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Sketching the Cloister of Santa Croce
White painted clerestory arches loop,

Pillars stand grey, and swallows swoop.

Serene, the tolling of a bell,

Cool terracotta tiles, a well.

A square of green, enclosed below,

And almost all is shadow, though

The sun casts arches on the red

The wind blows gently, and the dead,

The hallowed dead, who lie above,

Whose names are honoured in calm love,

Are here recalled. The swallows call,

And roses blow, and from it all

The burning heat of afternoon

Lies on the cloister. Then too soon

Come human voices. We don't drown

But peace that built is broken down.


Santa Croce is an old Franciscan monastery, full of great art, where a lot of Florence's famous people are buried. Machiavelli is there, Dante, Fermi, Galileo, Michelangelo, Marconi... The cloister is down a flight of stairs and outside, and there are two courtyards of it, the first has a chapel by Brunelleschi, and a museum, the second is just a cloistered monastery courtyard as described in the poem -- a walkway around the outside, a square of green grass with rosebushes and a well in the middle. I was there on my own this afternoon. There was somebody sitting in the first courtyard sketching, and I thought what a nice normal thing that is, sketching, making art, recording a scene, and maybe they're good and maybe they're not, but they sure are walking in the steps of lots of great people. But there isn't really a word equivalent, and I wanted there to be. So I sat down on the wall in the second cloister and just wrote this down, recording my sensations in an equivalent way, to see whether it would work. This is probably about as close to just writing down the inside of my head as it gets. The human voices were a tour group, and the allusion is, obviously, to Eliot.

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