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 like pilgrims to the sky—
Where sculpted saints and stained glass windows call
With majesty to God, my wondering eye
Leaps up: some rankling sights at random points
Bear down. A griffin, glaring, lion-miened
And sabre-winged, joins imps with gristly joints
Uncoiling, bent on beating back some fiend
Who's dared encroach upon these sacred grounds.
Is all the power of the vast divine
Inadequate to guard this sanctum’s bounds?
Would shady sentries satirize this shrine?
These rude grotesques and gargoyles make their posts
Among the pinnacles and cherubim;
They gain some luster from the heaven-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
And meet the outer darkness with their dark
Like caveats to consecrated space,
Like thugs to match the demons, bark for bark.