Frederick Philip Grove
KONRAD, THE BUILDER
e-Edition by Gaby Divay
© August 2007
How to cite this e-Edition of Grove's Miscellaneous Poems
THE BUILDER, or The Statue
Frederick Philip Grove
There lived, in some small medieval town,
A man who worked in stone and had done so
Since, as a youth, a dozen
He had been apprenticed at a master's shop.
An apprentice he had been for seven years
And never dreamt but of a master's gown
While oft he ate his bitter bread with tears.
A master's gown would all his wishes crown:
He had worked from dawn to dusk about a shop.
Then had the day arrived when the great guild
Had called him free to go where he might please
He was assistant mason, he could seize
Time by the forelock if he was inclined
To travel through the pleasant country side.
Go to great cities where all souls were filled
With pious plans he might go
far and wide
And dreamt ere long that he would like to build
Such gothic structures as enchant the mind.
His name was Konrad, though he lived in France;
But the said town lay near the German line.
So he struck out one day
along the Rhine
From Strassburg down to Heidelberg and Worms,
And on to Mannheim, Wurtzburg, Frankfort, Mentz
And worked and learned wherever he had the chance
And studied ogives, gargoyles, battlements,
And draughtmanship, and came to look askance
On all such art as spurned the Gothic forms.
Thus, after seven more years, at great Cologne
They made him master of his toolsome art:
He might have rested now, content at heart
But was not satisfied; for in him rose --
Dizzy the thought to him -- a new desire:
To build a gothic minster all his own
From subterranean crypt to pointing spire
To be named after him and him alone:
Full well he came to know creative throes.
He was aware that no one master could
Aspire to guide the building of a pile
Like the Cathedral at Cologne or Lisle
Which it took generations to erect:
And, even though their first-adopted plan,
Changed but in details, as a whole still stood,
Untampered with, the thought of one great man.
None knew his name; and every helper would
If he could, his claims to fame reject.
Thus Konrad, as he went from place to place,
Called here or there some work to supervise
That needed special skill, still kept his eyes
On his great aim: some church his very own,
Designed and built, though small, a gothic jewel.
And often, picturing it, he felt his face
Glow with a fire as of celestial fuel;
He felt his blood in quickened pulses race
And knew exalted states as of a throne.
Yet, filled with visions shaking him with awe
At what worked in him like a miracle --
Thus shakes, tousled by its tongs, a giant bell --
At times he felt a sudden sinking down
Of all his aspirations; he knew doubt;
For dimly, only half divined, he saw --
And withered, like a green field struck by drought --
In all his cherished plans a secret flaw.
Then did he brood, wrapped in his master's gown.
That flaw was that he felt ambition's prod
In all his plannings and in his desires.
He felt consumed with fierce and smouldering fire
That burned his soul into a barren slag;
Yea, even when he stood in ardour wrapped.
He knew his transports not to be of God,
But of a lesser deity that entrapped
His inner self and at whose very nod
His ecstasies would dully droop and flag.
Thus, oft, at night, there seemd a dusky owl
To circle round his feverish, glowing head;
He rose and sat and left his restless bed
And stalked about in his dim-lighted room --
From door to casement and
back again to door --
And listened to the winds that nightly howl
About church spires and a weird music pour;
And fancied that he saw a man in crimson cowl
Peer in upon him from the enfolding gloom.
Then did he take a solemn oath and vow
If his great wish came true and he was called
To build that church, slim-spired and lofty-halled,
Which lived, a lovely idol, in his brain,
He would -- thus to ward off the evil powers,
Carve out of stone, as for a vessel's prow,
A giant image, fruit of many hours,
Of God Himself before whom all men bow,
And fasten it below the topmost vane.
Whence it would look out over all the land;
And in this plan he found at last such rest
That henceforth all he undertook seemed blessed
By the Almighty. Such success brought this
That soon his fame had through all countries flown
And when, in course of time,
the pious band
Of Trappist monks, in that town of his own
Resolved to build an abbey, there was no hand
To which they would entrust the work but his.
Thus, after many years, did he return
A master-builder, to his ancient home.
He knew the days were gone when he would roam
The glorious world or see its wondrous sights
And thought at last of house and hearth and wife --
Some quiet home where his own fire would burn
And where, a burgher, he could lead a life
Of Rest and Honour which he meant to earn
By work and honest labour as his rights.
But in that town there lived a lovely maid:
She, when he left, had been but twelve years old,
With eyes of sapphire and with hair of gold;
Yet had he often watched her at her games:
Quick, pert and slender, yet with thoughtful brow
And lips as if for sweetest whisperings made.
Never had he imagined up till now
That he, of mien so sober, grey, and staid
Might harbour love that burns
with scorching flames.
He would have frowned had he been told; and yet
As he tried secretly
His future wife, he saw the sapphire eyes
Of that slim maid he had known in her
He saw her hair, fair as the ripened grain
And caught himself at muttering, "Margaret";
And knew unrest and doubt, torture and pain
And what it is to hunger and to fret
When a man longs for a maid that mocks.
Nor did he rest till he had seen her anew
And found that her poor father had not sped
And that she lived at home, a maid unwed,
Then thought he that perhaps his wealth and fame
Might dazzle her and win her for his wife;
For hardly had he seen her when he knew
That without her his life would not be life.
One night, espying her, he, following, threw
His die and stammered, offering her his name.
Now this fair maiden who had seen him oft
In times gone by when she had been a child,
Intent on games, thoughtless, and gay, and wild,
Had sometimes dreamt of him, in those young years,
And pictured for herself a future mate
Whose thoughts like his flew bold and aimed aloft
Whose head like his upon his shoulders sate...
When he accosted her, her eyes grew soft
For just a second, and then dimmed with tears.
He, seeing, felt the blood rise to his face
And would have fled; but that secret voice
Now whispered, he had won her of his choice;
And so, misled, with bubbling eloquence,
He urged his suit, telling her how for years
As he had travelled far, from place to place,
He had lived in longings, yearnings, and in fears,
And wished to tell her of his hopeless case
And trembled at the thought she might move hence.
She, listening, lowered her bright sapphire eyes
And muttered words of his great name and fame.
To wed below him, said she, would bring shame
On one like him; and, speaking, blanched and blushed.
He, eying her more boldly, gave a laugh
As if half ashamed; yet, growing worldly-wise,
He blew her doubts away like so much chaff...
As by a miracle, there flamed the skies:
They leant upon a gate and whispered, hushed...
A month went by, a month of months it was.
Work at the abbey was ere long begun
And Margaret and Konrad were made one.
A house was found and bought, a servant hired;
And there were few who knew what bliss dwelt then
Below that roof, such utter bliss as awes.
Konrad lived in two worlds, the world of men
Where he must govern with considered
And the world of love of which he never tired.
And Margaret learned new and tender ways.
Love put a brighter lustre in her eyes;
With love lived laughter, ending in such sighs
As he emits who suddenly feels faint
Because no future can bear out the presence.
Her whole soul was with such love ablaze
That, like a flame it rose; and evanescent
And not to be renewed appeared her days:
Such happiness no art of words can paint.
Oft, when he saw, he stood and looked at her
In sudden apprehension, and aghast.
Sobering, he asked himself, "Can such love last?"
She seemed to grow transparent with that love;
Her body was a symbol of her soul
And her soul loveliness that was astir
With one sole urge, to him, unchecked and whole;
Beside him, all the world seemed but a blur. --
Then did he raise his eyes to him above
And once again thought of that solemn vow
Which he had made to God in times gone by,
Resolving to begin the work and try
To cast his vision which was now illumed
With a new knowledge into rigid stone.
And there arose a picture of a brow,
Itself a symbol of the heavenly throne,
Above two eyes, now blazing, tender now
With pity for the beauty which is doomed.
But at the monastery, the whole site
Of the new abbey swarmed with busy men
Who -- though his vision was beyond their ken --
Laboured at detail. He was master there
And marshalled their endeavours where they stood
On scaffold in the dust-engritted light
Or wheeled huge blocks of stone o'er planks of wood,
In leathern jerkins, leathern aprons tight.
Konrad inspired the work, being everywhere.
But in one corner of the swarming lot
He built a shed, tall, narrow, like a tower;
And there he spent henceforth full many an hour
Outlining and designing what none else
Was ever to behold till it was done.
There would he stand and sweat, there draw and blot,
And draw again and muse and dream. Not one
Of all his men allowed he near the spot
Nor of his monks who came from their bare cells.
Till they arrived, drawn by a twelve horse team
A giant block of moon-white glistening stone,
Such as no monk or man there had yet known:
It glittered as with myriad jewels strewn
And came across the Alps from Italy.
The master paid for it, thus it would seem,
What were the odds? Whose business? Let it be!
They fastened block and tackle to a beam
Provided in the shed; upended soon
Stood there the block, a marvel; all eyes stared
Till closed the door. Then Konrad was alone
With what contained his vision, this great stone
At which he looked with triumph, mixed with awe.
Form it he would with
ringing hammer blows
His vision carve and keep it unimpaired
Atoning; for the thrills of him who knows;
Because to lift heaven's curtain he had dared
To lift the veil of heaven he had dared
And stood as blinded; yet as one who saw.
Henceforth his inner world was cleft in two;
And often he could not with clear truth have told
Which, Margaret or God, had closer hold
Upon his soul.
Within the shed he carved,
Rough-hewing it, a nebulous, dawning shape
From which, broadly, two giant shoulders grew;
Behind, a moulded, forward-slanted nape,
A head above which, nodding, forward
He worked till he felt starved;
And then rushed home where, at the opening door,
As by clearer vision he was met
And hardly knew that it was Margaret
And not a messenger come from on high,
Yet knew that, when he felt her slender arm
That he touched life itself, the very core
Of what he lived for, trembling with alarm
That it might vanish. And he longed to pour
His very soul into one trembling sigh.
And the next day he went among his crew
And, absent-mindedly he pushed the work --
Like one in whose soul, lightning-pregnant, lurk
Such visions of another world as make
The common mind to shudder; till again
He was alone within his shed where blew
A breath of triumph and a breath of pain
Which warmed him now, now chilled him through & through
He hardly knew, did he exult or quake?
Thus he, at last, began upon the face.
Below the locks, he moulded that great brow
And then the eyes that overawe and cow.
These he endowed with all that in him lay
Of answer to those questions which a man
Steps before God: with mercy and with grace;
With deep compassion; with a saving plan
That weaves all death in time, all loss in space
Into that harmony for which souls pray.
That done, there came to him a soothing calm.
He looked upon his work and found it good.
That day he rested, for he understood:
Olympian repose, yet moved and mild,
The giver of all gifts he had portrayed
Him who for every wound gives healing balm,
Him we can trust forever, undismayed...
That night, as if seized with a sudden qualm
Margaret told him that she was with child.
Henceforth he spent less time within his shed;
And when he went, he oftentimes did nought
But sat and looked and shook his head and thought
And added here and there a trifling touch.
An overpowering trust invaded him.
When then again he stood by Margaret's bed
Where mostly she reclined, pale, pinched, and slim,
Yet smiling, he bent down; and kissed her head
And peace flowed onto her; his trust was such.
Winter went by; with blue-bells came the spring.
But Margaret lay pale and fever-hot
Amid a crowd of women on her cot.
Konrad, in anguish, left her there and fled
Into his workshop; to the stone he knelt
And wrestled with his God and called him king
And poured forth all
the anguish which he felt.
Above, great bells seemed, spectre-like,
Konrad rushed home; there, Margaret lay dead.
There was a throng of hushes in the room
And women, old and wise, in birth and death;
All speech was whisper with lowered breath
But from a room beyond, a paling cry
Intoned, from another world, so thin
And almost weird it sounded in the gloom.
It was some time ere Konrad could begin
To grasp he was a father from the womb
Of her who, to give life, had had to die.
His face, that moment, terrible and white,
Looked as of bloodless stone; they led him out.
He gave nor sigh nor moan; nor groan nor shout.
And let them do with him as they might will.
Nor did he wake from his indifference
Till she was buried...Then, as from a height
Above the common rubble, he drove hence
All who had helped,
they shrank from his grim sight --
Retaining but a maid the child to still.
Thus, slowly, time ticked on until a year
Had sped upon its way; within the shed
A canvas o'er the statue had been spread.
Upon the building site Konrad was known
As one to whom a man is but a beast:
The workers saw him come in trembling fear;
And when he left, it was to them a feast.
No one, not he himself, went ever near
That weird, uncanny mass of marble stone.
Till one day, in midwinter -- it was a grey
And murky overhead -- he, passing by
Reached for a key beneath his coat. His eye
Shot right and left to see that not a soul
Saw that he entered. Then he drew aside
The veiling canvas, shedding dust that lay
Inch-thick in every fold; and with one stride
He stepped upon the platform; many a day
Had he stood with chisel, maul, and scroll.
It was a pity. All this work for nought!
But that mild eye, the smile that ran along
Half parted lips, the locks -- all that was wrong.
Yet...if he changed perhaps some trifling things --
His very fingers itched -- his eyes grew dim:
He was the man to do it -- thus he thought --
To make the marble speak what lived in him:
To make it cry what into it was wrought:
For with the song in man even marble sings.
Yet...such...and such...a poignant vision rose:
A God of fate who frowns at them that yearn:
A God austere, implacable, and stern
A God of iron -- nay, a God of stone
Of every human trait a counterpart:
His smile a sneer, his looks so many woes;
His brow denial, rock to the core his heart;
His polished skin cold as the frozen snows:
Thus could he fashion him; and he alone!
to cite this e-Edition:
|Grove, Frederick Philip. Miscellaneous
Poems: Konrad, the Builder. e-Edition,
Gaby Divay. Winnipeg: UM Archives & Special Collections,
Accessed ddmmmyyyy [ex: 20sep2007]