoons.
In line 16, "abysmal" of course means "of, pertaining to, or resembling an abyss; fathomless; deep-sunken" (OED
, sense 1), not "of an exceptionally poor standard or quality; extremely bad" (OED
, sense 2).