William Walker, the Winchester Diver,
who shored up the Cathedral from 1905-1912
They watch his peculiar
vestments of descent, thick armour
against the deep, two hundred pounds
in weight. At last only his white hands
are showing. Heís winched into the trench.
The cathedralís foundation is
of rotting beech logs, soft as a sponge.
Godís tower cracks, threatens to up-end
and slide into the Itchen. So they dig down
through marl and peat, beside the retrochoir
until filthy water fills the
And William Walker goes down, easing
timbers out beneath the buttresses:
stuffing, stacking, slashing cement bags;
working by touch in the slurry darkness,
six hours a day, six years
until itís done.
His air-tube reaches to the world of light
where quiristers keep their endangered
offices in sweet harmony. And one who kneels
or lifts his eyes to the vulnerable roof
may whisper a momentary prayer
for the diver and his daily incarnation
into the hostile hole of worms and leeches:
that all this shall not fall. Amen, amen;
sing the precarious galleries of the air.
Video (from Poets and Players, Whitworth
Art Gallery, Manchester):
'Descent' - the Winchester Diver
More poems by Andrew Rudd