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The Abbey Mason
by [?]


(Inventor of the “Perpendicular” Style of Gothic Architecture)

The new-vamped Abbey shaped apace
In the fourteenth century of grace;

(The church which, at an after date,
Acquired cathedral rank and state.)

Panel and circumscribing wall
Of latest feature, trim and tall,

Rose roundabout the Norman core
In prouder pose than theretofore,

Encasing magically the old
With parpend ashlars manifold.

The trowels rang out, and tracery
Appeared where blanks had used to be.

Men toiled for pleasure more than pay,
And all went smoothly day by day,

Till, in due course, the transept part
Engrossed the master-mason’s art.

– Home-coming thence he tossed and turned
Throughout the night till the new sun burned.

“What fearful visions have inspired
These gaingivings?” his wife inquired;

“As if your tools were in your hand
You have hammered, fitted, muttered, planned;

“You have thumped as you were working hard:
I might have found me bruised and scarred.

“What then’s amiss. What eating care
Looms nigh, whereof I am unaware?”

He answered not, but churchward went,
Viewing his draughts with discontent;

And fumbled there the livelong day
Till, hollow-eyed, he came away.

– ‘Twas said, “The master-mason’s ill!”
And all the abbey works stood still.

Quoth Abbot Wygmore: “Why, O why
Distress yourself? You’ll surely die!”

The mason answered, trouble-torn,
“This long-vogued style is quite outworn!

“The upper archmould nohow serves
To meet the lower tracery curves:

“The ogees bend too far away
To give the flexures interplay.

“This it is causes my distress . . .
So it will ever be unless

“New forms be found to supersede
The circle when occasions need.

“To carry it out I have tried and toiled,
And now perforce must own me foiled!

“Jeerers will say: ‘Here was a man
Who could not end what he began!'”

– So passed that day, the next, the next;
The abbot scanned the task, perplexed;

The townsmen mustered all their wit
To fathom how to compass it,

But no raw artistries availed
Where practice in the craft had failed . . .

– One night he tossed, all open-eyed,
And early left his helpmeet’s side.

Scattering the rushes of the floor
He wandered from the chamber door

And sought the sizing pile, whereon
Struck dimly a cadaverous dawn

Through freezing rain, that drenched the board
Of diagram-lines he last had scored –

Chalked phantasies in vain begot
To knife the architectural knot –

In front of which he dully stood,
Regarding them in hopeless mood.

He closelier looked; then looked again:
The chalk-scratched draught-board faced the rain,

Whose icicled drops deformed the lines
Innumerous of his lame designs,

So that they streamed in small white threads
From the upper segments to the heads

Of arcs below, uniting them
Each by a stalactitic stem.

– At once, with eyes that struck out sparks,
He adds accessory cusping-marks,

Then laughs aloud. The thing was done
So long assayed from sun to sun . . .

– Now in his joy he grew aware
Of one behind him standing there,

And, turning, saw the abbot, who
The weather’s whim was watching too.

Onward to Prime the abbot went,
Tacit upon the incident.

– Men now discerned as days revolved
The ogive riddle had been solved;

Templates were cut, fresh lines were chalked
Where lines had been defaced and balked,

And the work swelled and mounted higher,
Achievement distancing desire;

Here jambs with transoms fixed between,
Where never the like before had been –

There little mullions thinly sawn
Where meeting circles once were drawn.

“We knew,” men said, “the thing would go
After his craft-wit got aglow,

“And, once fulfilled what he has designed,
We’ll honour him and his great mind!”

When matters stood thus poised awhile,
And all surroundings shed a smile,

The master-mason on an eve
Homed to his wife and seemed to grieve . . .