An Endless Cycle

A poem for the Solstice

Mishima (1840-42)
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Cold Moons of Winter

(The moons of December, January
and February were once known by our
forebears respectively as Long Night or
Cold Moon, Wolf or Storm Moon, and Snow Moon)

Cold moons of winter
The wolf and the storm
Ice crystals splinter
The long night is born
Grey shadows lope
Over the snow
Yet still there is hope
Though fires burn low.

Pete Crowther – 2006

On this day in 1883: The Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment, the first Permanent Force cavalry and infantry regiments of the Canadian Army, are formed.

Mercoledi Musicale

Trouthe – Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (c1343-1400) An anonymous painting from the early 17th century.

Yesterday’s final entry on the Golden Age of Mardi Gras included a reference to a short poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is one of his minor works and appears to have been sent to Sir Philip de la Vache, the son of a friend of his. Sir Philip was a well-placed and influential courtier during the reign of Richard II.  For a brief period between 1386 and 1389 he was out of favour and had lost his positions at court. It is thought that Chaucer wrote this homiletic ballad to encourage and comfort him.

And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede

It follows the seven-line ballade tradition six lines  with a refrain and includes an “Envoi” or address to the receiver – in this case Sir Philip.  Unusually the rhyme scheme is ABABBCC. There are several versions of the ballad including earlier ones without the “Envoi” stanza.

I had thought to post it in the original Middle English however that would be too pedantic even for me. So here it is in a translation by A. S. Kline from Poetry in Translation (PIT).

a ballad of good counsel
to Sir Philip de la Vache

Flee from the crowd, and dwell with truthfulness,
Let your thing suffice, though it be small;
Hoarding brings hatred, climbing fickleness,
Praise brings envy, and wealth blinds overall;
Savour no more than ‘tis good that you recall;
Rule well yourself, who others advise here;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

Trouble you not the crooked to redress,
Trusting in her who wobbles like a ball.
Well-being rests on scorning busyness;
Beware therefore of kicking at an awl;
Strive not like the crockery with the wall.
Control yourself, who would control your peer;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

That which is sent, receive in humbleness,
Wrestling for this world asks but a fall.
Here’s not your home, here is but wilderness.
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beast, out of your stall!
Know your country: look up, thank God for all;
Hold the high way, and let your spirit steer,
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.


Therefore, La Vache, cease your old wretchedness;
To the world cease now to be in thrall;
Cry Him mercy, that out of his high goodness
Made thee from naught, on Him especially call,
Draw unto Him, and pray in general
For yourself, and others, for heavenly cheer;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

But given this is Mercoledi (Wednesday) and I normally post something musical I thought the music of Chaucer’s language would suffice.

On this day in 1852: Great Ormond St Hospital for Sick Children, the first hospital in England to provide in-patient beds specifically for children, is founded in London.

Painterly Poetry and Dog(gerel)

The second visit to the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi was as delightful as the first. It was a chance to examine closer many of the paintings and related works and to read, more extensively, the fine explanations (in Italian and English) that put the works in context. An added feature was the burlesque verses in the style of Bronzino, again in both Italian and English. As a member of the Academia the painter was expected to excel in more than one of the arts. He was a writer of poetry – serious, burlesque, doggerel and limerick poetry all of which circulated among his friends and some of which was published. The exhibition included a display of his literary works including this page, at the right, from a book of his burlesque poems.

In the spirit of this really remarkable exhibition curators Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali – to whom be all honour and glory! – have included burlesque verses for many of the works created by Italian writer-poet-actor Roberto Piumini who is known for his modern takes on mythological subjects. They then were used as inspiration by Konrad Eisenbichler, a well-known teacher of Renaissance studies at the University of Toronto, to write English poems in the same spirit.

Here is the first of a selection I’ll post over the next few days gleaned from their book that accompanies the exhibition: Cerchi nei QUADRI/Hide AND Seek* along with the picture the verses accompany. (Remember a left click will enlarge both Bartolomeo and his pup!)

Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciaticchi
(1541-5) oil on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi

Bartolomeo, d’acccordo, tu leggevi
tranquillament quel tu libricino
pieno di cose sagge, e riflettevi
nel bel silenso del tu balconino.

Lui ha abbaiato, sì, ma solamente
perché voleva un po’ farsi notare,
perché, lo sai, è fedele e intelligente,
ma ha voglia di muoversi, di andare …

Tu invece l’hai sgridato, e lui è fuggito,
e adesso è lì, stordito di dolore,
tristissimo, nascosto, impaurito …
Su, dagli una carezza, buon signore!

Detail of sorrowful pup!

Bartolemo, I know you were
Constantly reading a small tome
(A learned text, if I don’t err)
On your fine balcony at home,

When all at once he barked because
He wished to tell you he was there
And that, perhaps, his restless paws
needed to move and go somewhere.

You scowled at him and told him: “Hush!”
So now he sits, forlorn and sad,
With ears down low, his face a blush.
Give him a pat and make him glad!

* Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store.

15 gennaio – San Macario il Vecchio

Job’s Wife

Back in July my friend Elizabeth wrote a startling and moving poem on the old Biblical tale of Job and the Trials visited on him (Left is one of Gustave Doré’s illustrations to the story). But she wrote it from the point of view of his wife; when I read her The Book of Job’s Wife I was stunned by the shear emotion of it. Perhaps knowing some of her background gave it special resonance but even without that it is an highly charged cry of a wounded soul whose lose has been ignored in the telling of the tale.

I was then a little surprised to find that almost three months later she received a comment on it from someone who, to my mind at least, is an ignorant, self-righteous coward. Ignorant in their lack of knowledge of the book they brandish in people’s faces, self-righteous in their judgment and too cowardly to sign their name. Fortunately Elizabeth was not at a loss for words in her response. The sad thing is that who ever it is that wrote the comment will probably never read it – people like that tend, in the tradition of cowards, to be hit and run.

Bravo my darling Elizabeth on a remarkable piece of work and a thoughtful and honest reply to someone who knows little of the true love of God.

14 ottobre – San Callisto Papa

"Quote… Unquote"

C. P. CavafyI was chatting with my friend Yannis from Athens earlier this week and the subject got around to poetry. He asked if I was familiar with the poetry of C. P. Cavafy. I had to admit complete ignorance, so in a vain effort to educate me he sent links to a few of Cavafy’s poems on a website devoted to the great Hellenic poet.

I was immediately captivated by the first poem he sent: Ithaka – Cavafy’s thoughts on our life journey as filtered through the travels of Odysseus to his homeland.

Many of his poems are homo-erotic in nature and must have scandalized the society of his time. Gray, is an evocation of long-ago love recalled.

While looking at a half-gray opal
I remembered two lovely gray eyes—
it must be twenty years ago I saw them…


We were lovers for a month.
Then he went away to work, I think in Smyrna,
and we never met again.

Those gray eyes will have lost their beauty—if he’s still alive;
that lovely face will have spoiled.

Memory, keep them the way they were.
And, memory, whatever of that love you can bring back,
whatever you can, bring back tonight.

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems.
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition.
Princeton University Press, 1992

I found myself remembering for a few moments a pair of eyes from my past. Thank you Yannis.

26 giugno – San Virgilio