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Jan Iwaszkiewicz 01-17-2018 07:14 AM

Meditation on a Bone A.D. Hope

Meditation on a Bone

by A. D. Hope

A piece of bone, found at Trondhjem in 1901, with the following runic inscription (about A.D. 1050) cut on it:

I loved her as a maiden; I will not trouble Erlend's detestable wife; better she should be a widow.

Words scored upon a bone,
Scratched in despair or rage—
Nine hundred years have gone;
Now, in another age,
They burn with passion on
A scholar's tranquil page.

The scholar takes his pen
And turns the bone about,
And writes those words again.
Once more they seethe and shout,
And through a human brain
Undying hate rings out.

“I loved her when a maid;
I loathe and love the wife
That warms another's bed:
Let him beware his life!”
The scholar's hand is stayed;
His pen becomes a knife

To grave in living bone
The fierce archaic cry.
He sits and reads his own
Dull sum of misery.
A thousand years have flown
Before that ink is dry.

And, in a foreign tongue,
A man, who is not he,
Reads and his heart is wrung
This ancient grief to see,
And thinks: When I am dung,
What bone shall speak for me?

A piece of bone found at Trondhjem, Norway, in 1901 was inscribed with runes probably cut in the eleventh century. The inscription translated reads: I loved her as a maiden; I will not trouble Erlend's detestable wife; better she should be a widow. The inscription is probably a spell to bring about the husband's death by magic. Such runes were cut, the grooves filled with blood, and the whole buried with appropriate magic rites.

Julie Steiner 01-17-2018 10:18 AM

Thanks for sharing this, Jan. I had forgotten it.

The trouble with a lot of poems based on other masterpieces is that the ekphrasis is rarely another masterpiece to rival the first. This one is.

Woody Long 01-17-2018 10:45 AM

For me, the poem is effective despite itself. The image is strong & the poem communicates primal emotion. But i stumble on some of the rhymes & word choices (some seem rhyme forced). The poem's dark effectiveness for me makes me hope it's not some kind of subtle parody.

S1L5 - rhymes on on - Read aloud, this is no problem. On the page, among end stopped strong rhymes it forces too much emphasis on the word on.

S2L5 - and through a human brain - brain is misused - hate etc. can run through a mind, not through a brain. Rhyme forced.

S5L5 - And thinks: when I am dung, - rhyme forced

The poem might do better without S5. The point that despair, hate, etc. ring down the ages has already been made. It would be better, I think, to end with the effect on the scholar.

I think I will probably remember the image of the scholar and the bone.

Cross posted with Julie.

— Woody

Jan Iwaszkiewicz 01-17-2018 12:01 PM

Quite true Julie.

I think you have nailed it Woody when you said it works despite itself.

To me the first and only thing is:
Does the poem work?

I think it works magnificently



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