Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS
Magical Beasts – La Monde Reverse
Should you choose to convey many things,
all at the one time, give a creature, three heads:
a creature which is about to discard his blue
velvet pantsuit; a three-headed dragon and
his wacky companion marshaled to the marginalia
of a holy book. Monty Python genius sashays to mind.
Yes, he’s crazed by his options, his three faces displaying
three different emotions. (Definitely, scenes for John Cleese.)
How fierce can one be when you are a unicorn
emerging from an exceedingly curly snail tail?
This, even a bewildered Michael Palin, could not
achieve. Or was this abhorrent creature displaying
his anger, perhaps because he’s at the bottom of the page?
(Now that assuredly a Palin position.) Elsewhere,
in the marginalia, a surreal Graham Chapman. This team
queered our world and the full La Monde Reverse
of the medieval worlds was never beyond them. It’s
a cartoon world we can but guess at. It would take
a lifetime to unravel but let us look on.
A bespoke hare uses a man cum snail as his stead;
he carries a spear and a shield And balancing
on the vine a few feet in front of him, another
hare, a startled hare, startled because he carries
a monkey on his shoulder: a burden for any
startled hare. Did he not know the monkey was there?
Does he object because the monkey too has a spear
and a shield, about to take down the untroubled hare
from his vine balancing unbalanced snail?
Another vine sweeps over a forger and his forge,
a sweet cathedral to his humble labours. I imagine
he is used to his flimsy skirt, not fashioned to soak
up the sweat which trickles down his bare leg
dampening his pixie footwear while in the garden
his sister Nun plucks penises from the phallus tree.
I leave you with these two knights
swords drippings blood, each holding
their grotesque, blood drained heads,
in their hands. And the vine on which
they balance twitters profanely on and on;
in rich marginalia; strange playfulness
everywhere. If you’ve watched Monty
Python, this is where it came from.
Benita H. Kape © 24.4.2017
Magical beasts in the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS
. Today, I challenge you to write a poem of ekphrasis — that is, a poem inspired by a work of art. But I’d also like to challenge you to base your poem on a very particular kind of art – the marginalia of medieval manuscripts. Here you’ll find some characteristic images of rabbits hunting wolves, people sitting on nests of eggs, dogs studiously reading books, and birds wearing snail shells. What can I say? It must have gotten quite boring copying out manuscripts all day, so the monks made their own fun. Hopefully, the detritus of their daydreams will inspire you as well!