Where lovers lie

St Paul's Deptford
St Paul’s, Deptford

Where lovers lie

And so to Deptford
       to St Paul’s
where death lies buried
       in the empty grounds
where fresh-blown roses
       are washed in the dew
petals gone in a final gasp
       to dust

In the broken darkness
       the birds fly silently
from oak to ash to sycamore
       and strands of light
filter through the dying leaves

Here we remember
       her silken hair
her rosy lips
       the shape of her smile
the taste of her kiss
       her gentleness of voice

What lies here
       under the earth
is love and beauty
       held on a threshold
by the edge of the creek
       the ash of stardust
awaiting resurrection

Here lie the remains
       of sweet young lovers
laid bone to bone
       in everlasting embrace
in the darkness

while all around them
       the swirl of autumn light
the frail dust
       of day-to-day debris
piled high in the gutters
       and — long forgotten
the ghost of silenced voices
       never to be heard again

John Lyons

St Paul’s in Deptford is a Grade 1 Listed Building designed by the architect Thomas Archer, dating from 1730. It is one of the places of worship built following the 1711 Act for building new churches in London and its suburbs. These are generally known as the Queen Anne churches. The poet, John Betjeman, described St Paul’s as “a pearl at the heart of Deptford”, and it is indeed a remarkable and important example of English Italianate Baroque.

Thomas Archer was specifically influenced by two churches in the Historic Centre of Rome: the interior, by Francesco Borromini’s restyling of S. Agnese in Agone, Piazza Navona using Corinthian pillars, 1653 onwards, and the portico by the semi-circular porch of S. Maria della Pace, (which is just off the Piazza Navona) by Pietro da Cortona, constructed 1656-1661.

A note on Deptford to place St Paul’s in its context: The deep ford which gave Deptford its name crossed the River Ravensbourne at what is now Deptford Bridge. It was on the ancient road from London to Canterbury and Dover, and Deptford is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. One part of Deptford grew up here, beside the ford and the later bridge. The other part was the fishing village beside the Thames called Deptford Strand. There were fields between the two settlements until the nineteenth century.

In 1513 Henry VIII founded a dockyard at Deptford to build ships for the Royal Navy. In the eighteenth century a Victualling Yard was established alongside, where ships stores and provisions were assembled. The Dockyard closed in 1869.

After use as a cattle market and in other military and industrial capacities, the area is now being redeveloped for housing. The Victualling Yard remained until 1961. Its site is now occupied by the Pepys Estate. Samuel Pepys often visited the Dockyard when he was Clerk to the Navy Board, and his friend and fellow-diarist John Evelyn lived here, in the manor house called Sayes Court.

Till daylight comes

St Paul's
St Paul’s Church, Deptford

Till daylight comes

And so to Deptford to St Paul’s
           where death lies buried
in the empty grounds
           where fresh-blown roses
are washed in the dew
           petals gone as a gust of breath
Here in the broken darkness
           the birds fly silently
from oak to ash to sycamore
           and strands of light
filter through the dying leaves
           Here we remember her hair
her lips and the shape of her smile
           the taste of her kiss
the gentleness of her voice

What lies beneath the ground
           is love and beauty
held on a threshold
           by the water’s edge
ready to be launched
           into a new infinity
built of stardust
           Smoke and shadows rise up
from neighbouring houses
           where bone to bone
young lovers lie
           locked in sweet converse
frail dust
           frail autumn dust
caught in the swirl of light
            Here the dreaming flesh cries out
the deathless voice of all the world :
           out of my love
her heart will not stir

These stones to praise thee :
           tall and lovely tender she is
a fabrication built of autumn roses
           of words that hover
light as leaves in the silence
           silks and cashmere
against my aching skin
           the warmth of burning coals
the ebb and flow of the river
           that carries our days
down to the sea

Search not my lips love
           unbind my hands
rise up to my caress
           let us stretch our bones
till daylight comes