Upon His Majesty’s Repairing of Paul’s

Original Text: 
Poems, &c. Written Upon Several Occasions, And To Several Persons. By Edmond Waller, Esq;. Never till now Corrected and Published with the approbation of the Author. London: Henry Herringman, 1664. University of Toronto Library B-10 00518
2Scarce suffer'd more upon Melita's shore,
3Than did his Temple in the sea of Time
4(Our Nation's Glory, and our Nation's Crime)
6Mov'd with the ruin of so brave a pile,
7This work of cost and piety begun
9Who all that came within the ample thought
10Of his wise Sire, has to perfection brought.
12Into fair figures from a confus'd heap:
14A power like that of Harmony in sound.
16Cities their Lutes, and Subjects' hearts their Strings;
19So all our minds with his conspire to grace
22Seem'd to confine and fetter him again;
23Which the glad Saint shakes off at his command,
25So joys the aged Oak when we divide
28Of some new structure, to have borne her name,
29Two distant Virtues in one act we find
30The Modesty, and Greatness of his mind;
31Which not content to be above the rage
32And injury of all-impairing age,
33In its own worth secure, doth higher climb,
34And things half swallow'd from the jaws of Time
36To frame no new Church, but the Old refine,
40And War brings ruin, where it should amend:
42A welcome sovereignty in rudest minds.
44Amongst the works of Solomon excell'd
45His ships and building, emblems of a heart
46Large both in Magnanimity and Art:
47While the propitious heavens this work attend,
48Long-wanted showers they forget to send;
49As if they meant to make it understood
52Already finish'd, setting shall admire
53How private bounty could so far extend:
55So proud a fabric to devotion given,
56At once it threat'neth and obligeth heaven.
58Neptune, with him that rules the sacred day,
59Could no such structure raise, Troy wall'd so high,
61    Glad, though amazed, are our neighbour Kings
62To see such pow'r employ'd in peaceful things.
-------- Sic gratia Regum
Pieriis tentata modis. Horat.


1] The St. Paul's of this poem is the ."Old St. Paul's,." the medieval cathedral church of the city of London, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and replaced by the present building. Completed in 1314, it had fallen into serious disrepair three hundred years later. James VI and I appointed a commission to make recommendations for repairs in 1620, but little was done until 1633, when a new commission, spurred on by William Laud, Bishop of London (soon to become Archbishop of Canterbury), embarked on a national fundraising exercise and engaged the architect Inigo Jones to plan renovations. The choir and the east end of the old building were repaired, and Jones then turned his attention to west end. He designed a massive neo-classical portico, to be paid for by Charles I, which on completion would house statues of Charles and his father to commemorate their interest in this project. Many small houses, shops, and sheds in the immediate environs of the cathedral had to be demolished to enable scaffolding to be erected, and there were persistent difficulties with the expropriation arrangements. A more significant obstacle was the ancient church of St. Gregory, which stood right against the southwest corner of the cathedral. Jones's design could not be executed until this building was removed, but the parishioners had no intention of allowing this to happen. After repeated royal orders for its removal, the church was partially demolished in 1638. The renovation of St. Paul's was an important component in Laud's campaign to strengthen the Church of England and its bishops. Earnest Puritans who wanted to abolish episcopacy would have preferred to pull the cathedral down. Waller's poem, though not obviously argumentative, thus has political objectives: to support Church and King against religious zealots, and to discount local objectors like the people of St. Gregory's Waller's poem was not printed until 1645, but it certainly circulated in manuscript before then, since Denham refers to it in his Cooper's Hill (1642). It was written when repairs on the choir were completed (ll. 51-52), and it may be linked to the controversial demolition of St. Gregory's (ll. 25-26). It was probably written in 1638. As St. Paul was on his way to Rome as a prisoner, his ship was severely damaged in a storm and finally ran aground on Melita (Malta); ."the hinder part [here equivalent to the west end of the cathedral] was broken with the violence of the waves." (Acts 27: 41). Back to Line
5] first Monarch of this happy Isle. James VI of Scotland and I of England, the first monarch to unite the crowns of Scotland and England, which together form the island of Great Britain. Back to Line
8] his glorious Son: Charles I of Scotland and of England. Back to Line
11] Amphion: in classical mythology, Amphion, the son of Jupiter and a mortal mother, was so skillful a player on the lyre that his music caused the stones to rise up and form the walls of Thebes. This story was understood in classical times as an allegory of the power of poetry to persuade and civilize; the stones represent the quarrelsome and obstructive Thebans, who had to be brought into harmony before they could take steps to secure their city. In likening Charles I to Amphion, Waller is recognizing without saying so that the renovation of the cathedral was a controversial matter. Back to Line
13] his art of Regiments: the skill with which he governs. Back to Line
15] antique Minstrels: Amphion and Orpheus, whose ability to charm wild beasts and trees was given a similar allegorical meaning. Back to Line
17] strook: obsolete form of ."struck.." Back to Line
18] Consent of motion: agreement to do certain things. breath: i.e., song (the people are moved by the harmonizing power of music to do what the singer is recommending). Back to Line
20] The Gentiles' great Apostle: St. Paul. Back to Line
21] State-obscuring: obscuring the stateliness (of the cathedral). sheds: small houses and shops in the churchyard, demolished at this time. Back to Line
24] Viper: another incident from St. Paul's shipwreck; see Acts 28: 3-5. Back to Line
26] his injur'd side: the north wall of St. Gregory's church constituted part of the south wall of St. Paul's at the west end. Jones and his supporters claimed the church was a lean-to structure that depended on the cathedral for support (the idea behind Waller's image of the oak and the parasitic ivy), but the people of St. Gregory's claimed, apparently with some truth, that their church predated the cathedral. Back to Line
27] Some people proposed demolishing the old cathedral and building a new one; Waller here finds grounds for praise in the decision to renovate the existing building: Charles has rejected the idea of making himself famous as the builder of a new cathedral. His mind rises above the destructive effects of the passage of time, enabling him to rescue things that are already partially destroyed by time. Back to Line
35] Reduce: lead back. Charles's renovation of the cathedral building is analogous to his policy for the Church of England: to renew and improve the existing institution, not demolish it to make a new one (an implicit rebuke to the Puritans). Back to Line
37] Spouse-like: the King was Supreme Head of the Church of England, which is here figured as his spouse. Back to Line
38] hand: force. Back to Line
39] doubtful reason: rational arguments that may or may not persuade. Back to Line
41] beauty: the beauty of holiness. Back to Line
43] Sheba's wond'ring Queen: I Kings 10: 1-12; the building was Solomon's temple. Back to Line
50] vital: that keeps us alive. Back to Line
51] Quire: obsolete alternative spelling of ."choir,." here referring to the eastern end of the building. Back to Line
54] the King has ordered the entire renovation, but has paid for the western end personally. Back to Line
57] Laomedon: in classical mythology, a king of Troy who built the walls of the city with the assistance of the gods Neptune (god of the sea) and Apollo (god of the sun). Back to Line
60] Atrides: sons of Atreus, a designation given by Homer to Agamemnon and Menelaus, leaders of the Greek forces that destroyed Troy at the end of the Trojan War. forc'd the sky: attacked heaven itself. Back to Line
63] list: wish. Back to Line
64] The concluding quotation is from Horace, The Art of Poetry, lines 404-05: "The favour of kings has been won by the methods of the Muses [i.e., by poems]." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
John D. Baird
RPO Edition: