I’ve simply not had the time to finish my review of Scarlet Imprint’s Mandragora anthology which I’d hoped to have done earlier this month, my apologies to Peter, Alkistis and Ruby Sara. As a stopgap, here are four pieces of poetic arcana that have been on my mind recently.
First, an essay – W.B. Yeats, Magus – by Jamie James, author of the excellent Music of the Spheres, which I believe I made reference to in an earlier post. Reading Mandragora it was impressed upon me that Eliot’s The Wasteland and to a lesser extent Yeats’ A Vision are still touchstones of mystical poety for the modern age. While I think of it, here are photographs of Yeats’ Golden Dawn journal.
Second, the use of poetry as a cipher. The inclusion of acrostics and hidden messages in poems is nothing new, but I’d not come across the use of poetry in Arabic cryptography until this week. Now, courtesy of researchers at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology there are a series of transcriptions and translations of Arabic cryptotographic treatises online here. Notably volume 5, which contains three treatises dedicated to poetic ciphers, although the others often contain discussions of the same.
Third, I’d like to share a MS that has interested me greatly for years and is now available via the Warburg Institute’s digital library. La Vera Kabbala di Salomon (pdf link) is a collection of divinatory methods involving the manipulation of letters and their corresponding numbers attributed to grand figures such as King Solomon, Plato, Aristotle, Ramon Lull, Pico Della Mirandola – even the Venerable Bede. The method of divination using a pyramid, attributed to Solomon in a number of MSS., has always intrigued me – I left a copy of this method from another Italian MS. with an friend of mine and hope one day to have a decent translation. However, turning to the subject at hand there is a section entitled Kabbala Poetica, which (so far as I can tell) involves rendering the question as numbers which in turn yields up an oracular verse created from a series of Latin words combined in different orders as the numbers dictate. Obviously there is something of the influence of Ars Combinatoria here, as well as a precursor to the type of combinatorial poetry that the Oulipo group pursued in the 20th century.
Finally, I couldn’t help reflecting on the title of Peter Grey’s essay in Mandragora, namely A Spell to Awaken England, which is an enlightened overview of Ted Hughes’ work. Ted Hughes has been on my mind lately as I’ve been reading Al Alvarez’ excellent The Savage God: A Study of Suicide. Although Hughes is a marginal character, his portrayal of Sylvia Plath through recollections of their friendship is heart-wrenching.
This aside, the title of Grey’s essay prompted me to consider that if poetry and incantation are inextricably linked, what poem would be my choice as a spell to awaken England? My gut instinct would be David Jones’ profound and rousing The Tutelar of the Place (ca.1960), to me a timeless voice of lament and protest in the face of lamentable times then (in Jones’ imagined days of the Roman empire in Britain in which the poem was spoken) as now:
In all times of Gleichschaltung, in the days of the central economies, set up the hedges of illusion round some remnant of us, twine the wattles of mist, white-web a Gwydion-hedge
. .like fog on the bryniau
. .against the commissioners
and assessors bearing the writs of the Ram to square the world-floor and number the tribes and write down the secret things and take away the diversities by which we are, by which we call on your name, sweet Jill of the demarcations
. .arc of differences
. .tower of individuation
. .queen of the minivers
laughing in the mantle of variety
belle of the mound
. .. .for Jac o’ the mound
our belle and donnabelle
. .. .on all the world-mountain.
In the December of our culture ward somewhere the secret seed, under the mountain, under and between the grids of the Ram’s survey when he squares the world-circle.
A few months ago my fiancee asked me to read it to her. While it’s impromptu and most definitely not a polished reading by any stretch I append it herewith for those who do not have the text.