after the Anglo-Saxon
What walls and gables, wonders still of workmanship.
Whoever's stronghold this was, havoc's jumbled it
beyond all mending, uprooting towers, rusting together tools.
What was built by strange smiths, skilled in stone,
is burst, underdug, eaten down by age: weird bricks
litter this wasteground. And what of the wrights
and hammer-men, the mortar-mixers and heavers
of slab? A long time laid off, fast in the earth,
while their sons passed, and the sons of their sons
knew no like work. But these walls withstood
mosses and snows, the fall of kings, peace's
indifferent wear by rain and rubbing kine.
Magogs raised them. Their wit matched their might.
Their great halls gawped. Their tile floors gleamed
with muscle girls and monster fish. Here
springs were housed, and happiness found haven
among men making merry, their shadows merging,
nimble as a change of mind, massive on the inner walls.
What happened? Ruin already had root. Plague came, within
and without. No one, however high, whatever wit,
was spared. Here, wide open to the wind, is where
breath was fought for, where men raved. Now birdsong
embroiders space among the rubble of what stood.
And the builders are broken down, bone by bone,
mindless and muddled together in the bottomless muck.
Half-recalled by these grim, rain-collecting courts,
by this unshattered span of arch, this blush of broken slate,
are those who twisted gold, empearled pins and gazed
on heaps of gems that beat and sparked. Houses were here.
Hot water sprang from wells and the walls held
vaults of steam and banked beds of embers, like precious stones.
Frost could get no grip. But all such days are gone.
Copyright © 2012 by Jacob Polley
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission