THE DEATH OF SAINT CLARE (© Words by Paul F. Cowlan)


Four Evangelists.
The Blesséd Trinity.
Holy Mary and the Christ-child.
One God,
throned at the sacred apex
in an orb of fire.

The sisters are at prayer.

Jove and Hesperus,
their blood still hot
beneath encrusted ritual,
are Christ and His virgin
in another light.

Five wounds.
Seven maidens.
Ten precepts.

From her bed of coarse straw
she hears them,
and sees again the Pope's ring
set with her tears.
‘Solus annuere.’
Closed at last.
‘Ad instar fiat.’
A single bright curve,
rounder than Giotto might dream,
encompassing Creation.

Hatching in shadows
she sketches her course.
Work, prayer, integrity,
simplicity and joy.
An unbroken arc.
A sequestered fountain.

The cloister cat appears,
face lifted to her,
artless as dusk.
A gingerbread moon crying its hunger.


Stars circle like larks.
She lies in her small chapel,
healed of all distances.
The Poverello’s perfect aspen,
according to her wish,
a microlith of pure shade
trembling under relentless blue.

And he is waiting somewhere,
two, three hours into the valley,
hidden till dawn opens a path through the vineyards.
Though she never ventured unbidden
now the round grill falls
and she steps through to embrace his body,
white and immaculate,
as if still sleeping.


They will follow this new path in perfect step.


Riding into low cloud,
a crescent and twelve stars at their back,
they climb to where his mountain waits,
pregnant with infinite cathedrals.

But quaking-grass is more beautiful,
and the Burnet-Rose is sweeter,
and the locust’s song is clearer
than sharp stone pinnacles.
She has Creation by heart;
the music already in place
and the words to hand
in an alphabet of petals.

Journeying at last,
moths stirring from the hay
and each thought perfect,
she stoops,
lets fall the halter
and whispers to Brother Ass
that God once told her
such a dawn might spring the gates of Paradise.

‘Solus annuere.’ The Bull of Pope Innocent IV, assuring the future of Clare’s community. It arrived two days before her death.

Ad instar fiat.‘So be it.’ Added to the Bull in the Pope’s own handwriting.