December 21st, 2004

Hypnerotomachia

I thought I'd explain my name.

Poliphilo is the narrator of the trippy Italian "novel" Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, first published in 1499. He goes through the Dantean dark wood experience and comes out in a Greco-Roman Wonderland, surrounded by fabulous architecture and beset by nymphs. He wanders around (describing everything in mind-cudgeling detail) looking for his girlfriend Polia.

I started the book 18 months ago and have just about reached the halfway mark. I can only take a page or two at a time. Any more and the circuits over-load.

It's clotted, it's encrusted, it's infuriatingly slow and repetitive, and it's the happiest book I know. It encapsulates one of the great turning points of Western civilization. We've stepped out of the Middle Ages (the author, Francesco Colonna, was a Dominican friar) into the brightness and width and far-distances of the Renaissance.

The Past was being kept from us and we've only just found out how wonderful it was and now anything, but anything, seems possible.

This Night

I'm hopeless. I don't keep track of dates. And so I almost missed it- the Solstice, I mean.

I was asked for a poem and I said I would keep the window ajar. And something just flew in.

Voila....

THIS NIGHT

This Night.
This Night that trails the longest cloak-
Aldebaran the jewel at the throat
The Pleiades the jewel at the shoulder-
A red jewel and a clouded jewel-
This Night,

This Night a child is born
In some hole,
in some hutch,
In some place out of sight
Of whatever hunter is out for its blood.
There is always a hunter out for the blood
Of whatever child is born this night.

The Power,
The existing Power
With jewels arranged across its breast,
With a stamp for stamping the documents
That pass in succession across its desk
(It works so hard, poor thing, for our weal)
Is out for the blood (for it knows best)
For the blood of the child that is born this night.

But this Night keeps it secret
This Night keeps it holy:
The birth of the child in the dark among beasts-
Among bats among rats among kine among sheep-
Who will wear the sun as this Night wears stars,
The one red star and the cloud of stars,
Aldebaran and the Pleiades.