Happy Jólabókaflóð

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“Every Star Shall Sing a Carol” / Carter

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Every Star Shall Sing a Carol

Every star shall sing a carol!
Every creature, high or low,
come and praise the King of heaven by whatever name you know.

God above, Man below, holy is the name I know.

When the King of all creation had a cradle on the earth,
holy was the human body,
holy was the human birth.

God above, Man below, holy is the name I know.

Who can tell what other cradle,
high above the milky way,
still may rock the King of heaven on another Christmas day?

God above, Man below, holy is the name I know.

Who can count how many crosses,
still to come or long ago, crucify the King of heaven?
Holy is the name I know.

God above, Man below, holy is the name I know.

Who can tell what other body
he will hallow for his own?
I will praise the Son of Mary, brother of my blood and bone.

God above, Man below, holy is the name I know.

Every star and every planet,
every creature high and low,
come and praise the King of heaven by whatever name you know.

God above, Man below, holy is the name I know.

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Sydney Carter (1915 – 2004) was an English poet, musician, and songwriter. Among his works is the well-known “Lord of the Dance”, set to the melody of “Simple Gifts”, the American Shaker song. From Wikipedia I learn that a compilation of Carter’s songs was created and released in 1981 by an all-star gathering of English folk musicians; it’s called Lovely in the Dances, and features John Kirkpatrick, Maddy Prior, and Shusha.
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Though I’ve hummed along to “Lord of the Dance”, I’d never heard of Sydney Carter before coming across “Every Star Shall Sing a Carol” in The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada, 1971 (1974 reprinting). Carter wrote both its words and its music. It stood out for me immediately, first, because of the simple language, meter, repetition, and conversational style. There is a wonderfully imaginative intelligence and farseeing understanding evident here. But the clincher for me is the melody, somehow unusual for a modern carol: it’s in a minor (aeolian) key, with octaves and fifths throughout, very haunting, very interesting. It’s become an ‘earworm’ that I’m happy to host.
The poem, as I experience it, positively shimmers with metaphor . . . for just one example, “God above, Man below” in the refrain evokes the realms of the eternal and the temporal (the ‘cities’ of God and ‘Man’; in Christian terms, Christ and Jesus) . . .
However you hear it, I do hope you enjoy it!
(It just occurred to me that I could photograph the page with the music and attach it here, and you can sing it for yourselves . . . Well, that took a while; but here it is :)


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metaphor“: ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from French métaphore, via Latin from Greek metaphora, from metapherein ‘to transfer.’
A metaphor is a figure of speech (often used as a literary device, particularly in poetry) in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable . . . so the word’s meaning is ‘transferable’ to / can be seen as symbolic of something else, often of something abstract.

“La feuille” / Arnault

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La feuille

De ta tige détachée
Pauvre feuille desséchée,
Où vas-tu? — Je n’en sais rien.
L’orage a brisé le chêne
Qui seul était mon soutien:
De son inconstante haleine,
Le zéphir ou l’aquilon
Depuis ce jour me promène
De la forêt à la plaine,
De la montagne au vallon.
Je vais où le vent me mène,
Sans me plaindre ou m’effrayer;
Je vais où va toute chose,
Où va la feuille de rose
Et la feuille de laurier.

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Antoine-Vincent Arnault (1766-1834) fut l’auteur de tragédies et de Fables. (Source: Mon premier livre de poèmes / choisis par Jacques Charpentreau, 1983. Collection Petite Enfance heureuse)
Antoine-Vincent Arnault lived in the “interesting times” of revolution in France, and his own life partook generously of the social and political upheavals of the turn of that century. He later authored a 4-volume memoir, Souvenirs d’un sexagénaire (1833) and collaborated on the Vie politique et militaire de Napoléon 1er (1822). Though his literary endeavours were primarily as dramatist, he is now better known for his Fables (published 1813, 1815 and 1826), collections of “graceful verse” (Wikipedia).
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A fable is a short work—usually a story—whose characters tend to be animals (or plants, or other non-human elements of nature), and which communicates a moral, a lesson about life / living life, for humans. I see it as a macro-metaphor which, as poems do, can contain (micro-)metaphors within it. Allegory is the proper term for such a “macro-metaphor”. A wonderful definition appears in A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility, edited by Allie Esiri and Rachel Kelly, illustrated by Natasha Law: an allegory is a method of telling two stories simultaneously, one of which carries a moral or social message. (Examples given are Aesop’s Fables and Orwell’s Animal Farm.)
“La feuille” is such a simple poem, but it can be followed on several levels — which makes translation not as easy as it may initially appear. (I’ve not yet sought out translations of the poem into English.) Consider the alliteration in the first line: d t t d tsh‘ — is it accidental or deliberate on the poet’s part? Funny thing is, I didn’t truly notice it until I began memorizing the poem /am working on improving my French language skills/. Making this effort to memorize is a little like drawing / sketching a picture from life; you develop an intimacy with your subject which otherwise might be difficult to achieve. In fact, the subject/object boundary itself begins to blur, even reverse, in an unexpected way.)

As for the ‘spirit’ of the poem . . . it brings to my mind a recent broadcast by CBC Radio, on the weekly program Tapestry (available as podcast); its very engaging host, Mary Hynes, interviews Philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci, who has challenged himself to live like a Stoic for one year. It’s a most interesting conversation about cultivating the Stoic virtues of courage, self-control, practical wisdom, and justice / equanimity in the modern world (the segment runs for about 23 minutes, one-half of the hour-long show).

cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/why-you-need-to-be-a-stoic-stop-complaining-and-hug-a-stranger-1.3012673/how-to-be-a-stoic-in-five-easy-lessons-1.3012715
(to activate the link, add www. in front of it in your browser)
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Finally, a very tertiary and finnicky note: the book I have in hand (Mon premier livre…) names the series title as Petite Enfance heureuse, in a couple of places. Whereas it’s my understanding that French-language titles are to have only the first word capitalized . . . though I’m sure I’ve seen titles beginning with the definite article (indefinite, too?) also capitalizing the noun following. Maybe after an initial article or adjective, it’s fine. Un peu de mystère!

“No Reproach for the Drunkard” / Hafiz

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No Reproach for the Drunkard

Lay not reproach at the drunkard’s door
O Fanatic, thou that are pure of soul;
Not thine on the page of life to enroll
The faults of others! Or less or more
I have swerved from my path—keep thou to thine own
For every man when he reaches the goal
Shall reap the harvest his hands have sown.

Leave me the hope of a former grace—
Till the curtain is lifted none can tell
Whether in Heaven or deepest Hell,
Fair or vile, shall appear his face.
Alike the drunk and the strict of fare
For his mistress yearns—in the mosque Love doth dwell
And the church, for his lodging is everywhere.

If without the house of devotion I stand,
I am not the first to throw wide the door;
My father opened it long before,
The eternal Paradise slipped from his hand.
All you that misconstrue my words’ intent,
I lie on the bricks of the tavern floor,
And a brick shall serve me for argument.

Heaven’s garden future treasures may yield—
Ah, make the most of earth’s treasury!
The flickering shade of the willow-tree,
And the grass-grown lip of the fruitful field.
Trust not in deeds—the Eternal Day
Shall reveal the Creator’s sentence on thee;
But till then, what His finger has writ, who can say.

Bring the cup in thine hand to the Judgment-seat;
Thou shalt rise, O Hafiz, to Heaven’s gate
From the tavern where thou hast tarried late.
And if thou hast worshiped wine, thou shalt meet
The reward that the Faithful attain;
If such thy life, then fear not thy fate;
Thou shalt not have lived and worshiped in vain.

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Note: Hafiz is known in English also as Hafez.
In the book in which this poem is found, Hafiz (2004; in The Mystic Poets series), the author of the Preface, Ibrahim Gamard, writes that Khwaja Shamsu d’din Muhammad Hafiz (1320 – 1389) was known as the “Tongue of the Invisible World”; like Rumi, who lived in the 13th century, Hafiz was a Persian Sufi (Sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam). The Orientalist Wheeler Thackston says that Hafiz “sang a rare blend of human and mystic love so balanced…that it is impossible to separate one from the other” (Wikipedia). He is, in the words of Daniel Ladinsky, one of his recent interpreters, “a profound champion of freedom; he constantly encourages our hearts to dance! . . . Hafiz reveals a God that would never cripple us with guilt or control us with fear.” (from Ladinsky’s book The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master, 1999. The brief Preface and Introduction to this book, by Ladinsky and Henry S. Midlin, respectively, are themselves small masterpieces which sing of Hafiz’s life and the challenging sociopolitical climate in which he did his work, as well as of his legacy in Persia and the world. I’ve only begun to discover the simple exuberance of Hafiz’s poetry, and must revisit very soon to plug into such a luminous source of meaning-enlivening and healing energy.)

Some of Hafiz’s work was first translated into English in 1771 by Sir William Jones. Western writers Goethe, Thoreau, Emerson and Conan Doyle, among others, appreciated and found inspiration in the poetry of Hafiz, and brought him to the attention of new readers in Europe and the Americas. I’ve really enjoyed the rather old-style and very musical translation by Gertrude Bell. Gamard tells us that, writing in 1947, A. J. Arberry, the well-known British scholar and translator of Rumi, described Gertrude Bell as “Hafiz’s most felicitous translator”. Her English translations were first published in Victorian England in 1897, but they remain among the most highly-regarded.

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Finally, I admire the poetry of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and am motivated by reading of his connection to Hafiz to finally begin to search for and select a poem to post. I actually own a paperback edition of Goethe’s late work, the Westöstlicher Diwan, a collection of lyrical poems inspired by Hafiz; that is the place to begin my exploration.

“Crow” / David Harrison

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Crow

Crow, Crow,
why so proud?

My eyes are sharp,
my voice is loud.

Why do you choose
the tallest tree?

I sit up high
where I can see.

What if danger
lurks below?

I caw my friends
and off we go!

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From Farmer’s Dog in the Forest: More Rhymes for Two Voices, a picture book with verses by David L. Harrison and illustrations, Arden Johnson-Petrov, 2005. Colourful and lively, an accessible introduction to poetry for young readers and ESL learners of all ages.
Harrison has written many books for children and adults (see davidlharrison.com/books.htm), and won much recognition for his contributions to literacy and community awareness efforts. Awards include, in 1972, the Christopher Medal, for The Book of Giant Stories (recently republished and available, though am not sure that its appearance is exactly like the original). The Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” Their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively. Award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others (from The Christophers website, christophers.org, accessed 12 September 2015).
Harrison has a blog at davidlharrison.wordpress.com, where you can see what he’s up to at present.
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This particular poem especially appealed to me not only because I’m partial to crows, but because I simply can’t resist a pun, and it’s the only one I found in the book. A “pun” is a little joke often occurring seamlessly within regular conversation; it capitalizes on two possible meanings of a word, or on the fact that (as occurs in “Crow”) there exist words that sound alike but have different meanings (“caw” and “call”). An easy-to-remember definition is that a pun is a play on words. (I found myself wishing that each of the verses here contained a pun: the book would then be like a puzzle, and even more of a fun learning adventure than it already is. But I imagine it’s not always easy to create a good pun . . . though bad ones are enjoyable too, so, hey, it’s worth a try! Here’s one to get you started, courtesy of a familiar nursery rhyme: Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle / The cow jumped over the moo-oo-o-oo-oon . . .)

“Romanesque Arches” / Tranströmer

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Romanesque Arches

Inside the huge Romanesque church the tourists jostled in the half
darkness.
Vault gaped behind vault, no complete view.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel with no face embraced me
and whispered through my whole body:
“Don’t be ashamed of being human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that’s how it’s meant to be.”
Blind with tears
I was pushed out on the sun-seething piazza
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr. Tanaka, and Signora Sabatini,
and inside each of them vault opened behind vault endlessly.

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Tomas Tranströmer, widely acclaimed and translated Swedish poet (he was also a psychologist who specialized in work with convicts and drug addicts) is perhaps the most renowned Scandinavian poet of the later 20th and early 21st centuries. His awards include the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award. In 1990 he received the Nordic Council Literature Prize for his collection For the Living and the Dead wherein “Romanesque Arches” first appeared. My own encounter with the poem was in The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, a fascinating collection featuring selections from several of the volumes published over the course of the poet’s life. It is sensitively translated by Robin Fulton, who also wrote the Foreword to the book.

In an early (1973) interview with Gunnar Harding (Swedish poet, novelist, essayist and translator), Tranströmer said: “… I respond to reality in such a way that I look on existence as a great mystery and that at times, at certain moments, this mystery carries a strong charge, so that it does have a religious character, and it is often in such a context that I write. So these poems are all the time pointing toward a greater context, one that is incomprehensible to our normal everyday reason. Although it begins in something very concrete.”

“Romanesque Arches” seemed to leap out at me as I perused The Great Enigma, perhaps because I’d just finished reading a fascinating book titled Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers. (The novel is set for the most part in Venice, and is an ecstatic meditation on the city, its landscape and architecture, its denizens, and its connection—and the individual’s deepest psyche’s indestructible connection—to mythic, Apocryphal time.)

Tomas Tranströmer has just died, after a brief illness, at the age of 83. Thank-you, Linda (at https://shoreacres.wordpress.com/), for your comment alerting me to his passing. Thanks also to Jeff (at http://jeffschwaner.com/) for introducing me to Tranströmer’s poetry.

“Opossum” / Worth

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Opossum

One year he appeared
In the yard,
Eating our birdseed
Spilled in the snow,

Chewing steadily, with
Teeth meant for meat,
Staring with serious
Eyes at nothing,

Busy, but slow,
As if thin fur, bare
Feet, the lean winter,
Were no matter.

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Valerie Worth (nom de plume, also maiden name, of Valerie Worth Bahlke), 1933 – 1994, American poet and author of works for young people (of all ages). (C.S. Lewis, for one, was adamant that good children’s literature is enchanting and edifying reading not for children only but also for adults. I heartily agree!)

Worth’s writing is highly expressive while containing not one redundant word; it’s delicately wrought, simple and descriptive, radiating depths of empathy with and kindness toward even our most humble fellow creatures. She was the recipient, in 1991, of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, in recognition of her lifetime contribution to young people’s literature.

“Opossum” appears in the picture book Pug and Other Animal Poems (2013), which contains an 18-piece selection of Worth’s poetry. Another element making this slender volume a joy to read is the sensitivity of the beautifully rendered pictures accompanying the verses. Created by Steve Jenkins (whose illustrations also grace two other of the poet’s collections), each picture unfurls generously and colourfully across the open pages of the book.

“Snow” / Duffy

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Snow

Then all the dead opened their cold palms
and released the snow; slow, slant, silent,
a huge unsaying, it fell, torn language, settled;
the world to be locked, local; unseen,
fervent earthbound bees around a queen.
The river grimaced and was ice.

Go nowhere —                 thought the dead, using the snow —
but where you are, offering the flower of your breath
to the white garden, or seeds to birds
from your living hand. You cannot leave.
Tighter and tighter, the beautiful snow
holds the land in its fierce embrace.
It is like death, but it is not death; lovelier.
Cold, inconvenienced, late, what will you do now
with the gift of your left life?

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“What will you do now?” (And, umm . . . Who are you, again? Remind me, please . . . ) The hand of death in our lives practically forces us to do what we often avoid in less difficult times; its palm signals: Whoa! . . . just . . . STOP. . . . And over a more or less extended period, reflect deeply on your life: on its meaning for you, and on how you’re spending the time you’re granted here. The cocooning, muting effect of the snowfall is an intense and tender benefaction, a captivating invitation to stillness and awareness.
The last two lines of the poem seem to deliberately echo the query concluding Mary Oliver‘s “The Summer Day”, coming now nearly a quarter-century later and in a new millennium, from across an ocean and with the Earth near the opposite vertex of its annual journey around the Sun . . . to touch a further generation of beholders / dreamers of the natural world; and to link us across time and space, even all places and all times.
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Like the previous poem by Carol Ann Duffy selected here (“The Bee Carol”, two posts back), “Snow” is from the poet’s 2011 collection The Bees; this book won the Costa Poetry Award for that year. (Previous to 2006, the Costa Awards were called the Whitbread Book Awards; Duffy received this award in 1993.) Duffy teaches Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and is Creative Director of its Writing School; she has held the post of Poet Laureate of Britain since 2009. Her poetry is diverse in its subject matter and approachable, richly imagined, impeccably crafted.

“The strangest feelings . . . ” / Doescher

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VADERThe strangest feelings have been mine of late.
To know my son exists confounds my wits
As I did ne’er imagine. What is this
confusion that doth obfuscate my mind?
For evil I am made, for punishment
Of foes, for conquering of peoples, and
To do the perfect will of my great lord
And Emperor. Of these I certain am,
For this hath been my role full many years.
Yet where within this surety is room
For offspring? For a son? What can a life
Liv’d on the dark side of the Force have still
To do with heirs, with flesh and bone that sprang
From me and that sweet life that once I led?
How can this Sith, this man of pain and death,
Be father to the fruit of far-gone love?
It seems well nigh impossible when one
Considers what I’ve been. For, verily,
I may not hide the man I truly am:
A warrior devoted to the cause
Of Emperor and Empire both. ‘Tis who
I am: I must be mad when I have cause
And smile at no one’s jests. No humor doth
Give pleasure to my mouth or stir my heart,
Nor would I dare to ever love again,
If e’en this mess of tangl’d wires could love.
I am a Sith, most surely to be fear’d.
Yet that perplexing thing remains: a son.

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From ACT II, SCENE 4 of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth by Ian Doescher, 2014.
We have here a soliloquy from the third volume in this recasting of the first (film) trilogy (Parts 4 to 6) of George Lucas’ Star Wars universe, published by Quirk Books over the last couple of years.
What can I say about these three books, except that they’re brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed in a Shakespearean (pseudo-Shakespearean?) style—while also being very reader-friendly and accessible, as great fun to read as the movies are to watch (for an ardent reader, maybe even more fun, dare I say?). They should be required reading in the Grade 9 or 10 curriculum, the whole set of them (perhaps with other, more ‘normal’ work, interspersed). (By the way, there are a couple of teeny typos in second book / to keep you on your toes :) Doescher does justice to both Shakespeare and Lucas, being well-versed in and deeply respectful of both traditions. The books are not long, but manage to convey a rich, full spectrum of emotion and wisdom as the characters interact and grow. (The trilogy had the added benefit of catching me up—well, not quite, my knowledge of the prequels is poor—with the plots and characters of the Star Wars universe.) Each volume has an Afterword with the author briefly recalling his own childhood experience of the films; also, he describes some of the stylistic issues of the writing and introduces the reader to the concept of literature’s archetypal underpinnings. I’ll quote here his closing words of this final volume’s Afterword:

“. . . Return of the Jedi is where the story of Darth Vader comes full circle. The character development of Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader—from Episode I through Episode VI—is a triumph of modern cinema. Vader’s transformation in Return of the Jedi has more depth than people tend to acknowledge, due in large part to the cathartic final scenes between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Luke realizes how close he comes to the dark side, as he considers his own robotic hand and the severed limb of his father, which Luke himself cut off in a moment of fury. Darth Vader realizes he has a decision to make: save his son, or remain a slave to his Emperor. We see him make that choice in the most dramatic way possible, as he grasps the Emperor and casts him into the abyss to his doom. Those two events—the separate awakenings of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader—are masterful film moments, and utterly Shakespearean. Darth Vader realizes in the end that it is his son, not his Emperor, who matters, just as King Lear realizes before his death that Cordelia loved him better than Goneril and Regan ever could. These are weighty moments. I knew that even when I was six.
Thank you, all of you who have entered the world of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars trilogy. This has been a special journey for me; I hope it has been for you as well.
May the Force be with you, always.”

“The Bee Carol” / Duffy

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The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice —
a silver frieze —
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive —
trembling stars cloistered above —
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

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Carol Ann Duffy, Scots poet, playwright and professor, whose work for children won her the Signal Prize for Children’s Verse, and that for adults, many other awards, including the Lannan Literary Award and E.M. Forster Prize in the U.S., and the Whitbread and Forward Prizes in Britain. The poems in The Bees, 2011, range widely in subject matter, demonstrating the poet’s reflection on
. . . how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth . . .
(from “Mrs Schofield’s GCSE”)

In 1999 Carol Ann Duffy became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in England, and in 2009 was appointed Britain’s Poet Laureate. The Bees is her first volume of poems in that capacity. If the Earth is our garden, Duffy’s bees are its angels (as well as its engines). As we encounter them in their many aspects, alighting upon, gracing the pages of this little book, it becomes clear also that they are the poet’s tutelary spirits, attending the transformation of thought, feeling, intuition into word, and word into honey.

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The Concise Oxford English Dictionary lists two sets of definitions for the word “frieze”: 1. a broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration; an architectural reference also comes under this first definition, which derives ultimately from the Latin, Phrygium (opus), for (a work) of Phrygia; and 2. a heavy coarse woolen cloth with a nap, usually on one side only, deriving from medieval Latin, frisia, for ‘Frisian wool’. It’s curious that both finally became “frieze”, though there is some similarity discernible between the two images. I’ll go with the first, the decorative, glistening meaning to aid with my visualization of the image.

What I do wonder about in the poem is the use of the word “belief”. I find myself hoping that it’s fully intended by the poet, deliberately and meaningfully chosen, not just a convenient rhyming syllable. So, how am I to understand this invocation? What is it that I must believe?