In a New Light

by Jane Commane

O sisters too, how may we do / for to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing / “Bye bye, lully, lullay”?

– from The Coventry Carol, 14th Century.


Lay down a blue thread of river and make here a city,
weave a busy tapestry of trades and guilds and merchants.
from castle and monasteries, the red sandstone walls form
and reform, and three spires rise to touch the hem of skyline.
Cappers, girdlers, dyers, weavers, city of hands building
chapels of industry that become churches, cathedrals,
streets where devout carnivals of mystery plays reflect back
in stained glass the crowd for the Shearsman and Tailor’s pageant;
below, a glovemaker’s son from Stratford takes notes, above
a stonemason puts down his tools, whistles lully, lullay.

Our cathedral – a symbol of permanence, reassurance
in a city where buildings go up and buildings come down,
our spire still stands tall, a beacon to all.
With a mind of togetherness, how strong we can be.
Our cathedral of global visitors and lunchtime trysts,
place of peace, our intrinsic Coventry-ness.

Lay down your tools and clock-out at the factory whistle,
time turns on a crankshaft from cloth to clockwork, bicycles
to cars, the work-song of lathes turning swarf’s string of silver
from metal. Peace work turns to war work, the cathedral crypts
become shelters. November moonlight. Frost gleams white on lead
as firewatchers with broom and pitchfork, the Provost and Jock,
join others on the roof. Sirens, then hard rain of the raid
through the night, hand to hand, sweeping, quenching until buckets
of water and sand and all the brigade’s hoses run dry,~
the city lit red in cross beams of radar and searchlight.

Our cathedral in bronze-coloured smoke, concentrated blaze.
All night the city burned and our cathedral burned with her.
Our cathedral of Corley stone, glass shatter.
Firefighting on the roof, granddad never forgave himself.
All this matters: our togetherness and our unity.
Our cathedral, laid open to the sky 

Lay down the crossed beams of charred oak in the smoking dawn light.
All through the night the cathedral bells still rang the hours out  
but from the channel the red ribbon on the horizon
was a city ablaze, citizens now emerging dazed
to morning: nothing left but the spire and the shell ….
it makes you think it all a bad dream. In ash and rubble
three roof nails make cruciform, the Provost finds the right words.
But this poor youngling, the child who grips a mother’s hand tight
is heartful of fear at the bombsite’s empty eye sockets:
how does a city find the thread of a song and rise again?                     

Our cathedral – warm sandstone holding the remnants of heat
of November in her peaceful arms, fragmented voices;
this broken building, half a cathedral.
Our Cathedral for a blitzed city that would not give up.
Small voices echo; glass once shattered now illuminates,
symbol of hope, the open air now embraced.

Lay down threads of light on fallen city walls, rise again
with hands extended, friendships, twin cities: a stone restored
in the ruins becomes a cross made for the Frauenkirche.
Step for a moment from the carousel by the market,
a new city’s giddy spin of concrete arcades, mosaics,
and find the quiet embrace of the ruined cathedral
under the wing of the new, Spence’s act of faith. Oh ~
Sisters! Godiva on horseback, the sound of requiems,
sci-fi symphonies of sirens, the city catches a glimpse
of itself in new glass from the old cathedral steps.

Our cathedral, echoing with the sound of shuffling feet,
with the resonances of other people; I see, I hear,
then I open a new sense that I was not aware of.
Our cathedral, our community’s heart, reverberating
2-Tone town walls welcoming, celebrating our differences.
  Do you feel better than when you went in?

Lay down your shades of blue in stained glass – let light shine through
on true blue, engineer’s blue, French woad blue, three spires sky blue
a tapestry of nine hundred colours – our warp and weft,
Hugenot weavers, rainbow rolls of silk on Foleshill Road,
your name on a Cash’s label at the nape of your neck,
the Ska rhythms in your step, and here, at Coventry’s heart
a living gift that belongs to us all, filled with art, sound
and colour, peace and reconciliation made concrete,
my story and yours woven together, from hand to hand,  
lay down our threads of history and make here our city.

Our Cathedral, where we can see ourselves in a new light,
a building that seemed to say in quiet voice: I am
 the sacrifice, now build for the future.
Our Cathedral, where we see our city in a new light;
we are not the building, we are the light streaming through it,
still here and enduring, the years returning back to us,
we are the echoing sound of old and new, we are one.