Ellen Mary Clerke: Irish Woman Poet

Ellen Mary Clerkeplaque (1840-1906) was born in Skibbereen and died in London. Her sister Agnes Mary was a leading astronomer and non-fiction author, and Ellen Mary was a polymath herself, writing popular science titles, poetry, translations from the Italian, and articles in German and Arabic. A devout Catholic, ‘THE BUILDING AND PINNACLE OF THE TEMPLE’ was published in 1902 in Carmina Mariana; an English anthology in verse in honour of or in relation to the Blessed Virgin Mary edited by Orby Shipley.

Not made with hands, its walls began to climb

From roots in Life’s foundations deeply set,

Far down amid primeval forms, where yet

Creation’s Finger seemed to grope in slime.
Yet not in vain passed those first-born of Time,

Since each some presage gave of structure met

In higher types, lest these the bond forget

That links Earth’s latest to the fore-world’s prime.

And living stone on living stone was laid,

In scale ascending ever, grade on grade,

To that which in its Maker’s eyes seemed good —

The Human Form : and in that shrine of thought,

By the long travail of the ages wrought,

The Temple of the Incarnation stood.
Through all the ages since the primal ray,

Herald of life, first smote the abysmal night

Of elemental Chaos, and the might

Of the Creative Spark informed the clay,
From worm to brute, from brute to man — its way

The Shaping Thought took upward, flight on flight.

By stages which Earth’s loftiest unite

Unto her least, made kin to such as they.

As living link, or prophecy, or type

Of purpose for fulfilment yet unripe,

Each has its niche in the supreme design ;

Converging to one Pinnacle, whereat

Sole stands Creation’s Masterpiece — and that

Which was through her — the Human made Divine.


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