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Lay for the Day 17th February

1600: Giordano Bruno is burnt at the stake in Rome.
Bruno, a renegade Dominican friar, has been depicted as a martyr to science because he advocated the heliocentric planetary system of Copernicus, and said that the Universe was infinite, with an infinite number of worlds, inhabited by other intelligent beings. However, the Copernican system was not actually forbidden until it was reiterated by Galileo, long after Bruno’s execution. The real reasons for his persecution are unknown, because the records of his interrogation and trial are lost. Nevertheless he remains a hero of intellectual integrity, independence and courage – one who saw a greater world than he was allowed to, and died for it.

Portrait of the Sun


The sun looks through the windows of the twigs’
rhomboid interstices, their architect,
who builds a building he cannot live in.
They fill with the faces of leaves, smooth and
solicitous, acquisitive courtiers
who bow and whisper, turning to him
their keen reflective profiles, all in his
silk livery of green. But no: they are
orphans who crowd each other and point
to see their benefactor riding by
in his carriage. The dapple with the star
on her grey forehead nods towards the west.
He settles back in the crimson plush
as the wind gusts chill, and looks suddenly old.


Have others among your trillion brothers
such praises, or such creatures to praise them,
for whom your friendly fire, as theirs to us,
is just the glitter of a night-time tale?
By your companionship, constant and kind,
we have primed and tempered the conceiving
of your creator and ours, who would die
were your fervour not balanced by distance.
We’ve come so far through the cold together.
This I that cannot look you in the eye,
a confection of stardust and water,
this scattering of soot you stirred to life,
was smelted in furnaces hotter still.
Oxygen, carbon, iron: each hard-won
system hymns, as you do, factive brilliance.


I am the son of the Father of suns
and image in fire of the unseen fire,
your fellow creature. How was it spoken?
When the tip of the tongue was touched to the
vault of the palate, at the ell of Let
we held our breath, and then through There we took
our places, until by the plosive of
Be, that clove through nothing, we were and we
leapt in the ell of Light chanting Selah,
Alleluia. Then the sons and daughters
born of a minute, momently going
their ways, sang in a body together.
I am the song of the Word who walked then
among us, who imparted the glory
he had before us, as in the furnace.
Made once more out of ashes and darkness,
I sing it again to all below me.

John Gibbens
from Makings ’89-’91


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar