Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Praise of Floors

Once each year the nave of York Minster is emptied of its 800 chairs in order to provide a glimpse of how the space would have originally looked in the 14th century. One result is that one's attention is drawn to the floor that would be otherwise ignored.

This reminded me of a poem I wrote when I visited York last May (2007), doing reconnaissance for our current stay. Curiously, even then, I was drawn to the floor.

York Minster

Vaulted gothic arches careen
upward to heaven luring
the eye to beatific contemplation.
No end to the encomiums to height and splendor
of (almost?) Babelian proportions.

But in such spaces of ancient transcendence
and medieval aspiration,
I have always been fascinated by the floor.
The lowly floor: without the dazzle of rose windows
or the allure of gilded frescoes,
kenotic space calling to mind
the rough ground of a stable and manger.
The gnarled stone
trod by saints of millennia past (and not a few sinners).

The floor: cold, hard receptacle of knees knelt
in penitence and praise
by princes and paupers.

The floor: from which those ashamed
could not lift their eyes,
and to which the blank stares of boredom
settled as the resting place of an attitudinal gravity.

The floor: without the crackling spectacle of stained glass,
yet created by artisans no less called,
whose work has supported the faithful for centuries,
undergirding the people’s work of liturgy—
in praise of him who humbled itself from vaulted heaven,
God of spires and floors.

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