Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Sky For Roof, Mountains For Walls"

I have fond memories of visiting the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey and Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.  The weather was fine on the occasions that I visited -- the combination of a deep green sward of grass, grey walls, and the blue sky was beautiful.  I had (and have) no deep thoughts about the visits -- nothing, for instance, about the remorselessness of time, the vanity of human wishes, the storied ecclesiastical history of England.  What was (and is, in memory) remarkable was strolling on wide, soft floors of grass, surrounded by tall grey walls without a roof, doorways without doors, arched empty windows opening onto fields and trees.  And, over and around it all, the huge sky.

                    The Ruined Chapel

From meadows with the sheep so shorn
They, not their lambs, seem newly born,
Through the graveyard I pass,
Where only blue plume-thistle waves
And headstones lie so deep in grass
They follow dead men to their graves,
And as I enter by no door
This chapel where the slow moss crawls
I wonder that so small a floor
Can have the sky for roof, mountains for walls.

Andrew Young, Collected Poems ( 1960).  The final two lines are lovely, of course.  But "headstones lie so deep in grass/They follow dead men to their graves" is very fine as well.

                                                 Rievaulx Abbey


zmkc said...

Clearly neither site was run by the National Trust - we arrived at Tintern Abbey at 3.00 one afternoon, to be told that they weren't letting in any more visitors (something to do with visibility and health and safety - it was overcast, but I imagine it often is in that part of the world), but perhaps we would like to visit the National Trust shop and browse the fudge, oven gloves, lavender bags, novelty aprons, Diary of an Edwardian Lady diaries, wildflower notecards etc for the next hour.

From My Easy Chair said...

Beautiful poem. And thank you for posting the picture as well. I wanted to see what it looks like.

Stephen Pentz said...

zmkc: I'm afraid that my memories go back 20-odd years -- thus, I fear that things may not be the same should I ever return. If I do, I may find myself in a gift shop as well.

As always, thank you for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

From My Easy Chair: Thank you very much for visiting and commenting. I'm pleased that you like the poem -- Andrew Young always deserves more attention, I think. I'm also pleased that you liked the photograph (which is not mine, by the way) -- Rievaulx Abbey is a lovely place.

Thank you again.