Monday, May 18, 2009

Chartres Cathedral beggars

I know I'm posting fit to bust at the moment, but I rather feel I need to use up this material while it's still quite fresh. Five days' holiday could well run to a fortnight of posts, or more.

That said, I know poems should be worked and rewritten. This conflicts somewhat (do you know, I have to count the rathers, somewhats, and a bits when I write, to make sure there's an even distribution, and I haven't repeated any too closely. Does anyone else do that, or am I simply hooked on moderating qualification?) with the need to be topical and fresh about subject matter. Ho hum and tant pis.

I was rather intrigued by the people who regularly hung around the Cathedral in Chartres, how they seemed to be regarded and accepted/tolerated. In general, beggars and begging make me feel uncomfortable and negative, there, I felt, as I often did, that I was in a slightly different dimension.

This man was very nice, I didn't photograph any of the others, but this one I spoke with,a nd gave some money to, before asking for his photo. Here's the poem. I wondered if it should be prose, but opted for poem.

Chartres Cathedral Beggars
Each doorway has its mendicant familiar.

North - where everything that went Before
is held in shivering shadow,
belying its clarity, the balance between
stillness and action, the wavering edge
and shimmer of the line - Abraham twitches,
the knife poised, fingers caressing, tenderly,
his small son's throat, tilts his head to hear his god
let him off the infanticidal hook,
and Judith's murderous fidelity
curls at her feet, a limestone mutt;
the zodiac leaps over the the right-hand door,
drawing you further into its nesting arcs, to see
the man drawing the thorn out of his sole.

But come a little closer, and the door
opens like a clam, she hovers blandly
smiling, like a churchwarden, thrusts
an ashtray at you, for an offering.


The South Porch, though it tells of resurrection
and redemption, as well as Judgement,
is occluded,obscured by scaffolds, tarps and ladders,
its figures blackened still, fuzzed with age,
slurred with eight hundred years' dirt and decay,
so no one much gives them the time of day:
'We'll come another time,' we say,
'when you're more up to company.'

Among the poles and dust, a few pass by,
hurrying, with just a glance towards
a glowering, smokehead, Jeremiah of a man,
who seems to ask for nothing but to haunt there,
baleful, angry, grey.


Around the busy Western door, where flocks of folk
from all the world file and flutter, you'll maybe see,
about the iron gates, a troupe of lazars, motorised on wheels,
limbs curtailed, who buzz and scrutinise, asking for alms.
We passed a phalanx of them on the ring road late one night,
full in the stream of traffic, showing no lights,
they made us gasp, then banked off sharply down a side street.

But chief among the spirits there's the one, gentle and affable,
who sings, banal, absurd, but sweet enough to make you smile:
'Dominique -nique -nique...' so you'll have earworms for a week.
On learning that I'm English, he pieces carefully together
the journey that he made once, walking, camping, over
the southern counties, pronouncing - 'Brighton -
Croydon - Windsor, beautiful towns!' with reverent affection.

Stood between the crumbled and archaic faces of the queens,
framed with their tapering braids, his face is smooth
and brown as almond skin, his scallop shell
serves both as begging bowl and emblem.

He always carries flowers, sometimes a formal gold
and white bouquet (one puts aside the thought of raided cemeteries...),
but here, the chestnuts in the Bishops' garden must have caught his eye,
their white and waxy candles, and a palm of leaves, open and green,
splaying its lobed and tender fingers wide, like a blessing,
over his blue-clothed heart.
If you've read this far, you're obviously up for poems, so do yourself a favour: Joe's response to my question 'What have you heard?' is up at Compasses. It's beautiful. He wrote it on New Year's Day. Voices in the dark.


Dick said...

This is as vivid, characterful and personal as your photos, Lucy. A wonderful melding of persons and place.

Sheila said...

Just catching up on your, how you make me miss Europe! I can see it, taste it, smell it, feel it....

Zhoen said...

I love it because it walks between poetry and prose, with a richness of implied symbolism.

Lucy said...

Thanks Dick, Sheila, Zhoen.

I feel I could be guilty of overkill, but if, as we say, we write and post here for our own satisfaction, then I feel I have to do it. The last post of photos to some extent informs this one.

Sheila, I thought of you often, what you said once about churches being places of prayer or museums, how in Italy they are often too much the latter...

marja-leena said...

A quick catchup while in Paris, this hits near the heart after seeing so many churches in England and here. Your 'beggar' is nice, many we've met are the kind that do not make us feel charitable at all. Love all your Chartres photos, Lucy, so like Notre Dame's near us! I've yet to start writing about it all but like you may have material to last a long while upon getting home in a few days.

Roderick Robinson said...

Croydon a beautiful town! The guy must have been brought up in Bobigny.

I loved your self-indulgent "infanticidal". Plutarch is presently putting my first (and I suspect only) vilanelle through the wringer and pointed out - quite pointedly - my tendency towards polysyllabism. And there I was thinking I got gold stars for squeezing them in. Wish I could handle such a liberated beat as this.

Rouchswalwe said...

The one "gentle and affable spirit" has touched my heart as I see he is holding a shell in his right hand. Your words are indeed filled with richness. And your question about repetition brings much to my mind. I've been searching for ways these days to repeat words in the little rhymes with which I wrangle.

Nathan said...

This is beautifully rendered.

Lucy said...

Thanks again, and thanks for stopping by...

Anonymous said...

havent been here for awhile and having a fabulous time catching up. your recent posts are all so beautiful!

The Crow said...