Two Poems from Ely Cathedral

A recent trip to Ely Cathedral for an Evensong service left me with two poems. The first, ‘Evensong, Ely Cathedral,’ is an attempt to capture, in the shape of the cathedral itself and in the words of the Gloria Patri we recited, the Evensong liturgy from that day; and to think about the ways that the church building is an active participant in that liturgical worship. The second, ‘Lady Chapel,’ is a response to the jarring iconoclasm of the English Reformation on display in the remarkably beautiful Lady Chapel. Standing in that room, amidst the heartbreaking loss of so much beauty, is something I won’t soon forget.

Evensong, Ely Cathedral

16th May, 2021

“The stones will cry out”

All Glory be to

The Father, who

Made this earth

To bear his fruit

Of growing praise,

And to the Son, wrapped in our flesh for us

To wear by him his robes of righteousness;

And to the Holy Ghost, who rests upon me,

Anointing me now

To proclaim the

Good news to all

People in captivity.

So cry the stones,

For a thousand

Years, and still for

All time, world

Without end.

Amen.

Lady Chapel

The room echoed as we spoke,

We spoke in hushed tones yet

The bright air and hallowed stone still caught

Our resonating words and sent them

Humming like a well-tuned string.

A space that ached for its beauty,

That echoed for its emptiness.

I heard their angry voices too,

Joining harshly for a jagged tune,

Still echoing, still teari

ng down –

Their zealous laughter rose like

Strokes of their hammers

Striking off the consecrated heads.

What did they do with them,

Those delicate heads of stone?

Did they toss and pile high

Into a rubbled heap of rock

Those fragments of silent adoration?

Perhaps they stoned the hands

That carved the stone,

Smashed heads with heads,

Made missiles of decapitated statuary.

What of the bodies they had

Left untouched, that still stepped

Boldly from the wall on pilgrimage

Or knelt before the poor?

The body bears an image too.

They knew it ran too deep

To scrub it from these walls.

What of the Word?

Is not Logos a synonym

For flesh?

Did Word not form itself

Like us, to picture forth

Our shape in perfect

Images of holiness?

Cling to your book, and shut your eyes –

I will open mine and gaze upon the Word,

God’s saints and all their holy acts.

Prophesy, O Son of Man,

And say unto this valley

Of dry stones that they will hear

And be the Word of the Lord,

That they will be enfleshed again

With music from this place.

And there was a noise,

A rushing wind that filled the room,

Wind like the prayers of saints

That harmonized the dissonance,

That echoed the Magnificat.

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