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Lay for the Day
25th August

The feast day of St Louis (1214–70), who was King Louis IX of France, and is a patron saint of sculptors and stonemasons on account of the opportunities he gave for their skills to flourish – for example in the building of the Sainte Chapelle in the heart of Paris, on the Ile de la Cité.


The earthen king, the sanctified,
made light like blood and water mixed
stream slowly in on either side
from pierced walls, butterfly-wing scaled
with glass accounts of holy wars,
to hold the twigs that once transfixed
God’s temples – who fell on all fours,
whose crowning was the sign he failed.

Les demoiselles de Saint-Denis
are built upon a broader plan,
who graze that street, in hope of fee,
named for the man who lost his head.
Black sheep of God, but dressed as lambs,
they give good head to sons of man
and hoist them up with hardy hams
above the seed-bespattered bed.

The stones aroused in sheer belief
assume the glories of the air.
The prince’s court, one twisting thief,
has seen the stabbed head shake, and bow
to a quicker end. The strait doors
gape to let the lion pace his lair,
to kneel below that thorn whose haws
are life. Garnets rain from Christ’s brow

as the autumnal Paris sun,
grown bleary with the day-long trade,
displays the bijoux one by one,
beryl, jacinth and chrysoprase,
that dye the dust, and light no shrine.
Outside, the river wipes its blade
against the isle, and checks its shine,
then runs on under equal rays.

La Sainte-Chapelle, Ile de la Cité

John Gibbens
from Church of Thorns

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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