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  #1  
Unread 09-10-2019, 02:29 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default The Ram God Khnum

The Ram God Khnum: Version IV
British Museum

This ram’s extinct. But on the god,
its horns stand yet. Each twist and curl
is lost in Nature, not his head –
since he’s not young. He scans the hall.
His crown confirms the god who threw
gods and men on a potter’s wheel.

In Egypt, where both ram and bull
persist, the smoke of sacrifice
climbs up to Heaven. But is all
Khnum fashioned lost beneath the soil?
Like river birds, we greet the day;
yet we have nothing to reveal.


The Ram God Khnum: Version III

The ram’s extinct. But on this god
its horns stand yet. Each twist and curl
is lost in Nature, not his head –
since he's not young. He scans the hall.
His crown reveals the god who threw
gods and men on a potter’s wheel.

Khnum surfaced from beneath the Nile.
He views his works with his ram's eyes
from some stele in the British Museum.
It's cold in here; the crowd wear coats
to look on him. His left hand holds
crisp British air, as if it’s real.

And this is how gods come to call.
Though their tongue's gone, that alphabet
compels the mind. Each choice we make
is patent; gods are thus made up.
What they might want, we can't foretell.
We age, not them, that is the deal.

In Egypt, where the ram and bull
persist, the smoke of sacrifice
climbs up to Heaven. Is the work
Khnum fashioned lost beneath the soil?

you say. Like birds, we greet the day.
But we have nothing to reveal.


The Ram God Khnum: Version II
British Museum

This ram’s extinct. But on the god,
its horns stand yet. Each twisting curl
is lost in Nature, not on him –
for he’s not young. He scans the hall.
By his crown, know the god who threw
gods and men on a potter’s wheel.

In Egypt, where believers will
remain, the smoke of sacrifice
rises to Heaven. Is the work
Khnum fashioned lost beneath the soil?

you say. Like birds, we greet the day.
But there is nothing to reveal.


The Ram God Khnum: Version I

There is another world and it is this one.
Paul Éluard

This ram’s extinct. But on the god,
its horns stand yet. Each twisting curl
is lost in Nature, not on him –
since he’s not young. He scans the hall.
By his crown, know the god who threw
gods and men on a potter’s wheel.

Khnum surfaced from beneath the Nile.
He views his works with his ram's eyes
from some room in the British Museum.
It's cold in here; the crowd wear coats
to gaze at him. His left hand holds
crisp British air, as if it’s real.

The gods come calling. We do not.
Though that tongue's gone, its alphabet
compels the mind. Each choice we make
is patent. Gods are thus made up.
What they might want, we can't foretell.
We age, not them, and that's the deal.

In Egypt, where believers still
remain
, the smoke of sacrifice
rises to Heaven. Is the work
Khnum fashioned lost beneath the silt?

you say. Like birds, we greet the day.
But there is nothing to reveal.


Image: https://www.britishmuseum.org/resear...00854&partId=1

Deleted: to air
and folks
know their tongue
that is
where believers are / not rare
won’t
We wish for something to reveal.
Thus gods come calling. We do not.

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-19-2019 at 08:38 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 09-10-2019, 02:31 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I posted an earlier version of this piece here some time ago and got quite a bit of help from Sphereans. It's come a fair ways since then.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 09-11-2019, 02:05 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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So, this is one of the three I hammered into tet (Andrew). It opens my religion MS.

Cheers,
John
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  #4  
Unread 09-11-2019, 06:24 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

I like the tet version. It's tighter, a little more muscular. Shorter phrases, where they occur, such "He scan the room" seems to add to this. I really like the wordplay of "the Gods are thus made up", also, the god holding air, "as if its real".

Have you consider trying this in quatrains? I tried it that way and thought it was stronger for a number of reasons (see below).

Mostly I find the enjambment working, but a couple of places give me pause. Here:

Thus gods come calling. We do not
know their tongue, yet their alphabet

'not' seems pretty weak here. Now maybe you want us to read "We do not (come calling)" and then reparse after the break? Though it strikes me that:

Thus gods come calling. We do not.

Is much stronger end-stopped, though it might not be what you want to say. If you went with it you could rejig what follows. Maybe:

Thus gods come calling. We do not.
Their tongue is lost, yet their alphabet

Alternatively, there's a phrasing allow you to break on "tongue", a stronger word, instead of 'not', for example:

Thus gods come calling. Theirs is a tongue
that's lost to us, yet their alphabet ..... ("lost on us?").

The other enjambment was this:

In Egypt, where believers are
not rare, the smoke of sacrifice

'are' seems like a week word. I'm sure you can find a way around that. Again, maybe you want us to read "where believers are", and then later read "are not rare", but I still think a stronger end-word would improve the line.

I don't really understand why, in Egypt, with it's complement of believers, the smoke won't rise to heaven. Is that a Christian heaven in won't rise to (because people believe in the old gods). Is it the old god's heaven, if so, why won't the smoke rise there?

"that is the deal", could be "and that's the deal". Not a big deal I think. It's just the alternation from contracted forms ("can't" in the previous line) to uncontracted ("that is") seemingly at the behest of the metre. Though I can see a case for it, I guess.

"Thus gods come calling" ... "thus are gods made up", might be a little too thus-sy so close together.

In the closing stanza: Do we say that? I don't think I ever knowingly have! And even if "we" is the tourists, I'm not sure that's the case. The tour guide or museum guidebook might. I guess you could go with "It's said" instead of "we say". But do you even need that in italics as something said by anyone other than the narrator. I reckon lose the italics and the "we say", find something to do with the extra foot. For example:

won’t rise to Heaven. All the work
Khnum shaped is lost beneath the sand.
And yet somehow we greet the day.
We wish for something to reveal.

Or something better.

Matt

p.s., here's the poem recast into quatrains. See what you think. I like the parallel you get between the end of S1 and S2, and how the 3rd stanza springs the modern location on us nicely via a stanza-break enjambment. S3 and S4 end with what (for me) are very strong lines. The grasping of the air, and the made up gods, and maybe have a stronger effect as a result.

This ram’s extinct. But on the god
its horns stand yet. Each twisting curl
is lost in Nature, not on him –
since he’s not young. He scans the hall.

By his crown, know the god who threw
gods and men on a potter’s wheel.
Khnum rose to air beneath the Nile.
He views his works with his ram's eyes

from some room in the British Museum.
It's cold in here; the crowd wear coats
to gaze at him. His left hand holds
crisp British air, as if it’s real.

Thus gods come calling. We do not
know their tongue, yet their alphabet
compels the mind. Each choice we make
is patent. Gods are thus made up.

What they might want, we can't foretell;
we age, not them, that is the deal.
In Egypt, where believers are
not rare, the smoke of sacrifice

won’t rise to Heaven. All the work
Khnum shaped is lost beneath the sand,
we say. And yet, we greet the day.
We wish for something to reveal.
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  #5  
Unread 09-11-2019, 07:26 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Good morning, Matt,

And thank you as always for your incisive and generous reading of my latest posting. I've taken or worked with a variety of your suggestions: "The gods come calling," to avoid the double thus; "We do not. / Their tongue's gone, yet ..." to end-stop the line; "and that's the deal," for the contraction and natural speech; "you say" instead of "we say," for the excellent reasons you point out (I'd had you earlier and switched to we for consistency). Basically, I think I worked from every one of your suggestions bar one: the quatrain formatting. My reason is simple; I like the quatrain formatting, but I lost the rhyme on -eal that ends all four of my stanzas, which I also like since it reinforces the off-rhymes - Nile, curl, hall, foretell - to give, I hope, something of a spell-like or magical quality to the piece which opens this MS.
Bottom line: thank you, thank you. I think you've improved this opening piece considerably, and it of course sets a tone, like a tuning fork. I'm submitting the MS. on the 15th for a couple of contests.
Oh - I haven't yet solved "believers are / not rare." Working on it.
Oh yes - Egypt does of course have plenty of believers these days. But not in the ancient gods; and Islam does not involve burnt sacrifice to my knowledge. It's quite rare in modern religion, I think. Hinduism?

Cheers,
John

NB revision posted. And update: found a possible fix for "believers are."

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-11-2019 at 07:44 AM.
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  #6  
Unread 09-11-2019, 02:49 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Minor revision posted.

Cheers,
John
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  #7  
Unread 09-11-2019, 07:08 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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John, I like the beginning, and for the most part I like the rest, too, but I get distracted by questions as I go along.

For example, in S2L1, how can one rise to air beneath the Nile without a diving bell?

Why does the "you" of the poem say All the work Khnum shaped is lost beneath the sand"? We just saw them walking around the British Museum in S2. Did Khnum not shape the ancestors of modern humans?

Also, even the long-dead human hands that shaped this particular statue of Khnum are more likely to be lost beneath the silt than the sand, I think, since he's a river god.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Isbell View Post
Oh yes - Egypt does of course have plenty of believers these days. But not in the ancient gods; and Islam does not involve burnt sacrifice to my knowledge.
Isn't the cooking smoke from ritually slaughtered goats at Eid al-Adha still "the smoke of sacrifice," even if the meat is eaten by humans rather than burnt up entirely as a holocaust? The name of the feast itself is "the Feast of the Sacrifice."

Quote:
It's [burnt sacrifice is] quite rare in modern religion, I think. Hinduism?
Practitioners of Santería and Voodoo come to mind. Some of their blood sacrifices of animals are burnt offerings. Probably irrelevant to Egypt, though.

It might be nice to draw a more obvious parallel between a god who shaped humanity from clay and the humans who shaped this statue from...stone, is it? But maybe that obviousness isn't needed.

I hope some of this nit-pickiness is useful.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-11-2019 at 07:16 PM.
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Unread 09-11-2019, 07:47 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Good evening Julie,

Glad you quite enjoyed this piece! And thank you for the interesting questions you raise. I'll do my best to address them in order. So: yes, Khnum rises up from under the First Cataract; he's a god, after all, but I've changed the line to "rose up from beneath." I've also changed what the "You" says to a question: "Is the work ... all lost ... ?" The answer then being: it may seem so, but in fact, it's not. I could go with silt as you argue, but I like the sound of sand there more and I'll argue that a lot of stuff is buried under sand in Egypt. I've also updated "smoke won't rise" to "might rise," in honor of your fine Eid al-Adha point. I've seen a lot of offerings on Tibetan Buddhist altars, but the stuff doesn't get burned into smoke. So yeah, sacrifice, offering, burnt sacrifice - it gets complicated IMO. Incense is a sort of burnt offering, after all. Voodoo and Santeria I'll admit, but they can I think be called minor, fitting with the rarity. Hinduism does a lot with fire and may well still have sacrifices, though not the horse offerings of the Rig Veda. I don't know.
This I agree might be nice: "to draw a more obvious parallel between a god who shaped humanity from clay and the humans who shaped this statue from...stone, is it? But maybe that obviousness isn't needed." I don't see an obvious way in for that into the poem though, so I'll just ponder for now.
In general, the last stanza still, I think, needs tinkering. It had a sort of balance I've now jeopardized. Also, I'm concerned that "Attributed to Paul Eluard" by the epigraph is clunky. I'd very much value folks' thoughts on those topics, particularly since this opens my MS.
Julie: "I hope some of this nit-pickiness is useful." Clearly the answer is yes. Q.E.D. And as a pedant of long standing, I don't find this nit-picky at all, I find it fascinating. :-)

Cheers,
John

Update: another bunch of editing just added in S2-4.
Update II: it's silt not sand now. Thanks Julie!

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-11-2019 at 10:33 PM.
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  #9  
Unread 09-13-2019, 05:29 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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New last line.

Cheers,
John
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  #10  
Unread 09-13-2019, 07:34 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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I do like the shorter lines, John, but I'm not finding much in the content that engages me.

Since you say you want this to open your ms., maybe make it a sort of proem/preface? I can imagine cutting all but the first and last stanzas, getting the museum part in the title or just under it:

The Ram God Khnum
British Museum

This ram’s extinct. But on the god,
its horns stand yet. Each twisting curl
is lost in Nature, not on him –
since he’s not young. He scans the hall.
By his crown, know the god who threw
gods and men on a potter’s wheel.

In Egypt, where believers still
remain, the smoke of sacrifice
rises to Heaven. Is the work
Khnum fashioned lost beneath the silt?
you say. Like birds, we greet the day.
But there is nothing to reveal.

Sorry if this desecrates the poem as you see it, but to me, less is more here and leaves it somewhat enigmatic.

The Eluard epigraph is great. Maybe use it for the whole volume?

Best with it,

Andrew
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