St Mary

Brignall Church 1822 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Brignall Church – Joseph Mallord William Turner
CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)- – Photo © Tate

‘O Brignall Banks are wild and fair
And Greta’s woods are green
And you may gather garlands there,
Would grace a summer queen’.

there are places where hell surfaces
unearths itself in fiery, fuming pits
genocidal graves and laval flow
so too does heaven make itself known
mountains and spires almost touch
but holiness does not abide by aspiration
it reaches down – and surely leaves a mark
there where a Cumbrian church has crumbled
one eastern gable and a chancel ruin
topsy-turvy tombs with names illegible in lichen
and walking among them, I saw the apparitions congregate
bonnets and bombazine criss-crossing the dales
voices rising with the larks from the quaking grass
an easy summer Sunday pace  – but they ploughed too, these farming folk
through nettle and winds that bit into glove and gaiter
and here they lie side by side, the river glides beside them
its journey thwarted momentarily by boulders
slippery green the Greta rushes  – and I remained for always

Brignall Church print by Turner (before the church was stripped to build a new one in the village in 1834). Opening lines from Scott’s poem “O Brignall Banks” – for a glimpse of St Mary’s church ruins see Simon Warner’s video 01:23:01:36

10 comments

  1. Laura, you do the holy an honor by bearing witness to their comings and goings, you see them despite their illegible names and you hear them along with the lark-song. Your poem actually has me wondering if poetry holds the key to the holy.

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  2. Simply beautiful in how you craft each sentence. I walked with you through it all, mesmerized. Then you packed a wallop with the final line that brought me to my knees. Marvelously written!

    Like

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