The following is a moving and convicting tribute to Notre Dame, composed while she was burning and the world was watching. The poet employs beautiful language, as well as a well-known prayer to synthesize culture, emotion, history, faith, and philosophy in only these few stanzas.
One red flame is lit among the shambles
The white, wet water lilies choke
A torn blue mantle tossed among the brambles
Shrinks and burns and blackens in the smoke.
The feast of God is eaten by pagans and neglect conjures up
The wide, white demon of a smoky Mephistopheles—
Again the Maid is burning at the stake.
Another linchpin snaps in fracticals
While earth tetters on a limping axil
The orbits of the world in jeopardy,
I set my place for morning tea.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.
Five past eight must be the hour of her decision.
Walsingham and Guadalupe make their intersessions
And turn their maiden eyes to the Isle de la Cite.
The sun sets over Orléans, and Paris passes into darkness,
Save the specter of a flame-licked spire
Teetering like the steady stars.
From some ancient corner of the nave I hear the Maid calling out:
Hold high the cross that I may see it through the flames
While a red-hot Carolingian beam crashes down
For the first time in eight centuries.
In a stunned half second half the world is silent
While the empty Temple of kings and clerics
Burns through the night like the shrines of Childeric
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Already I imagine the sterile, angular promontory
That will be your successor
Towering like some brutalistic savior;
Sculpted by a well-meaning socialist
In happy service to his motherland.
I am already assured by my betters that
Our imitation game will be sincere;
That my trembling hand will be held
While any memory of that shimmering spire
Fades like the foggy breath of the Seine
In the first glimpses of the April sun.
Across the river, ten thousand candles keep a different flame
And ten thousand mourners line the streets
As if to bid a queen goodbye—
Silent mourners who expect mortality of men,
But not of churches. They sing.
Je vous salue, Marie. Pleine de grâce
And they ask Our Lady the burning question:
“Will you demand to exist?”
Will you listen while we ask you why?
Are you mortal? Can you die?
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death.