Berlinghieri, St. Francis Altarpiece (c. 1235)
Tempera on wood, Church of San Francesco, Pescia.


St. Francis Preaching to the Birds 


by Beth Houston





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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds

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—Berlinghieri, c. 1235

That those two pupils behind him might earn
Byzantine haloes, St. Francis preaches.
Their hands and faces leak learned concern:
The birds, alert, dark, large — Hitchcock screeches
Eerily hushed — perch like some strange shadow,
Watch like the unconscious, wait like death....Still,
Francis points out, their bird-brain may not “know,”
But they, still capable of flight, know hill
And flowered vale’s compressed formality
Like a fountain, or Christmas tree in snow,
Stylized walled tower of nested city,
Secret haunts their Creator’s breezes blow —
This closed book in my hand spells this design:
Stigmata, blood — they drink this surest sign.

Note: "St. Francis Preaching to the Birds" is the left
center detail from the St. Francis Altarpiece.  

 Cloister Graveyard in the Snow


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