Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CATHEDRAL OF SWALLOWS, by RHYS CARPENTER

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THE CATHEDRAL OF SWALLOWS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Who knows if god love these not more
Last Line: A huddle of houses, old, and brown.
Subject(s): Churches; Religion; Swallows; Cathedrals; Theology

WHO knows if God love these not more,
These birds that through the portal grey
Skimming the dim cathedral floor
About the pillars swerve and play?
These ask no gift, no penance offer,
Nor bowed at Heaven's steadfast door
Importune aye with prayer and proffer.
Who knows if God love these not more?

Hark how they twitter as they fly
Up where the roofs with rib and groin
There mighty arches interjoin,
And through yon long arcade on high
Dart in and out,
And round each column and about
Still with their twittering cry
Pursue and flee in playful rout.

They heed not peasants come to prayer
At swinging lamp and lighted shrine
But high within the cloistered air
Their eager bodies glance and shine
Where falls a single ray of light
Across the swiftness of their flight.
The saints i' their niches turn and stare.

What thinks the priest above whose head
They speed their wings, now low, now higher?
Through nave and aisle and inmost choir
Their noisy merriment is spread;
And when the Host is raised on high
Over the Host the swallows fly.

Were I the priest, my scorn should say,—
'Mark these the swallows, ye who pray!
They bend not downward, nor abase
The strength and beauty of their race;
These come not weeping, nor with moan
Of feigned regret and secret groan
Delight in spirit's own abasement,
Nor think by utter self-effacement
To make God's holiness their own!
Mark these, the swallows! they fulfil
Gladly and strong, the eternal will.'

By poor and blind and lame and hoar
I passed into the sunlit air,
Leaving the peasants at their prayer,
The swallows flying as before;
And as I left the town I turned,
And there, behind me, thrilled and burned
Sunlight and gleaming skies of blue
Over the houses brown and old,
And, turning still, there came in view
The roof o' the nave, half touched with gold.
And over it, upward, uncontrolled,
Circled the swallows above the town,—
A huddle of houses, old, and brown.

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