20100128

Robert Gauldie


Poems for St. Thomas Aquinas
To proceed against individual errors, however, is a difficult business, and this for two reasons. In the first place, it is difficult because the sacrilegious remarks of individual men who have erred are not so well known to us so that we may use what they say as the basis of proceeding to a refutation of their errors. This is, indeed, the method that the ancient Doctors of the Church used in the refutation of the errors of the Gentiles. For they could know the positions taken by the Gentiles since they themselves had been Gentiles, or at least had lived among the Gentiles and had been instructed in their teaching. In the second place, it is difficult because some of them, such as the Mohammedans and the pagans, do not agree with us in accepting the authority of any Scripture, by which they may be convinced of their error. Thus, against the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament. But the Muslims and the pagans accept neither the one nor the other. We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent. However, it is true, in divine matters the natural reason has its failings.
Thomas Aquinas: Summa contra Gentiles (1258 C.E.)


(i)
Bear sarks they are, when they have time




Old it is for a story, a tale. Anglo-Saxon, maybe. Perhaps before.
Bears then waxed fat on fruit-berries, beech-mast, roots, grasses.
Honey-sometimes, inner-bark, bog-plants and sweet tansy heads,
Forest bears they were.
Ruin came to the bears as axes came to the forest; clearing, burning.
They shrank; strained beyond the lax world-rules of nature, they hid.
Constrained within the ever down-narrowing, wilder-space
Entrained too much, they vanished. Reappearing, suddenly malevolent.
Stained with supernatural powers, bringing murrain,
Aborted calves, fear, disease and frightening feral cannibal feasting.
Murder in the dark. Bear sarks they are. Dreading them
Frightened Anglo-Saxon sons light candles at the altars.
Silenced by the fear of priests from speaking of the bear-ghosts,
Haunting fields, hedgerows, copses where once they held sway,
Forest bears no more.


(ii)
Taking Care of Business




John Peasant and his bandy wife, headscarfed,
Make obeisance: touching piety, reserved for Sunday.
Hard horny hands and harder hearts
Drive family fields: farmhands, working every work-a-day,
Churn hard-calculated pence each sweated spade-turn.

God’s acre is no place to make a living.
Fruited Eden feeds the spirit. But, after working hours,
Lions must eat lambs and goats must go their carnal ways.
Farmers chop the trees at night, unsighted. Plough the dawn.
Then prayers; more holiness. Sated spiritually at six o’clock
The Holy Working Day expires; dusk brings TV, carnivory and sex.

Eden has long gone. All once perfect have declined.
Sins speciose abound, each evolving from its own original.
Invention, unknown in Eden’s perfect natural balance,
Does everything infect; drives each, inventor and his inventee,
Yet further from God’s still, sepulchral, perfect form.

John Peasant buys a tractor.
His bandy wife has comfort shoes of German leather.
His son, future-blessed with all his dad’s demesnes,
Builds yet another mansion for his TV-lady friend.

Eden’s only fragmentary plant that still persists
Grows fitfully between the Psalms and Malachi,
Nodding into flower when busybodies buzz.
But, never fruiting, lies seedless
Waiting, patient, for its day of propagation
When all new things are swept away
By God’s great global burning tides
Taking us back to the clean white bones
Of Eden’s reverent, inhuman, God-saken sterilised prefectedness.


(iii)
I have business to take care of




Fated by fathers of the Church, fore-bending all their thoughts,
Our lives controlled at their devising: grace-held halls, rock-founded,
House charities so-ordered, discipline-provided,
Arraigned, world-wisely, to covenant by God’s good consent.
Words set by words: all-reasoned powerfully,
Defining orders in blocks of righteous prose.
Discipline of body, mind and soul. Reconstructing
Holiness by force of thought within.
Stilled the wild wastes of sinfulness: the rutted,
Rotted orchards. Fields once rich with blessedness
Now weedy, overcrept with snaking vines,
Choked-out all once fruitful innocence. Reformed
Arrays verdant, maturing grasses plump with grain;
Farmed and folded: barned beneath God’s grace.


(iv)
Working for the man




Donkeys and peasants; their dogs and children, old women
Creep all-across the fields far-down below my window’s sill.
Drooping, they will lie down soon in shade and shelter,
Seeking refuge from the sun.

Here, my narrow cell creates sweet convent-coolness,
Shelter from that even mightier sun of suns
Beneath whose wilting heat we all creep past,
Donkeys and priests, their monks and novices, nuns.

Field-labour calls the stolid and the strong: plant to sow, reap to harvest.
Priestwise, am I the one to chide them, children, for their simple sins?
Petty theft and blasphemy, drunkenness and lust;
Leaven lifting leaden lives.

Brother Charles, the erudite, can credibly construct new meanings, moralities;
Heady decoctions of God’s word: a craftsman.
The blazing sun all words makes un-readable to me,
Bright refulgence blinds the eye; one word spills into another, meanings lost.

How, when heat and light make all things drooped and blind,
What then to guide the heart, to mind the store of sins
Set all about us? Light slips and slides, mote and beam;
Sightless. Logic only, God’s greatest gift, resists the sin of self.


(v)
Diophantus the creep




Every monastery has its own Diophantus:
That is what Nicoleme the wine-sutler told me.
Some seek after paradise with fasts and prayers
While Diophantus runs to the Abbot with scandal.
Among the whispered rosaries our Diophantus breaks
News to Abbot Torning of sins real and imagined;
Impugning all his fellow monks.

Torning set Diophantus to the task of watch
When Brother Thomas came to read the books;
Finances and accounts, incomes and outlays of the order.
Brother Thomas reports directly to the Cardinals of Rome.
All of us have heard the tales: Saint Paul appears;
Jesus, even, though His Most Holy Hospitality does
Feed our Thomas bread and fishes in his cell.

Torning wants no sacred manifests in this, his house.
Greater Abbots have been sent swift away by Cardinals
Who need such Holiness to manage on their upward path.
Torning wants no bleak settlement of pigs and beans
Offering up his Holy prayers with rotgut wine and black-bread
In some dried-out backwater in the hills of Spain.
Watch him well, his final words were. Miss nothing.

In the night, the voices came with Diophantus waiting, still, alert
At his peephole into the cell the Abbot kept for visitors.
He scarcely saw the small dark figure deep in conversation
With our portly Thomas, his eyes entrapped by the Angel’s
Towering form, radiant light, with bread and fishes in his hands.
Such hands, such hands: Diophantus wept for such hands.
Torning found him at the matins, stretched out
Before the seventh altar. Prostrate. Weeping in his prayers.

Torning’s elder sister took Diophantus into Paris, by the Seine,
Her Nun’s Hospice. Watch him, Torning told her, he has gone mad.
Diophantus lived out his days in service to the dying.
Pain, fear, contempt and misery, all fell away before his ministering hands.
All spoke of him as angel-like: one truly blessed and blessing.
Torning thanked his luck that he had stopped the rot in time.
The time of wonders is long past, he told himself. There is no need
For miracles and weeping fools in God’s great, good and glorious church.


(vi)
The end of failure




What happens to the fainthearted?
Keeping to this side of the universe
Means that time finishes long before
Their jobs have been completed.

Voyages to other places makes life
Too complex, lets jobs stay uncompleted.
Times, even in those other parts, are too swift
To finish for their own fainthearted.

Light is never easy, moving away,
Always expanding, leaving behind
Dust-skeins that slowly, saggily,
To-gather into gravel, left to settle.

Stars wink out and go to sleep,
Waiting, inanimate, for the next
Go round. The slow breathing
In and out of creation.



Bob Gauldie is a scientist who is reasonably well-known in the little pond of fish science (http://robertgauldie.com). Bob has also paid his dues in the tribal world of University Administration; always an environment that encourages one to be philosophical.

 
 
 
 
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