Poetry and Pictures from the Yorkshire Dales by Alan Hartley

dales poetry headerPhotograph ©David Tarn

Fountains Abbey

fountains-abbey.jpgBarbara ArmstrongThe leafless trees in winter sun
Cast field-length shadows by the mill
And ripples in the River Skell
Glint in the light of closing day,
When Fountains’ shadow arms reach out
To snare me in its mystery.
In chapel, presbytery and nave
I find a sandstone tapestry
Inviting me to touch the walls
And sense the stories in the stone.

Stories of Benedictine monks
Who sought to found an abbey here,
Where their old order held no sway,
To start afresh the Opus Dei
And follow new Cistercian vows
To live a simple life of prayer.
Through centuries of prayer and toil
Their Abbey grew and gained in wealth,
The bounty of a fertile soil,
Allowing them to build in stone
Magnificence in praise of God.

The Abbey’s ever-growing wealth
Did not give rise to broken vows,
The monks maintained their pious way.
But this did not deter a King
Who had the debts of war to pay
From confiscating Abbey gold,
Removing roof-beams, bronze and lead
And selling off its pastureland.
Then Abbey walls were robbed of stone
To satisfy a vandal’s greed
And this proud ruin left to stand.

Reflect on Fountains’ glorious past
And mourn the grandeur we have lost
But celebrate the beauty here.
The tower stands enhanced by time
And ruined walls around it hold
A classic, quiet dignity.
Grand arches hang from open sky
And pillars carry empty air
Above high nave and humble cell
To give the sense of history
That underlies the Abbey’s spell.

A spell that turns my thoughts once more
To monks who prayed here long ago,
From matins through to compline’s close,
To give man hope to find God’s grace.
A prize that each of us may gain
Through the great beauty of this place,
Where masons’ skill and nature’s art
Provide a peaceful sanctuary
In which the ancient prayers remain
For all who listen with the heart
And find God in the silence here.