There are some things which shame would prevent my relating, unless the course of my subject required it. For a filthy story seems to reflect a stain on the author, although it may display his skill. But the severity of history does not allow us either to sacrifice truth or affect modesty; and what is shameful in itself may be related by pure lips in decent words.
—Gerald of Wales1
The arch-heretics are here, accompanied
By every sect their followers; and much more
Than thou believest, the tombs are freighted: like
With like is buried; and the monuments
Are different in degrees of heat.
Many-splendoured wonder, poet’s force
of first expression and last resort.
‘Advance noiselessly,’ I heard, ‘You aren’t
the first to hear these works whispered, no.’
In tendrils defenseless against this
pilgrimage’s intent, prayers breathed hoarse
endeavoured toward a temple floored.
Incense falling heavenward, if those
whose mouths his ears abhorred were wet pores
dripping forth strenuous words its ribs
his cavern’s vault dishonoured as worse
than ornaments worth a whore’s lament.
For as hymns fell, discordant discourse
rose to a swell, welled more apparent
than tears following filing divorce.
For insofar as he was concerned,
not at all, those disturbing were meant
to endure his exile’s tumult, so
any visitors who lived to tell
would witness instead their own remorse.
Reflected in that throated passage
was a tongue of path above, below
a song of footsteps poor choristers
led by his dedication let him
swallow with licks of his own perverse
improvisation. Choruses bent
’round that firebrand’s malcontent fingers
that illustrious tenebrist went
out of his way to be in art’s
element inventing. For a lie
in its ascent demands we who meant
to illumine hidden truths oppose
righteousness and augment with pigment
more intense what darkens twilit hours
to ink-sweat night. Let him do, I did.
Permitted him, within his grotto’s
prison hid, of my own dread nature’s
indecision accept advantage
gifted over my head. ‘These wonders,’
he said, ‘Fathers from their Church wed went
and fled to glimpse performed. Sons of hers
each of those men my captives were then,
priests weakened to kneeling as converts
to my ballads. Had they your patience,
your resolve, to crawl so far from Lent,
give up consent without struggle, go
before the sound of my wall’s wailing,
and with my romance contend, no swords,
armour, or answers to defend, this
thesis of my reasoning alone
their suffering willingness of yours
to endure even more would end.’
For in saying as much, another’s
heresies my pen only cements
in history’s foundations on floors
laid over which this heretic stands.
Tendering its tenement’s bronze doors,
this prophet legend poisoned languid
in his anguish more eternal than
ever in moments before, to show
advantage over the world under
whose hearths his tortured soul fouled with burns
brighter than its executioners
warms more refined, more inclined to show,
goes on exposing wounds god ignores.
‘The first transgression informs the third,
renders worthwhile the second, the fourth,’
Jezrahiah, Hæresiarch pent
up in scorched earth, went on to allure.
‘Sepulchres afford purged magicians
better spines than Life’s Book to procure.
For twined about necromancies, life’s
force unwinds and returns unburdened,
better a second time worn when sown
in soil where only the forgotten
grow.’ Shadow thrown to gain knowing, parts
of my own beneath his flowed. ‘Follow
which path your left hand goes, bedfellow
your Self to what abandon desires
allow. In the silence, wanting sounds
ravenous, entices paramours
to disavow your astonishment
at how low bass groans debased, strangers
by unvoiced pain taken, assuaged. Scent’s
unmentionable language flowers
to fullness of encroaching thunder
in those wilderness groves when ripened
by sudden enlightenment storm-flown.
Sing of experience, singe open
that tome the clasps of which hide mirrors,
for a looking-glass each page is in
that scriptural tomb your body knows.’
Biblical, in a sense, then, sinners
those such as he and his followers
were, in reality. Prisoners
of folly, for having read within
what on their flesh knowledge empowers
others less innocent to condemn.
1Gerald of Wales, “Chapter XXV: Of a New and Monstrous Way of Inaugurating Their Kings”, of “Distinction III: Of the Inhabitants of This Country”, in “The Topography of Ireland: Its Miracles and Wonders: By Silvester Giraldus Cambrensis”, from The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis: Revised and Edited, with Additional Notes, by Thomas Wright, published at London by George Bell & Sons in 1892; page 138.
2Dante Alighieri, “Inferno [Hell]”, Canto IX, Lines 125–129, in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Hell, Purgatory, Paradise: Translated by Henry F. Cary, published at New York by P. F. Collier & Son in 1909; page 40.