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

mandag 1. august 2011

York Sonnets

During my stay in Britain I nourished my poetic inclinations in many ways, both by reading and writing poetry, but also by learning and discovering facts, items or landscapes that at some point have inspired me to write. Below you will find a selection of sonnets written in response to some of my impressions and experiences in York whose seminal origin is found in my many excursions throughout the city.

Songs for Lute and Psaltery

I) The Rites of Spring

I come with songs for lute and psaltery
To waken passions still in wintry sleep,
To lure with ruses of my minstrelsy
The love now hidden in the chambers deep,
Which jealous hearts so niggardly will keep
For Self's consumption. So, with music's power
I play my ditties till the world will weep
For having lost, through stubbornness, the hours
Spent all alone. As when the vernal showers
Are summoning the flowers with their drum
And bid the crocus raise its purple towers,
Thus will the passions cast their chains and come,
Prepared for love, when I with good intent
Create sweet music with my instruments.

II) St. Mary's Abbey, York

Tacit the ruins stand, veiled in the sun;
The squirrel hides beneath the pigeon's tree;
Petrified angel, now your duty's done,
Cast off your rod of office, dance with me!
Fair Lady Blackbird, come, I beg of thee,
Lend me thy voice, sing us a madrigal
Accompanied by lute and psaltery
So that our friend Vertumnus heeds the call.
Now list! such happy tunes! Our festival
Commences here among these sculpted stones,
Mementos of a long past love whose fall
Was caused by sword and fire. Let us atone
For crimes against this love of bygone ages
By praising it in these our vernal rages!

III) The Devil's Dance

I roam the streets, a player of my tune,
To coax shy history into my game
Of love, of love-knots and the secret runes
Which lovers send, a lover's coded name.
These winding streets are spokes tied to the frame
Of city walls and rivers, songs enhance
The sense of history man tries to tame,
And history averting keen men's glance.
There on the corner see a devil dance
To fiddles, not to lute or psaltery,
Such mundane tunes to which the sullen prance
When minds diverge from mundane monodies.
Come to our song and stand not idly by;
He only lives who loves and will not die.

IV) Hymns to the Father

Our Father made this earth for man a home
And man seeks to requite His charity;
With songs for lute and psaltery I come
To celebrate my God with piety.
So fill the churches with the melody
Of praise that brings us closer to the Lord,
Be it the trumpet's stern sonority
Where Olaf stands on guard with axe and sword;
Be it St. Martin's Church beside the ford
Or houses for the Holy Trinity
Where choirs emulate the sacred chords
Of angels, and with lute and psaltery
Will we rejoice in harmony to praise
Our Maker in these sweetest vernal lays.
- June 14 - July 20 2011

Let thickest mists in envy master here,
- O that no day would ever more appear, Lady Mary Wroth

Guardian of the Faith

Flamboyantly adorned the vigilant saint
Stares with sullen eyes into the mist.
For centuries he has maintained his tryst
And guarded it against the shadowy taint
Of mundane mist whose whispering complaint
Perennially haunts him. He resists
The envious coaxing it will not desist,
Forged lamentation in a repeated strain.

The mist that leads astray good men on earth
And women too, faith's umbrage, gathers here
In envy of this temple where God's words
Direct the souls of men. The dense, cold air
Coils up the pinnacles like phantom birds
And reigns but the exterior, to its despair.
- June 06 2011

Eaters of Light

On the tympanum of St. Mary's Abbey, York, now at Yorkshire Museum

Mnemonic monsters, beasts of man-made Hell,
Greet the believers at the entrance-door,
And when the sun hangs high at vesper-bell
They stare at us, far darker than before;
They seem to eat the light, like, on the floor
Of their stone-world, a man-like soul is chained
And fed live beasts, that there, for evermore,
Will he be punished, writhing in his pains.
Dear Lord, what does this cure, what are the gains
Your servants will achieve, what remedy
Can here be sought to heal the world? In vain
They try to fight the sin of gluttony
By carving out this mirror of their minds
To tell their thoughts are forged by devil-kind.
- May 25 2011

That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
- Ephesians 4:22-24


Conceived during Evensong after a reading from Paul's epistle to the Ephesians.

I cursed the name of God and turned my back
Against the cross to taunt Him hanging there,
Then steered my course to find a selvage track
To vanish from God's sight and disappear.

The track was toilsome and the skies unclear,
The shadows of the world led me astray;
I cried "you are but shadows!" but could hear
Their vicious laughter just beyond the way.

So at the end of this my longest day,
Entombed in darkness of my own deceit,
I faced the heavens and began to pray
Cursing my errant mind and wayward feet,

Then from without the darkness heard Him say:
Son, I have walked with you along your way.
- York, February 06-18 2011


Songs for Lute and Psaltery

Vertumnus: Roman god of seasons.

Was caused by sword and fire: St. Mary's Abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-41)

(...) and the secret runes: in Medieval times it was not uncommon to write love letters in runes on sticks and bones and send them to sweethearts during the church service. I don't know if this was performed in Britain as well as in Norway, but it wouldn't surprise me.

(...) the trumpet's stern sonority: the wooden angel in the picture is one of four such carvings in St. Olave's Church

Guardian of the Faith

Flamboyantly adorned: the figure in question is the one in the picture, and as can be seen there is nothing flamboyant about him. The choice of word puns on the architectural style called Flamboyant Gothic evolved from the 14th century and onwards, a style marked by elaborate decorations. This carving is situated on the western front which was finished c. 1350.

Eaters of Light

Mnemonic monsters: carvings such as the tympanum in question served as education for the illiterate. 

man-made hell:  the hell of the Medieval mind was a place of elaborately contrived tortures based on visionary literature, such as Tundal's vision and the Divine Comedy (although the vision in the latter example is a fictional construct). Hell in the Christian sense appears for the first time in the Gospels, an afterlife quite different from the Jewish Sheol, but the perversely detailed descriptions of its horrors are not of Christ but Medieval clerics and visionaries, most likely heavily influenced by the Greek narratives of the punishment of wicked men in Hades. 

They try to fight the sin of gluttony: this objective is solely my own conjecture based on the torture the man-figure undergoes.


Observant readers will detect that the epigraph and the poem itself have no correlation in their messages. This is because my poem is not a response to the passage itself, but grew out of a mental process spurred on during the reading of said passage.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Oh my, those are good! I love it when places, people and events are so inspiring the words just pop up!

  2. Thank you very much for your kind words and I hope you will enjoy the rest of the poetry on here. York is a particularly inspiring place in many respects, although I admit most of the poems were written after my return and are based on photographs and memories rather than direct impressions. Nonetheless, words did pop up and I take great pleasure in that.