LYRIC COMPANION Praise poet “I am a benedictional” with a postlude by W. H. Auden

I am a benedictional; may the Lord protect him / who thus decorated me beautifully with ornaments. / Thureth in thanks ordered me to be made thus, / in praise and in honor of him who created light. / He [=Thureth] commemorates all the mighty works / which He [=God] is able to bring about on earth, / and the ruler of nations shall reward him, / because, mindful of many treasures, / he [=Thureth] wishes to designate [me] as an offering to the Lord./ And he shall fully obtain eternal reward, / because he acts properly on earth.

Translated by Heather Maring, SIGNS THAT SING : HYBRID POETICS IN OLD ENGLISH VERSE (University Press of Florida, 2017), p. 110.

FRAME OF REFERENCE In “Alms-Giving” the EORL (nobleman) acts as patron to the poor, receiving worldly and heavenly recognition. The poem, as voice of the praise-poet, urges almsgiving and implies in biblical verse that the ultimate praise for these deeds comes from God. “Thureth” suggests that when Christians occupy the poet and patron positions of this theme, they can do so in mimicry of God and in a Mobius-strip form of exchange with the deity.

Heather Maring, loc. cit.

In our time of general and omnidirectional crisis we are enjoined to spend a little time with an anthology of poetry to lift our spirits. If recent experience is any guide one will be lead to a poem by W. H. Auden. But Auden, being a Christian poet, may entertain, consciously and unconsciously, certain presuppositions about the world that you might find disconcerting.

Going back to anthologies of poems from the “Christian Middle Ages” and the newest scholarship to strengthen the uplift, I find Heather Maring’s excellent SIGNS THAT SING. In addition to her presentation of a medieval lyric, I take her FRAME OF REFERENCE, with its mention of Möbius strip as a metaphor for the form, culturally (non-technical) speaking, of the lyric. As a poem of praise (how many of Auden’s lyrics morph via some “hybrid poetics” into poems of praise?), this lyric is embedded in a context of voices that virtually constitute the warp-and-woof of the poem.

The “Mobius strip form of exchange” seems to me packed with intellectual energy that is relevant to “lyric uplift,“ which I’m all for. In the metaxological poetics I apply in this column, self/other, and gift exchange, is an irreducible concept. We are always selving, eventually we see ourselves in light of given/gift.

In solitude, for company.

In our medieval poem, the gift-book (benedictional) speaks to the reader, thanking her patron Thureth and his/their God. It’s a hierarchy of course but ultimately a blessing for all concerned. The relativizing, subjective/objective figure of the Möbius strip seems to me a version of chiasmus, that figure which proves central to our post-modern Phenomenological thinking-through of things. But to find this level of mindfulness in a medieval lyric does indeed expand the possibilities of anthology raiding-in-search-of-uplift. And returning to Auden seems a trope of the times. From his “Five Songs” V is addressed to the moon and suggests the poet’s familiarity with unforeseen consequences of the kind we will be increasingly subject to:

Shine lest tonight any / In the dark suddenly, / Wake alone in a bed, / To hear his own fury /Wishing his love were dead.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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