“Mais nous pouvons faire ce que nous voulons…”

Because I’m monstrously busy, I figure it’s time to bring back some of the more literal monsters featured on this blog from 2009 to 2012. Every few weeks, I challenged myself to wander up to the National Cathedral, choose from among its myriad gargoyles and grotesques, and write a poem inspired by what I’d seen.

With the kind permission of the cathedral, I collected the resulting poems, 53 in all, in a 138-page paperback that you can order online, buy at the cathedral gift shop, or purchase from me via email. (You can browse the first drafts of 51 of the poems here.)

Written in March 2011, “Apologia” was certainly one of the weirder poems, inspired as it was by the indifference of a snake to the shock and hopelessness of his prey. I almost put a poem in the mouth of the rabbit, but then I attended an exhibition of medieval reliquaries in Baltimore and jotted down this note: “snake an antiquarian with a fascination for the Anglo-Saxons, attempting to explain to the rabbit the weird, mythologized larger purpose for eating him.”

The resulting poem is full of New Old English, but my hope is that even people who don’t get a word of it will read it aloud and find it fall familiar on the tongue.

APOLOGIA

Heo cwaeð: “Seo naedre bepaehte me ond ic aett.”
—Gen. 3:13 (British Library MS Cotton Claudius B.iv)

We rede the Saxons sympathised with snakes:
On broach and bract they turve and intertwine
But buckle when modernity awakes;
All laud the wyrm who weaves a wulfish vine.

In retsel-books and wrixled words we find
The Saxons, ever lacertine, bestirred
To grammar-craft, whose duple pronouns bind;
So sundered lives were woven with a word.

(A scene: Some god-forsook Northumbrish monk,
Emboldened by an asp to double think,
Professes wit and unk and unker-unk,
But shrinks from git and ink and inker-ink.)

Now I, who raveled precedent relate,
Propose that we be litchwise intertraced;
The wulf and adder gleam on plink and plait,
Yet no immortal lepus ever graced

The lapidated latch of art divine,
So spurn your sallow scrafe, forget the sun.
For you the relic, I the blessid shrine;
In wit and work alike, we two are one.

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