issue 24 > light verse > timpane
A Slant on Life: Imperfections Through the Centuriesby John Timpane
(Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, January 1, 2002, on the announcement of the reopening of the Leaning Tower of Pisa)
Much like the Mona Lisa,
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Was famous but was looking worse for wear.
Its well-known inclination
Had led to trepidation
That it might be unsafe to go up there.
The tower's history
Began. The architect was . . . well . . . someone.
As straight, it got its tilt
Before they even got three stories done.
They had to halt construction
So they could wage destruction
On enemies like Florence in the wars.
It didn't go too well.
For Pisa, war was hell.
The tower? It remained half-built, of course.
They gathered to connive
To give the poor, unfinished tower its top.
It leaned south: compensate!
To make the tower straight
They leaned the other stories north, to stop
That all-too-famous tilt
And get the tower built.
Construction took 200 years or so.
A work of stone and love,
It staggered high above
The grand Piazza del Miracolo.
Banana-shaped, it came
To symbolize by name
The out-of-kilter, not quite right, askew;
Six centuries of lore
Have not produced a more
Italian, medieval thing to do.
And tourist after tourist
With steps of the unsurest
Climbed up the winding staircase to the flag
On top. The view was splendid.
But irony unintended:
What made the tower famous made it sag.
In sandy, mushy ground
The slant became unsound
By 13 feet southward (or 6 degrees).
Since 1990, no
One's been allowed to go
Upon the famous tilting galleries.
The lurch had grown so perilous
And worriers so querulous
That by town order Pisa's Tower was closed.
Then 14 experts came
To earn the expert name
And solve the lurching problem herein posed.
With counterweights well wired,
The brainiacs conspired
To right it - and they nearly made a mess.
At last, they hip-hurray'ed it:
The tower'd been persuaded
To lean some 40 centimeters less.
It's open now, and, freed
From Closed signs, tourists stampede
To stand (with angle of some five degrees)
Above mile after mile
Of Pisan roofs, and smile
In seeing what the listing traveler sees.
A moral of this story
You want?: peculiar glory
Attaches to imperfect things we do.
The Tower of Pisa's fame
Would not be quite the same
If all this time it stood up straight and true.
Our current age is great
At building towers straight
But faceless. So let fans of straightness rant:
The tower, like life, is charming,
Enticing, and disarming
For not its strict correctness, but its slant.
appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer