13th century angel capitalSt. Peter's Angel

An image made and broken

This poem by Robert Cockcroft was inspired by a 13th century carving of an angel on the capital of a pillar at St Peter's. It is not known when the damage was done to the carving, possibly during the Civil War or the Puritan period which followed it.

Where eyelids curve about the eyes
And where each eyelash points its dart
Invisibly, where the full mouth will part
And where the eyebrows bend, as a hawk flies,
The chisel slides. The sculptor’s art
Defines the intent features as they rise
Out of the stone, their urgency
Impatient to be carved as the lips smoulder
Round their ‘live coal’ of purity.
Was it that sideways glance across his shoulder
The sculptor most desired to see
Under the sharp, annealed
Extension of his fingers, as they wheeled -
Caressing, as they cut, the face that they revealed?

But where those lines were traced, about
The speaking lips, the chin, the nose
Another, rougher hand rained five sharp blows -
Then stopped. Was it a sudden doubt
Or a weak pity which arose;
Or compromise (‘Let him speak on, without
Beauty, to distract’)? Through the air
Where stone is missing, we may still retrace
The tapping touch of steel, repair
His robe of outward, as of inward grace:
Or as he does, accept our share
In human self-distrust?
Nothing essential’s missing: his whole thrust
Out into time is there, to tell us what he must.

Robert Cockcroft

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 25th March 2000