They know an older England here, and so
have kept the faith with Sherwin’s planted flame,
these men whose exile brings them close to home;
uneasy lies the land from which they came.
These halls preserve the air of long ago.
Of whispered prayers in priest-holes, then the wait
to know if those outside had time to hide
the Mass-books, strip the altar, stow the plate.
Of lonely abbeys visited at night
by wreckers as reformers well-disguised.
King Henry’s men, their paperwork all square,
five hundred years’ tradition now despised.
Of silent chantries, masses left unsung
below high windows naked of their glass;
despoiled vestments, confiscated goldand prayer-smooth cloisters overlaid with grass.
(This is one of a pair of poems inspired by a visit to the Venerable English College in Rome for the diaconal ordination of a friend some years ago. See the second here)