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Green Words Poetry Anthology: Exeter Cathedral

Discover poems written by members of the local community inspired by Exeter Cathedral. These poems are part of the Green Words Poetry Anthology curated by Riddler in Residence Aly Stoneman. 

Print by Sarah Furby

The Overview Effect by Eleanor Konings

It was never about whether God existed, but where —
so we built skywards, spires and towers like hands
reaching up to what we assumed was Heaven. Then,
we breached the atmosphere, and Frank White tied
a swing to the crescent moon and flew out to the black
emptiness of outer space, in to the embrace of Eden,
every act of kindness and every pact of peace alone
in the place we call home, and he understood:
we’ve been building to God from Her own stones.
Here, behold, in the grass by the worn cathedral walls,
my bare toes rest, returning to my roots. We always
searched for God in the heavens when she was right
at our fingertips. Here, our Creator, our Holy Ghost;
here, our Lord and Savior, Mother Earth, right beneath
the soles of our feet.

A note from the poet: the Overview Effect is a scientific phenomenon first coined by Frank White in which astronauts see the Earth, all alone in space, for the first time. This experience is described as numinous or religious and has changed all astronauts who have felt the effect, regardless of beliefs before the experience, into some form of spiritualist. 

Cathedral Thinking by Si Egan

Within the Wall

A new humanity is born from wild nature,
Roots and branches tear down the walls
Of division old humanity used to dominate the world.
No more us and them. Just us.
A continuous being, a global life,
Multiplying, growing, adding new species,
Subtracting selfishness and greed from the human equation.

In this new Eden, there are no gates,
No fences, no flame-sword wielding cherubim,
No forbidden fruit. Knowledge is hidden in plain sight:
In the microcosmic life of a pine cone planet, in the silence of drowsy bees gathering
The last dregs of the hot summer’s nectar, and in the cracks between slabs where new life grows.

Outwith the wall

Nature builds its own cathedrals of wood and water, leaf and wind.
When stones have crumbled into dust, the oak and elm will cast their shadows on the ruins, Seedlings sprouting through mosaic floors, pigeons nesting in high bell towers.
Requiem rain will fill the font and organ pipes be sounded by the wind’s invisible breath,

As land shifts and seas rise the aisle becomes the beach, city seagulls swirl, now home again, And graves eject their passenger’s remains, a final resurrection long awaited by the dead.

Celestial Grace by Catherine Flavelle

In Exeter’s heart, in the cathedral tall,
Stands proud my monument, upon the wall,
Where echoes of romance and Lorna fair,
Hang like shadows on the air.

From Blundell’s School, my youth took flight,
Through grassy fields, my dreams took height.
I, who loved this gallant county,
Wrote loving odes to it’s beauteous bounty.

In words, I painted Exmoor’s grace,
Carved her beauty, and Lorna’s face.
And John Ridd’s pure and hopeless love,
As large as the skyward beams above.

Like the Cathedral’s lofty towers,
Wrote I of Love’s unending powers,
From moor to sky, from land to sea,
Celestial grace, it flowed through me.

My legacy, it shines like light,
Beneath the vaulted ceiling bright,
The name of Blackmore stands forever,
Amongst the Cathedral’s precious treasure.

Print by Cathy King

Note from the poet: As the school archivist for Blundell’s School, as well as a history teacher, I’m lucky enough to be in charge of R.D. Blackmore’s
(1825–1900) doodled history school book – like many teenagers he’s written his name over and over – as well as a signed copy he presented to the school. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lorna Doone since at school, so this seemed an obvious inspiration.

The Woman Outside the Crypt by Kitty Carter

There is a woman in the earth who lives parallel
to the crypt you explored. She too is as cold
as the stone you trailed your fingers
across, but unbound. She lives untamed,
sometimes possessed by a rage that
makes her reach out, silver hands distressing
roots and causing whole trees to
shiver. The silence of the crypt is disturbed
by the hum of discontent in the winds,
and the trembling reminds you of how the stone
walls could not exist without the shaking
branches: the two must coexist.
Otherwise, the woman of the earth would
not have any way to communicate, and would stay,

I Am Alive by Chris Jackson

I am alive
So much freedom held in
This frail body and
Imperfect personality

I am alive
Life is everywhere, even in
The stones of the cathedral
Silence is their wisdom

I am alive
Jesus lives in me, not in
The books or the rules of
The cathedral or church

I am alive is all I know
I know no future, past, birth
Or death
I am alive.

Haiku by Simon

Porcupines bristle
Adorning St George’s frieze
A saint’s prickly chums

A note from the poet: The Chapel of St George in Exeter Cathedral has a frieze depicting porcupines (although they look more like hedgehogs!).

Owls of Oldham Chantry
by Canon Cate

Toowit towoo they say I call,
but you know that it is not all.
I’m Tawney and I call hoohoo
my friend Long-eared hooohoos too.
But Short-eared friends have a long cry
Hoohoo hoohoo hoohoo until they die.
Barnie owl likes his piercing screech,
he hits notes of a higher reach.
We owls do call for all our might,
to keep you awake all through the night.

Grape by Canon Cate

Gathered together we make wine
Red is one of our colours on the vine
And green and white when grown are fine
Pulped we become when ripe is the sign
Eventually, in a glass, I’m truly divine!

The Salcombe Stone Spider (of the Cathedral of Exeter) by Leslie Moss

A tourist is staring at me; transfixed by my glowing green eyes, bulbaceous.

This tower is my home; not yours.
To think that I was created in the distant shadows of this ancient
sea stone 70,000 million years ago;
imbued with their magic and magnetisms!

Round and round go these human step-users
Up, on up, spinning the cardinal points
“Look, pinnacles!”, hollers a chattering guide
Ball flowers crocketting celestially!

OOOhing, AAAhing, and gasping voices
bouncing off Salcombe sounds of 1000 years.

Thou shall not fear me nor harm me.
I belong to these quiet, hewed cool stones
that nurture exoskeletons radiated.

Stones, all empowering, in the dark towers of human follies.

A note from the poet: My volunteering as a roof and floor guide inspired the poem as well as having benefitted from workshops (presented by the Riddler-in-Residence).

Warm Roses by James Wilkes

How’s it below? asks a wolf, with spaniel ears and a mane of sad laurels lying flat on earth’s grapes, on the hound’s hard gripe. Where’s the concealer, where now the earrings? Where are those tassels you hung from the doorhandles? Weird bracken for warm roses: warm roses for you. A cream cat falls on a cream bird, who pecks out her eye. Corpse cruel, jewel like, the centaur finds his mark. You are on one island, I on another. After days wrenched to the ground. Warm roses for you. I give you the earth where wolves have turned above. I give you rosemary bound in clean linen cloth. I give you the smell of washing hung outside. I give you warm roses.

A note from the poet: This poem is an imaginative response to aspects of the Cathedral building and its library collections, ranging from the medieval carved bosses of the cathedral’s ceiling, to the sounds of Old English poems such as those found in the 10th-century Exeter Book.