The Gargoyle Speaks
Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.
My eyes protrude, quite an eye opener,
set wide apart, away from each other
they behold – down the gross of my nose
past lips that are parted – grotesques which are those
whose foreshortened bodies grow heads from their toes.
They pass to and fro, avoiding another
with similar slit eye – no more a beholder
of beauty than a gargoyle thought uglier.
Actually, not a gargoyle at all, as the gurgling, gargling gargoyle was designed to throw water clear of the stonework below. These heads are grotesques.
What does that mean?
I’m not convinced they were designed to represent ugliness, to remind us of our own ugliness, or even the transience of beauty, if only because they’re not easily seen. If that was the intention, they’d have been placed more – to coin a phrase – in your face. Very few passers-by will have noticed these downward gazing people, intent as they seem to be on us.
Nor that these fellows were placed there apotropaically – to frighten away evil spirits. Their expressions are definitely not scary, let alone terrifying. Some grotesques have protruding tongues, bared teeth and angry brows, but the distinctive wide-eyed look here seems to be rather more curious than forbidding, bemused if not slightly surprised.
A face expressing such considerate emotions can hardly be linked to devils or demons.
Sometimes gargoyles and grotesques are deliberately humorous or even bawdy, as with misericords (another set of representations not readily visible) but I find the simple humanity of these concerned faces more subtle and thoughtful, as if they’ve seen something interesting that’s worthy of comment.
Their view of passing people would be strange: permanent transience, weird physiques, with head almost superimposed on feet, minimal legs, absent faces and hands virtually attached to shoulders… perhaps those old masons putting themselves in the gargoyles’ position, are inviting us to see ourselves as others might, and be, well, brought up short..
Having spent some time now studying and feeling attracted to this face, with its full sensitive lips and concentrated gaze, I can almost hear it speak.
And I’m left wondering, who is ugly and who is fair.
South Molton Church, photo by Sharon Bailey.