This rhyming poem is, in part, a homage to the men whose vision and labour built great cathedrals throughout Europe, and, in addition, an attempt to chart the growth of a religion, its abuse by a corrupt priesthood and its eventual decline.
Centuries it took them. Young men
grew old. Their sons, the skills passed down,
with treasured ageless tools, resumed
the sacred task. Great columns loomed
above the human ants, nut-brown
and shaped by labour. Four in ten,
perhaps, lived to grow old and sere.
The rest, their lungs and backs destroyed
by endless toil, bequeathed their tools
to others: sturdy men, young bulls,
upright and proud to be employed
in God’s good work that final year.
Sunlight, through stained glass windows, fell
on crowded pews. A city grew
around the great cathedral’s walls.
Priests crouched in dark confessionals
while prayers and supplications flew
upwards like doves. The solemn knell
of bells, as loud as God’s own voice,
tolled births and deaths, called men to prayer
while generations slipped away.
In latter days, in disarray,
God’s spokesmen found their greed laid bare,
their declarations merely noise.
Now tourists come, their visits brief,
in groups with cell-phones or alone,
to photograph and contemplate
this monumentally ornate,
historic testament in stone
to Man’s unreasoning belief.