“A garden full of food will be my final contribution to the world…”

Regular readers of this blog may recall that part of the Bishop’s Garden is devoted to Walafrid Strabo, the Carolingian abbot and teacher best known today for De Cultura Hortorum, a poem about his garden at Reichenau. Walafrid was only in his early thirties when he drowned in 849 while trying to cross the Loire. This goat, apparently a medievalist, looks out over the garden and remembers him yet.

WINTER CANTICLE

Seminibus quaedam tentamus holuscula, quaedam
Stirpibus antiquis priscae revocare iuventae.
— Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus

As frozen fingers blunt the thorn,
So Walafrid was barb’rous born

But to that noble island brought.
There Walafrid a vision wrought

With falt’ring eye, but steady feet;
Yet Walafrid would fast retreat

To fertile slopes that front the east.
To Walafrid, to tend the least

Of bitter twigs was sweetest toil,
So Walafrid provoked the soil

To summon worms, and banish moles.
Ere Walafrid the care of souls

Attended, first he fathered roots;
So Walafrid, when bade by brutes

To court, would wall his fruitful mind.
There Walafrid was wont to find

That princelets spire like grasping vines;
And Walafrid tracked fraying lines

Of maidens’ woolspun, wound like gourds;
And Walafrid, when fraught by swords

Saw iris weigh her windblown blade;
And Walafrid left kings afraid

That striplings choke the root, like sage;
And Walafrid foresaw how rage

In bitter plots like wormwood grows;
Then Walafrid perceived in rows

Of scrabbled verse the reek of rue,
Which Walafrid perused, and knew

A soul his faith and friendship scorned.
Then Walafrid in silence mourned

Their idyll dawns, with leaf-light strewn;
But Walafrid prayed God the moon

Shone ghostly, sometime, on his face.
Lest Walafrid despair of grace,

He starved the flame, like seeds to drought;
And Walafrid dreamed long about

The flood, the torrent, murm’ring death;
Then Walafrid would gasp for breath…

Now wait, and watch the snow-bed yield
To branch and bramble unconcealed

That ache for thirst, but must bow down
To seed that drinks, but does not drown

As sprigs and spindrels long unseen
Entwine the font, and blinding green

And purple flash from wing to tree
And sepals spread to greet the bee

And raindrops burst in thick bright beads
And sun alights on lazing weeds

Where column-bright, the lily grows
And raises morning o’er the rose

That marks the day when winter dies;
Then Walafrid, refreshed, will rise.


(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tab, or read the gargoyle FAQ.)

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