And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

søndag 27. november 2016

November Sun - a poem by Derek Walcott


November draws to its close, and this has been a very busy November for me. I've done a lot of travelling, with some travelling still to come, and I find myself shoulder-deep in writing, hoping that I will be able to deliver a chapter draft before I leave Denmark for Christmas.

As always when I find myself too busy to write anything reflective or lengthy, I revert to one of my great passions in life, namely poetry, and this is a strategy I very often employ in November which usually happens to be far more hectic than I tend to envision at the beginning of the month.

In tune with the season, I give you "November Sun", written by Derek Walcott and printed in his poetry collection Castaway from 1965. The following text is taken from the 1969 edition by Jonathan Cape Ltd.


November Sun

In our treacherous
seasonless climate's
dry heat or muggy heat or rain
I'm measuring winter by this November sun's
diagonals shafting the window pane,
by my crouched shadow's
embryo on the morning study floor. Once

I wallowed in ignorance
of change, of windfall, snowfall,
skull-cracking heat, sea-threshing hurricane.
Now I'd prefer to know.
We age desiring
these icy intuitions
that seasons bring.

Look, they'll be pierced with knowledge
as with light! One boy, nine years in age
who vaults and tumbles, squirrelling
in his perpetual spring,
that ten-month, cautious totterer
my daughter.
I rarely let them in.

This is a sort of
death cell
where knowledge of our fatality is hidden.
I trace here, like a bent astronomer

the circle of the year,
nurturing its inner seasons'
mulch, drench, fire, ash.
In my son's
restless gaze
I am time-ridden,
the sedentary dial of his days.
Our shadows point one way,
even their brief shadows on the cropped morning grass.

I am pierced with this. I cannot look away.
Ah Christ, how cruelly the needles race!





tirsdag 22. november 2016

A lost legend about the finding of Saint Stephen's relics



The story of Stephen Protomartyr is well known in history of Christianity, and he is widely hailed as the first Christian to have died for his belief in Christ, as recorded in Acts 7:54-60. Since he was killed by stoning, the stone is his primary iconographical attribute. His death-day, the dies natalis, is celebrated on December 26.


The lapidation of Saint Stephen
Amiens - BM - ms. 0195, f.114v, pontifical, 13th century, France
(Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr)


However, there is also another feast dedicated to Stephen in the medieval sanctorale, and that is the feast marking the anniversary for the finding og his bones, the inventio. The story of this find dates back to the fifth century, and was - at least according to Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda Aurea - first recorded by the historian Gennadius of Massilia (d. c.496). The legend tells us that a priest in Jerusalem called Lucian had a vision in which Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3) tells him where to find the body of Saint Stephen, along with the body of himself, Nicodemus and others. Lucian hesitates, however, since visions are not always to be trusted. Gamaliel appears a second time, and tells Lucian how he will be able to distinguish between the bones in the burial place. Gamaliel points to four baskets, three in gold and one in silver, and says that Lucian will be able to distinguish between the relics by way of the content of these baskets. One was filled with red roses, two were filled with white roses, and the fourth basket was filled with Saffron. These baskets represented the coffins of the saint, and the red roses signified the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Lucian still hesitated. When the vision of Gamaliel occurs a third time, Lucian considered the vision to be true and followed the instructions he has been given. Jacobus de Voragine describes the finding itself accordingly:

As soon as they began to dig, the earth shook and a sweet odor spread, and its fragrance, by the merits of the saints, freed seventy sick people of their infirmities. The relics of the saints were transferred with great rejoicing to the church of Sion in Jerusalem, where Saint Stephen had functioned as arch-deacon, and were given honorable burial there. At that very hour a great raistorm relieved the drought.
- Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, translated by William Granger Ryan, Princeton University Press, 2012: 427.

This feast is celebrated on August 3 in the medieval calendars.



The funeral of Saint Stephen
Filippo Lippi, 1460, fresco, Prato
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)


The legend of Saint Stephen's relics was widely known in the Middle Ages, also in medieval Norway. But it seems that the form in which it was known is something of a mystery, at least if we are to judge from a letter sent by Pope Alexander to Archbishop Eystein Erlendsson, most likely in the 1160s. Alexander's letter touches on several questions that Eystein has sent him in a letter that is now either lost or forgotten in the Vatican libraries. One of the questions from Eystein concerns a legend of Saint Stephen, and Alexander replies as follows:

On the legend of the invention of blessed martyr Stephen, in the manner in which it belongs to you [Norwegians] we have not seen it, and we can [accordingly] neither approve nor disapprove of it according to the law. But we know that concerning this, that which is written about the vision of Lucian the priest is that which is read in the Roman Church.
- Eirik Vandvik, Latinske dokument til norsk historie, Det norske samlaget, 1959: 68 (my translation)

In other words, it seems that there existed a Norwegian version of the legend that is now lost, and it is impossible for us - as it was for Pope Alexander III - to say anything about how it differs from the legend as it was read in the Church. That there was a significant difference - however minute - is evident from the fact that Eystein found it necessary to ask specifically about it in a letter to the pope. Eystein was a well educated man, and is believed to have received his education at the monastery of Saint Victor in Paris. He had also been a royal chaplain at Konghelle (Kungälv in modern Sweden) before becoming an archbishop, so he was well familiar with the ecclesiastical rites, and therefore must have been well familiar with the official version of the invention Stephani.

Another lapidation
 Avignon - BM - ms. 0190, f.043, antiphonary, turn of the 13th century
(Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr)


I encountered this detail during my research on the cult of Saint Olaf for one of my thesis chapters, and it eventually dawned on me why this matter was so important to Archbishop Eystein. The finding of Saint Stephen is, as mentioned, celebrated on August 3, and this day is also hugely important for the archbishopric of Nidaros for one particular reason, namely the feast of the translatio of Saint Olaf, the patron saint of Norway whose bones were kept in the Nidaros Cathedral.

Olaf Haraldsson returned to Norway in 1030, trying to regain the kingdom of Norway which was then under Danish overlordship. The armies met at Stiklestad north of Trondheim and Olaf was killed on July 29. The year after, on August 03 1031, the body of Olaf was exhumed under the auspices of Bishop Grimkell, whom Olaf had brought to Norway as bishop of Nidaros. This was when Nidaros was a bishopric under the Hamburg-Bremen archdiocese. Olaf's body had been buried along the shore of the river Nid which flows through Trondheim after the battle, and was now placed in the Church of Saint Clement, which appears to have been found recently. The exhumation followed reports of miracles occurring at the site of Olaf's burial, and the translation of the body was in effect a pronouncement of sainthood, i.e. a canonization.



Saint Olaf's body is carried off the battlefield of Stiklestad
Illustration by Halfdan Egedius to the 1899 edition of Snorre Sturlusson's Heimskringla
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)


In the liturgy of the Nidaros archdiocese, the primary feast of August 03 was the inventio Stephani, with a commemoration for Saint Olaf to be given at Vesper and Matins. This is unsurprising given that the primary feast of a saint is normally the dies natalis, and accordingly the major feast of Saint Olaf in the Nidaros liturgy is celebrated July 29. However, even though the feast of Stephen is the primary feast, Olaf and Stephen are nonetheless connected in several ways in the cult of saints in Nidaros.

The clearest example of Olaf and Stephen being connected can be seen not only in the liturgy, but also in the fact that one of the oldest chapels of the new cathedral was dedicated jointly to Olaf and Stephen. We don't know the exact date of when the chapel was consecrated, but historian Øystein Ekroll points out that it was likely done in the course of the 1160s, with 1161 as a terminus post quem since this year the first chapel - situated just below the other one - was consecreated by Eystein.

Olaf is typologically connected to Stephen by virtue of him being the protomartyr of Norway. This is a theme that Theodoricus Monachus picks up in his chronicle Historia antiquitate Regum Norwagiensum, written around 1180. Here we read explicitly that Olaf followed the example of Stephen when dying in battle at Stiklestad. For reasons that are not clear, this image is not picked up in the later hagiograhy Passio Olavi which draws important material from Historia antiquitate. It was in other words, a well and widely known connection between Olaf and Stephen in medieval Norway.


Grimkell sprinkles the body of Saint Olaf
Detail from an altar front from Trondheim, c.1320


The connection between Olaf and Stephen are only found clearly expressed in twelfth-century sources, but the tantalizing question is: Was this connection known or present before the twelfth century? For instance, could it have been the deliberate choice of Bishop Grimkell to have Olaf's relics exhumed on the very day celebrated for the finding of Stephen's relics? And if so, could this had had an impact on the legend of inventio Stephani in medieval Norway? We do know that such a legend existed, but we don't know in what form, and we do not know whether it connects to Olaf in any way. But given the fact that they are both celebrated on the same day for the finding or movement of relics, it is tempting to think that there might have been a connection between them expressed in the now lost Norwegian legend concerning the finding of Stephen's relics. Of course, it is meaningless and fruitless to make any guesswork beyond this point, but it is at least an attractive idea.



Bibliography

Ekroll, Øystein, "Erkebiskop Eystein, Oktogonen i Kristkyrkja og Kristi Gravkyrkje i Jerusalem", printed in Eystein Erlendsson - Erkebiskop, politiker og kirkebygger, edited by Bjørlykke, Kristin, Ekroll, Øystein, Gran, Birgitta Syrstad, and Herman, Marianne, Nidaros domkirkes restaureringsarbeiders forlag, Trondheim, 2012

Gjerløw, Lilli, Ordo Nidrosiensis Ecclesae, Oslo, 1968

Gjerløw, Lilli, Antiphonarium Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae, Oslo, 1979


Jacbous de Voragine, The Golden Legend, translated by William Granger Ryan, Princeton University Press, 2012

Theodoricus Monachus, The Ancient History of the Norwegian Kings, translated and edited by David and Ian McDougall, The Viking Society for Northern Research, University College London, 1998
Vandvik, Eirik, Latinske dokument til norsk historie, Det norske samlaget, 1959



 For similar blogposts, see:

Carols on the lapidation

The possible finding of the Church of Saint Clement in Trondheim

Saint Olaf and the literature of Nidaros archbishopric

The Trondheim altar front

Theodoricus Monk and the European tradition


tirsdag 15. november 2016

The church containing Olaf Haraldsson's first shrine has probably been found



This is pretty exciting. For quite some time there has been an ongoing archaeological excavation in Trondheim, north of the public library in the city centre. Excavations began as a routine check of the area due to plans for a new building on the site. A few days ago, the main city newspaper of Trondheim, Adresseavisa, issued a video report from the dig where they interviewed project leader Anna Petersén. The archaeologists have found a graveyard and the remains of a church altar, most likely from the early part of the eleventh century. The preliminary conclusion is that this is the Church of Saint Clement, and this is where the excitement really kicks in - at least for me.

The Church of Saint Clement was namely the first church in which the body of Olaf Haraldsson was placed after it was exhumed on August 3, 1031. The exhumation was commissioned by Grimkell, an Englishman who was the bishop of Trondheim and who had followed Olaf Haraldsson to Norway. According to skaldic poems written within twelve years of the exhumation, the hairs and nails on the dead king were seen to have continued to grow in death. This, together reports of healings performed on the site, was seen as a sign of Olaf's holiness, and Grimkell declared Olaf to be a saint and had the body translated to the Church of Saint Clement. This was at a point in history when bishops had the authority to proclaim sainthood for dead people. Olaf's body was enshrined in the church and this shrine soon became a site of pilgrimage, and both the enshrinement and the pilgrims are attested to by skaldic poems written before 1043, namely Glælognskvida (c.1032) by Thorarin Loftunga and Erfidrápa (c.1042) by Sigvat Tordsson. A few decades later, the body of Saint Olaf was later moved to the Church of Christ which was built on the site where Olaf was belived to have been buried before his enshrinement in the Church of Saint Clement. The new church, situated where the current cathedral of Trondheim is placed, was commissioned by Olaf Kyrre (ruled 1067-93).

It has long been speculated about where the Church of Saint Clement was to be found, and until the current find it was believed to be somewhere else. Naturally, one always has to be cautious when making claims about the identity of medieval ruins, but here there is a strong likelihood that the identification is correct.

A video and a description of the find in English can be found here:

http://www.heritagedaily.com/2016/11/archaeologists-in-norway-church-and-altar-of-viking-king-olav-haraldsson/113227



Bishop Grimkell washes the exhumed body of Olaf Haraldsson
Detail from an altar front, Trondheim, early 14th century


A few final remarks to those of you who have by now read the article:


- The remark that the church was "a wooden stave church" is a pleonasm. All stave churches were made of timber.

- That the find gives credibility to saga accounts is less important than one might think. Snorri Sturlusson is not the first to have written about this, and his sources were in fact the two skaldic poems mentioned above. That these poems, composed so close to the events themselves and known through written records that Snorri relied on, were right about the translation and the enshrinement should not surprise anyone.

- That Olaf was "declared a saint by popular acclaim" might be something Snorri claims, but this is very unlikely to be true. There might have been some knowledge of the Christian concept of sanctity among the Norwegian Christians, but for there to have been commissioned an exhumation of the body, and for the king to have been declared a saint, it was necessary to have episcopal authority at the very least. Nothing of the story as it is found in the early skaldic poems suggests that the first cult of Olaf was a popular cult that was later embraced by the church. On the contrary, the accounts present the story as something entirely orchestrated by the ecclesiastical power, which at that time was Bishop Grimkell. The people did probably embrace the cult quickly, but it was due to Grimkell it all started.






tirsdag 8. november 2016

Quietly marking the beginning of winter with a poem by Geoffrey Hill


The first snow arrived in Odense yesterday afternoon, and today I woke up to a ground dotted with fragile patches of snow that helped refract the light of a grey sun enough to take away some of the morning darkness. This first snow will not lie long, and it has already begun to recede. Snow is not as common here in Denmark as it is in my native Norway, and it is at this point unusually cold. I spoke to my local greengrocer about this temperature earlier today, and he then pointed out to me that this cold came from Norway. I took responsibility, of course.

The first day of snow and the first day of winter finds me shoulder-deep in thesis work, alternating between intense bouts of writing and slightly less intense bouts of reading. As a consequence, there is not much energy left for blogging, so I will mark the beginning of the winter very quietly, with one of the early poems by Geoffrey Hill.


In memory of Jane Fraser

When snow like sheep lay in the fold
And winds went begging at each door,
And the far hills were blue with cold,
And a cold shroud lay on the moor,

She kept the siege. And every day
We watched her brooding over death
Like a strong bird above its prey.
The room filled with the kettle's breath.

Damp curtains glued against the pane
Sealed time away. Her body froze
As if to freeze us all, and chain
Creation to a stunned repose.

She died before the world could stir.
In March the ice unloosed the brook
And water ruffled the sun's hair.
Dead cones upon the alder shook.

- Published in For the Unfallen (1959)

mandag 31. oktober 2016

Death and the fiddle - Böcklin, Tartini and a Norwegian traditional


I entertain a deep fascination with the many different ways in which humans meditate on their own relationship to death and mortality, and how they reflect on their own transience in the face of that immense entity of deafening permanence and stability: death. Because even within religious traditions where death is itself transitory, such as Christianity, there has long been a conscience that death marks something definite and, even if it should prove to be only a transition, that death is an endpoint that no one escapes.

The engagement with transient man versus the permanent erasure of death has been the subject of many great cultural expressions. Medieval imagery abounds with meditations on death, resulting in such gloriously morbid concepts and the dance macabre, or the transi tombs which display both the intact body and the rotting corpse in stone for all to see. These are of course connected to the idea of memento mori, that constant reminder of mortality that permeates so much of Christian culture. The memento mori furthermore highlights the anxiety about memory and death, which is a cornerstone in the logic behind impressive funerary monuments. One of the most beautiful meditations on the memorial aspect can be found in Sir Thomas Browne's Urne Buriall from 1658.

One of my favourite modern expressions of the relationship between death and man is the painting shown below, the self portrait with death playing the fiddle in the background by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin. I particularly like the way Böcklin has rendered his own face, caught in the realization that Death is standing behind him, playing one-knows-not-what tune, possibly as a reminder of the painter's own mortality.


Self portrait with death as a fiddler
Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
(Courtesy of Wikiart)


Böcklin's choice of giving Death the fiddle as an interesting one, and although I do not know what thought lies behind that choice, it is worth noting that the fiddle have at times been regarded as an instrument proper of the Devil. One of the most famous stories which connect the fiddle and the Devil is that of the Devil's Trill Sonata by Guiseppe Tartini (1692-1770). The story, given to us by Tartini himself, tells us that the composer had a dream in which the Devil was playing the fiddle, and upon waking Tartini tried to reproduce the music, which he stated "was but a shadow of what he had witnessed in the dream", to quote Britannica.


Guiseppe Tartini, The Devil's Trill Sonata (Violin Sonata in G minor)



Another musical piece which connects the Devil and the fiddle is the Norwegian traditional known as Fanitullen (the Devil's song, "Fan" or "Fanden" meaning "The Devil" in Norwegian and Danish). The piece is known from the nineteenth century, and was the subject of several reworkings. The story behind the song was written down, and edited, by Jørgen Moe (1813-82), a Norwegian priest and collector of fairy tales. According to the legend, the song had been played by the Devil at a wedding in Hallingdal in Norway. The song was played during a fistfight at the wedding, and the Devil played while he sat on a barrel of beer.

Fanitullen, Norwegian traditional
Performed by Christian Borlaug


As a final installment in this series of death and music, I also want to point to the song Self Portrait by Rainbow from their debut album in 1975. Here there is no fiddle, but the theme of personal damnation and its title brings us back to the opening of the blogpost which began with the self portrait with Death as a fiddler.

Self Portrait, Rainbow
From the album Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (1975)



Similar blogposts


Dance Macabre

Three Meditations on Mortality

Et in Arcadia ego

The Vanity topos

torsdag 27. oktober 2016

Musical Mirror Images - the office of Saint Louis of France and Roman de Fauvel




In 1297, Pope Boniface VIII canonized King Louis IX of France (1214-70). This canonization was the result of an investigation into testimonials by witnesses and consultation of the various biographies that were written in order to testify to the dead king's holiness. Ever since Louis' death from dysentery in Tunis at the beginning of the Eighth Crusade, several interest groups had begun lobbying for a canonization of the king. Among the most important of these groups were the French king Philippe IV Le Bel (Louis' grandson), the Dominican Order, and the Franciscan Order. For the latter two groups, Louis IX had been an important patron, and he was also an ideal Christian king.

As mentioned, in order to provide solid, written evidence for Louis' holiness, an unusual large number of hagiographical accounts were produced prior to the canonization. When the pope had affirmed that Louis was indeed among God's holy, there were also composed liturgical offices in honour for his feast-day, his dies natalis, which was the day of his death, August 25.

Since Louis the king and saint was of great importance to several groups, there were composed many offices - some of which were merely different versions of the same basic template - and the Dominicans, the Franciscans and the Cistercians all had their own offices. To the mendicant orders, Louis was the ideal king to which all other French kings should be measured, and their textual production centred on Louis should also be understood in this regard, namely as attempts to influence the behaviour of the current king.

Also to Philippe IV his grandfather appeared as an ideal king, and also as an important facet in the mythology of French kingship which by that time was already expansive and complex, drawing on elements from Merovingian and Carolingian history as well as from the Capetian dynasty. In other words, Louis IX was an important pillar by which Philippe IV's own reign was supported.

After Philippe IV's death in 1314, however, the French monarchy descended into a state of chaos due to a series of short-lived young kings. Philippe IV was succeeded by Louis X who reigned for two years until his death. Louis was succeeded by Jean I who was born November 5 1316 and died five days later. Jean I was then succeeded by Philippe V, the second son of Philippe IV, who reigned until 1322.

In the midst of this turbulent period, there was composed a poem by Gerard du Bus which addressed the troubles of the French monarchy through an allegory. The poem is called Roman de Fauvel, and chronicles the rise of the donkey Fauvel from his insurrection against his master to his accession to the French throne. Fauvel marries one of Dame Fortune's handmaidens, Vainglory, and together they populate the garden of France with their unholy offspring, and it is revealed that Fauvel is indeed Antichrist.

Fauvel approaches Vainglory's bed
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds francaise 146, f.34, 1316
Courtesy of Wikimedia


The poem is an attack on corruption and abuses by political and religious men, and serves as a warning for the young king - presumably Philippe V - of the importance of a strong, virtuous ruler, and the necessity of not allowing little Fauvels to rise to positions of power. The poem survives in a manuscript from 1316, BnF fr.146, so it was composed in the midst of a very uncertain period of the French monarchy.

In BnF fr.146, the narrative of the Roman de Fauvel is interspersed with musically annotated songs, providing another dimension for its performance. And we should assume that the Roman has indeed been performed for the young king Philippe. One of the aspects of the Roman de Fauvel is that here, too, good kings are presented to the young king as ideals worthy of emulation. Unsurprisingly, Gerard du Bus makes use of Philippe V's own great-grandfather Louis IX as one such ideal king. As a consequence, despite the darkly satirical mode of Roman de Fauvel, also here we find Saint Louis serving as an edifying model, similar to one of his purposes in the hagiographic corpus (which naturally includes the liturgical offices).

In this way, the offices for Saint Louis and the Roman de Fauvel function as a kind of mirror images to each other. They both share a purpose, namely to shape the future of the French monarchy. Of course, this is not a purpose they both share to the same extent. The liturgical offices had as their primary goal to honour the saint in Heaven so that he would act as their ambassador in the court of God. Consequently, the liturgical attempt to shape the future of the monarchy was less direct in that it addressed the saint and exhorted him for divine intervention.

The Roman de Fauvel, on the other hand, is addressed directly to the king and seeks to influence its audience by holding forth a story of a possible future disaster - in modern parlance we might call it dystopian. Therefore, the similarities between the Roman and the offices should not be overemphasized or simplified, but in the end they both apply the figure of the holy king Louis as a key figure in their respective narratives, and they both seek to influence worldly events through the performance of their texts.


Louis IX, initial from the office Ludovicus decus
Paris - Bibl. Mazarine - ms. 0344, f.242, breviary, Use of Paris, c.1318
(Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr)




Ludovicus Rex: Extraits Des Offices de l'Adoration de Saint Louis
Choeur Grégorien de Paris, Jean-Noël Haddad, 1997



Roman de Fauvel, directed by Joël Cohen
Performed by Boston Camerata and Project Ars Nova


Bibliography
https://global.britannica.com/topic/Roman-de-Fauvel

Dillon, Emma, Medieval Music-making and the 'Roman de Fauvel', Cambridge University Press, 2002

Gaposchkin, Cecilia, The Making of Saint Louis, Cornell University Press, 2010

Gervais du Bus, Le Roman de Fauvel, edited by Arthur Långfors, Paris, 1968








søndag 23. oktober 2016

Modern echoes of Ovid - from the works of Derek Walcott and Geoffrey Hill


I'm currently reading a collection of essays by Thea Selliaas Thorsen, classical scholar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Norway's foremost translator of Ovid. The collection contains fifty very short essays on selected pieces from literary history, with an emphasis on the classical heritage. Its title, Kom ikke uten begjær (come not without desire), is taken from an epigram by Paul Valéry. This book is an illuminating and entertaining collection, and to me as a medievalist not as well-versed in the classical literature, it is highly educational. And it also serves as a good reminder of how resilient past texts are even into our modern age.

This latter issue is something that has been on my mind ever since I took a course in Latin poetry in 2012, a course taught by Thea. During that term I started to reflect on the numerous allusions to Ovid - and other classical poets - in works by modern poets whom I had discovered at university and was by then consuming avidly. By reading Thea's essays, a great number of which feature Ovid in some capacity, I was again brought back to this topic, and I was reminded that I have wanted to write something about this for years now. So when I serendipitously opened one of Derek Walcott's early collections and found a sequence of poems titled Metamorphoses after Ovid's magnum opus, I wanted to share it here. In addition to an exctract from Walcott's sequence, I also present an extract from the similarly-titled sequence of poems by Geoffrey Hill.


From Metamorphoses, by Derek Walcott

I - Moon

Resisting poetry I am becoming a poem.
O lolling Orphic head silently howling,
my own head rises from its surf of cloud.

Slowly my body grows a single sound,
slowly I become
a bell,
an oval, disembodied vowel,
I grow, an owl,
an aureole, white fire.

I watch the moonstruck image of the moon burn,
a candle mesmerized by its own aura,
and turn
my hot congealing face, towards that forked mountain
which wedges the drowned singer.

That frozen glare,
that morsured, classic petrification.
Haven't you sworn off such poems for this year,
and no more on the moon?

Why are you gripped by demons of inaction?
Whose silence shrieks so soon?

- From The Gulf, 1969




Apollo and Daphne, from Ovid's Metamorphoses
Antonio del Pollaiolo, probably 1470-80, National Gallery, London
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)



From Metamorphoses, by Geoffrey Hill

3 The re-birth of Venus

And now the sea-scoured temptress, having failed
To scoop out of horizons what birds herald:
Tufts of fresh soil: shakes off an entire sea,
Though not as the dove, harried. Rather, she,

A shark hurricaned to estuary-water,
(The lesser hunter almost by a greater
Devoured) but unflurried, lies, approaches all
Stayers, and searches of the fanged pool.


4 Drake's drum

Those varied dead. The undiscerning sea
Shelves and dissolves their flesh as it burns spray

Who do not shriek like gulls nor dolphins ride
Crouched under spume to England's erect side

Though there a soaked sleeve lolls or shoe patrols
Tide-padded thick shallows, squats in choked pools

Neither our designed wreaths nor used words
Sink to their melted ears and melted hearts.

- From For the Unfallen, 1959