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Matt Q 07-12-2019 02:16 PM

Hi Jim,

When I saw mention of the name 'Mary' referring to the Virgin Mary, I didn't get an association with the "Mary, Mary quite contrary" nursery rhyme that was strong enough for me to know in advance that I should mispronounce the word 'contrary'. No other word in the poem is mispronounced for the sake or rhyme or metre, so I had no expectation from that quarter either. Finally, if I say:

she queries new saints proof to the conTRARy

it changes the meaning of the sentence. Pronounced this way, "the conTRARy" are a group of people (a committee maybe?) to whom the factotum queries new the saints' proof.

I reckon anyone trying to read this poem for the first time will stumble here. And the change in meaning required to get the metre and rhyme in place means that it just doesn't work for me, even knowing your intention. Maybe it will for others.



Jim Hayes 07-12-2019 02:40 PM

Hi Matt, thanks for coming back.
Before a saint is canonized in the modern church two proofs of a miracle are required. These are examined by an investigative and sceptical forum, contrarians in the debate appointed to refute the evidence presented.

So I believe I am correct in context and the pronunciation I require is correct.
I agree that it is a stumbling point but I would be loath to change to accommodate the uninformed, not I hasten to add that I include you in that , but I think you can see what I mean,

All best regards


Just to add Matt, the factotum queries the proof because she knows that no miracles were performed.
Adding further Matt, if you can misread it and you are the reader I require for this, should I asterisk it at this point with a footnote or would that as I suspect merely be dumbing it down?

Matt Q 07-12-2019 03:57 PM

Hi Jim,

Ah, sorry, I misunderstood what you meant you said it was a common poetic device; I thought you meant mispronouncing a word to get it to rhyme was a common poetic device as it sometimes is in humorous verse, like limericks, say. (OK, let's not get started on limericks ...)

I'm with you now (I hope). You're saying that you intend "the contrary" to be a group of people. And like that, I agree, the metre and rhyme are fine.

Confusion arises, I think, because the sentence makes sense on both usages: "she queries (challenges) new saints proof that might show the opposite" and "she queries new saints proof to the contrarians". The former meaning, used with phrase "to the contrary", being a very common construction.

I wonder if there's a rewording that excludes the reading you don't want?

I also wonder if "the contrary" means quite the same as "the contrarians". Even had I known that there was a committee whose job it is to disprove miracles, I'm not sure I'd know they were being referred to by "the contrary" (pronounced as you intend), as 'contrary' has (to me anyway) a somewhat derogatory undertone, a sense of those who are awkward and don't behave as expected / desired / asked.

Anyway, I don't know the full details of the canonisation process. I was brought up Catholic and went to Catholic schools, but they didn't teach us this. Searching the web for a bit I can't find a description of a committee whose job it is specifically to oppose claims to miracles, so I don't know if they're normally referred to as the 'contrarians' (which might make the link easier to make for those who know this). I do wonder what percentage of your readers will make the link you intend here. Obviously, not having made it myself, I may well be biased in my estimates :)



Jim Hayes 07-12-2019 04:10 PM

Actually Matt , it really isnít even a committee, itís one person, one contrary officially appointed to oppose canonization, he would be more commonly recognized as the Devilís Advocate, google this term for a complete explanation of the process.

Itís an arcane set up but still very much in common usage, my problem as you have noted is the potential for misinterpretation, but is it my problem?
If it is then a footnote may be necessary.


John Isbell 07-12-2019 04:39 PM

Devils advocate is a term well-known enough to have entered common parlance, for non -Catholics like myself. Advocatus diaboli.


Matt Q 07-12-2019 04:49 PM

Hi Jim,

So you want 'the contrary' to be singular? I hadn't expected that. So it's one person, not a committee? (or maybe as a plural relating to a sequence of people over time?). It is, however, a role that hasn't existed for 36 years. But, ah, OK, "In cases of controversy the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization". So it's those people?

I guess my belief is that very few readers are going to understand what you intend here. I may be wrong. But if not, is that your problem? I guess it depends on whether you want the poem to be understood or not.

Should you add a footnote? Well maybe, but that's a bit like telling a joke and then explaining it, isn't it? If it were me, I'd be looking for alternatives here.

Anyway, enough of me second-guessing other readers. Hopefully some other readers can come forward and speak for themselves.



Jim Hayes 07-12-2019 04:56 PM

It was last used in 2003 at the canonization of Mother Teresa Matt, and can be invoked at any time. I agree about the footnote but not about another wording, at least not yet

And in common parlance, here at least, the contrary can be a group , but I am happy enough with any interpretation close to my intention.

All best and et tu John


Martin Rocek 07-12-2019 09:28 PM

I enjoyed this a lot, particularly the sestet. I don't have any useful criticisms, just thanks for the read!


Jim Hayes 07-13-2019 02:23 AM

Hi Matt, after a nights sleep I think I have a fix, at least I remove any ambiguity.

Martin, thanks greatly, glad you enjoyed

All best

Mark McDonnell 07-13-2019 04:48 AM

Hi Jim,

'There are no visions wherein He appears
she ensures all apparitions now are Marian,
He’s not performed a miracle in years,
she queries new saints proof to the Contrarian.'

I'm not sure the fix does it. You're using 'Marian' as an adjective meaning 'relating to the Virgin Mary', as in 'Marian Devotions', but it's also a fairly common first name. I think a lot of readers would immediately connect it to the latter and possibly be confused. I also think the fourth line here is clumsy, because it's trying to squeeze too much information into one line: a whole separate idea about canonising saints. Maybe you could stick with the 'miracles' idea from the previous line and strengthen the 'Mary/quite contrary' echo by actually using the word 'quite', which could be quite fun. Something like..

There are no visions wherein He appears
she ensures all apparitions now are Mary.
He’s not performed a miracle in years,
since skeptics needing 'proof' prove quite contrary.

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