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Friday, 3 July 2009

From the Path (for T.R.)


From The Path by raworth.

The monks sang to King Cnut, as he rowed past on Candlemas.
One can't blame the monks for being a bit anxious, Cnut was a fearsome fellow.
Imagine the relief of the monks when from his boat
Cnut broke out into song, antiphonal:

Merie sungen ðe muneches binnen Ely,
Ða Cnut Ching reu ðer by;
Roweð, Cnihtes, noer ðe land,
And here we þes muneches sæng.

Merrily sang the monks of Ely
When King Cnut rowed thereby.
Row, boatmen knights, near the shore,
Let's hear these monks sing some more.

What would King Cnut say
Were he to row past today?
Why do the monks not sing?
The silence is deafening.

Let us not get off the boats,
Let's leave the shopping,
Who wants to buy clothing
That's been worn by ghosts?

Waiting by raworth.

From the Path (Ely Cathedral)
: photo by Tom Raworth, 2009
Waiting (Ely): photo by Tom Raworth, 2009


Lally said...

Man, that resonates. Nice juxtapositions.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott... Maybe the setting... Maybe the old English verses... Maybe the boats... Anyway, I liked it very much =)

Phanero Noemikon said...

Seems appropos that you are in essence playing something of the Pontifex between these two pictures, but the bridge you've made is a remarkable time-machine!

TC said...

Thank you all.

Well, as an unemployed person, Lanny, I can't say I would turn down the position of Pontifex, if offered.

For those unfamiliar with the locale, the Cathedral stands on what was once the "isle of Ely". In the millennium since Cnut and his knights rowed by, the fens have been drained. So it's no longer an island, quite.

Oliver Cromwell dwelt there, and was prudently tending to his pear trees when one day summoned to save England, or banish fun forever, depending how you look at it.

Yes indeed Lucy, the boat bit does recall The Lady of Shalott. Of course Tennyson's medievalism was of the late Romantic strain handed down from Keats. The style my poem came out in... well, reading it, my first thought was, "Stevie Smith!"

An actual if temporary current denizen of Ely had this to say about the marketing possibilities of the Cnutworld Themepark proposed in the poem:

"I think that's something they should work into their ever-expanding "heritage experience"..... the voice of Cnut over the misty fen to be answered by the monks (without noses, ears or hands: anachronism IS heritage) chanting "king of WHICH part of the Swedes?". A puppet on stilts of Gules Or (as I now think of the bishop) strides through a pit of eels. In the cathedral, again Catholic, transubstantiation changes trays of danish. Und so weiter."

Mariana Soffer said...

Hi tom, congrats, you are really skilled to transport us with your words and images to many different worlds that are where your tales take place(like being in a convent with monks, a jungle story, or a future world).
And here you change the scenery in the last paragraph, which I thought it was fantastic, cause not many people can do it and leave the poem as a hole and coherent beautiful block.

TC said...

Thank you Mariana, it's making the disparate parts hold some kind of a conversation with each other that is the objective. Hopefully the conversation will come off as approximately natural, or at least not too rudely forced.

It should be remembered that though the two images in this post may at first seem dissimilar (the two scenes could be a thousand years apart in time, were we not aware there were no cameras a thousand years ago), in fact they were created on the same day (last Sunday), in the same small town, by the same person (Tom Raworth).

I saw those shopwindow child-ghosts as the sort of Phantom People we find imaged in internet avatars. Our new bankrupt world is populated by these chimeras. One would not blame Cnut for staying on his boat.

My work in this case, at any rate, was to build the bridge between worlds--the pontifex task Lanny alludes to above. But really I'm only trying to simulate a logic of progression. For all I know Tom was simply wandering the town aimlessly on a Sunday morning.

Chronic Logic, a different kind of virtual reality game, puts the job description like this:

"Bridge Construction Set is about building a bridge that doesn't break, although watching your bridge creation break and plunge a train into the watery depths below can be half the fun. In Bridge Construction Set you design and build bridges and then stress test them to see how your creations hold up under pressure. When test vehicles pass over your bridge and make it safely across you know you've succeeded. If they plummet into the river you know you need to go back to the drawing board."

With these posts I spend a fair amount of time at the drawing board.

The test vehicles, I suppose, would be anybody who's looked at this.

That splash a moment ago? Just one of the monks going in for a dip. (I understand it's actually sultry this week in the kingdom of Cnut.)

Phanero Noemikon said...

Not to monkey with the priest's magic, but the reason I brought up the pontifex / bridge thing was to
compare it fuzzily, no wait that's not quite right.

I associate the copula with a bridging, and with a certain
fallacy of the papal pupa.

It's that whole silence vs. noise
jag, that affect vs. effect skitter, it's that Dancing Siva
that just a hollow frame with feet thing.. its that

fierce king slaying
gentle monk singing

its all those

'bridging effects'
as seen in circuits

but they're called


at that level..


Phanero Noemikon said...

Abstract. In this paper a new DFT scheme is proposed suitable for testing mixed signal differential circuits. The proposed testing-scheme is capable of detecting single catastrophic faults injected into the circuit under test. These faults can be either shorts and opens or bridgings between non contiguous nodes of the circuit. The test result is provided by a digital fail/pass indication signal. Exhaustive simulations have revealed the effectiveness of the proposed technique in terms of fault coverage and cost.

TC said...


I first typed "one of monkeys going in for a dip," a moment ago, and then felt a bit guilty "correcting" it--as I curiously intuited you might be tuning in. The logic on my end is always fuzzy but your comparison is not. Ekphrastic dialogue construction is certainly pontifex work. Excuse my earlier unemployment jest (he winced).

Cnut it seems had his work cut out for him in ruling England and all of Scandinavia at the same time, whenever he had his back turned there were always the local barons wanting a piece of the action, he seems to have ruled with iron hand in velvet glove. My projection is that he may well have actually ordered the oarsmen to steer close to the shore for better aural pickup but whatever passed for day-organizers in those times must have compelled him onward, no time for sergeants, to subdue the next uprising by Edmund Ironsides or whoever it was on that particular day.

Thought you might enjoy this, from the cathedral interior.

Ely Lantern

"Bridging effects" as "defects" in circuitry... in a pre-Socratic sense, plurality itself is a defect. A limitation in wholeness.

How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world...

It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.

To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole—a limited whole.

Phanero Noemikon said...

This is awesome!

I used to know a great quote:

aeternitatis sub aeternitatus

that's not it. It comes from (embarassingly I guess) Joseph Campbell, but I found:

but then

I just have to get into this debate!

It's kind of Freudian (Fraudian)

but look at

"pleroma" and recognize
the Vennish 'misspelling'


We move here beyond signification
into suchness

Tat tvam asi

This is that.

The effect and the defect
are separated by a single


that d (or iota)
[notice the o and the i
in the d and b and the decidbelle)

is a b reversed

and if d
represents a kind of

primordial "Venus Kallipygos"

then b

is Venus of Willendorf

Both are expressions of a kind of pregnancy

one of "expression as being"
and one of "being as exression"

they both point to the
unity of the epiphenomenal

so we might as well say


The misspelling thing comes into play

with Cnut

see nut
or cunt

King Cunt?

There are midieval Carnival badges
with just such a figure of paradox
being carried on high..

It is within the character of singularity or perhaps



that damn T-hat!

O gawd, what was i trying to say!



TC said...


The butcher down the block knows I'm a vegetarian yet tells me there exists a multi-layered information meta-universe of meaning and truth. Yet the closer the detail of truth itself be known, the further away is the simple, unspoken DNA experiential truth. It is the aporia therein which you have taken as bivouac in your inspiring advance upon a poetics.

Your "problem" with the spelling of Cnut may not be unique. If we let our fingers do the talking what will they say. Doubtless this too is history of a sort.

But, speaking of aeternitatus and its beckonings, before dawn paints the sky a more toxic strain of reddish gray I must now pull the box lid over me and call for the dwarves with the hammer and nails. Many thanks for sharing your cerebrum.

Phanero Noemikon said...

Tom, you are the BOSS!

Tom Raworth said...

Nunc pro tunc. Or is that the tide (not) turning? Knut could rule gently because the handless, noseless and earless hostages he left on the beach at Sandwich (the filling the bridge between the slices?)resonated. Ely Cathedral (the ship of the fens) now charges admission unless you wish to pray: in which case you are diverted to a side-chapel, well away from the splendor. Nearby Oliver Cromwell's house welcomes with mannequins.

TC said...


And kindly, courteous-seeming mannequins they are. But ah, we remember that the Times made the Man...

Who, from his private gardens, where
He liv'd reserved and austere,
As if his highest plot
To plant the Bergamot,
Could by industrious Valour climb
To ruine the great Work of Time...

I don't know, though, is ruining the great Work of Time really in the National Heritage spirit?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for inviting my curiosity to read Stevie Smith. I read some poems by her last night and I felt deeply touched. The one I've liked best so far: "I Do not Speak".

Elmo St. Rose said...

"Buy one, get one free"

The problem of production solved.
The problem of consumption not.

Einstein said: "It is a noble thing
to be a dealer of goods."

Hitler said: "England is a nation
of shopkeepers."

C.S.Lewis and Tolkien knew more.

"Shop to you drop" is a true
American sport and a growing culture of obesity the American

TC said...

Elmo, re. consumption:

Truer words were ne'er spoke, this is a culture founded on a word that in another century described a fatal wasting disease.


Delighted to hear you've looked into and enjoyed Stevie Smith. The older I get, the more often I find myself "thinking" her poems to myself--my vision's not good now, thinking is a lazy person's way of reading. Her poems lend very well to that, with the memorable tunes, the brave smart lyrics skating on thin ice over real depths. Hard to ever forget them; there is a genius in them, I think.

She was a publisher's secretary, small, pert, smart-looking in a don't-stick-out-sort-of way. Heard her read her poems once in my student days in England. Of course she stood outside all the endless Movements and Schools, was just herself. Thank God for at least one poet like that in modern times.

"I do not speak" has such a heart-stopping opening. "I do not ask for mercy for understanding for peace..." What other poet has ever addressed an audience in this way?

My favourite Stevie Smith poem these past few years has been "Bog-Face", easy to retain, tough as nut, the small hard mystery surviving intact through many rethinkings.


Dear Little Bog-face,
Why are you so cold?
And why do you lie with your eyes shut?--
You are not very old.

I am a child of the World,
And a child of Grace.
And Mother, I shall be glad when this is over,
I am Bog-face.

Anonymous said...

A unique soul, indeed. I also read that it is said she had an affair with George Orwell. I am teaching 1984 to my students at school. They liked the book so much they suggested a project.
One of them told me: "this is the first year I like having English at school" and I could not help feeling completely proud, of course.

By the way, your statement "thinking is a lazy person's way of reading" is simply brilliant.

TC said...


"I am teaching 1984 to my students at school. They liked the book so much they suggested a project."

That is a most interesting class project, particularly the tabulation and comments re. the question, "Do you feel controlled?" I hope you will let us know how the results turn out.

You have your students grappling with problems that even the terrified and terrorized subjects of Viking Raider Kings like Cnut never had to face--though in the present case, as I would see it, the instruments of mass control are more subtle and insidious (the recent exchanges at Sing Your Own Lullaby seem relevant here).

I speak of the soft talons of the great shadowy social networking beast. Does it not impose a pressurized social conformity exceeding that envisaged by Orwell in his darkest dreams?

Perhaps in the future present, hands and noses may be spared ("the handless, noseless and earless hostages he left on the beach at Sandwich..."), but minds?

Will your students be allowed to blossom as singular persons ("unique souls" like Stevie Smith) or simply enter a planetwide beehive of humanoid units (names on facebook lists) hardly more lifelike than those mannequins outside Oliver Cromwell's house in Ely?

We will know that social control in mass society is total and complete when on a dark street one night we pause, longing for a smoke, and
"A Stranger Offers Us a Light"

Pinkerbell said...

Very good. I tried to read the old English and got some way, but glad you translated it.

"worn by ghosts"? I thought, what does that mean and I tried to work it out. A comment on the fact that people rush around too much that they appear ghostly? The fact that everyone is already dying as they are living? Hmmm... then I scrolled down to the picture and saw the ghostly mannequins - very clever!

I was in Ely on 3rd July... briefly.

Didn't see any sailing monks but the river was highly populated by geese and ducks and looked quite idyllic with some people boating and fishing. But then that was from the train window, which always does frame the scene like a postcard whatever you're looking at.

TC said...


I'm so glad you've visited. I've been feeling guilty this past week for trying to pass off a butterfly as a moth merely to reassure your friend St. Polly that her empress hat was safe. White lies however are not permissible even as a means to a noble end. Consequently, when next you encounter Polly, please pass along to her this lovely furry strokeable moth, guaranteed to not be a butterfly.

Strokeable Moth for Pinkerbell & Polly

"Worn by ghosts"--I suppose I simply meant that those model-simulation children wearing that sad gear in the unfrequented shopwindow looked a bit like ghosts to me, so pale and forlorn, almost like the wretched wight after La Belle Dame Sans Merci had done with him. Would wearing that clothing not seem just a bit like wearing clothing recycled from the morgue (or do I watch too many mysteries?).

I went to Ely on a double decker Routemaster bus one day in early September 1963. A meat pie in a pub and the cathedral... total exaltation. Went back again several times while living in Cambridge... but that first day trip's the one sticks in the mind.

Ah, trainwindow framing, always so lovely. To ride in comfort and have the beauties of the world appear in passing view, what could be more pleasant.

But do tell us where you were headed and what happened.. if you have the time.