Separate but Equal


A candle still burns in Huby’s tower

As stars fade with the dawn.

A cramped hand traces one last curl

Before the call to Lauds.


Fine man of letters, this monk,

His whole life pledged to study and to prayer.

A copier of words with simple needs:

A desk, a pen, a brush, a quire.


Not for him work-roughened hands

Fit only for the axe or hoe.

I cannot read a single line,

Yet I free him to keep each vow.


On my hands must he rely

For salted fish and daily bread.

For woollen cloth, rush lights and hay.

For tending beasts and smelting lead. 


Yet Paters, Glorias, Aves can I also say.

If idleness be indeed the enemy of the soul,

Then mine’s as white as any brother’s robe

Beside the River Skell.









Inspired by many visits to Fountains Abbey, I've often pondered the separate lives led by the monks and the lay brothers, who both served God in their own way. This poem was chosen for inclusion in 'Celebrate', the anthology of the 5th Ripon Poetry Festival.