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Cento Thursday and ‘Ascension’

January 15, 2010

So I was busy stressing over our Old English! (yes, the exclamation mark is an official part of the module title and must be pronounced) exam last night and forgot that it was Cento Thursday. For which I apologise profusely, and hereby present you with the motley collection of doggerel churned up by the Generator this week – beginning with the following bizarre gem:

There is some corner of a foreign field
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed,
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings.

I can’t be the only person who’s sure this is obscene.

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to counter the last two weeks’ massive bias towards death and other depressing subjects with some (still melancholy, but still) fragments dealing with that other poetic staple: wuv.

A surprisingly touching quatrain:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
When roses to the moonlight burst apart,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart.

And another:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home;
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
And e’en the dearest, that I loved the best.

A sad distych:

I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope.

And another:

Have I forgot, my only love, to love thee,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth?

A nice little constellation of famous lines:

Because I love you more than I can say –
And yet in truth I think my love as rare
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
And treat those two impostors just the same –
Earth has not anything to show more fair
That carries weight and always weighs the same.

I’m not entirely sure what the last bit is referring to. Though if I had my analysis hat on I would say it’s a wordplay on the literal vs. metaphorical senses of ‘weigh’, with the first one an affectionate description (a la Sonnet 130) and the second one declaring that the speaker’s love is constant.

And finally, a poem constructed out of four quatrains which came out of different cycles but seemed to fit together strangely well. This one has a certain melancholy to it, a nostalgia for something once had and lost, or hovering just out of reach. I’ve christened it ‘Ascension’, for reasons explained afterwards.

Ascension

Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars
And sunset, and the colours of the earth

Was shining years ago. The light that now
(And, even then, I dare not let it languish)
And so the time-lag teases me with how,
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,

Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful;
And yet they too break hearts – O Presences!
Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,
Both nuns and mothers worship images;

For even daughters of the swan can share,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy;
Earth has not anything to show more fair
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Were this a real poem, I’d have pegged it as a complex but coherent meditation on Christ’s ascension. The imagery’s crazy consistent for something random: scars, a significant birth, a shining being (the ellipted subject of l.5 grammatically has to be ‘he’), presences, nuns (brides of Christ) and mothers (Mary possibly the most famous mother-figure ever) worshipping images, Despair powerless to destroy.

I really like this; there’s meaning in there, method in the madness. I also think it says something about the pervasiveness of the Christian mythos in Western poetry that random chance can throw out a poem with the full complement of standard images.

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