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
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
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.