“And he plays at stocks and shares, and he goes to the regatta…”

When I asked the owl on the north nave to contribute a poem to this project, I assumed from his mortarboard, scroll, and book that he’d hand me a pile of self-aggrandizing verse. Instead I got this shamefully loose translation of a pseudo-Ovidian poem written sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. I guess a gargoyle, like the occasional human, reserves the right to remain enigmatic.


Loudly, the Lombard lopes over the landscape, and stops;
Leery, he lights on the lushest and loveliest crops.
Frabjous he feels, for his fields are not fated to fail—
Then forth springs a spectacle strange and stupendous: a snail.
Cowed and confounded, he quivers and quavers and groans;
Witless, he whitens, as wonderment welters his bones.
Seizing his senses, he summons the sangfroid to say:
“Fie on a felon! My fortune is forfeit today!
No suchlike scoundrel has slithered or skulked here before.
Mark well his message: he musters to meet me in war.
Horns are his heralds; his shield makes his handiwork plain.
Shall I not spurn him? No—better, in sooth, to be slain.
What if I poke and provoke him? Perhaps I’ll prevail!
Minstrels and merchants will mimic my marvelous tale.
What am I saying? To fight with a fiend is uncouth!
Easier warfare abounds; it’s a world-weary truth.
Men will say ’madness!,’ maligning me under their breath:
’It’s not meet and fitting to seek an uncivilized death.’
What if my children should walk by this waelstow and see?
Faced with this fiend, they would fathom his fierceness and flee!
Still, they’d concede that this combat is clearly unfair:
Armed is this beast, but no buckler or broadsword I bear.”
Fretful, he freezes, as Fear grapples fiercely with Shame;
Shame is pugnacious, but Fear keeps his temperament tame.
Competent counsel can kindle a capable life;
Thus he petitions the heavens, and checks with his wife.
Promptly, the gods promise palms for the victor, and praise;
Nervous, he nurtures no trust in their numinous ways.
Thence to his wife; she is timorous, tearful, and true:
“Listen, you lunatic, what are you looking to do?
Scuttle your strife; let your spirit sit safe on a shelf.
Mind no more monsters—and muse over more than yourself.
Spurn not your children and spouse! Let your senselessness stall;
Ill-omened days will bring dolor and doom to us all.
Hector would crumble, and even Achilles would quail;
Fast would the firmness of Hercules fracture and fail!”
Roused, he retaliates: “Rein in your runaway fears!
We who dare Death are undaunted, dear woman, by tears.
Great be the gods, for they grant me a glorious name.
You and the family fare well! For I follow my fame.”
Forth to the field, where he faces the fiend in the fray;
Stalking around him, he steadies his stomach to say:
“Beast, you are feral, unnatural, immoral, and vague!
Monster of monsters, as mean as the mortalest plague,
Hold high your horns! I am horrified hardly at all.
Show me your shield! Into no stealthy shell shall you crawl.
Righteous, I raise my right hand! Now your ruthless reign stops!
Savagely sully no more my salubrious crops!”
Swinging and swatting and shaking and sticking his spear,
Panting, he presses; the palm of the victor is near.
For heroes who rate such renown, what reward is supplied?
The matter is lofty; their lawyers will likely decide.

(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tag.)

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