Beyond The Stained Glass

This is a poem about someone who has been fascinated by what they have read about the Renaissance in books and what they have seen in paintings. They are totally entranced by the beauty of it and they would like to go five hundred years back in time to Italy and see it for themselves. This poem imagines that they have found themselves there and have found it to be a more complicated place than the picture they have been presented with. A place of danger and persecution, as well as artistic and intellectual enlightenment.

I’ve only seen the Renaissance in books and frames,
and in my mind this is such a great shame.
If I could charter a ship and sail through time,
I would talk with all of the great thinkers and minds.

Be a muse for Da Vinci and even more for Botticelli,
then return and wonder ‘have I lived once already?’
See a face in a painting that’s awfully familiar,
yet I’d just put it down to someone similar.

Dante’s circles may not be quite my thing
but neither are the angels that do sing.
Florence is hot in this Summer of flame
I must take care to not join this game.

I gaze in wonder at the grand ships of trade
but I remember the woes of those enslaved.
Who paid for the splendid basilica dome?
How much blood was sold to construct Rome?

I bring to mind what Machiavelli said,
keep yourself alive and bow your head.
These are the cities where the saints do sleep,
I should go home lest I wander too deep.

Ritual Of Inversion

The subject of this work is based directly from the medieval concept of a ‘ritual of inversion’, hence the title that is somewhat derivative of that! The concept is that, in many communities for one day a year, the natural order (within reason) would be ceremoniously and symbolically reversed. In particular, a ‘Lord of Misrule’ would be chosen to preside over the festivities. Some have suggested that this has been seen as a form of subtle social control, which I find fascinating. Here, I have written the story of a group of serfs who decide that the day of the ritual would be a symbolically opportune time to enact a revolution.

This day dawns only once a year
when the moon presides over the light
and the suns sleeps on oceanic damask.
This time, we’ll make it ours
and tear down the silken sky,
drape it over the eyes of our lords
and slip through the gauze into freedom.
-o-
We used to be fettered in seigneurial chains
for the fruits o’the Earth, to our masters’ hands.
But to subside, we toiled to survive,
grappling existence and sapping the spirit.
Always bathed in the manor’s shade;
it seemed to hang from the scales of Libra.
-o-
Our plans are born upon evening’s fall,
and we embody the violet dusk.
Tonight, the sumptuary order’s reversed
but fortune’s wheel shall hold it’s stance
for our hands shall interrupt the circle.
The Lord arrives to the sun’s demise,
of misrule he shall reign so true.
Let sceptre and orb become shield and sword.
-o-
From the weight of which we were bedecked
led us to fall so grievously.
The gold on our wrists tarnished to iron
and burning spirits were surely drowned.
Fools we were, for without our labour,
the land blooms still, once we are killed.

For The Look Of A Lady

From the point of view of a minstrel in love with the lady of the house, even though he knows that she is completely out of his reach, socially speaking. In the era of courtly love, women would often be idolised in the poetry of troubadours, and something of a rapport would start up between the musicians of a court and the women there; even ones that were unattainable. It was a bizarre, extra-marital game, that has left my minstrel a victim. Whether things such as this would have happened in history for real, I do not know.

melting in to the shades of a lit room
illustrating the ephemeral string blooms
not often present in the foreground
seldom gone from his delicate lute sound
taking turns to pleasure each strung chord
rearing the dance for the lady and the lord
even appreciated but never for his name
lower of the kinds and they’re all the same

he hides from her and veils his face
a kiss of his would not be to her taste
reading the dances faced with her betrothed
bearing the smiles of the man he loathed
on and on, his score must never cease
undoing waterfalls he continues with his piece
relishing the pause for them to catch a breath
seeing the courtship that may make his death

“allow me, your lordship”

singing his lament to the partner of his life
even so, a lute can’t become his wife
caressing the strings of his lone consort
relaxing him as his horizon starts to distort
ended his energy through the drink he took
these dying days were all for a lady’s look

Clouding The Cruciform

This poem was inspired by the crusades of the medieval period, and begs the question of motive. What were these people on crusade for? Honour? Glory? Their own kind of hedonism? Or was it of a religious conviction deeper than that? I get the feeling that the religious aspect of it played second fiddle to other factors.

I hear grunts from the men of flame
muttering in disgust from their base.
They say ‘infidel’ in lieu of a name.
The cross on their chest an illusion of grace;
I sense nothing holy in this sterile place.

One could suspect their crucible soul,
working in tandem with political minds.
Do two come together to forge a whole?
Does one preside leaving another behind?
But, how dare I think our conquest maligned?

This wasn’t a voyage from my conviction;
I crossed land and ocean cerebrally bound,
through fleeting shackles of marital affliction.
I dared not dispute lest I faced the sound,
of laboured breath as my identity drowned.

They wish to betray those we came to aid,
plunderous propositions for the city of gold.
Byzantium falls and fortunes are made,
on a damnable deal in which faith is sold.
Stories of the butchered ones will lay untold.

I work among washerwomen and whores,
not worth a fraction of the soldiers’ spit;
serviced, shamed and constantly deplored.
The flames of greed spread as they permit.
Conversely, these are crimes I could not acquit.

The Blindness Of Pestilence

I wrote this with the 14th century outbreak of plague, known as the ‘Black Death’, in mind. It is an observation on the demographics of the victims of the illness. Although the richer were slightly better protected from the effects of the illness, they still subscribed to humoural and miasma theory, meaning that they misunderstood how to combat it. Therefore, plague could affect rich and poor alike, and went on to do so. Cases of plague re-occurred from then until about 1666.

A married man stricken with sores
contracted from his blighted whore
drawn into the worldly door
and sleeping below the moon.

A child awakens from his bed,
sunrise sees pain in his head,
before darkness he is dead,
stolen from life all too soon.

A milkmaid screams from outside.
Something consumes her from the inside.
Smuggled far away from their sight
and wrenched asunder from kin.

Soon it reaches the palace court,
physicians do what they were taught.
Clergy have seen nothing of the sort
and make a scapegoat of sin.

When they though it out of view,
the duke came down with it too,
even the porcelain will turn blue,
it seemed the assailant was blind.

The priest expired within the nave,
betrayed by the blessings that he gave.
Even the holy cannot be saved,
victims are claimed from all kinds.

The hills do smoulder with flesh and flame
consuming the souls that gambled away.
Reduced to ash without a name,
history marks them condemned.

An incense entrusted with purification
of the fumes that cause stagnation
does not curtail the formation
of the scourge tormenting them.

Ashes To Avalon

This poem centres around the legend of King Arthur, and puts it into a historical context. Although it is somewhat likely that he did not exist (before Geoffrey of Monmouth, historical reference to him is scant, however some reports of him as a dominant warlord do survive) many people in the Medieval and Early Modern period believed that he would rise up from his burial spot in a time of crisis within the British Isles to liberate the kingdom from whatever it was being oppressed by.

Come rise from your ancient earthen mound.
I pray your sword still rests in your hand.
Now we need the bright isles to be found.
for the white light won’t reach our land.

We are plagued and rotted to the bone
from the abominable scourge in your home.

From the sweeping valleys to lucid glades;
a stark contrast to our barren wastes.
Ravaged by pestilence and divided with blades,
this land has become a vacuum for grace.

The stagnant air swathes us in death,
inhaling the decay upon our every breath.

Unshackle us, he of the cordial court
and burst through the levels that coldly encase.
When bathed in black bile, time is short,
ensconce us within your healing embrace.

We’re not to see with our minds, but our eyes,
maybe our lionheart wasn’t chosen to rise?

Flesh and farmstead are decaying alike,
nothing to sustain those who survived.
Blessed are not those who remain alive,
they are the ones who could not be revived.