01 January 2010

January Poem of the Month

This stanzaic, Medieval-minimalist poem was inspired by the Hopkins sonnet that I posted for Christmas. And the image off of which it grew is taken from a Chinese Checkers board on which I remember playing as a child. There are other allusions, images, and ideas that tie it together. Can you figure out what they are? What are the four dragons? What is the "ether"? And where did I get the "Stylized winds with ridiculous cheeks"?

Mappa Mundi

Four mortal dragons corner the earth
As capitals gild the Evangelists
With prodigal colour, with glory-ink:
Ecstatic, illuminates fear.

Dragonflies draw down spears of fire
and dragonwings weave the visible air
while dragonwalks stalk a thunder land
and dragondeeps quiet the sea.

Scarlet are their mile-long tongues:
Golden their keyhole irises.
The planet is squared in their slender bones
And time quartered between.

Dragonflies draw down spears of flame
and dragonwings weave the visible sky
while dragonwalks stalk a thunder ground
and dragondeeps quiet the waves.

Earth lies spread like an ancient chart
Before the eyes of its dragon kings.
Rivers are lapis lazuli chains,
Cities scales of bronze.

Dragonflies draw down shafts of flame
and dragonwings spin the invisible light
while dragonwalks tread a thunder drum
and dragondeeps silence the waves.

Stylized winds with ridiculous cheeks
Embouchure every joint of the frame,
Cool with their breath the dragon smoke,
And stir the parchment waves.

Dragonflies loose their fiery shafts
and dragonwings visit the spin of their sight
while dragonwalks thunder a trampled beat
and dragondeeps see into silence.

Four phases of spirit, four inspired flames
Inhale and exhale the germens of earth
And in turn are breathed forth from beyond the page
By the nimbus, the ether——the All?

Dragonflies draw down spears of fire
and dragonwings weave the visible air
while dragonwalks stalk a thunder land
and dragondeeps quiet the sea.

~ Sørina


Annelise Holwerda said...

Oh, beautiful riddling style. I like the structure, especially with the every-other stanzas- the dragonwords in changed repetition, both within and between them. It gives a sense of fullness, full-circle; the imagery is so detailed and wonderful.

I see the elemental theme, with the fire, sky, earth and sea. The way you pick up the intrinsic number-links, with the four Evangelists, seasons, winds, etc., adds again to the 'fullness', and significance.

"...phases of spirit" reminds me of the old notion of Nature as a loyal, creative servant, expressing God as her ultimate creator. To "inhale and exhale" the elements is the generation and corruption- wholly influenced by the perfect form of ether- among the sublunar world, more chaotic. A chain of influence set in motion through a physical medium, to magnify and reflect all that is of the Empyrean into our own experience: a realm to reflect the someday-merging of the two in the world's remaking.

I love the image is the four, so full of life, moving through all level of the world- loosing shafts, weaving air, treading as thunder and seeing into the silent deep. Nature's alacrity, fullness of meaning, movement and breadth, constantly declaring, through its being. That they're "breathed forth from beyond the page / By the nimbus, the ether——the All?" gives the impression that even etherial influence is a symbol of or servant to higher 'ether': our personal, relational, inexpressibly glorious and awesome God, who sends through temporal creation an embroidery of threads to mirror himself, for our experience.

I can't place the winds with ridiculous cheeks. Except for how the winds from the map's four directions are often drawn like that. Illuminated faces are the best- animals my favourite :)

That's all I can find. But I'm left with such curiosity for the rest. It's vivid, it reads with such texture, and it demands thought... I really like.

Iambic Admonit said...

Annelise: Oh, Wow, you are my Ideal Reader! I love your response. You got it, everything, in even more detail than I even consciously worked out. Fantastic! Yes, that's all the Winds are (drawn that way on the old maps, also in the Botticelli Birth of Venus), but other readers didn't know where the image came from. I find that as a writer and as a teacher I am struggling against a quickly growing Classical and Biblical illiteracy -- so few people "get" allusions anymore. Hooray for you with the Evangelists, the generation/corruption, the meaning(s) of Spirit -- I'm really impressed!

What else would you like to know? I can talk you through other lines, if you like.

Rosie Perera said...

I love it. Annelise has already said all I might say about the alternating use of words in the dragon stanzas.

I love the invented words and the sounds and internal rhyms and alliterations, too:
Dragonflies draw down
dragonwings weave
dragonwalks stalk

When I tried to figure out the four dragons and four winds I immediately thought of the Chinese game of Mah-Jongg (Mahjong). Actually, as it turns out I was wrong about there being four dragons in Mahjong. There are only three, representing the three cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius. There's more on the game and pictures of the tiles on Wikpedia

One question (minor critique): what is the subject of the verb "illuminates" in the first stanza? I don't see any singular noun prior to that in the stanza (except for earth, the object of corner, and colour and glory-ink which are objects of the preposition with so they can't be the subject of this verb either). If the subject of this verb is "dragons" -- which I think it must be -- then the verb should be illuminate. Unless there's an implied subject "this [the fact that the dragons corner the earth...] illuminates fear." Did I spend too much time sentence-diagramming in my youth? ;-)

As a trumpet player, I love the word embouchure! I'd never heard it used as a verb before (and in spite of my grammatical stickliness above I'm quite open to verbing nouns; I do it all the time).

Annelise Holwerda said...

Oh I know what you mean, a little. I like writing poems. They're less 'proper' than just for the enjoyment... But having an audience mainly of school/uni friends who've grown up in Australia, where we have no medieval in our curriculum! (and I'm learning to teach English/History...), I don't expect most scattered allusions to be picked up. There's still something good in an image that's worth passing down, even if its history isn't seen. It's also nice to have a chance to expand those worlds, sometimes. I have so much still to read, so sharing is wonderful.

Is there anything behind "Scarlet are their mile-long tongues: / Golden their keyhole irises"? It's lovely, either way. I recently read some old Germanic writings, so dragons are reminding me of wonderful talking birds, magical deaths, dragoncursed treasure, terrible supernatural women... And not at all least, The Dawn Treader and Hobbit. So, so good :)

The 'illuminates' placements sits fine with me, though I'm not much with grammar. Draws out the depth of illuminations as an idea- on the meeting edge of literal and metaphorical colour, sort of. Grammatically, "[the preceding image] illuminates", I think... Which is fine for me in poetry, working as an impression. I'm sure I'd often trespass awfully worse.

Oh, I'd never heard the word embouchure before. I really like it there, now that I've looked it up :)

Iambic Admonit said...

I was rather hung up on the "illuminates" line, too. It's changed a few times. At first, it was simply "terror illuminates joy," then "joy illuminates fear." But those were too didactic. I'll work on it more.