What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, these strange, savage lions and monsters? To what purpose are here placed these creatures, half beast, half man, or these spotted tigers? . . . Surely, if we do not blush for such absurdities, we should at least regret what we have spent on them. —St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Wandering past an old cathedral wall
where towers rise in pilgrimage to sky—
where sculpted saints and stained-glass windows call
in unison to God, my wondering eye
leaps up. And there, at unexpected points,
perch griffins, sabre-winged and lion-miened,
near basilisks and imps with gristly joints
uncoiling, bent on beating back some fiend
that's trespassed brashly on these sacred grounds.
Is all the power of the vast divine
inadequate to guard this sanctum’s bounds?
Must shady sentries bastardize this shrine?
These rude grotesques and gargoyles man their posts
among the pinnacles and cherubim,
enhanced in luster by the heavenly hosts
that gaze on them from every buttress brim.
And yet these conscripts, strained with flex and thrust,
popping eyes and snarling in assault—
restive stills of anger, woe, or lust,
their stone heads worrying the airy vault—
spring up like chilblains from these spires of grace
to meet the outer darkness with their dark—
like caveats of consecrated space,
like brutes to match the demons bark for bark.