They’re sitting on the transept, repairing the roof;
The generator’s in the choir, gone secular;
Cartesian faith has fallen short of a proof
In curves of shingles, gapping and irregular.
Walls sometimes stand without the wit of the trade —
That fixity and flux, that quivering stability;
All’s bound now for concrete, the surfaces are laid
In stolid novelty and a brittle agility.
The masters grapple outward, farther and farther
Along this lesser paragon, just north and south,
Recumbent in a mixture of mastic and ardor;
The classical is dead, or what is art for?
The windows and the door — all eyes and mouth:
Divine comedian, stand-in for a martyr.
Hauled down once flashings are nailed and neat,
Into the heap go tegulae, imbrices, asbestos,
Dug from the tar of that prime contractor, Hephaestus,
Who first enclosed a dark and venerable heat.
NOTES for Students of English
Transept – The arms of a cross-shaped church, traditionally laid out in a north-south direction, i.e., perpendicular to the main body of the church, the nave, which was oriented east-west.
Cartesian – Refers to the work of French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) who developed the system of axial coordinates to describe points on a curve, and who aimed for mathematical certitude in metaphysics.
Flashings – Strips of sheet metal used on roofs to make watertight joints.
Tegulae – (Pronounced TE-gyu-lee) Plural of tegula, in Roman antiquity a flat roof tile.
Imbrices – (Pronounced IM-bre-seez) Plural of imbrex, in Roman antiquity a semicircular roof tile.
Hephaestus – The ancient Greek god of fire, metalworking, and the building arts.